A few weeks ago, I whizzed around Whole Foods, basket on my lap, sunglasses still on my eyes, unconcerned with anything other than the next item on my list, and stranger walked right up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “How do you keep moving forward even though your life is so awful?”.
I sat stunned and speechless. My cheeks felt hot and red and my hand trembled when I reached to remove my sunglasses. I pulled off the glasses, looked this stranger right in the eyes, forced the corners of my mouth to form a huge, toothy grin, and replied, “Well, I just choose not to focus on the awful parts. I am so late, I need to run.” And with that ridiculous response, I found the closest check-out line and sped out of the store.
His question threw me. But, even more so, my answer infuriated me. I grasped the hand controls in my car, pulled out of the parking lot, and waited, in a daze, at the stop sign until another car honked at me to move forward. My skin crawled and my heart raced. Tears seeped through my large, protective eye wear. Not even my giant aviator glasses could protect the affect his question and my nonchalant answer had on me.
As I continued to drive, I watched a memory play out so clearly in my mind it was like a movie on a gigantic screen. I watched as I sat in a hospital wheelchair, not the sleek, light as a feather version I have now, but the heavy, awkward, metal version hospitals use, and I wore pajamas and a hard, plastic, turtle shell brace over my t-shirt. My friend stood next to me and we waited for an elevator to arrive. The top of the brace encroached on my neck and I reached up to push it down. The small force of this adjustment caused me to wince in pain because of the pressure the shift put on my broken ribs. I clinched my fists, closed my eyes, and took a long, deep breath, my new method to overcome these new and sudden urges of excruciating pain. My friend leaned forward, placed his hands on my wheels, and, with great concern, asked, “Are you okay? Are you sure you want to go outside?”. “Yes.”, I replied. He stood back and then said, “You know, I am really impressed with how you are taking all of this in stride.” I blankly smiled, and pretended to agree.
I knew I didn’t agree with his comment, but to be fair, it is what I allowed everyone around me to see. I acted like all of the pain and the heartache were just fine and I was fine. Fine, fine, fine. It became my favorite word. I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. The truth was and is though, it isn’t fine, it isn’t all okay, and I am not fine all of the time. Just as a I lied to my friend in that moment at the elevator, fourteen years later, I lied to the stranger in the grocery store. With my flashy smile and hurried attitude and brisk answer, I basically lied again and said, “Yes, I am okay, just fine.”
I cry a little bit each day. Still, after all of these years, there are parts of this life I can’t handle or take in stride. I know enough now, though, to know these moments of sadness aren’t shameful or scary, they are just part of the adventure. The definition of the word adventure when used as a noun is an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. And as a verb, adventure means to engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory. A word carrying this much weight and this much of the unknown and uncertainty, certainly doesn’t require a taking it all in stride attitude. This kind of life challenge requires tears and scrapes and bruises and falls. Adventure requires the tough stuff, the vulnerability of the tears and the awe. Adventure requires resilience and an intimate relationship with fear in order to venture forward on the long, hard walk through the woods of the unknown. When the night sky is black, the adventurer relies on the glowing light of the moon, and knows enough to continue on until the sun kisses the edges of the horizon and lights his way again.
Each day is like this walk through the woods of the unknown. There are awful parts and really great parts. Fear grasps my spirit and instead of running from fear, I allow fear to pass through me and really feel fear. I can’t conquer fear until I know what it feels like. I can’t wipe the tears until I allow them to flow. Feeling my feelings, really feeling the sadness as much as I feel the joy, is what gives me true freedom. Taking it all in stride is just an avoidance of these feelings. I don’t need to be the girl who feels nothing to be brave. I am the girl who feels everything and is brave because of it. I face the tears with as much enthusiasm as I face the laughter. Both extremes feed my soul and propel my spirit. The exploration of the unknown, for me, is a bath in the pool of vulnerability and realness. I don’t want to live in a world anymore where I am afraid to feel. I want to be able to say to that stranger in the store, “Yep, my life can be awful at times, maybe even for a whole day or an entire week, but it can also be really, really great at times. And the best part is I am on board for all of it. I am okay with the awful. It’s my life, my adventure, and the awful comes along for the ride. Don’t feel sorry for me though. You have a little bit of awful in your life, too. You will discover your unknown. Your tears will wash your stride away and teach you dance along with all of the rhythms of life. You will fall. You will get up and you will keep going. You will know your awful and you will learn to love it because it is just a part of your adventure.”
Happy New Year. I resolve to see my tears as marks of beauty. I hope you will too.