“If we are identified with being married to a certain person, with a job, with our very body and life – that’s how deep it goes – there’s not any real peace or freedom because something in us knows that it’s all very fragile. So we are always on some level kind-of tensing against what’s around the corner.” – Tara Brach
When I was 20, I woke one morning in March at 6:30 to the information that my oldest friend had committed suicide. I say ‘information’ because that is the only way that I could process it. The moment that it went into my consciousness, a little part of me shut down. Within an hour of finding this out, I was sitting in a breakfast restaurant mainlining black coffee with a group of close friends. Within 8 hours my basement began to fill with our mutual friends – people who I loved with a passion born of spending teenage years together working at a summer camp – and we huddled together trying to understand our pain.
This morning as I walked to work, Tara Brach’s words on her podcast cracked that shut-off place open for the first time in 16 years.
I’ve written before about feeling like a bad friend. I do not write this for sympathy, but because if I compare myself to who I was until that day, I am a bad friend. I used to be the one who knew what was going on in everyone’s lives, the one who had people over, the one who would drive absurd distances to check in with someone at the merest whiff of unhappiness. Now I don’t answer emails for months, lose phone numbers, and generally hide away from the world. Only a few of those people who I sat and grieved with are still in my life because I let those relationships dwindle until they disappeared. But I think I understand now. All of this is because something in us knows that it’s all very fragile.
That day was the last in a line of three Marches in a row when I lost someone I loved. If I had had to learn any lesson it should have been that life is precious, love everyone fiercely while they are here. (In fact, psychologically I thought I had learned that lesson.) I should have become even more determined to see and talk to and know people. Instead, I started tensing against what was around the corner – because I knew without a doubt that something terrible was – and shut down. The lesson I learned was that it fucking hurts when people die, that there is often shame and guilt and agony surrounding death, and that the safest way for my sensitive heart to proceed was to become unconnected.
It sounds so simple written out like this, but now I can see all of the relationships that I have let slide, the chances I haven’t taken, and the love that I have missed out on and I am sad all over again. Grief is an unpredictable animal. And now that I know – now that the light has been switched on – I’m wondering how I can now heal. Somehow I need to learn to begin saying yes again.
“We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.” - Charlotte Joko Beck
“Wish on everything. Pink cars are good, especially old ones. And stars of course, first stars and shooting stars. Planes will do if they are the first light in the sky and look like stars. Wish in tunnels, holding your breath and lifting your feet off the ground. Birthday candles. Baby teeth.” – Francesca Lia Block
Today I turn 36. In some ways I am exactly the same (the desk I am sitting at right now looks alarmingly like the desk in this picture) as I was when I was small.
This morning I realize that whether 3 or 36, there is still this core of me-ness that has always been and always will be there.
I wish I could go back and hug that little angel in the picture and tell her that she is going to have an amazing life. She is going to love and be loved. She’s going to travel to and live in a whole different country. She is going to experience deep loss and big joy. She is going to spend an awful lot of her money on books. She is going to have some great friends. She’s going to learn to love olives and eat too much avocado. She’s going to discover at 34 that she has Celiac Disease (that knowledge would have saved a lot of stomach aches!) She is going to make a list at 17 that describes her perfect partner and be surprised at 28 when she finds him somewhere unexpected. She is going to cry a lot and laugh a lot and be disappointed and excited. She is going to return time and time again to her parents’ kitchen table to sort out her world. She is going to be a late bloomer in many ways that are worth waiting for. She is always going to love to read and enjoy her own company. She is going to be okay.
Welcome 36. I am not going to make a list of 36 things to do before I reach 37. I’ve learned that I don’t do well with long to-do lists because they just give me another reason to be hard on myself. Before I reach 37 I am going to do one and only one thing: I am going to learn to be and then practice being kind to myself. I think if I get that the other stuff will fall into place.
Wherever you are, I hope that you have a wonderful day. My birthday wish is that you make one special wish for yourself.
Love to you.