Carol ~ The Value Project // Hillsborough, NC
I didn’t know Carol very well when I asked her to be a part of The Value Project. I had met her through the coffee shop and was really impressed with the quiet way she carried herself. She is beautiful, elegant, gracious. Since our interview, I have had the opportunity to spend more time with this lovely woman. She has welcomed me into her life and enveloped me, in a way. We’ve talked, I’ve cried; She’s listened and cared. She has become very dear to me and feel incredibly honored that she has allowed me into this space that she has so intentionally created.
“One of the things that I’ve always known about myself is that I’m really good at seeing a path forward for people and I’m really good at seeing the silver lining. It brings me a lot of pleasure and joy to talk to people that are struggling with something. It’s always very easy for me to flip it around and I can sit for a while with people in very dark places, without judgement. To say that any of us are judgement free is BS. We all have them. But I really do feel like I can get around mine pretty quickly. My career, my job has never been a big emphasis in my life. It’s been relationships and friends. I have come to understand that one of my roles is an up-lifter or that I have a catalytic sort of spirit to me. It’s often easier for me to that for other people than it is for me to do that for myself. Although, I can apply that to myself. I can look at a problem or something that I’ve felt a lot of pain about and find a way to transform that. I don’t like the terms “transcend” or “get over it”. I really do feel that you have to weave that pain into your life and use it; keep it and hold it someplace. I don’t think you ever get over really serious hurts. They can be used in a really productive way.”
“I was raised Roman Catholic, so themes like resurrection and transformation were always intriguing to me. I loved all the stories of the saints who did unusual things, while their spirits lived on. The mystical side of Catholicism was always much more meaningful to me than the church side. I believe that we all deserve second, third, fourth chances. What that means for you inter-personally when you’re dealing with someone that has maybe hurt you, that’s a whole other ball of wax. I really understand people who are dealing with shame. I don’t know where this comes from. I think as a kid, I was always super sensitive to other people anyway. If someone was getting yelled at or punished, it just went inside me. I can remember making a conscious decision at age 12, that this hurts too much to feel this much. I can remember the day: I was laying on my stomach on a dock, looking at a pond and somebody said something that hurt my feelings. I remember thinking, ‘I am not going to do this’ and it wasn’t until age 19 or 20 when my dad died, to open that back up again.”
“I was a rebellious teenager and he was a very compassionate, kind, gentle, rational person. He was an engineer. I was this wild, energetic, precocious, kind of mouthy kid. I got into drugs and I was drinking at an early age, cause that’s what you did in our community. We were always at odds and I always felt like I was disappointing him, so the minute I got out of high school, I drove to California with a boyfriend that they didn’t approve of and we lived in California for a while. While I was gone, my sister, brother, mom and dad were in a car accident. My dad was killed and my mom and sister were hurt. It has stuck with me that I never got to have a healed relationship with my dad. However, the minute I flew home and saw him in the casket, I felt like our relationship really blossomed. There was a way that there was no longer these physical bodies and personalities that we couldn’t see each other anymore, but that it was really spirit to spirit. I felt seen by my father and I could see him. He was a very beloved person. He was kind, generous and helpful to other people and an enormous amount of people showed up at his funeral. I think there were 900 hundred people there. It helped me to see, as a young person who was going from teenager to a woman, it really helped me to see a side of my dad that I had really neglected and not acknowledged. Even though that was a very tragic event for our family, (my dad was 47, my mom was 44 with 3 teenagers) it allowed me to have a lot of healing with my family. I wanted to honor that fact, that there was something lost, but that I could start to turn my life around. I was going nowhere fast. It was a couple of years after that, I was very aware of the presence of my father. I had a friend who was a psychic, who did a couple of readings for me and I remember one vividly. She said to me, ‘Your father was walking down the hall with you at school and he also appeared at the foot of your bed.’ Those two things actually happened. I distinctly remember walking down Carol Hall at UNC School of Business and being suddenly aware of my dad with me. I wanted him to be proud of me, that I had actually gone to college. I was just very aware of him being there. The night before I was going to see Camille, I remember laying in my bed, contemplating a little bit and I really did see my dad at the foot of my bed. I can remember saying, ‘I’m doing okay’. When I graduated from the University of Michigan, I felt that was me saying to my dad, ‘You didn’t have to worry about me. I wasn’t really going to screw anything up that bad; I wasn’t going to hurt myself, stay a wild child for too long, but I needed to do that.’ I wanted to create this ongoing relationship with my dad as best as I could.”
