Susie: Lost Identity; Self-Discovery

Susie, 44, is married to Steve and they live happily in a lovely white house with three dogs: Coco, Momo, and Jake. Susie is a dramatic beauty, tall with black hair, large dark eyes, deep dimples, and high cheekbones. She has a confident manner that immediately makes you want her opinion on whatever you’re deciding. But appearances can be deceiving. Susie recently went through an intense self-evaluation. She completely revamped her present for an unknown future. Susie was a flight attendant for 18 years. When she was very young, she worked hard to transform herself “from a frumpy country girl into an international flight attendant,” to use her own words. She worked her way up through the ranks to gain seniority — which is everything to a flight attendant. “My career was my identity,” Susie said. “It made me feel important or special.” But a lot of things fell along Susie’s path to make her reevaluate that assumption. After 9-11 there was a short-lived feeling of support and admiration, but it all washed away with budget cuts, newly imposed restrictions, and the negative reactions that go with it. “Being a flight attendant just wasn’t fun anymore,” she said. Steve and Susie had moved into a new house. She hated going to work but she loved being at home. Steve supported her in whatever decision she made, but making the decision was one of the hardest things of her life. “To give it all up meant giving up who I was,” Susie said, tearing up. “It was really difficult.”

It was during this struggle that Susie began to seek God more. She did a lot of praying, running, and meditating. She asked others for their opinions. She discussed the options with Steve. She thought more. Went back and forth, twisting the problem in her mind. Then she did it.

She quit her career.

Susie got more involved in her church. She immersed herself in volunteering for a variety of community and nonprofit organizations. “I needed to know that something was out there for me – that I wasn’t going to be unimportant.”

Susie is gifted in organizing, decision-making, and understanding how to accomplish the mission or goals a group has set. These assets are always in demand. But somehow, Susie found herself one day at Elida’s house, doing her first project of a little barn. Her friend, Cindy, another Italian trekker, had brought her. Sandy had brought in a huge canvas and was sploshing away on it, happily. Susie jealously thought that she wanted a big canvas to work on, and from then on, she was hooked. “I was drawn to the positive energy of Elida and Sandy,” Susie said. “I wanted to be around people who were growing… and not afraid.” Now, Susie is using her gifts to be a part of the planning process and organization of Art-Women-Wine activities. As the Art-Women-Wine movement has grown (Art-Boys-Beer is on the docket) and with the opening of the ELIDA Art Studio and Gallery, Susie and Elida are discussing the possibility of creating a position for her. Perhaps the time has come for a new chapter in Susie’s life.

“I still don’t know what it is I’m supposed to be doing,” Susie said. “I guess I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. Sometimes you don’t get the epiphany ‘til later.” She added, “Now, I find myself encouraging others to get involved, to be more than who they are.”

About the trip, Susie prepared for it by praying for all the women coming on the trip. Everyone is going through a transitional time, she noted, “This trip could be a turning point for each one of us.” Susie was packing to catch her flight home as she spoke with me, so she had the benefit of knowing the closeness formed between the women and the many wonders they were able to see. “The bonds we make here will last a lifetime,” Susie said earnestly. “We’ll be talking about this trip ‘til we’re old and gray.”

Susie added that it never could have happened without Elida and Father Bruno. “I’m forever grateful to them,” she pointed out. “To Elida, for taking the leap of faith it took to bring us here and to Bruno, for his spirit.”

And, as if we were once again putting our wine glasses in the air for a cin-cin, each of the women played their part in having the courage to go on a journey, both in their lives, and in the last two weeks in the land of romance and beauty, Italy.

Krista: From Analyst to Artist

Right away, after talking a bit with Krista, you realize she’s smart. She’s articulate, confident, and, although she’s quiet, you sense she’s powerful. An analyst for Hewlett Packard, Krista, 41, is married with two girls, 10 and 11. When she describes her schedule, she describes a busy day of juggling the particulars of getting the girls on the bus while making calls from her home office to the far East. On the trip, Krista is more reserved than others – she observes and doesn’t need the spotlight. She enjoys time alone or with one of the ladies in a one-on-one time. For me, I get her. Although my job is different, I have a very analytical personality. My group of friends tends to be small and tight. And we both work from home – we chit-chatted about all the difficulties this involves –like learning to “shut the door,” when we need to.  But where I am just beginning my career after raising my girls at home, Krista has pursued the dual roles of career and soccer mom. Krista, like many women, is a master of hats – she wears quite a few. But her story will remind us all to not forget who we are in the process.

About five years ago, Krista took stock of her life and realized that she had ticked off every item on an “unconscious list” in her life: graduated from college, met Mr. Right, married and had a family, and bought a home. Yet, after all that, a melancholy hung over her. Health problems arose from stress. Ulcers and other stomach problems, losing weight, being sick a lot, and her declining performance at work were all signs that all was not well. Krista had gotten everything she wanted. Whatever she aimed for, she had brought down. But once the targets were gone, the ennui set in. “I’d checked everything off my list,” Krista said. “I realized I had no plan for these other lifetimes that I needed to live.”

It took awhile to come to this realization. But eventually, Krista’s analytical personality kicked in on her own behalf and she decided to take stock of her life. She needed to reinvent herself. On her job as an analyst, she could present intense deliverable solutions. Now it was time to apply her skills on herself.

Krista noted that, for others, they had strong religious connections to rely on. Krista grew up under a difficult step-father where going to church felt like a chore, a mundane routine, and that it had very little effect on anyone’s behavior. There was little structure in the church she attended to help her with what ought to be. She dabbled in different churches trying to find something that would help her form a future of hope. Finally, frustrated, she gave up that avenue. Krista decided to investigate different religions in general. She realized that most had a similar theme. They used different names, rites of passages, but the goal was how to love each other and yourself. She focused on that to develop her future path.

She started thinking about herself – how she worked so hard to be a good employee, a good wife, and a good mom. But Krista had forgotten about herself. Elida was her next door neighbor at the time, and the classes she was running sounded kind of fun. For Krista, it was just an outlet for the moment – just something to try out. But then it became something different.  “Painting is a way to get it all out,” Krista said. “I come back from art class feeling clean.” Like some people use journaling, painting helps Krista to release anything negative in her life. She stopped swallowing her problems and her health improved.

Expressing herself through art has had greater effects than just Krista’s health. “I started reinventing me,” she said. Now, she doesn’t have an unconscious list to conquer, but she has some things she wants to do. With the support of her husband, Bob, she is pursuing some of these new avenues. She wanted to live in Italy – and here she is, not to live, but to visit – for now. She wants to downsize and simplify her home and life. Spend more quality time with different people in her life. And for her art – she wants to build that creativity. She’s not doing it for anyone else, just doing it as self-expression. “I found there’s a lot more in me than I thought there was,” she said.

As Krista walks every morning, there’s a beautiful field that she always looks across. It’s at this field where profound thoughts well up inside her and she considers how great the world is and how small she is in comparison. It’s humbling. Around the table in Cagli, each of the women shared the highlights of the trip thus far. Krista mentioned a trip we took to a lookout point over Firenze or Florence. Seeing the city sparkle in the night where so many greats of the ages had given us their gifts gave her that same feeling – how great the world is – how small we are in comparison. Our problems are put into perspective. We are humbled. In a way, at such a place, we are in the best kind of church – where the worship just wells up within us without promptings, guilt, or commands. Worship is a human need that will never go away because it helps us to see ourselves with clarity — small in a big world.

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