My mom and I used to get ready in the mornings in our one bathroom, taking turns using the curling iron. We always felt, at least to me, right on the edge of something, and our conversations took on a weight for me so that, even now as an adult, the ritual of getting ready with someone is precious.
It wasn’t a distinctive morning, nothing special, but my mom said something to me that I’ve never forgotten, and which I have yet to fully master the delicacy of. She said — in her famously wry tone — “You might want to work on not telling everyone everything all the time.” Something about boundaries, blah blah blah.
People who know me well might laugh at this admission, but I’m a shade shy at first. I keep my cards a little close. I’m a hermit at heart, really, and enough of a rebel that as soon as someone expects something of me, some part of me starts to get antsy, even if I’m genuinely all-in on whatever the expected thing is.
Finding the sacred balance between privacy and transparency — especially in my work and writing — is a tough one for me, because once you’re even just a little bit inside the circle, I tend to drop the drawbridge. I had a therapist once tell me I might do well to not immediately take people at their word; as someone who tends to say exactly what she means and only exactly the truth all the time, it’s a confounding prospect: that people don’t always mean what they say, and that they may not keep their promises. Ironically, I have a knack for picking up the bullshit in someone’s demeanor, just apparently not when my heart really wants to hear what it wants to hear.
I’m always left a little aghast at how easily people manipulate others’ actions / words / behavior, creating whole realms of warped reality and made-up stories about one another. My poetry teacher in college told the story of one of her poems being printed incorrectly in her manuscript — she said that once the poem is in the hands of the reader, there is nothing to be done but commit to the new relationship with the new version of the poem. She was teaching us about letting go; the thought made me absolutely cringe.
One of my blocks is the fear of being misunderstood.
I’ll bet, at least in part, that’s why whatever Divine orchestration that had its hand in creating my particular constitution made me a writer: in order to practice this delicate balance of sincere communication, and also the art of letting go of its original preciousness. What we make is, after all, only for us for so long. If and when it goes out into the world, it becomes our service. Service is only service if we let it do its work on the hearts to whom the work is contracted to touch.
But all this — this tight grip on transparency in communication, coupled with a desperate fear of being misunderstood — means that I tend to pull up the drawbridge when I’m really going through something, and only nurture the hub of the wheel, which unfortunately tends to leave some out in the cold. Years back, I was engaged to be married — and then ended my engagement. Save for a couple of close friends and family, it was two years before I spoke to some of the people who’d been invited to my would-be wedding.
Maybe this is a natural skin-shedding that gets done every so often. When our internal resources are at a minimum, it seems to be the way of nature to seek hibernation. I read recently that when an animal is wounded, they take retreat — alone. The other animals understand, too. The wounded rest, lick their wounds, and conserve energy for healing. I think it’s okay to honor the call to go within and take refuge where you can and for as long as you need.
My struggle, though, is that I really want to tell you about it. I mean, these are universal themes, people, and I promise you I am the last one out of all of us who has any interest in feeding the Poor Me monster. Just the opposite: I have to believe that my desire to let my lessons become yours, too, is a fire beside which at least one person might be able to warm themselves.
Less than a week ago, I was on the verge of being homeless. For the second time in two months. Like, sleeping-in-my-car homeless — not I’ll-just-stay-with-my-friend-until-I-find-a-place homeless. Legit, I-wonder-if-I-could-shower-at-the-gym homeless. Grateful-I-have-a-tent-and-a-camp-stove homeless.
But you know what hit me, f’real? About five days ago, I woke up the morning after the hardest, darkest night I’ve had in as long as I can remember, and knew:
My worst day is a shit storm some people would literally kill to be in.
And the next thing that hit me was this question:
What if all this is an invitation to experience an even deeper level of love and acceptance?
Don’t punch me when I say this, but what occurred to me were all the “problems” I’d been taking sooooo seriously, and their relative lack of importance compared to the ever-present fear and struggle a lot of people will never be able to escape. I’m not just talking human trafficking or the ravages of war; I’m talking about the living hell inside the human mind — the endless hamster wheel of victimhood, paralysis and powerlessness.
I took stock: I have my health, and a body that can move. I have a car that I can sleep in if it comes to that. I don’t have children whom I also have to feed and clothe and house. And, let’s face it, I was in my own mess because I’d broken a cardinal rule that I have (finally) learned to never, ever break again: Your heart is your forever home; you cannot — for one second — place your power and safety in the hands of someone or something that hasn’t verified through time and tribulation that it can be trusted with such precious cargo.
Furthermore: shit happens. Shit happens all the time. We make bad calls, we follow an incorrect hunch, we get sick, or slip and fall, or take the risk and sometimes, we just fucking fail. If I have been given the gift of anything at all the last few months, it’s not a lesson in how to avoid pain — it’s that the pain is not in the circumstances themselves, but in the story of What This Means About Me that creates a far heavier load than we need carry.
There is no one to blame. There is nothing we can’t love. There is what happened, and there is accepting it. Everything else is chaos in the mind and shackles on the heart.
Today is Easter Sunday. I went to church with my family. The new-car smell of my sister’s Jeep as I sat in the back seat on our way back to her house reminded me of how not new I have felt lately — how worn, how tired, and how I haven’t unpacked my belongings from my car in three months. But two days ago, I found somewhere to put them. So sure, I’ve been keeping my tiny capsule wardrobe (that’s what I’ve been calling it so that I don’t pity myself for wearing the same two flannel shirts all the time) in paper bags from Trader Joe’s for a while, but this is just how it is. I promise you: if my living out of Trader Joe’s bags doesn’t mean I am a human who deserves to live out of Trader Joe’s bags, then whatever shitty thing is going on (or has gone on) for you, also doesn’t mean that that shitty thing defines you.
You are not your bank account.
You are not your disease.
You are not the ravenous fear, anxiety or doubt.
You are the the only thing that could possibly hold and accept all this and more: love.
What else but love is big enough to hold this ailing world in her arms and still dream of peace?
Some of us are just handed our lessons a little dramatically. Some of us are given opportunities to know real suffering so that we can feel with those who’ll come after us, or who’ve come before. “The art of happiness,” Thich Nhat Hanh says, “is also the art of suffering well.”
So I don’t know about you, or what Easter means or doesn’t for you. But I know this: pain is a fast ticket to compassion. Deaths big and small happen all the time. It’s okay. Let it go. Everything — and especially Love — will rise again.