“Maybe 5-6 years ago, I knew that I wanted to build a big table to have friends and family to sit around, share meals and talk. My dad was an engineer, an artist and a furniture maker. My dad had made a lot of large tables with benches, for us out at our cabin in Michigan and for my uncles and cousins. A friend of mine had a beautiful shop and I asked if he would help me to build a table. We met once a week for about 5 months and we designed it together. The wood was very rustic, full of knots and holes and I wanted to use some of my dads tools. There wasn’t much left, but I had a planer and a few other things. My dad died in 1982 and here we were in 2005. I wanted to take that loss and transform it into something that gave me joy. At the time, I was married, very briefly for two years and it was an extraordinary marriage. We were married two years, to the day; July 11, 2000 to July 11, 2002. It felt very much like a contract. We had come together to walk this path, (he had esophageal cancer). He had two teenagers at the time and they’re still very close to me and in my life. I used a couple of his tools as well.”
“Even though I felt close to my dad and I felt like I had healed a lot from that loss in the family, there were many times that I wondered what our relationship would be like? I love to design, I love to build and make things. He had a lot of technical skills that I didn’t have and I have a much better eye than he did. I thought that we would have made a great team, so I had this fantasy of us designing and making things together. I was approaching the age he was when he died; He was 47 and my husband, Tim, also died when he was 48. I was reaching this place where I realized that the two most important men in my life were gone. I was about to surpass their age and live beyond them. It also made me aware that in the times when I felt tired and stressed, that I felt profoundly unprotected, like I didn’t belong to anyone or anything. In those weak and tired moments, I felt a little forsaken. But, I didn’t want that to expand and be the story. The idea of making the table was to take something that felt like a hidden or secret kind of hurt and to make it into something where I would always have community and family around. I’m not alone: I’ll never be alone. There are family and friends around all of the time. there are people that need me and I need them. I felt like a table was a great way to make that idea manifest. It’s very contemplative too. When it came time to finish the table, I didn’t want to use a hand sander. I wanted to scrape it and plane things by hand because I really just wanted to think, pray, cry. It’s just this source of joy now. I could dwell over the negative, I could dwell over the loss or I could use that very thing. What does loss feel like? It feels like the lack of something, so how do you turn that into the addition of something? I think that it’s really sacred work for all of us to take our tragedies and use that as the propellant for going forward. I don;t think you have to seal it off in some other place. It almost needs to get woven into your life and honored in a way… I love the idea of taking the darkest, hardest, ugliest thing; don’t shy away from it. Just go in there and grab it, stare at it and then see how you can soften it, lighten it and turn it into something powerful in your life…”
Carol’s home is quiet, calming, peaceful. The front door was open, allowing a breeze to flow through the house. The wind chimes hanging just outside her door were creating a sweet soundtrack to her stories. I found myself getting caught up in the words she shared, in her thoughts. We were coming up on an hour and it felt like no time had passed at all.
“Last year, thousands of refugees were pouring daily into Greece. That story had a profound affect on me. Here were these people leaving everything that they had. They were willing to go someplace where they had no connections, no resources, just to be free. It really helped a lot of these petty worries that I was having about my life, what I had or had not achieved, just fall away. I have so much freedom, so much safety. I was searching for a way to make a difference for somebody. I was willing to have refugees come and live with me. Right about that time, a friend ended up moving in with me for about 6 months. With her came a daughter, occasionally her son, another daughter and her boyfriend, so it had that texture to it. O wasn’t bringing Syrian refugees into my home, but I was welcoming a refugee of sorts. Someone who needed a haven while they sorted out what was next in their life. It was as much a benefit to me as it was to her. We spent morning’s drinking coffee and talking about life, astrology, our families and it was very satisfying for both of us.We both needed something inside of each other. I have laughed so much in the last 6 months! I created this space. It’s not a lot, but it can be really something to someone who needs it and I want to welcome people into it. I also designed it and my life in such a way so that it has as few moving parts as possible. I feel like i can pick up and leave with having to worry about leaving a bunch of things behind. It’s really liberating to me. Even the way that Riley is set up is the same. There’s a leash and bowl in my car; he doesn’t need anything else. He was a conscious choice too. I wanted a living, breathing animal in this house. Hes not really what I was looking for when I went to get a dog. He’s just kind of a goof. he has these moments where he does look kind of regal, but he is clownish. I guess I feel that way too… He’s been a really great pal and companion. I can never say that I’m alone.”
“The world can be a battering place. It’s not additive, it’s cumulative. We all need to be really tender with ourselves. I want to be really aware of what other people are experiencing. I always learn something from what other people are going through and you never know how things are going to land or what is going to mean something to someone… As much as I wanted to escape my small town as a teenager, I think it’s ironic that I wound up in a town very similar to it. I had an enormous family on both sides. I don’t have them around me, I haven’t for a long time, but I’ve recreated a version of that here in Hillsborough. This is a really beautiful place to heal.”