What we don’t know

Hello, can we be friends?

I have been through several versions of hell and remained myself. But also not myself. Not the same self. A different self. I have shed each self like a skin, slithered out, tender and grieving and not even knowing the newest version.

What are the features, what are the bugs?

Have you done this also? I bet you have. I can see a familiar knowing in your eyes. (You look a little haunted, to be honest. It’s okay.)

These experiences have rocked me and shattered much that I love but I have not given up. I have not lost myself. I still know and love myself. I still feel and recognize the little girl I was — she is here. I have kept her safe all these years. I have kept her alive.

You have done the same: kept yourself alive, through so much, maybe even when you didn’t want to. I’m so proud of you for doing that, for staying here. It’s so difficult. I know.

Yesterday I was sitting with my son who not so long ago didn’t want to be here anymore. We were just chatting. He said, I really like my life now. I’m enjoying it. I’m so glad to be here.

I didn’t cry because there’s no faster way to shut down a conversation with a teenager than cry but I did on the inside, if you know what I mean.

Because things can go so many ways. You just don’t know.

You don’t know how it’s going to work out, if it’s going to work out. Sometimes it becomes obvious that it’s not going to work out, and then you stare at it like, Well what now?

And you don’t know. You have absolutely no idea.

I have made mistakes. So many mistakes. But I have lived through them all. I own and acknowledge them, and they are mine and they teach me what I need to know next. 

Well, that’s not quite true.

Some of them seem incredibly random and unhelpful. What the fuck am I supposed to learn from this?

Not everything is a lesson. Some things you survive, and that’s it.

There have been long stretches of time when I would wake up with anxiety shrouding my mind, panic attacking as sleep drained away, tension knotting my shoulders. But I kept waking up.

You’ve done that, too.

Waking up in a world you don’t know or want, maybe. Waking up to face a reality that is breaking you in pieces. Waking up to go through motions when you can’t remember the point. Waking up and waking up and waking up and every waking up like a gut punch, every return to consciousness like a hand squeezing your neck.

Here’s what we do.

We don’t give into the idea that pain is the truest part of us.

There is the part of me that existed before any pain and still exists, still lives, still is. I see myself in the tree standing crooked, branches broken and stripped, still growing after the hurricane. 

The roots hold strong, cling deep — the surface looks like destruction and pain, like nothing left, but it’s only the surface. The obvious. The real thing is deeper, me, existing before and after “what happens” to me. 

There is a core that glows, untouched. 

She is strong, beautiful, pure, joyful. She is me, she is you, she is us. She is heady with possibility.

She dreams things into life.

She pushes her roots down further, into the darkness, into the still earth, the richness, into the soil of womb and memory and being, and drinks deep. Her branches break, her leaves fall, and she mourns their passing with gratitude. Grief is the expression of value. She is thankful and she howls. She has loved and she is cracked open. Her roots plunge deep and she holds steady. This is not the end of her. 

Nothing is the end of her for she has no end. 

You are all this and more. You are here. You are dreaming things into life. You are alive.

You are learning how to rest.

You drink deep from resources you didn’t even know you had. You are tired of being resilient and strong and one day we will build a world where that is not required of you, at least not all the time.

Maybe that is what we are doing now.

Every choice to live through pain, to keep breathing life into a tired body, to return fire with fire, to expand instead of shrink is a choice that leads us to something different, something that can be better.

I choose to believe this, despite the often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I choose to believe it because we don’t know. Because things can go so many ways. Because hope isn’t a feeling but a choice, a choice we validate by the very act of our choosing.

Not everything is salvageable. But many things are. When we are in despair, it’s our pain that assigns value. And pain wishes, most of all, for an ending. Close it out. Wrap it up. We’ve done our best and it’s over. Pain puts little value on whatever is crying out for us to stay, to try, to keep at it.

So here’s what we do: We don’t give into the idea that pain is the truest part of us.

Again and again and again, we don’t give into that idea. Even when pain is the loudest voice in the room. Especially then.

If that’s where you are right now — in a pain-saturated place, in a dry and weary land where there is no water — I am here to remind you when you cannot remind yourself. There is hope.

I know there is hope because I have been keeping it alive and I am not the only one.

I know there is hope because I have daughters and sons and their eyes are wearied by experience but so young, still young, and in them the clouds pass over and once again the sun emerges.

I know there is hope because I love and I am loved and love, my friend, is as strong as death, as unrelenting as the grave. Love is not a vague platitude. Hell, no. Love is active, practical, present, already making waves, instigating u-turns, creating new options, deciding boldly, not waiting for permission, unsticking what is stuck, overthrowing ancient regimes, tearing down walls and climbing with teeth clenched and arms shaking over the walls it can’t tear down.

Whatever we must bury, let us bury. And after we have howled graveside, releasing another lost dream and the self which birthed it, let us continue. There is hope yet, so there is work to be done.