Thirty minutes ago I woke up crying.
Not with a wail of lamentation or a howl of sharp pain, but with the soft groans and dull ache of reluctantly coming awake, pulled from the tapestried chaos of subconscious dreams into a hazy reality that was not as I wanted it to be. Later I would weep. Kneeling in a dark corner of a church as I collapsed into the arms of a friend, my body would gasp uncontrolled and I would give voice to buried anguish. But this morning my cry was more whimpering than weeping. I woke crying because I felt lonely and alone; because for the first time since my heart had been put back together, I sensed that something was coming undone.
Thirty hours ago I fell asleep anxious.
After an evening of shopping, spending, and strategizing how I would throw a party that I could both execute and enjoy, I wondered if it was worth the effort. I worried that I was hoping for too much as I packed napkins and bowls into coolers and bags. I envisioned the scene I wanted to set, smashed chickpeas into hummus, and tied my worth to the number of people who would show up at an informal party on an autumn afternoon. I worried that my guests wouldn’t mingle, that they would be antsy or bored or—worst of all—absent. I did not know that it would all turn out fine, more than fine. I did not know that a single sunflower would delight me, that my heart would flutter at the sight of my friends, that the colliding of my worlds would be an engaging orchestration. Back in my apartment, I wished I’d thought more about music and began to wonder if throwing yourself a party should feel like such a vulnerable affair. I questioned if it is ever a good idea to try to honor yourself. This (along with the significant amount of chocolate I had eaten just hours before) woke me in the middle of the night and lingered into the morning.
Thirty days ago I changed direction.
After a spin class in which I pushed myself so hard I nearly lost my breakfast, I jumped into the shower and got ready to meet a new friend for coffee. We didn’t drink a thing, but spent hours sitting on a hillside in Berkeley, discussing the importance of loveliness, the life of the mind, the social politics of being female, and the struggle to build community. She asked what it was like to be a person like me in place like San Francisco and I admitted that the culture of the city had taken its toll. I told her I was tired of striving and hustling and branding and selling myself.
I began to wonder what it would look like to change my direction, if it was worth it to fight back or better to give up. I began to remember some of the things that used to bring me alive—handwriting letters, reading novels, taking long walks through parks, and cooking on the weekends—things I had given up or forgotten when I began living to survive. I remembered how much I loved speaking and teaching and writing about something substantial. I remembered the way I used to behave when I believed I had nothing to prove.
Thirty weeks ago I decided to stay.
Less than a month into a relationship, I was as excited and hopeful as I’d ever been. There was a man—a good man—and he was intriguing and kind and gentle and deep. As he exposed layer by layer who he had been and who he’d become, I was increasingly attracted, all of my empathy and interest ready to hold him. I’m not sure which was more amazing—that I had found someone I could feel this way about or that he seemed to be equally taken with me, as willing as I to count down the hours, stay up far too late, and do it all again.
Days before we met, I was as disheartened as I’d been since coming to California, weary of dating profiles and job applications, worn by rejection and frustrated with my community. I’d started looking for jobs in Kansas City.
Then I stopped.
Instead, I started planning a trip to Portland, gushed to my friends about this act of God that had entered my life, and plugged away with my writing and tutoring. There was a new opportunity to do storytelling for a nonprofit in the Tenderloin, a copy writing position at an office off the Embarcadero. There was the potential for emotional, financial, and spiritual sustainability, and finally, finally, it seemed within reach.
Thirty months ago I survived.
Midway through my first year of grad school, haunted by a break up that had shattered my heart, I was determined to prove I could make it. I was tutoring high school students, writing for a local paper, and still calling home most days of the week. I was recovering from emotional trauma. I was recovering from the theft of a lap top (scouring eBay for listings and wasting hours trying to track a serial number). I was in two churches on any given Sunday, making friends at one and soothing my soul at the other. I was as tender and aware as I’ve ever been, caught in a badminton match between sorrow and joy.
Thirty years ago I was born unafraid-
into a world of expectation, but into a family of uncontainable, unimaginable love. On a September 24th of so many moons past, I was born into sheer delight and abounding affection. I did not walk or speak or contribute or give back. I did not flirt or smile or persuade or create. I did not have a brand, a mission, a website, or an app. I simply was, and my very existence was reason enough for adoration and wonder.
In the thirty years since, I have been evaluated and judged by myself and others. I have been tested and measured and often found lacking. I have fallen hard under the weight of expectation, taken a knee, heaved heavy, picked up the race, and started again. I have wept from exhaustion, desperation, and confusion. I have watched prayers go unanswered, seen requests fall forgotten, felt words cut like knives, and tethered myself to rejection.
There have been moments of great hope and moments of immense joy. There has been beauty and wonder, awe and amazement. There has been side-splitting laughter and soul-stretching tear-rendering love. There has been forgiveness and grace (yes, grace upon grace), but too quickly it is tainted by fear.
Thirty years of benchmarks and comparison and evaluation make it as difficult to embrace the present as it is to wake to a reality that is not what you want it to be. Those thirty years have been tempered with incalculable gifts of friendship, affection, perseverance, and honest love. There have been times when the joy has been more than I can contain, and there have been times I have wondered if it would ever return.
There is a life I am not leading, a story I am not telling. It is the story of who I would be if I did not strive to earn the approval of a company, community, companion, or congregation; the life I might pursue if I believed I was fully loved and accepted, even before I did anything to prove that I should be.
This is the life I mean to live in the thirty years that follow, one in which I work day by day to loosen the weight that pulls on my soul, to put pen to paper and foot to ground in ways that are honest to my character, regardless of the culture. It will not be easy. I will probably fail. But I will also succeed, and as I do, I will attempt to help others with the weights that they pull, because sometimes we cannot carry our own burdens. Sometimes the weight is too heavy to manage.
Thirty minutes ago, I woke up crying.
Likely, it is not the last time this will happen, because the world is imperfect and injustice runs rampant. Likely, there will be other days when I’d prefer the theater of my subconscious to the arena of reality. But if in the place between dreams and awake, the place in which I am aware of my existence but ignorant of expectation, I believe that I am fully loved, that I have not fallen behind, that I have everything I need, I will wake with the courage to continue.