Epilogue – Anita

The photo above is me, my Mother Valentina and my sister Kornelia.

When my oldest daughter heard I was going to be the epilogue, she asked if she could write the introduction.  Hannah conferred with her sister and brother and this is what she came up with:

I’m pretty sure she’s not going to like what I am about to do.

Partly because I’m plagiarizing her first blog entry, but hey, I’m a biologist not a writer.

But mostly because she’s too humble. When I found out that she had actually decided to profile herself for this project (which I’ve been hoping for all along) I was ecstatic. But I also immediately knew that someone else was going to have to write her introduction because there was no way she would brag about herself enough. So that’s why I’m here.

My mother is an extraordinary woman. I think by this point we all know this is true.

2016-03-01_0006.jpg

One of the only photos of my mother and me. It is priceless to me.

Her project #leapfear began as a tribute to her own mother, another woman I was blessed to have in my life, but it developed into something so much more. My mom has the remarkable ability to change people’s lives for the better, and she did just that by turning her own pain into something beautiful and transformative. She created an amazing platform for 29 women who have gone through various hardships, struggled with their own personal demons, and made it through the other side to share their stories with us. Each of them brought something inspiring to this project and shared valuable lessons with all of us, but none of them would have had this opportunity if it hadn’t been for her desire to help people.

She’s obviously very gifted with the technical components of photography, but it’s what she does with this skill that makes her unique. Her goal has always been, in her words, “to help people see themselves the way we see them”. But that’s no easy task. It takes someone with a beautiful heart to bring out the best in people and make them comfortable enough to be themselves in front of a complete stranger with a big camera pointing straight at them. And in my (only slightly biased) opinion, no one is able to do that better than she does. While those of us who’ve been following this project have been deeply moved by these stories, I think these women themselves have also been changed. They’ve been given the chance to see how beautiful and strong they are, and as someone who’s also been on that side of my mother’s camera, I know just how powerful that can be.

I think there’s another reason why this project is so powerful though: it was created by a woman who is the definition of what it means to leap fear. When I was little, I thought she was fearless. Recently, I realized I was wrong. She has plenty of fears, many of which we share (curse you, genetics!). But in my defence, the reason I didn’t realize this at the time was because she flourishes in spite of them and makes the daily leap look effortless. She fills every room she walks into with energy and positivity. She can strike up a conversation with complete strangers and leave with a new best friend. She is an incredible teacher, not only because of her skill in helping people learn, but also because of how deeply she cares for her students. I know many of her former students read this blog, and I’m certain they could tell you just how deeply she impacted them. She is a warm, encouraging, thoughtful and fierce friend who will go to the ends of the earth for the people she loves. Like she said, she’s the soft one; I could probably tell you exactly how many times she cried while reading this. But she’s also the strongest person I know. She is beautiful, kind, intelligent, articulate, passionate and brave. And she is the best mother anyone could possibly ask for.

2016-03-01_0015.jpg

Portrait taken by my son in Sorrento last summer.

I’ve known her for 20 years (it feels more like a lifetime!), and she continues to inspire me every single day. She’s the reason that I still feel like I can do literally anything I set my mind to, no matter how much life tries to get in the way. She’s the reason I’m sitting in a little house in the middle of a tiny village in South Africa while writing this. She’s my biggest cheerleader (along with my dad, of course), my strongest support system, and, ever since my teenage embarrassment of my parents wore off, my closest friend.

You continue to change lives every day. Your friends and family are so proud of you. Bobute is so proud of you. You accomplished even more than you set out to with this project, and I think you changed far more lives than you planned on. On behalf of all your readers, thank you for taking us along for the ride.

 

 

Anita here.  I struggled with what images to use for my post.  I actually tried to take some creative artsy ones but the people I showed thought they weren’t right for this post.  To be honest, recreating the images I took of the other women in #leapfear was technically far too difficult and somehow didn’t feel right.  So instead, I chose to share some old images with you.  There are captions with each so you can have the context. I hope you can forgive me.

One of the few photos I have of my Mom and Dad both looking relaxed in front of the camera.

One of the few photos I have of my Mom and Dad both looking relaxed in front of the camera.

 

2016-03-01_0009.jpg

Anita in Grade 5 dressed as a Mountie for a tap dance recital.

So I made the mistake of reading my daughter’s introduction before I sat down to write this.

Big. Mistake.

Trouble is, she doesn’t know. I feel like such a fraud right now.

The short answer to the first question I asked the women of #leapfear (What changed that made you realize you were living a life of fear?): my children.

Let me explain.

My LBC (life before children) was riddled with fear. Don’t get me wrong. I have had many parts of my life that were blessed. Loving and supportive family and friends, amazing opportunities, wonderful experiences.

But I think my life was ruled by fear.

I was afraid of failure.
I was afraid of not making the right decisions.
I was afraid of letting people down.
I was afraid of happiness.

2016-03-01_0010.jpg

Anita in Grade 1. Proof how portraits and prints matter. They last long after digital drives fail. Print your pictures this week.

 

 

There were good reasons for all of these fears, but it is not an important part of this story.

