I'm realizing, though, that it's easy to overlook the fact that you have been brave. I've been sucked back into that old thinking that bravery only occurs when you do something without fear. Doing something alongside the fear? That's not bravery. That's...being scared and doing it anyway because you have no choice. Right?
It's been a rough few weeks. Really rough, actually. And I've done what I typically do when things get really rough: I smile a lot. I express a lot of gratitude. I ask how YOU'RE doing. And I get really quiet. I go inward. I feel like I need to do it On My Own. I start to discount the stressors as "silly." I beat myself up for stressing about it, and for not being Brave, and for not Having It All Together.
And then, inevitably, I fall apart. Typically over something ridiculous.
This happened on Tuesday. It was a bad day. A really bad day. As I was driving home from work, fighting my way through city traffic, I was arguing with myself in my mind, and I. Was. Stressed. Heart racing, elevated blood pressure, thoughts-on-repeat sort of stress. The speed my body wanted to go increased in direct proportion to the decreasing speed of the traffic. Finally, there was an opening in the traffic. I was about to make a left, the left arrow was turning yellow. I tried to make the light...and halfway through the light, I had to slam on my brakes, in the rain, with cars behind me also trying to make the light. And of course, the people in the cars behind me were the sort of good people that lay on their horns in the mean way so you know they're also giving you the finger.
Why did I have to slam on my brakes, you ask? Because there was a man in a wheelchair with one leg crossing the road on the "Don't Walk" sign. I'm not even kidding. And that was it. I lost it. I yelled, "OF COURSE THERE'S A MAN WITH ONE LEG IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD RIGHT NOW," and then I burst into tears at the awfulness of it all. The traffic, the stress of the day, the stress of everything beyond the day, and the fact that I was yelling at a man with one leg who was trying to get across the street in the rain.
After I cried, I laughed about the fact that I was crying, because really? OF COURSE there was a man with one leg in the middle of the road. Of course there was.
At this point in the story, I feel like I should say, "and that's when I realized that things weren't so bad after all. After seeing that homeless man with one leg crossing the road with the flashing red hand signaling "Don't Walk" in front of him, I realized that my struggles are small and I am blessed beyond measure."
But that's not what happened. I laughed at the irony, and I'm sure someone wiser than myself could find a better metaphor there...but there was none for me, if I'm honest. It was just another obstacle in a day, and a week, and a month full of stress that has been overwhelming.
What I have realized, though, is this: there is bravery in the living through the hard thing, absolutely. There is bravery in getting up, getting it done, seeing it through. But there is also bravery -- so much bravery -- in telling about it. There is, perhaps, more bravery in that act of vulnerability that follows the doing in which you say, "hey...so here's what happened." In that act of coming clean, of wiping off the make-up and the mask, of taking down those walls you erected and stood behind -- that's where the bravery lives, sometimes. It takes a brave person to survive it. It takes more bravery still to walk through the shame, the vulnerability, the sadness and disappointment and anger and say, "here is my truth today. This is where my heart is. This is how she is feeling."
And that's where I lose it a bit. Bravery, I mean. I'm really good at Living Through It. I'm not so good at telling about it, at reaching out, at being brave enough to be vulnerable.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes, "...in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone; and many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another."
For a long time, I believed this to be unequivocally true. We are, in our deepest and most closely held fears and hopes and circumstances, unspeakably alone.
Many years ago, a friend of mine and I exchanged emails about this quote. "'In the deepest and most important matters,'" he wrote, "we are unspeakably connected. Don't give up on this. This connection...is to be imagined, and to be treated as your birthright."
Connection is our birthright. We are unspeakably connected. It is our birthright. Our birthright.
Here is what I know: this is what I fight to believe. This is what I struggle to really, wholeheartedly embrace. When I am struggling, I don't believe it. "Where's the evidence?" I ask. "Where's the evidence that connection is not only something I need, but something I deserve....something that is my birthright?"
And the answer is: there is none, except for the fact that it is True. Capital-T True. Of course it is. You just have to be brave enough to claim it.