Hello, Dear Reader, and thank you for returning for Part 3. It’s good to have you here again, and I promise this is the final part. There’s no “to be continued” at the end of this, instead there’s a quiet wrap up of my recent adventure to New Mexico and Colorado. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Settle back, settle in, and I hope you enjoy the conclusion.
I woke up around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning when I rolled over and the movement set off pain in my right knee, the result of a baseball injury in my early twenties being irritated by the fourteen mile hike the day before. I carefully got up, took a few ibuprofen, drank some water, then laid back down on my bed to gently stretch and flex my knee. Lying there, my knee throbbing, I thought to myself that the first chance I was able to the next day, I’d buy a compression sleeve for my knee.
A year ago, I’d of been angry at the walk, because of course, the walk had caused that old injury, that old hurt, to come to the surface. That morning, laying on my bed, smelling the sweet air that was coming through the open window in our hotel room, I realized I didn’t care my knee was hurting. Sure, it wasn’t my idea of fun. But I had no regrets regarding doing the hike the day before, despite the pain I was in.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? Our lives are a balance: there’s good, there’s bad; there’s light, there’s dark. The pure, natural beauty that surrounded me on the trail up to Lost Lake was well worth the pain of my knee. The loss of people in our lives, whether through death or the end of a relationship, that type of hurt is very much worth it to experience the joy of having shared a time with people, for having had the honor of loving them and them loving us.
It wasn’t Red River that was the eye opener for me on that weekend away. It was everything surrounding it: the stress in the week before, the knee jerk reaction of panic when I realized I didn’t have cell service, how often perfect strangers said “Good morning” and “Good afternoon” on the streets, how we’d talk with other groups on the trail, and parting, someone would call out, “Have a wonderful time and be careful.” It was the almost continuous (yes, even I shut up occasionally) conversation between my friend and I throughout the weekend since we had so much time together in their car. It was the woman next to me at the sinks in the bathroom at Coors Field who rushed to get me a bag of ice when the high elevation in Denver caused a nose bleed, and stayed with me until the bleeding stopped. It was conversing with perfect strangers in the restaurants at Denver’s airport while I was waiting on my flight. It was the man sitting next to me on the plane who offered me his hand in kindness when I said I was terrified of flying (“I’ll just leave this here,” he’d said, placing his hand palm up on the arm rest. “If you need it, feel free to take it.” I took his hand and said thank you).
Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m holding onto values that are obsolete. But what I want are real connections. Real conversations that (when possible) are done face to face and in person. I want to hear and see my friends’ reactions when I tell them about experiences in my life, whether those experiences are from trips or just moments when something simple and beautiful happens. I want to reach my hand out in comfort to those who need it. I want more comments, and to give more comments, than simple clicks of a “like” or “love” button.
I look back over the losses of loved ones, and it hurts. Marcus’s final weekend alive was spent celebrating his life with a living funeral. Some people flew in from all over the country, and in two different cases, from other countries, in order to say good-bye and celebrate the life of a man who meant so much to so many people. There were no social media posts about it, because that would have been disrespectful to a man who lived in the moment and fully present with those he was around. When he died, I and two other of his dearest friends were holding his hands.
I used to spend all my experiences snapping photos and then posting it out on social media. I still snap those photos, yet, some of the most important and poignant moments of my life in this last year of change, they’ve never made it to the public’s eye. If you’ve read me for a time (or if this is your first time reading me), you’ll notice that there are times where I don’t even refer to the person I’m talking about by anything other than “they/them”; because I have learned to guard certain parts of my life, and want to afford that respect to those in my life if they don’t live as public of a life as I sometimes do. There have been experiences I have shared with people that never made it onto my Instagram or Facebook pages, because they were private, either between me and another person, or something I wanted just for me. Because they were too important, too meaningful, too special, and moments I’m going to remember when my final breath takes place.
Around my fortieth birthday, I was contacted through my website by the sister of a former friend. Years before I had broken ties with her, due to continuous fighting and her focus on the negative. The sister told me that she had died the week before. My first thought was not, “Oh, I regret…”. Instead, I felt badly for her daughter, her sister, her parents, those people in her life who loved her. My memories of her were negative, and worse, sad.
But it kicked off a question in my mind: if I died, right in that moment, how would I be remembered? Would I be remembered for the trips I took, the brightly colored hair, my tattoos, the things that don’t really matter? Or would I be remembered as being kind, thoughtful, considerate?
The expression “Don’t go to bed angry” is one that’s applicable. If we were to die, or someone we love dies, what would our last words be to them? Were they kind? Compassionate? Filled with love? Or were we angry, hateful, lacking compassion? How often have we lost the chance to say what is written in our hearts towards others in our lives?
So my focus shifted, and still, today, it’s shifting. Red River was just the pivot on which I fully shifted over into acceptance of what I truly want in life.
