This is the day my momma Rose (Rosabel Rhodes Isetti), would have turned 87. She was born August 18, 1934 and she left this Earth on August 26, 2019. I miss her all the time and I am so GRATEFUL to still have my sister, Marina, and our daddy, Ampelio. I have these touchstones of remembrance and connection that keep me grounded when I feel my insides take flight in reach of my mom. I want to call her on my way home from work and hear her voice say, “Hi, my Peach”, just one more time.
Strong, smart women really inspire me. I had the great pleasure of visiting the Chicago Art Institute for the Bisa Butler portraits exhibit on the last day of Black History month and on the cusp of Women’s History Month. My mother would have LOVED this exhibit beyond measure.
The portraits that were the most profound for me were “Dear Mama” and “Survivor”. Truth be told, there was not one piece in that exhibit that did not elicit a strong, visceral response for me. The work was magnificent, and I was awestruck; the images portray a deep knowing. My friend remarked after the exhibit that she felt as though she had just read an entire book. “A memoir”, I said.
What strikes me is how much we need these stories. Other women’s stories. Other people’s stories. We each walk around in this world having our own experiences but without the stories and voices of others, our own experiences can be so pale.
Thinking about my mother, and going to see the Bisa Butler exhibit, has inspired me to write about how women have shaped my life. When I was a young teen my mother gave me two books that I still have and love, and that helped shaped me then, and continue to do so: Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day by Nikki Giovanni and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I read The Color Purple, in 1982, the year it was published and several years before it became a movie. If you haven’t read it, I hope you will. Reading these books propelled me to read everything written by Giovanni and Walker, and then to read more…and more, seeking other stories where I could find myself among the pages.
In the ’80s my mother gave me another book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It brims with stories of women who dance to the beat of a different drum. In this book, Estes was somehow describing my experience, written in words I had not heard before but in my own, familiar vernacular.
I remember what it felt like before and after I read those books. I remember feeling lost and alone and like no one spoke my language. I also remember feeling immediately connected to the authors and the characters they created. I felt seen and heard and known, finally.
The strength of women is something I have always admired.
When I was at the Bisa Butler exhibit I saw the portrait “Survivor” and before I read the caption, I knew. The image is still vivid in my mind. It portrays a survivor of female genital mutilation who is being comforted and held by two other women. Who else could comfort this woman? The imagery is so strong and powerful because this story is so old, so loud, so frightening. Yet women rise again and again.
In Italy, during WWll, and after her husband was captured and put into a work camp, my paternal grandmother had to feed German soldiers (who were occupying their farm) instead of feeding her own five children. Still, she rose.
My maternal grandmother found the courage to divorce her alcoholic, abusive husband in the 1940s and became a single mother. This was just not done at the time. Countless other women didn’t, or couldn’t, and so many did not survive to share their truth. Still, she rose.
How do we become brave? How do we find the courage to get on with it? Some would say ‘we just do’. We rise.
Books, and the stories of characters who found the strength to overcome and rise helped me come alive. And as important as books were and are to me, the movement itself sustained me and carried me forward. I have always been grounded in my physical body and as a child, I could not be kept indoors. I played all day; football, basketball, climbing, exploring, running, and jumping. I had to be outside, rain or shine. I distinctly remember playing outside in the rain watching the rain rush into the gutters. I remember when I moved to Italy, long before cellphones, walking around Salsomaggiore Terme in the rain, listening to music on a cassette tape (yes, a cassette), my aunt worried for me. But I needed solitude, and the outdoors and rain and music–and I still do.
Looking back to my teen years I reflect on my challenges, my growth, and my human need to understand myself, as well as to be seen and heard.
I am very fortunate to work with teens. Lots of them. It has become a calling, and I love it.
I feel vitally alive when I am helping a young person to know themselves either through strength and conditioning, breathwork, or life coaching. I don’t have any magic but I do have my own experiences to share, and the miracle of love. The love I received, but also all the love I needed but didn’t receive. I have all this love to give through my presence.
So, what makes a healthy teen a healthy human?
To me it’s this:
Being seen and heard.
Being in a space where they are not judged as not enough.
Being in a space where they can freely express themselves within boundaries of safety and respect.
Being in a space where the boundaries are clear and constant.
Being with a mentor who allows expression without judgment.
And more, as I don’t pretend to have it all figured out.
A lot of people have an experience with a coach who berates or belittles them under the guise of encouragement or building mental toughness. There is a trove of research to prove that those techniques are ineffective and damaging. No one responds well to being diminished, yet that is a pervasive practice throughout youth sports.
While I believe in (and participate in) ‘coaching coaches’ to know why they are doing what they are doing, I have focused my efforts on helping youth athletes know themselves so they can navigate the systems, good or bad, that are in place.
I can share with teens how I have been there, that I know the feeling, and mostly, that I overcame it. I don’t have a formula but I have an understanding, a remembering, and a will to grow and learn. I work to find ways to feel grounded in my own life so that I can share. Life is about learning to accept what is and choose what else. There is nothing easy about living. But we can overcome any obstacle no matter how devastating it might seem at first.
Understanding the emotions of people helps me raise them from the depths of despair toward joy. There is an emotional guidance scale that Gabby Bernstein shares:
- Positive Expectation/Belief
The farther we are from joy the farther we are from getting what we truly want. But as Gabby describes you can’t just change your thoughts to “joy”, you must authentically rise through emotions. You must feel things. One practice I ask clients to do is really describe how they feel…and “fine” is not an answer. What is fine? What is underneath fine? You must get there and unearth the actual feeling.
I truly believe that helping people heal is my calling. Healing can mean a variety of things including recovery, weight loss, running a marathon, learning to eat in a way that makes you feel amazing, gaining fitness, getting stronger, quitting a bad habit, or many other things. It is all healing because it involves replacing limiting beliefs with new decisions that raise you up the scale toward joy. You rise.
It is hard to be in touch with what you really want most, especially when you may feel depressed or overwhelmed. I have processes to help people move up the scale through negative emotions, by using movement or breathing meditation.
The secret ingredient is your willingness to participate in your own process. I’ve had clients come to me and say “just tell me what to do”, or “I don’t want to think…that’s why I am here.”
For those people, I was sorry to inform them that I could not help them. I am not a well of “fixings”. I am a guide who can walk with you, but never for you.
No one can walk your journey for you, and the first part of your journey is to reclaim your power on the way to meeting any, or all, of your goals.
I would offer this advice to anyone who is considering their own transformation: Make JOY the absolute barometer of success. If you are not loving the process you will never love the product. What you plant is what you grow!
So, I say, plant JOY and LOVE and FUN!