I dressed last night in my best black dress. Was out the door in fifteen minutes and into a cab.
Because when your dear friend messages to say, wine and steak and get here now, you oblige. Because you’ll never again be this young and you’ll never again be this untethered and something about seizing life by the throat--isn't that what they say?
But as the night ended and her lovely boyfriend asked how I was doing, my breath caught between my teeth, my hand paused on the collar of my coat.
It’s a question, that when asked without pretense or obligation, always catches me off guard.
You can think one thing, expect one thing, tote around certain truths so as to get through the day, but in the face of that question, something else arises that you can’t quite place. So you sit quietly and your eyes fill with water and you know that if you say anything you’ll lose it, but you’re not entirely sure why.
Something about the feeling that this is life now. And youth and freedom is but one chapter.
There’s a Harold Pinter play in which two of the characters who haven’t seen each other in a very many years ask one another that same question again and again. And again.
How are you?
Several times over the course of that first scene--over the course of only a few pages.
How are you?
How are you how are you how are you?
And even at nineteen, I read that scene and had the sense of two people wielding those words like scythes through very tall grass. That what they were asking had nothing to do with what they were asking. How those questions really meant do-you-love-me, have-you-missed-me, are-you-happy? And how each time they asked they were circling closer. Because some things are too hard or too dangerous to ask out right. And so we make them smaller. Simpler. Distill them down to three words that we ask again and again.
How are you?
Which is to say, I see you.
I've spent much of this year living in a perpetual state of low-level-terror. A sort of hum of unease.
I've said again and again that it has been the worst year of my life. Which is untrue and short-sighted and frankly, a little flippant. And that’s not particularly fair.
Not the worst, just quite, quite difficult.
And me riding the wave.
Which is better than treading water.
Victory be degrees.
To think you can love God without being changed by Him, is to think you can jump into the ocean and not get wet. To really love Him, you must understand that your life is going to be wrecked by Him, and built again into something beautiful, something lasting. T.B. LaBerge
Laura pointed out: “Perhaps you can just as well substitute the word God with life. And I think she has a point.
Sitting on the worn gray couch in the office that Tom only occasionally inhabits, I listened as he told me there’s no such thing as a right decision.
That life is hard because it’s a series of wrong choices
If in the world of probability and numbers and hypotheticals, if in that world, you were able to do something 1,000 times and it worked 800 out of those 1,000 times, there would still be 200 times when it didn't. And since you can’t do it 1,000 times, since you can only do it once, it carries with it the possibility that it won’t. Which means, all decisions are inherently--in some way-- wrong. Flawed. Imperfect.
And so the best you can do--the best anyone can do--is make the choice that most aligns with who you are. Which is very often the hardest choice to make, laced as it is with fear. Fear being a thing that indicates worth.
To make the choice that most aligns with who we are.
Twenty-nine and just now hearing this.
When life was such that I was very slowly, very carefully, learning to gather myself up and lumber towards safety--happiness, by another name--I remember my father saying, I’m not going to change. I’m too old to change.
But slowly he did. Of course he did. And my mother, too. And what a miraculous thing it was, all of us changing at the same time--not necessarily together, but alongside one another. My desperate need for it, brought on by the universe’s vociferous declaration that I must, which gave way to their realization that to change—and to change with me—was not only a necessity, but a gift.
"Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation." Elizabeth Gilbert
The way I see it, there are two types of people in the world. There are the people who sort of wordlessly go, Here I am, imperfect, a work-in-progress, flaws and all. And then there’s the sort who, while willing to admit flaws, do so only to a point—in so far as they get to control how those flaws are perceived. These people mostly posture as fully-formed, and indelibly so.
I don’t have much time for these people.
Because I’ve found, that these are the people who aren't terribly keen on facing themselves, afraid as they are that they’ll not like what they see.
But there is power in the recognition of both flaws and failures. Power in the small, and often private declaration that oh-hey-something’s-gotta-change-here. And holy is the man (or woman) who doesn't need life to pull the rug out from under them in order to begin that process.
I needed the rug pulled out from under me--of course I needed the rug pulled out from under me. And so it was. And so here I am. Not perfect, but better.
I've found that the people who really and true like themselves, haven’t always. But no one really talks about that, do they?
The weather changed the first weekend of November. Cool winds rushing in.
These two months.
I love these two months in New York.
When the chilly air carries the promise of cold and the grey skies still feel new and the leaves fall like music--a swan song for the year.
When things feel possible again.
The cool air came in the first weekend of November and with it the sense that the worst has passed.
Andrew Solomon describes the acute phase of his depression as “the sensation you have if you slip or trip, that experience you have when the ground is rushing up at you before you land.”
For me--and it’s taken me years to figure this out--but for me, it is the very physical sensation that I cannot bear to be in my body a moment longer.
David Levithan once said, “I never felt the urge to jump off a bridge, but there are times I have wanted to jump out of my life, out of my skin.”
How long I confused that feeling with hating my body.
People used to ask if it was the chicken or the egg. Turns out, it was both.
In one of our more recent emails Laura wrote to me about a young group of students, “They are open and kind and honest and willing, and quite at odds with, say, the class of 17 year-olds I had this week. They have, by that age, learned to quieten down some. Observe others before deciding how to proceed. Understand that kindness can be a type of vulnerability, and so best to stay clear of it, lest a fool be made of ourselves. It has made me think of all the things we "learn" as we age, the rules that get tighter, more constraining, as we get older, and that the difference between being child-like and childish might make all the difference to my days.”
Not long after Tom said to me, You must be willing to risk looking like a fool.
But I have. Really, I have, I responded.
Then you must be willing to risk looking like a fool once more than you are willing.
A perpetual once-more, as it turns out.
But, this is what no one tells you: kindness, the sort that is wholly honest and transparent...well, there’s nothing foolish about it. And no one can ever fault you for it. The penultimate vulnerability isn’t actually vulnerable, it only feels like it is. It is quiet and simple and powerful beyond measure. Because the success is in the action itself--the revelation, not the response.
Instead of describing this year as the most difficult, I've begun to talk about it as the most formative.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn't do it again. I mean, really, please don’t ask me to do it again. But it was necessary. And even now, still in it, I know that.
I’m smarter now. More aware. I learned how to fight, and fight well. How to speak up and trade in truths. I learned that forgiveness is the only way any of us moves forward. And that when a friendship is done, the unkind words aren't worth it.
And I've come to realize I’m still young enough to fail in a particular way, but old enough to know that that window is closing, and closing quickly.
Life isn't terribly long. And wasting time is too costly.
But it had to happen just as it did, of this I am sure. And for this I am grateful.
Everything is a moving target. Wrong decisions occasionally giving way to very good things.
And so, how am I? Sometimes good. Sometimes not. But wholly myself. And pretty okay with that.