Two years ago, I was in a classroom with 24 students discussing goals, challenges, and life in general. College Prep is my favorite class to teach. Every semester, I have the opportunity to guide anxious new college students on a new direction in their lives. In this class, I have heard many amazing stories that make up the lives of these hopeful, eager adults. The students talk about overcoming addictions, illnesses, abandonment, alienation, and violence. The experience is life changing for all of us.
One day, some of the students asked me to tell my story. I was hesitant at first. As the teacher for this course, how much information should I reveal? Would it be appropriate for me to show any vulnerability? Could I talk objectively about my life in a professional, positive manner? Then a thought occurred to me. Maybe my story can help other people.
With a deep breath, I began. When I was a child I had a horrible speech impediment, which was so bad my first grade teacher called my mother and told her I was “retarded.” The teacher demanded that I be immediately removed from the classroom. My mother refused. I was then challenged with intense psychological and intellectual exams. My mother was venerated when she was told I scored close to the genius level. When I returned to my first grade class my shocked teacher decided that I just must be lazy. With this in mind, she would hit me for every word I mispronounced.
The abuse continued at home as well. My father agreed with my teacher’s assessment and method of discipline. At home, I was verbally and physically punished for every clumsy word and movement. The experience left me mute for years. Not a single word would I speak to anyone, except my mother. After a year of speech therapy and a lifetime of experiences, I slowly began to regain my voice. Today, I am a teacher and public speaker.
At the end of my story, my students were quiet for a moment as they assimilated the details of my story. Then, from the back of the room, one of the students raised her hand and asked this question: “Then how come you’re always so happy? You went through all that and yet you’re always here smiling.” She sincerely and anxiously asked me, “How do you do that? How do you get to that level?”
Before I could think about it, this word came out of my mouth, “Faith.” The word even stunned me for a moment. Then I continued, “I just always had faith that life would get better.”
As the class ended and the students filed out of the room, I was shocked to hear some of them say that my story was inspirational. What?!? I had never thought of it that way. It was just my life. Me? Inspiring? No.
I then asked myself this question: “Who is the most inspiring person I know?” I immediately thought about my mother. My mother was a small, delicate, graceful woman. She was barely five feet tall, 90 pounds, with dark hair and brilliant green eyes. She was a tender, passionate daydreamer too sensitive for this world. She would spend the majority of her life bravely battling depression and forty years of domestic abuse.
That night, I began to read all of the journals I had kept over the years. My main focus was the journey my mother and I had taken together through America. We had set a goal to drive through every state. It was an amazing experience as we explored together the golden expanse of the country and our own lives. Could this be inspirational?
Slowly a book idea developed. The book would detail our journey. There would be three parts. The first part would focus on the abuse my mother and I experienced. The second part would be our adventurous tour of America as we searched for peace and tranquility. The last part would present my mother’s diagnosis and subsequent death. I would lose my mother to complications of colon cancer. This shared experience of death was as bonding for us as our journey through abuse and salvation. Death was another part of our journey together.
I completed the manuscript for The Sweetness of Life in August of 2013. The book was published in March, 2014, by Balboa Press.
My mother always used to say to me, “My life would make a great book.” I believe my mother still traveled with me as I wrote and published this book. It has been another one of our great adventures.
So, now, here it is. Our story. The Sweetness of Life—one more stop on an amazing journey that has more adventures to come.