"One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful." ~ Sigmund Freud
It's once again New Year's Eve and as I sit in front of my computer to write the next feature for my What's Your Story project, I revisit where I was a year ago. I was sitting in Claire Muollo's living room with her two sons and my husband while we watched the video I created from their photo shoot. I will always look back to that New Year's Eve with a bittersweet feeling. Little did I know that that would be the last time I would see Claire's eyes fill with tears, as she proudly and happily watched those last tender moments with her boys, captured through my lens. Claire's battle with cancer ended on April 22, 2014. (Click here to read about Claire's Story)
It has been an incredibly challenging year. Was it a difficult one for you too?
This year it is my hope to inspire you with another story of a woman whose path crossed mine recently. Even in the short time that I've known her she's already taught me something about life and myself. She has taught me to ask this simple but powerful question when faced with yet another life challenge: "How do I want to be in this situation?" Let me tell you why.
At thirty-three years of age, Marisol has had a fair share of bad days that began early in her childhood. Raised by a hard-working single mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Marisol craved for the love of her father who walked away from the family when she was only five. Her mother became the bread winner and disciplinarian of the family as she worked tirelessly to raise her two daughters in a safe and loving home. The combination of a full-time job and single parenting proved to be a challenge for Marisol's mother. In order to keep the household running, Marisol's mother needed to hire a babysitter to care for her two daughters. At such an innocent and precious age of 6, the thing that no parent would ever wish on their young daughter happened. Marisol was sexually abused by her babysitter. It was a secret she kept to herself as Marisol admits later in life that fear and shame stopped her from telling even her own mother until she turned 18.
It is common knowledge that the first several years of a child's life significantly shapes how she/he views the world. Marisol's early childhood experiences proved to be quite a confusing time in her life. She was forced to grow up into early adulthood without a sense of trust and security. As she headed into her high school years, the practice of suppressing anger from the early years continued. She had difficulty with who she wanted to be while still struggling with the question of who she was and the whys of what happened to her. Left without much of a choice she strived to move forward with a strong mental attitude. Amidst all the hardships she made up her mind that self-pity is not an option. Deep in her heart she knew that there was a bigger and a much brighter future she can paint for herself outside the hard lines of life's unpredictable twists and turns.
Just as she started pursuing her dream of becoming an architect, life took an unexpected detour. Marisol fell in love and soon after became a mother to a baby boy. Her son's father began to show signs of hot temper which was attributed to constant alcohol and drug abuse. In addition to that he was unable to step up to the financial responsibility of supporting a family. Marisol's career ambition was put on hold when she had to withdraw from school to raise her child while working full time. After repeated verbal and physical abuse from the man she fell in love with, her anger reached a boiling point. Her desperate cry for relief from all anguish came as Marisol's saving grace. This was the day she stumbled upon a boxing gym.
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She walked into the gym and asked the owner if she could throw a few punches which then caught the eye of one of the trainers. For Marisol she was just hitting that bag out of frustration but to the trainer, well, he saw talent. The trainer welcomed her and offered to train her at no cost. Soon Marisol was fighting the Diamond Gloves only three weeks into the program. Although unprepared, she took the challenge and lost her first fight by only one point. The rematch against the same opponent which followed several months later led to a victory for Marisol.
Marisol credits her victory to a sweet science of fighting which isn't merely about throwing punches. Fighting your opponent is like a chess match rather than fighting like a savage animal. You learn how to control your anger, be patient, counteract and fight in defense of yourself. Along with these she also developed mental toughness and self-discipline. Marisol's boxing career shaped a much needed new outlook in life and allowed her to care more. When I asked her what made her a good fighter, she said "I didn't worry about what they're gonna do to me. You can get hit and lose if you play their game. I focused on playing my game and what I knew. When your focus is on what they're gonna do to you, you get knocked down."
Marisol's approach got me thinking. I now see that this mindset is a way of dealing with life. Do you sometimes get so wrapped up over what other people's intentions are instead of focusing on your own? Marisol helped me realized just that. I need to focus on what I know by staying in my game. Don't you agree? She also added, "Whatever bad that comes your way, God uses it for good. He'll make you a champion out of that."
Now having the necessary tools and the confidence, Marisol took her training to a whole new level. She joined the Chuck Norris World Combat League (WCL) where she worked religiously with a trainer in preparation for a big fight in Miami. When she arrived in Miami, Marisol learned that her trainer would not be in her corner. Once again she felt abandoned and alone. Instead of pitying herself, she did what she knew best, which is to fight her own game.
Feeling worn down, Marisol decided to have a post-fight body massage which she has never experienced before. She recalls the sense of healing that the massage brought to her body and mind, not realizing that this would be a silver lining that would write a new chapter in her life. Through this experience she discovered her love for massage therapy. Upon her return from Miami, she enrolled at Lincoln Tech in Brockton to begin her new career as a massage therapist.
After learning Marisol's story, I believe that inspite of life's punches Marisol came out a champion. She was able to leave an abusive relationship and raised her son in a secure and loving environment. She kept him enrolled in a charter school to ensure quality education despite a grueling daily commute. Her main focus became the life she provides for her son. Being a massage therapist now allows her to help others who need a break and are feeling weary from the everyday stresses of life. She has also found peace and joy through music and has began teaching herself how to play the guitar. Most of all, she has not given up on love because she believes that love is the most beautiful thing in this world. Despite her hard luck when it comes to relationships, Marisol believes that the right person will come when she is ready.
Marisol describes her life with the acronym "TRAPPPS". She reflects back on her life experiences and events as: Traumatic, Rape, Abusive, Psychological, Physical, Painful and Sadness. It was indeed what appeared to have been the perfect storm of 'trappps" that was inflicted upon her. Marisol metaphorically sees 'trappps' as a stronghold similar to a ball and chain attached to your feet that hold you back from becoming who you really are. Deliberately embedding these words into her mind fuels her to turn anger into love and helps her to get what her heart desperately yearns for: refuge and deliverance through her faith in God. Her belief in the power of choosing how to BE in every situation ultimately sets her free.
"It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself." ~ Mohammad Ali
In closing, I would like to share with you a song that Marisol holds close to her heart called "Bittersweet Symphony". When I read the lyrics to the song, I understood why she felt so connected to it. The song is about the feeling of being trapped and powerless due to life circumstances beyond your control. It's about the sense of desperation that overpowers you as you watch your life pass before your eyes while you unsuccessfully struggle to control and shape it. Marisol knew that her life could be different, that she could be a better person and live a more meaningful life. She broke that rigid mold that kept her on a steady trajectory which limited her choices. Most of all, she found refuge by praying to God just as the song tells us. It is her faith that continues to bring clarity, love, beauty and temporary relief in the kind of life she has been given.
I wish each and every one of you a New Year filled with faith, hope, and lots of love.