Sometimes all we need is for someone to give us permission to make a change--if it's the right decision, it doesn't matter who. Your mother, a stranger, your sister, your horoscope--sometimes we just need the burden of decision fatigue lifted in order to see straight, in order to see that we were drifting in a new direction all along.
It's amazing the work we make for ourselves, isn't it? Especially when it would be so breathtakingly easy simply to watch the rising sun and take it as the sign that it is--that you're headed in the right direction, that every day you spend stepping toward, leaning into, the light is a day of progress.
There are no wasted days--even those spent fumbling around in shadows of our own making. There is always something to learn. There is always something to uncover, to discover, or to give--at long last--a decent burial.
Light and shadow teach us that there are some things best left behind and others necessary for the journey.
Be grateful, too, for unanswered prayers. I read that somewhere, and it's never failed to make me feel immensely better, as if we're not out here on our own, as if there IS a guiding hand gently nudging us first in one direction, then away from another. Because we don't know, we can't know, we might as well believe. We might as well believe in a higher good, a compassionate universe whose joy is in our joy.
If we can believe that, the rest becomes a little less important, a little less fraught, a little less like a constant flirting with deadlines and a little more just, well, flirting--with life and chance and the thrill of the unknown.
Because maybe you really are supposed to be here, and maybe it really is okay not to know what comes next.
And yet, here you are. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) your plans, you're standing where you never thought you would. Whether that moment is now or past, we've all had it--the 'how on earth did I get here?' moment, the 'this isn't where I'm supposed to be' moment. We think there's something wrong with us, but what that's only our perception? What if the only thing 'wrong' is that we're so all-fired attached to some goal, some assumption we've created.
I always think of that moment in Reality Bites when Winona Ryder's character says, "I was really going to be something by the age of 23." And Ethan Hawke, in all his Gen X wisdom, replies, "Honey, the only thing you have to be by the age of 23 is yourself." That first bit? It always stuck with me--and I think it has to this day. I was really going to be something by now. Really. And somehow, over the years, I've conveniently forgotten the reply, the counter, the wisdom--amazing really, since I had such an all-out crush on Troy Dyer...
Imagine if we could plot our lives like we plot our road trips, our commute to work, our drive home with a stop at the grocery store/bank/post office.
Well, you know what? I think we do. I think we do, and I think we're a danger to ourselves and others because we don't realize we're doing it. We don't realize (or remember) that every thought we have, every intention, every conversation we hold with ourselves is drawing a line on the map, and it's a map we're following faithfully, whether we know it or not.
Here we are, one eye glued to the route, and one turned stubbornly inward with nothing left to watch where we're going, to look at the scenery, to see what we're missing--or avoiding. We have no idea where the trip-enhancing turn-offs are (WORLD'S BIGGEST BALL OF STRING HERE!), no idea where the breathtaking scenic overlook is because we miss every sign. Or almost every sign. Enough, anyway, to realize how rarely we look up, how rarely we stop, how rarely we rest our gaze on the...
We live under this illusion that we must always improve, that we must always do better, work "on ourselves" (whatever that means). All that litany does is remind us that we're not perfect, that perfect is a goal we should strive toward, and negates, more or less, anything we've done in the past or do now.
It's a silly occupation, corporate/Puritan-designed busywork to keep us, I think, from enjoying what we have, what we do, what we've achieved, and, heck, who we are. We aren't meant to work toward being a better version of ourselves--how insulting is that? We're here to pursue curiosity and passion and love and beauty and kindness, and if we can do even one of those things each day, we're doing just fine.
And you know what? Even on the days we don't, even on the days we're less kind, less inspired, less curious, well, hell. We're pretty damn good versions of ourselves on those days, too. We have to live authentically, and if we can do that with transparency and truth and kindness,...
Despite how hard it can be, I like to think that the universe is not only benevolent, but actively engaged in our good. Because why not? What do I know? We didn't know why, after all, our parents rationed our Halloween candy or made us eat dinner before dessert until much later. And certainly we were angry, and certainly we deemed it unfair. But most of us can now thank our parents for the majority of those decisions, made on our part, when our own unchecked wants would have destroyed us.
So, yes, it's hard to hear 'no,' and sometimes it's hard to keep going when you want to quit, but I have to believe there's someone up there or out there with a global perspective, nudging us along for our highest good.
God, wishing we had done things differently will be the death of us, won't it? How many hours of our days, how many hours of sleep have we lost to rehashing our pasts, combing over them looking for the reason we are where we are, cursing ourselves for our choices, our lack of choice, our blindness, our age?
I suppose the question is, how many more hours will we throw over that cliff? Of *course* I wish I'd done so many things differently. I have a litany of them, one I know so well I could probably recite it backwards. But I'm here because I made those choices, and that path has led me, apparently, to where I need to be. I hope. Well, no. I won't hope. I'll assume, because what other choice is there?
The thing is, where do we go from here? The gift of a troubled past is that we have--we hope--the gift of perspective, the gift of wisdom. Let's not leave that gift shoved away now. It's time to haul out that box, dust it off, and start putting it to good use.
For someone who doesn't consider herself overly romantic (Well, in the candlelight, candy, and flowers sense, I suppose; I do often fancy myself a female Heathcliff, roaming the hills, all dark and mysterious. Anyway.), I've been chasing romance my whole life. I just sort of realized this. I chase dramatic, idealized landscapes--California, Arizona, Maine--the mountains, the desert, the ocean, thinking that what I'm missing must be there. Or that I'll be complete once I'm matched up with the perfect circumstance.
Yeah, that sounds pretty ideal and romantic to me. The problem (more's the pity) is that we'll never be completed by something outside of us. It's impossible. We can only build and rebuild from the inside-out. The rest is just, well, bonus. It's complimentary. It enhances; it doesn't complete.
And now that we know that, what next? I don't know, but I have a feeling the first step has something to do with romancing ourselves.
I think the advice of discovering what you love, donating time to it, and seeing where it takes you is always sound. But I think for some of us, for those of us who have spent so long trying to be who we're not, the question of what we (authentically, organically) love can be almost impossible to answer. Sometimes, no matter how authentic it feels, we're still questioning, "Is this me? Or is this still that other person, that other self?"
Perhaps the easier path, in the wise words of Elizabeth Gilbert, is to follow our curiosity. Love is tricky--it's too slippery to pin down. But curiosity is an unmistakable tug in one direction or another and to follow it is immensely satisfying. For those of us who have, by nature or design, less of an emotional vocabulary, curiosity is a clearer path, and who knows? It probably amounts to the same thing. But don't be frustrated by love or by passion--it's not always clear in the messy landscape of the heart.