“And then I had a key moment. Do you know what that is?”
“A key moment. Tell me.”
“That’s the moment when everything changes. There’s before, and then after. And once a key moment occurs, there’s no going back to before. You make a choice, and it’s like ringing a bell. You can’t unring it. A key moment is a feeling. Your heart tells you. The point is, you have to pay attention.”
It’s funny how things come to you. You hear something or you read something and the words resonate inside you and you know your own truth in that moment. You might not have been looking for an answer. You might not have even known that, somewhere inside, you were questioning. And there the answer is.
That used to happen to me when I’d be sitting at the piano at church, waiting for the cue for the next hymn or for the senior choir to sing and I’d listen to the sermon. It always struck me how something the minister would say would move something in me – something I didn’t even know was there.
Recently, I had lunch with my sister and our very good friend. I was celebrating the third anniversary of my release from the Rehab Ward at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre. The end of three months of pain and hard work and being very afraid, and then coming home in a wheelchair and with a walker. And then, that night, I read the passage above. And I started to cry.
Three years ago, I lost my ability to walk and wound up in the hospital not knowing why and being afraid that I would never be able to walk again or live on my own. I know that losing my ability to walk and fearing that I’d never be able to live my life on my own terms was a key moment for me. Having to pay attention to what my body was telling me meant that I had to slow down and decide what I wanted for mySelf. It meant that I had to choose ME and the life I wanted to create and no longer live from habit. In that prolonged ‘key moment’, I let go of so much that I had come to accept and replicate without question.
I’ve been thinking about other key moments in my life – times when something happened and the trajectory of my life was, forever, changed. I’ve considered those moments where there was life before and life after – where my life and who I know myself to be was changed in a nanosecond.
I was molested when I was five. I used to wonder why 1955 stood out as an important year for me. And then, when I was in my 40’s, I knew. There was Jeanie before the event and Jeanie after the event. Remembering the assault in every cell of my body explained to me so much of who I was in the world to that point.
When I was 16, I hurt my mother. I have no memory of exactly what triggered my lashing out at her or of what I did. I just remember seeing the bruise on her arm the next day – the result of my hitting her. I know this was another key moment. I asked to see a psychiatrist – my Christmas present. And four years of therapy got me to a place where I understood a lot of my choices and where I learned how to live in the world with other people so that I didn’t fear hurting myself or anyone else.
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. And, as I went through secondary school, I began to resent being intelligent. I got tired of feeling like a walking head on two feet. So, I enrolled at U of T and in the wrong programme. And I resented the restrictive rules and regulations and having to take classes that were, I believe, dumbed down for students in my programme. Each day, it got harder to go to class and, eventually, I stopped going at all. And then, I went to the registrar’s office and quit without discussing my decision with anyone else. I just listened to myself and, finally, chose for mySelf. It took quite a while to reach that decision and I know that my life was changed when I chose mySelf over what was expected of me.
When I decided to go back to university, it was in a programme of my choosing. And I decided to not live at home. I paid for my own food and lodging and my tuition. That way, pass or fail, right or wrong choice, the only person I had to please was me – the only person I owed allegiance to was me. My education was mine. Choosing to pursue my education in that way changed the entire experience for me. Another key moment.
My Aunt Marion’s death was key moment for me. I know that the shape of my world changed with that. I knew then that even those who I believed to be invincible aren’t. I felt helpless to help my mother deal with her intense grief yet I stepped in to let others know what was happening. In doing that, in taking charge, I was changed – no longer looking for succour and support and freely giving it.
When my father died, I tried to be strong and stoic and put it behind me. And that just didn’t work. In the year after he died, I either cried out loud or inside all the time. I started to have migraines and angina and digestive problems. Finally, I knew that I just couldn’t continue on as I was trying to. I chose to take a year off from work, go on medical leave and work through all the old baggage I was carrying around and which I would never have even the possibility of speaking to my father about. I took the year off and didn’t know if I would ever be able to return to teaching – if I would be able to get in front of a classroom again. I listened to mySelf and knew that I had to do what I had to do for me. And when I returned to work, I was changed – another key moment.
