There’s no way to accept and embrace reality without recognizing our own vulnerability. If we’re lucky, we get seventy, eighty, ninety, maybe one hundred years to offer up whatever we’ve got. The first order of business, once we’re grown, is to make peace with our past. I’ve met maybe three people who had idyllic childhoods, so barring them, most of us are going to have some healing to do. And of course, I jest. Even if your childhood was wonderful, we all have pain, insecurities, doubts, fears and struggles. It’s part of the nature of being human, and of being part of a mystery much larger than any one of us. Yet, we have to face the journey in our own way, and we have to develop our own tools.
We like to make things linear, but my sense is really that time folds in on itself, and also expands out, simultaneously. I can go back to any vivid moment of my life at any time. I can be three, on my grandmother’s soft and cozy lap, I can feel her fingertips tracing my face, and I can smell the mix of powder and perfume and love, just by closing my eyes. I can be fourteen, in the living room of the boy I adored, being kissed for the first time with sunlight streaming through the window, my heart pounding, every sense on fire. I can be sixteen, walking away from the boy I loved, who sat on a bench and watched me leave, sobbing as I went, because he said he had to go away. I can see the blurry trees through my tears, the statue of Balto in Central Park, I can feel the biting cold on my face, on my fingers, in my heart. I can be at the funeral of my cousin’s little boy, with that impossibly tiny coffin, and I can still see the way my cousin’s hand flew to his mouth when our eyes met. Just like that, I’m there, and I’m crying. I can be with that same cousin when I was five years old, and he and his brother threw me in a pool in Bermuda, much to my delight, even though my thumb was broken and I had a cast up to my upper arm. I can see that same cousin, with his head thrown back, laughing, before, way before the coffin and the loss and the grief. I can be at the emergency veterinarian’s hospital with my dog, and doctors I’d never met before, holding his head and watching the light go out of his eyes as I thanked him and tried to wrap my head around the fact that he was here, and then he wasn’t, ten years of history, ten years of being my best friend, holding the ceramic paw print they gave me as I walked out the door, about to give birth to my son, joyous and bereft all at once. I can be in the delivery room with my son, a week later, terrified, wondering if we were going to make it, and I can be in the delivery room with my daughter, too, although the births were two and a half years apart. I can also be right here, right now, with both kids asleep, a different dog curled up on the floor, people walking by on the street outside. If you can’t acknowledge the vulnerability of this thing, I think you’re going to be in some trouble.
A few years ago, I went to a meeting, and someone asked me what my five year plan was, and I didn’t mean to, but I laughed, loudly. I might have accidentally snorted. When I look back on the last five years of my life, almost none of it has gone according to any plan I had. You heal. You make peace with your past. You use your wounds as entryways to understanding and insight and compassion. You figure out what lights you up, what it is, you, in particular, have to offer, and you get busy figuring out how best to do that. Hopefully at some point you realize that it’s what you give, and not what you have, that’s going to define your life. You follow your passion and you share your gifts, and you keep your heart open. You evolve as everything around you evolves, and you keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the plan as far as I know.
I’m not saying you have to burn your vision board, or that you shouldn’t have goals. Living intentionally is the way to go. Thinking about where you’re going to spend your time and energy makes sense. It’s not like those are infinite gifts, after all, and you don’t want to squander them, but I wouldn’t get too attached to a picture in your head of “how things should be”, or how people should be, or how life should look, because reality is not obligated to bend to your will, and it probably won’t. If you want to pin something on a board, I’d make two columns. Under the first, “Things I Can Control”, under the second, you guessed it, “Things I Cannot Control”. There’s only one thing that goes under the first list, and here it is: “I can control the way I respond to what I’m given (if I work on it a lot).” Under the second list, go ahead and put everything else, including, “other people (and there are some sub-topics here, like what other people will want, or do, or say, or need), circumstances, the weather, when and if I’m going to meet someone amazing (here’s an asterisk for you— *YOU are someone amazing), how long I have here, how long anyone else has here, timing, and whether I’ll get the “breaks” I need.” There are a lot of other things that can go on that second list, that was just off the top of my head.
Here are some things I know for sure: When I’m coming from a loving, open, generous place, life feels pretty awesome, and when I’m in fear, when I’m anxious or worrying or feeling resentful or bitter, or I’m blaming someone else, life feels pretty crappy. When I focus on what I can give, it reminds me that I’m coming from a place of abundance, and that makes me feel really grateful, and when I focus on what I don’t have, or what I’m not getting, that makes me feel like I don’t have enough, and other people have more, and that, in turn, makes me feel that I ought to grasp whatever I’ve got which makes me feel small and petty and like I’m coming from a place of lack, which feels bad. Also, when I focus on the days instead of the years, that feels manageable. When I think about what I can do today to support my own healing if I need it (that has to come first), or what I can do to possibly uplift someone else, I’m on track to have a meaningful and fulfilling day. If I can string a bunch of those days together, I’m having a meaningful and fulfilling life. If I start to future trip and worry about what could happen or what someone else might or might not do, if I start imagining different scenarios, then it all feels overwhelming. What can you do in service to your dreams and the dreams of those you love, today? What can you do to strengthen and nurture yourself, and everyone you encounter, today? I think those are useful questions.
Grateful, as ever, to be in conversation with you all, and sending you love,