On the first day of the road trip, my friend asked me if I thought people were born good or evil. It’s not the first time I’ve had this conversation, and it certainly won’t be the last. I believe that we all have equal parts good and bad within ourselves; the important thing is our choices. Do we chose to make the right decision? Do we chose to act with kindness, compassion, and love?
“What do you want for yourself?” That was the question that gave me pause, the question that has lingered in the back of my mind daily since that pivotal meeting in August 2016. “What do you want for yourself?” The question I’ve been asked more times in my forties than in any other part of my life.
I have lived so much of my life in fear: fear of hurt, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of physical pain. Last October, during a twisting workshop, the owner of Gaia Flow Yoga shook up my life by a simple statement. Attempting to assist me deeper into a twist, she had taken my arm in her hand and pulled. I pulled back. Smiling at me, she tried again, and again, I pulled back. After the third time, Chrystal let go, placed her hand on my arm, and looking me in my eyes said the words that would shove me directly onto the path I am now on: “Amber, stop resisting. I love you. I am not going to hurt you.”
Twelve words is all it took to break me open again. Twelve words, said with love, said with compassion, said with understanding. Six months later, walking up that narrow mountain trail, I initially resisted my muscles aching, trying to keep up with my friend. Then I stopped, and kept to my honest pace, the pace my body could handle.
“What do you want for yourself?” I couldn’t answer in 2016. Fear of facing what I wanted deep down, fear of hurt, fear of repeating past mistakes, it kept me from answering the question. Yet a year and a half after being asked that question, and six months after being told to stop resisting, I found my answer on a mountain path, in a town I fell in love with at the young age of seventeen.
As our lives change, as we gain new experiences, as we meet new people, we’re changed. I fully believe each person who comes into our life, whether for years or just moments, come into our lives with the purpose of teaching us something. We might recognize the lesson in the moment it happens, or maybe we don’t recognize it until years later. So what we want, what we think we want, what we need, and what we think we need, all of those things can change, and it can change drastically.
Walking down that trail, keeping my eyes on the path in front of me to watch for rocks (I stumbled a lot that day), I thought over that question. Aside from the obvious answer of a shower, a cup of coffee and a big dinner, what I wanted was more basic than any other time I had attempted to answer that question in my life. I wanted peace. I wanted more quiet. More time with those I love. I wanted more time to continue my yogic journey, more opportunities to teach. I wanted to do more for others. See my children happy and healthy. I wanted to love and to be loved, not in a swept off my feet kind of way, but in the way where you love with your whole heart, no reservations, no fear of future hurt and disappointment. I want to be remembered, not for how I looked, not for what I did as a career, not for those things which I survived, but for how I treated people, whether they are in my life for five minutes, five weeks, five months, five years, fifty years.
I thought of how many times I had blocked out people and experiences, simply out of fear of hurt. Simply out of fear of risking myself or my emotions. I thought again of Marcus, one of the most significant people in my life. He was in my life, as a dear friend, for twenty years. Looking back over the years we spent together as friends, the experiences, all of it was worth it. If I could go back to my twenty-one year old self and say, “Amber, Marcus will die in twenty years, and it is going to devastate you. If you don’t form this friendship, you’re going to avoid one of the biggest heartbreaks of your life,” I would not. I would not trade the twenty years of laughter and memories to avoid the pain of losing my dearest friend.
And maybe, just maybe, had I lived my life with that mindset, I would be a much different person today.
But that’s the thing: who I am now? I fought hard to become her. Every single moment of my life, every single experience, good, bad, beautiful, ugly, short, long, joyous, painful, all of them led to here. It led to a woman who laughs hard and loud, who loves deeply and loyally, who is blessed in having friends in her life that are family. It was worth the pain of the thorns to experience the beauty of the roses.
“What do you want for yourself?” To live a life filled with joy, with love, with adventure, with compassion, and lacking in fear. To have more moments filled with laughter, that don’t make it onto social media. To truly connect with others, to be more fully present with them. To continue to inhale and exhale, and move forward with my life.
My name is Amber Jerome~Norrgard. I am forty-one years old. I have survived an abusive adoptive mother, and an abusive first marriage. I am an adoptee, and I found my biological mother when I was twenty-four. I beat infertility three times, and lost my ability to have any more children to endometriosis and cervical cancer. I have survived severe, suicidal depression. My oldest child is a transgender male who has more courage than anyone else I’ve ever met in my life. Over six years, I lost over 100 pounds. I am an author, a publisher, a college professor, and a yoga instructor. I am terrified of heights and flying. I love hard, and I love deep. I snort when I laugh, and if I’m not drinking vodka, I’m a fan of wine. I love baseball, and have recently discovered the joy of hockey.
And I believe all things happen for a reason. And that reason? Love.
Love yourselves, and love one another with compassion.