I can’t honestly remember the first day I met Janet, but I remember our first months of friendship. I was in my mid-20’s and was introduced to Janet when I was visiting a girlfriend of mine who had moved in with her. I have to say, as much as I loved my friend at the time, I was instinctively drawn to Janet. We became so close, so quickly. And the closeness had nothing to do with knowing each other’s favorite color or animal (though her favorite animal at the time was a butterfly). We actually connected on a deep soul-to-soul level. Now, this was years before Oprah and Super Soul Sunday entered my life, before I even had one existential thought about me and being my authentic self. Yet, Janet and I would talk for hours and hours about life, people, acceptance, being our authentic selves and a life purpose. We would speak until our cordless phones died and we would rush to dig out a corded phone just to keep talking!
Janet, a woman in her late 20’s, living at home with her mother and grandmother, in a house on the corner of a highway in Elizabeth, NJ, next to an abandoned lot, working in a factory, having been diagnosed as bi-polar and schizophrenic, covered in tattoos, who in her earlier years strived for attention and used sex and alcohol as a way to fill a void, was and still is the most beautiful person I know. Her room was filled with bright colors and butterflies and inspirational quotes – all before the internet was as easy to navigate as it is now and information only came from magazines or books at the library. What Janet taught me stays with me to this day…
- Love yourself – don’t get me wrong, I have moments of weakness just like anyone else out there, but I am better because of Janet. I appreciate myself more and accept myself regardless of any negatives thrown my way. Janet loved her body, loved being a woman and showed me that no one, no man, should be allowed to define any woman. Her tattoos were art and a map of her own life lessons. She did not let her weight define her. She new she was sexy as all get out, not because of her body, but because of her mind and her strength.
- Always be your authentic self, no apologies – we live in a world with double standards. We all know this. A man can live a certain way of life and never be seen with fault. Should a woman live that same way, her reputation can be destroyed. Janet grew up in a rough neighborhood and plenty of people (men and women alike) wanted to ruin her reputation, yet she stood strong with her life choices knowing that she was letting love guide her. She was always searching for something deeper and knew that if she was following her heart, no choice she ever made could possibly be wrong. She accepted her choices and their consequences wholeheartedly.
- Have faith in people – Janet is Cuban and I can only assume was raised Catholic, but didn’t believe in God. She believed in people and knew that ultimately we all just want the same things in life – to feel loved and to feel safe. Janet could make friends with anyone because she took the time to look into someone’s eyes and see their humanity.
- Forgive even when you don’t understand – going back to having faith in people, she told me about how, if ever being robbed or attacked, she would not get upset at the assailant but would rather talk to this person to find out what (s)he might truly need because she assumed that most offenders are really just crying out for help. I never saw it that way until meeting Janet. My instinct was to get mad and get all “how dare you!”, but her instinct was truly to forgive, try to understand and help. Even if someone she trusted dearly angered her, she always forgave that person. Always.
- Never give up – Janet described her breakdown to me, when she was hospitalized, diagnosed and the aftermath and yet, she was still filled with such light and love. Even in her darkest days, when she thought the worst was coming, she never gave up. She showed me that life is a struggle and that the struggle is worth it in the end.
- There’s beauty in the breakdown – I didn’t have the words or the phrase to pinpoint another great lesson that Janet taught. Not until I heard this soulfully beautiful song by Frou Frou called Let Go. That song was a theme song to my life for a long while. But the lesson was in my heart, before I even heard the song and before Super Soul, because of Janet. Janet’s breakdown was mental and physical and spiritual and it all broke apart and came together all at once. She would not be the woman she is without that breakdown. She is a true butterfly.
The confidence Janet exuded was overwhelming (and it still is). All I wanted to do was keep her in my life forever, to have more discussions with her. I was amazed. She was the first person I met who had such light. On the heels of International Women’s Day, I find it fitting to share this piece about Janet. I admire her deeply. She has overcome such struggle and yet loves herself, loves her life, loves her family and her city – flaws and all. If only we could all be as loving, understanding and as forgiving as Janet. She found something beyond herself to carry her through when so many of us walk around asleep, not even aware in the slightest that we should/we can find something to keep us grounded that is beyond the superficial. Having that foundation is clearly what kept her filled with strength and love and thirsty to learn more. And it is every single lesson above that helps keep me grounded and focused.