My Life in Reverse

*I am sharing this essay that I wrote 8 years ago, in the light of recent events, namely school shootings that have occurred every day in the last two weeks in the US. Not to mention the senseless violence that occurs daily in our country and in hotspots all over the world. I truly believe in what St. Marie Eugenie, the founder of my high school alma mater Assumption Convent once said, that we must become a positive force for good in our own small spheres of influence. I believe that a lot of evil in this world happens because there is a lack of love, for whatever reason—abuse, neglect, bullying, and many other forms of trauma. In my own small way, I try to show people through the insights I gain in my own journey of daily living, how one can heal and better love one’s self. If we love ourselves and believe ourselves lovable, if we are unafraid to shine our own unique light in this world, I believe we will be less likely to commit acts that hurt others and ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need to remember who we are, and find home within ourselves.

My earliest memory is of my first birthday. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I remember someone holding my hand, leading me to the driveway of our apartment complex where the party was to take place. I remember the texture of my off-white dress, crocheted on top and ending in ruffles that barely covered my diaper. As the screen door of our apartment bangs open, we step out into the blinding afternoon sunshine. The older kids of the apartment complex rush up to me with cries of, “Lissa! Hi, Lissa! Happy Birthday!” I look up at their faces, barely discernible silhouettes with the afternoon sun behind them. I see brightly covered packages waving in the air, and I know that all this noise and all this fuss is just for me. Excitement builds up inside me, so fast and so much that I almost feel like my body is going to burst from sheer joy. There is no past or future, no fear or sorrow. Just the sure knowledge that I am safe and loved and am held to the bosom of the world.

Fast forward to four years old. I am in ballet class. The older girls gather around and ask me why I peed in my pants during our barre exercises. I tell them I didn’t know it was coming, that I was taken by surprise. A lie, of course. The truth was that I was afraid of telling the teacher that I needed to go to the bathroom, preferring for that moment in time to suffer the indignity of wetting myself.

I wonder what happened in those three short years. Between the ages of one and four years old, what could have happened to make me feel that the world was an unfeeling place that judged instead of nurtured? 

Today, I read a quote from Pablo Picasso in Julia Cameron’s book Walking in this World. He said, “We are all born children. The trick is to remain one.” This observation struck a chord within me, as I realized that in my journey as an artist, first as a thespian and now as a writer, I have always applied an almost Germanic zeal in ensuring “success”. As a working singer and actress, I did my vocal exercises every morning and created rituals of physical exercises and tonics and mental images to prepare me for the night’s performance. If I was understudying a lead role, I could be found almost daily in an available ballet or rehearsal room with the show’s soundtrack blaring as I went over the stage blocking and sang my songs in full voice. In the industry of musical theater (for musical theater today is, to a certain extent, largely a commercial undertaking), there was hardly any room for mistakes, and I perfected my technique to make sure none were made.

Now, as a new writer trying to hone her craft, I find myself trying to apply that same discipline and zeal to the enterprise, but find myself feeling tense and stressed. Whenever I write, I feel that I have something to prove. It’s not enough for me to know that even the best writers in the world have editors. I expect my prose to come out as clear and shining and pithy as a rapier’s blade. And so it is no surprise, I suppose, to find myself lacking the verve and enthusiasm my youth once naturally gave me. Parched and dry as a bone in the desert, I have squeezed the joy out of my creativity.

I recently discovered yoga through my neighbor and friend Lucy Fernandez. She teaches hatha yoga in a manner that encourages one to reach out in love and cradle the self tenderly. As I breathe slowly, synchronizing my breath with my movements, opening my heart to the universe as I imagine myself as a being of light, I experience something I find elusive even when I’m meditating: the immediate and lasting feeling of peace. Even though I did join her yoga class to get my jiggling body into better shape, the fitness aspect of it has become secondary to the practice of being one with the self. When I am one with my self, I do not judge myself. I look upon others and myself with compassion. My understanding grows, my perspective softens. Being one with self means being one with Thou, one with the Other, one with the Universe. Ego melts, and with it, its attendant concerns over measurable forms of “success”. 

And then, quietly, as one senses peace within, a burst of positive energy burns through the cracks: Joy. The sheer joy of being. The joy that comes with gratitude. The alleluia of waking up to the singular experience of life, THIS life, and hugging it so hard you laugh at the thought of ever having taken it for granted. 

“We are all born children. The trick is to remain one.”

Picasso knew first hand the danger of taking one’s self too seriously. I’m sure he reminded himself to play more than he worked, to make sure that work was play. He made faces, made art out of found objects, kicked a can while walking down the street. When one plays, breathing becomes a creative act. Laughter becomes genius. 

And I bring myself back to that moment, that first memory, of being a year old and knowing in my heart that I was loved and safe, that I was a delight to others, that all I needed to do was smile. I remind myself to buy a sketchbook and start doodling again, bake cookies, write silly songs and hum to myself as I do the housework. I smile at my one-year-old self, skipping around in this 36-year-old body, calling itself an “artist”, and remembering that living is an act of play.