What IS important, is that it was in the very fabric of my being. I didn’t even notice it was there.

 

2016-03-01_0001.jpg

Family photo from Summer of 2015. We were in Sorrento and I hired a photographer to do a family session. Best. Idea. Ever. For this photo, we were on a busy street and our photographer was on the other side waiting for gaps in the traffic. The man in the far right of the image was a complete stranger that happened to jump into the photo. That is why we are all laughing. I think this might be the one we enlarge for over the fireplace;) Photo credit to: Chiara Natale for Flytographer

 

Once you realized that you were living a life in fear, what stopped you from moving forward? What held you back for so long?

My life really began in earnest the moment I had children. As they grew, I started to become aware at how much fear had ruled MY life. And how I was determined that fear was not to rule theirs.

2016-03-01_0008.jpg

Selfie at the top of the Eiffel Tower summer 2015. Anita in the bottom corner, Kathleen, Michael, Drew and Hannah at the top.

2016-03-01_0002.jpg

Leaping with joy in Sorrento, Italy. Photo credit to: Chiara Natale for Flytographer

 

2016-03-01_0003.jpg

One of my favourite photos of my husband and me together. Big arms and all:) Photo credit to: Chiara Natale for Flytographer

Once I had that figured out, I didn’t look back. I am terrified shitless still. The difference is that I just push myself through it, quivering insecure mess that I am (right Drew?).

My children taught me that taking risks in life are important, that growth comes from failure and that success is only possible from trying.

How else can you make sense of watching a child learn to swim, play hockey, audition for shows, try out for teams, perform on a stage, travel to other continents, organize peers, face bullies, and face their fears with great courage and empathy? They did all that and more. They did things I would NEVER have dreamed of trying. They did it IN SPITE of their fear.

I just don’t feel worthy to be their mother sometimes.

All three of them simply amaze me.

 

 

IMG_9857

This was taken a couple of years ago when my son and I went to Florida for March Break (go Jays!!). It was my birthday and my son arranged for the rest of the family to be online at the same time to wake me up. Hannah was in University in Ottawa, Kathleen was on a theatre trip in New York City and my husband was holding the fort down in London. Doesn’t matter if we are apart, we are still together.

 

 

2016-03-01_0016.jpg

My children, Hannah, Michael and Kathleen above Florence, Italy summer 2015.

 

 

2016-03-01_0007.jpg

Cooking class in Rome, Italy. An amazing way to spend time with your family. Summer 2015

 

Once you did take the leap, what did you have to let go of?

My daughter recently challenged me. She said Mom, if you were to take on running like you do everything else, you could run marathons.

If you know me, that is hysterically funny.

But if you REALLY know me, there is much truth in that statement.

I have a history of throwing myself into things and not coming out until I have mastered it. Cooking was like that for me. I had no idea how to cook. I obsessively watched cooking shows, read cookbooks and practiced until I could do it. I was motivated. I was newly married to a man that loved great food. It was my way to say I loved him.

I was never the person who knew they wanted to be a teacher all my life. In fact, it was an impulsive decision in my final year of grad school. Oddly enough, there was some fear motivating that decision too.

So I became a teacher. And I was determined to be the very best I could be. I grabbed every opportunity to learn how to be better. I have loved that career and feel so lucky to have fallen into it.

A couple of years ago, I saw an online photography course. I told my husband that I think I was supposed to do it. But I also made it clear, that I wasn’t dabbling in it. I was going to make a career out of it. His response? It was about time I should do it.

So there is a pattern.

I am still terrified with every leap I take. It just doesn’t stop me.

2016-03-01_0017.jpg

Gondola ride in Venice. Bucket list item checked off. Interestingly, even though it was something I always dreamed of doing, once we were there, I said maybe it was silly, a waste of money. My entire family forced me to do it. I can honestly say it exceeded ALL my expectations. What an amazing way to see Venice.

 

Once you let go, what did you find on the other side that was worth taking the leap?

2016-03-01_0012.jpg

Yup. Our lock on the bridge in Paris.

Hope.

 

What would you tell someone whose fears are still holding them back?

There are things we cannot compare. Fear and grief are two of them. Everyone experiences them. The difference is what we choose to do about it.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Viktor Frankl

My favourite book of all time is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I still have my father’s tattered and annotated copy. I have given so many copies away, had so many students read it as a part of an Independent Study Project with me. It never gets old.

2016-03-01_0011.jpg

Family in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. Summer 2015

 

Too often life comes at us in the most unexpected tangents. We don’t get to choose that. The choice comes in our response to it.

My Mom’s diagnosis of cancer was like that.
Her death was like that.
My Father’s death the day after my Grandfather’s funeral and a few weeks after his brother’s death was like that.

We all have lists.

#leapfear was my attempt to work through the grief of my Mother’s death. It was the choice I made to choose my response to my grief.

I wish she were still here. But I am also proud that I brought some meaning to her death. She spent her life empowering women to move past their fears. Even though she was often ruled by her own fears. And to me, she was my hero. #leapfear is my tribute to her.

 

“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”   Viktor Frankl

2016-03-01_0013.jpg

My inspiration and joy in life.