My mother died ten years later. Our relationship had changed in the ten years after my father’s death. She was Jean Winter, my friend, first and Jean Winter, my mother, second. How I dealt with her death was another key moment for me: I took the time I needed to grieve; I didn’t rush mySelf; I did what I needed to do for ME. I paid attention to what my internal cues told me. And I celebrated her and missed her and didn’t lose mySelf in my grieving.
The next key moment for me was retiring from teaching when I was 59. That seemed much too early for me and I didn’t feel totally ready to retire. I know that if I had been able to continue teaching while creating the experience I wanted for mySelf and for the students with whom I worked, I would not have retired. And I knew that it would not be possible for me, within the confines of contracts and Ministry of Education edicts, to create what I knew would enliven me and be valuable to my students. I recognized that there was nothing new or more for me to accomplish within the constraints of the educational system in which I worked. And so, I chose to retire. I left being a classroom teacher behind me. In that key moment, I knew that I could choose to create the learning experiences I wanted for mySelf and others in very different ways.
About a year after I retired, I got a call from my oldest sister who rarely called me. She asked me to help her and my other sister deal with a major issue. And I chose to do that without hesitation. As I was driving to Toronto to pick up my middle sister at the airport, I realized that I could and would stand up for mySelf and others and that I would never let myself be bullied by bosses or family members or colleagues or acquaintances again. I remember how I felt inside when I knew that I would never again back down or kowtow to anyone. I felt then and feel now so strong to know that. And it was another key moment – Jean, who wanted to avoid conflict at all costs, before and Jean, who would not be shamed or pushed around, after.
Choosing to complete all the WEL-Systems™ programmes was another key moment. Before starting on that journey, I felt like I was drifting and lost and confused. I wondered if that was what my life was going to be like for the rest of it. After each programme, I stepped more and more into owning the truth of who I AM. I know that my life is mine to create and that each day, I am the richer for choosing mySelf and what my internal cues tell me.
Two years ago, I chose to move. I realized that I had always lived where my teaching job was and, since I was retired, there was no tie to the community in which I had lived for over 33 years. I sold my condo, cleared out my storage unit, got rid of so much clutter, and moved to Ottawa where I had always wanted to live – a community to which I felt a deep connection. And the fun of that decision was that it was easy – no angst, no fear, no wondering if I had made the right choice. I knew that I had chosen well for mySelf when I had to return to Peterborough for a few days and then drove back home to Ottawa. When I found mySelf crying happy tears as I realized I was only about five minutes away from home, I knew that I was no longer tethered to old spaces. I had been Jean Winter, Peterborough, and now I was Jean Winter, Ottawa. Choosing to move was definitely a key moment.
When I think of the people who are important to me in my life, I know that I had a key moment in my relationship with my best friend. We lived on the same street, went to the same elementary schools and often had the same teachers. We went to movies and figure skating together and hung out together. Her mother was my second mother as mine was hers. Somewhere about the time I was 15, we just drifted apart. We went to different secondary schools and had different friends and different goals. The connection simply withered. And then, once I began working after I had quit university, we often met at the same bus stop and we’d talk on the bus until she got off. The key moment was the day that, as I was walking down the street to catch the bus, I took a chance and walked up the steps to her front door and knocked. She was home and we walked out together. And then we began to meet usually at her house a few nights a week to play cards and talk and laugh. And it grew from there. My best friend knows me better than my sisters do. She was there for me when my mother died. I was there for her when she had to deal with the loss of her mother. I supported her through all of her treatments for cancer. She called me every day that I was in the hospital. Like I said – a key moment that enriched my life. My life before she came back into it and my life after.
It might seem, on the face of it, that key moments are triggered by something sad. And that may be true for some although that hasn’t been the case for me. What I do know is that each key moment – each key decision and choice has led me to know mySelf more intimately than I did before. I didn’t get to choose the key moments in my life. I just had to be open to the possibility and to what I learned about mySelf with each one.
“You don’t get to choose when. You just have to stay open to the possibility.”
May that be possible for everyone.