Lately, I find myself feeling as though I am standing on the edge of a precipice. In many ways, I feel I have spent a long time standing on such ledges, looking over, and out, and down, and wondering how and where I would be going next. I have spent so much time frightened and unsure, and convincing myself that I am strong, and present, and brave. It was January 2014 that I first made the intention to myself to be brave. While I told myself that intention was only a year, that intention never left. That word has been my word for three years. How desperately I have tried to learn it, to move into it, to embrace it. How often it has exhausted me, pushed me past what was healthy or right. And how I have also lived that word. I have lived every ounce of life out of that word in these three years.
And I know that because it is no longer my word. As I was driving yesterday, I was realizing how small the word sounds to me now. In the face of the battles I have fought this year, in the face of the battles we as a nation are moving into, in the face of the questions that are rising in me, the word "brave" is simply no longer large enough. The trepidation and anxiety and resolution I used to feel within that word are gone. It is just a word, now, tapped of the power it once held.
I arrived on this thought in a roundabout way: I was thinking about poetry, and about words, and about my favorite word. My favorite word is "vast" because it is such a small word that sounds so large, just like its meaning. It creates this enormity of space in my chest when I say it that makes me feel like I blend with the universe in all its exquisite vastness. (I love the word exquisite, too, because it sounds like fancy curlicues. And this is why I'm a poet).
Anyhow, this led me to feel this....this feeling of being on the precipice. I am applying for a leadership conference and one of the three essay questions is "what question are you currently holding about your life or vocation?" This process of answering these questions right now is so exactly what I need. This process of discernment, of questioning, or breathing into the place of no answers to find the true question -- this is where the bravery has brought me.
Because right now, like many in this country, I feel angry, and lost, and disheartened. As I wrote in my last poem, there are so many questions I cannot answer. I sent an email to a former colleague -- someone older and wiser than myself, telling her that I am disillusioned with our colleagues and our field. "Where the hell are we?" I asked her. "What are we doing? Are we all wrapped up in our ivory towers of academia, too busy writing articles to come out and talk about matters of importance? We are in a position to do so much social good, to make strong statements and take strong positions on matters of social justice based on what we know, and we don't. If we do not find a way to speak, aren't we failing our clients and our profession?"
I don't expect to hear from her. I have spent so long looking for, searching for someone to be the person who will guide or mentor or show me a way through this. This person is not coming. S/he is not here, and attempting to live into the word brave did not stir me to action. It was not big enough.
A few months ago, in the midst of a total, crying, messy breakdown, I had something happen that had happened to me once before. It's something that could make firmly agnostic me believe in God, if I were prone to such things: I heard a voice. Not an external voice like Morgan Freeman voice of God moment. Like, just WOAH. There's that voice. Like happened that one time before when I was sitting at that stoplight in Ohio. And the voice said, "what if you are the one you have been waiting for?"
Fast forward to yesterday. I'm driving to church, and these things happened in rapid succession:
(1) As I was thinking about what I want to say in that essay, and about all of the unanswered questions inside me, and about this uncomfortable place I am in, and about how painful change is, and about how bravery is too small, and about how I love the word vast, I heard that voice again - so clear, and definitive, and not my voice, and it would be creepy as hell if it was saying something weird, but it's not, it said the same thing -- it said, "you are the one you are waiting for."
(2) I looked down at my forearm, my hand grasping the steering wheel, and realized the reason I have not gotten the tattoo I desperately want is because I have been imagining it wrong. I don't want the words on my back. I want them where I can see them. I need them where I can see them. I need it on my forearm.
(3) The inevitable panic of "YOU CAN'T GET A VISIBLE TATTOO" set in, and I squashed it. This body is mine and I want to find out what it's like to live it, to own it, to inhabit it fully and completely. I am the one I have been waiting for.
I arrived at church, sat in the parking lot, sketched out the tattoo, and walked inside.
It's not that I believe in signs, but the service was asking the question: "What is the light that you have to offer the world?" "What does the world stand to lose if you hide your light?" I laughed, because -- seriously? And then I cried, because -- seriously? And it just was. This is how the universe is playing right now. Throwing me ALL of the signs.
When I was in college, way back when I was a junior in 2005, I had to read one of Anaïs Nin's books for my humanistic and existential psychology class. Either in the book, or in the class, or in my reading about Nin, I encountered the quote, "And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." I wrote it in the front of my notebook. And since 2005, I have loved that quote. I can't quite explain the way that quote just has been me and my life in so many ways -- or the ways I have hoped it would be, sometimes. I have written that quote in journals, on my skin, in the fronts of books. I have doodled it, zentangled it: it made 19 year old me feel hopeful. It gave 24 year old me something to believe in. It gives 31 year old me a sense of vastness, of blossoming, of expansion.
That quote is, of course, too much to say in a tattoo, unless you're going big. So this is what I said instead. This is the other side of all the bravery.
The handwriting and overall design are mine. The swirly design is found, but the words, the writing, the design -- it is mine. On my body. Turns out, I was the one I was waiting for.
I wrote a poem last night that I will not share in its entirety -- but I will share the end, because I think it speaks to that place of precipice-standing -- to the risk, and the vastness, and the blossoming.
"...the light of my self cracks this body
broken wholeness in the wake of
destruction. This body is not object.
Not function. Not space to be filled or claimed. It is
promise - vast and private, like
the whisper of dawn
just before it breaks
There is so much that lies before us, as we stand here -- teetering on this precipice. What if this is the day when the risk to blossom outweighs the risk of remaining tight in a bud? Or maybe not the day, but a day? One of many days, perhaps, when we make that choice? What if we are the ones we have been waiting for? What if this vast and private whisper is not destruction, but the promise-filled darkness of dawn?
I don't have answers -- but now, have a permanent reminder to risk the questions as they break into morning.