In one of my pre-children epiphanies, I knew I was “ready” when I realized I would never be ready. As with so many things in life, no amount of preparation can really satisfy what only experience in real-time can teach you. And, had anyone tried to tell me all that I have learned in the last six years since becoming a parent, I wouldn’t have appreciated it.

I remember one summer when I was about 11 years old, standing at the top of the high dive during a week-long stint at camp. I had climbed the ladder, prepared to jump and then found myself frozen in fear at the edge of the diving board. I couldn’t jump. There was nothing to gauge my readiness to step off the edge. I was paralyzed by my fear of heights. Somehow, though, I did finally jump, plunging into the water below and resurfacing to the applause of my friends. There was no room to consider how ready I was to hurl myself into the air off of a flimsy diving board and plummet into a cold swimming pool to arise with a wedgie and a nose full of water; someone else was waiting behind me to jump, so I had better get on with it! Apparently, the memory is still vivid. Yet, I survived, and that leap was the first of many leaps into unknown waters I have taken in the years since.

While there are things for which we can never be ready and must jump, often blindly into, and learn to sink or swim, there are also times when gauging our readiness is critical. When our actions and decisions directly impact others, we must weigh the consequences, regardless of how ready we feel we are for the next step. Or, when we find our foundation shifting, when stability is threatened or loss chokes out our sense of choice, leaving us to feel powerless, we must take pause and not passively let circumstances dictate our fate.

A couple of weeks ago, I filed the paperwork in the county courthouse to return to my maiden name. I had not been ready, nearly two years ago, to depart from my married name. Decision after decision loomed. Grief and sadness paralyzed me. My security was threatened as I watched my marriage of 14 years crumble. Without realizing it at the time, I was clinging to what little control I had, holding on to all that I could to maintain some dignity when so much was out of my depth to stop. I wasn’t ready yet.

Thankfully no one pressed me on the matter. Sure friends wondered what I would do, but there was no pressure to explain my reasoning for not changing my name right away, for not getting rid of my wedding dress sooner or throwing out sappy love notes written between two people who are now strangers. I was not ready yet.

So, as it goes with healing, our forward motion may be imperceptible to all, including ourselves. Then one day, we find we are ready for a step we had not been ready for before, and we put one foot in front of the other. We must first, however, honor ourselves by listening to our gut and trusting our instincts to not just react but, instead, to respect our need for wise timing. And when we have our bearings, we can empower ourselves by choosing when we are ready and pacing ourselves with each step we take; and in so doing, we restore our dignity.

S.C. Burke

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