Rise Like the Phoenix

You never know when you’re going to stumble across a piece of wisdom that will swirl around in your head for a period of time until it forever changes the pathways of your brain. I stumbled across some of that wisdom recently, in a conversation with a woman who’s become a good friend of mine in a very short time. One chance meeting led to breakfast, and one long breakfast sealed the friendship. As it turns out, we have a lot in common, including a long and less-than-perfect dating history.

She and I sat together in my living room, eating take-out and watching The Bachelorette several Monday nights ago. We listened to the show only when we weren’t busy commenting on the attractiveness and personalities of the men… and the glaringly obvious lack of “asshole radar” of the bachelorette. But our night didn’t end with the show. We sat and talked for another two hours afterwards, about our own personal lives. She is now happily married, as of last summer, to a man who exceeds every wish she had for a husband. And I had a completely empty plate when it came to prospects. My plate had emptied only recently, and I needed to talk about it.

I told my friend that I was frustrated. I had once believed with every ounce of my being that I had found my soul mate. When I was only 23 years old, a man walked into my life who pulled my head out of the books it was buried in and taught me what love was. We taught each other. I had never laughed so hard, cared so much, invested so heavily, and had so much to lose. Within a few short weeks of knowing him, I didn’t know how to live without him. And three years later, we were engaged. But it was not an easy three years. It was a roller coaster. And our engagement seemed to intensify… everything. We couldn’t hold on. He couldn’t hold on – to his sobriety or to his stability – and I walked away, leaving my heart behind me in pieces. I loved him but I knew I needed more than he could give me, and he knew it too.

I have gone through some tough things in my life (haven’t we all?), but I can honestly say that the decision to break my own heart and walk away from him left me in the worst state I’ve ever been. Five years later I still hadn’t managed to collect the pieces of my heart and put them back together well enough to love again. He still held on to a few of the pieces, and I see now that he held them because I wanted him to hold them. I wasn’t willing to take them back. And so after five years apart and a handful of failed relationships that never seemed to fill the void left by him, I started contacting him again. I emailed him and told him what I was feeling. He told me that he too hadn’t moved on. There was still love there… or at least a memory of it, as if we’d been walking through a room where the other person’s scent still lingered. With every new person I tried to date, his memory was there, insisting that he not be forgotten. He said the same was true for him. And so after five years apart, I got on a plane and flew to his new city. I hugged him. I smelled his cologne again. And the very first time we sat down together again ended with my head resting on his shoulder and our hands entwined. I felt his lips on mine again and confirmed what I had thought… that he was made for me. I was home.

My fairy tale lasted about two months. I visited him twice and he came to see me once. On our last visit, he told me that he had been lost without me, and he is finally ready for marriage and a family. It had to be me. It was always me. He got back on the plane to go home, with a plan for bringing our lives back together, but less than a week later he had faded away again. I can’t really explain it. He just wasn’t motivated enough to make it a reality, so it was easier for him to let it all go. I was hurt, but not broken this time. After a few difficult days, it occurred to me that what had transpired is exactly what needed to happen. I had been stuck in limbo, and now I was free. I had my answer. I took back the remaining pieces of my heart, took firm hold of the reality that what I had believed was wrong, and took a step forward. For the first time in eight years, I was free to move without restraint. There was nothing holding me in place any longer.

That Monday night, as my friend and I sat on my couch and I told her my story, she shared with me her story. It was very similar to mine and equally difficult. She told me that a couple years ago, she purposely reduced her life to ashes… killed every bit of it that was holding her in place. She left a bad relationship that had paralyzed her for years, moved back to her home city, left her career and started fresh. She even left most of her friends behind, realizing that many of them weren’t really friends. She spent the better part of a year very much alone with a plate that was very, very empty. She did it on purpose. She told me the story of ‘the phoenix’.

The phoenix is a mythological symbol, usually characterized as a bird with brightly colored plumage. After a long life, it dies in a fire of its own making, only to rise again from the ashes, spreading its wings to begin a new life. But the new life can’t be born until the old one is dead… gone completely.

My friend set her old life on fire and cleared out a path for a new one. She wrote a list of things she wanted, both in life and in a man, as if stating her desires to the universe. We’ve all heard of the Law of Attraction. Call it what you will. She visualized her life. She visualized the man. And one year later, she found her husband, and the life that they’ve built together has made it possible for all her aspirations to come to fruition.

That night, despite the late hour, I went to bed with a notebook and a pen. I wrote a list of things I want, both in life and in a man. I spared no detail. I can visualize it now. I can see both him and my life, and I know that it’s only a matter of time.

Everyone will go through a death and rebirth at some point in their lives. Things never go according to plan. But I see now that if we should ever find ourselves standing in ashes, with an empty plate and no path to follow, we should rejoice in it. Think of the possibilities that lie ahead. Define yourself again. Find a new path. Spread your wings and see where life takes you.

Rise like the phoenix.