There’s a story that means a lot to me right now, because it reflects so accurately my inner state, in this period of getting back into the right shape and dedicating myself to my health, my body, strengthening my mental resolve and in turn fortifying my sense of self-worth and value.
I want to tell you this story as a metaphor for explaining where I’m at in this journey. Storytelling is so important and in today’s technology it’s a tradition that is all too often lost and forgotten.
This story is from the book “Women Who Run With The Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and is called The Little Match Girl.
There was a little girlchild who had neither a mother nor a father, and she lived in the dark forest. There was a village at the edge of the forest and she had learned that she could buy matches for a half-penny there, and that she could sell them on the street for a full penny. If she sold enough matches, she could buy a crust of bread, return to her lean-to in the forest and sleep there dressed in all the clothes she owned.
The winter came and it was very cold. She had no shoes, and her coat was so thin she could see through it. Her feet were past the point of being blue, her toes were white; so were her fingers and the end of her nose. She wandered the streets and begged strangers, would they please buy matches from her? But no one stopped and no one paid her any attention.
So she sat down one evening saying, “I have matches. I can light a fire and I can warm myself.” But she had no kindling and no wood. She decided to light the matches anyway.
As she sat there with her legs straight out in front of her, she struck the first match. As she did, it seemed that the cold and the snow disappeared altogether. What she saw instead of swirling snow was a room, a beautiful room with a great dark green ceramic stove with a door with iron scrollwork. The stove emanated so much heat it made the air wavy. She snuggled up close to the stove and it felt heavenly.
But all of a sudden the stove went out, and she was again sitting in the snow, shivering so bitterly the bones in her face chimed. And so she struck the second match, and the light fell upon the wall of the building next to where she sat and she could suddenly see through it. In the room behind the wall was a snowy cloth covering a table, and there on the table were china plates of the purest white, and on a platter was a goose that had just been cooked, and just as she was reaching for this repast, the vision disappeared.
She was again in the snow. But now her knees and her hips no longer hurt. Now the cold was stinging and burning its way up her arms and torso, and so she lit the third match.
And in the light of the third match was a beautiful Christmas tree, beautifully decorated with white candles with lacy ruffs, and beautiful glass ornaments, and thousands of little dots of light that she couldn’t quite make out.
And she looked up the trunk of this enormous tree, that went higher and higher, and stretched farther and farther toward the ceiling until it became the stars in the heavens over her head and suddenly a star blazed across the sky, and she remembered her mother had told her that when a soul dies, a star falls.
And out of nowhere her grandmother appeared, so warm and so kind, and the child felt so happy to see her. The grandmother picked up her apron and put it around the child, held her close with both arms, and the child was content.
But the grandmother began to fade. And the child struck more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her … and more and more and more … and together she and the grandmother began to rise together up into the sky where there was no cold and no hunger and no pain. And in the morning, between the houses, the child was found still, and gone.
I’ll level with you. Coming out of my ten-year relationship and going through a divorce with three small children, I was that match girl. I was searching, searching, searching for warmth and light anywhere I could find it, because I felt cold, broken, and poor in spirit and mind. Sometimes I would find a spark and like the match girl, I’d imagine it into fantasy-land, thinking now all my problems would be solved, and then my fantasy bubble would pop and I’d find myself right back where I started: with my poor, sad self.
Anytime we’re trying to escape ourselves, we’re most likely avoiding some issue that hurts. None of us wants to be in pain; it’s not natural to the human spirit to crave painful experiences. I think that’s why a lot of people are afraid of the gym and workouts too. They think it’s going to hurt physically, it’s going to be too tough mentally, and so, they just avoid it.
I’ve come to a place where I’m realizing that I have an impulse to “light a match” every time I meet a man who intrigues me, and I instantly create a vision of the lovely feast in front of me and how it is going to satisfy my every hunger, only to find that the match light fizzles out when I realize that it was all about me wanting someone else to fill me up, and it didn’t materialize.
The hard reality of my first true week of “kicking ass” in the gym is just that—a cold, hard truth: it will never materialize.
My worth is never going to materialize through someone else, or outside of myself. I’m not saying that we don’t need others to survive and thrive—of course, we do. But at the same time, we have to find a way to make ourselves understand first that we are already whole as an individual.
It’s a bittersweet pill to swallow, because the mentality that someone else will make me happy—if I could only be “lucky” enough or smart enough or pretty enough or whatever enough to find and keep him—has kept me “safe” in a twisted sort of way. By allowing me to imagine that others were somehow responsible for my happiness, it gave me the ability to blame others if I didn’t get what I wanted. If others didn’t respond to me the way I wanted them to, then that was “their problem” and “their loss,” when what my soul was really crying out for was for me to feed it and stop looking for others to nourish it.
The author of this version of the story says: “The child is in a situation where she has resigned herself to her ‘place’ in life. If this has happened to you, unresign yourself and come out kicking ass.”
Well folks, that’s it. Although it’s a mighty struggle, and I feel about as lonely and sad sometimes as a divorced mother of three young children can rightfully feel, I’m pushing through it. I’m hitting the gym five days a week for me and to avoid wasting my precious light for a discount price.
To make change, you have to move. You have to get up and move: mind, spirit and body. They all work together, and not necessarily at the same pace, but one thing is for sure: if you move body, mind is going to start moving along with it, and it might be painful and it might be pretty, but it definitely will not be easy. That’s the part that I think scares people. They must somehow know this, that in taking a step for themselves, to love themselves and take care of their physical bodies, they are going to have to face some of that invisible emotional baggage that’s been weighing them down too.
But, as I look ahead to week two, which is going to be even more intense for me and each and every day is going to be a struggle to the finish line in the gym, at least I can say I am coming out kicking ass, and, I am training my body to get into shape while I teach my mind that I am already whole, and I don’t have to ever look outside of myself again to gain my sense of self-worth.