You know what surprises me all the time, without fail?
Resiliency. Hope. Perseverance.
The knowledge that human beings are so, so weak. That we’re vulnerable. That we mess things up all the time. That we forget about important dates or events or calls or e-mails we were supposed to send. That each of us has a ridiculous amount of stuff to put up with in life. Sometimes, I think we carry too much.
We all carry so much stuff around with us–health problems, miserable jobs, death, financial struggles, mean bosses, family problems, homesickness and heartbreak–that sometimes? Sometimes I’m amazed we even remember to breathe (and sometimes we don’t).
At some point, you don’t overcome your burdens; you become them. At some point–even on those days that should be good–the little things add up and add up and suddenly you aren’t facing a pile of pebbles anymore; you’re facing a behemoth of worry and stress and fear and it is so, so quick to become the only thing you can see. At some point, every single one of us loses sight of what’s important and starts to drown in confusion and that horrible, sinking feeling of being completely overwhelmed.
At that point joy and hope and laughter and love seem like a distant memory. You aren’t really living anymore; you’re dragging your feet from one activity to the next, completely swamped in exhaustion and anxiety. You’re surviving, but you aren’t happy. If you’re anything like me, this is the point where you start smiling extra hard and sometimes crying too much. I’m fine, you say. Tired. A bit stressed. But I’m good, I’m fine.
Right. That’s believable.
No, really, I’d say. I mean, it’ll all get done. I’ll get through. (This is the point where I flash a slightly weary but slightly cheeky grin, laugh once, and look at the person talking to me.) I always do.
Which is true. I do always get by. I always get through whatever miserable valley of stress I’m trundling through, no matter how slowly I walk or what it is I’m dealing with. Moving? check. School? Been there, done that. Working through a friend’s death? Yep. Finding and starting a job? Sure thing. Did that, too.
And when I’m not in those situations, I appreciate that. When the weight of the world doesn’t seem to stand on my shoulders alone, when my heart is light and my whole self vibrates with this knowledge that life is absolutely and utterly amazing instead of just life is absolutely and utterly heartbreaking, I remember this: hope is tenacious. The fact that we can even drag ourselves out of bed and back into the patterns that can so quickly leave us downtrodden is nothing short of miraculous. You hate school, but you go anyway. You hate your job and your boss is mean, but you show up anyway. Your family drives you crazy but you still show up for Thanksgiving dinner. The sky is falling around us but we keep going.
We are stubborn beings, really. Even when we feel completely hopeless and forsaken, even when our lives are miserable and messy, we keep stumbling forward, hoping. It’s that Tomie DePaola book about the grandfather teaching the child to walk: first one foot, then the other.
And no, we don’t do it all on our own–there are friends and family members and counselors and therapists to help us–but always, always we keep moving. We keep hoping, and maybe that’s the point. We teach each other in times like these, when life is hard and living seems like a distant dream because all we know is how to get through one day at a time and collapse into bed every single night and wake up every morning wishing it was time to fall asleep again already. When all the pebbles build up into that behemoth, that’s when you learn the truth that Bono wrote a whole song about: sometimes you can’t make it on your own.
Here’s another truth that I forget far too frequently: you aren’t in this alone. You aren’t in this alone. Sometimes you need someone else to carry that one heavy load for you: for a block, for a minute, for a mile. We need others to support us, even as they need us to support them. We bear each other’s burdens, sometimes, if we’re willing to bare our souls. And sometimes, when the road we’re walking is just too steep to think beyond the next step, we carry each other’s hopes as well–we remind each other of our dreams, we make each other laugh, we help each other forget that things are so impossibly hard (even if it’s just for that one block, that one minute, or that one mile).
And that–that dogged persistence, the loyalty of friends, the honesty that slips into conversations at such seemingly bizarre moments–that is what gives me hope. That is grace embodied. That is powerful, that is humbling, that is something worth striving for. That is worth the heavy days, the hopeless days, the faithless days, the lost days.
I read once that the best piece of encouraging advice someone had ever received was this: You have a 100% survival rate so far. You’ve lived through every burden, every sorrow, every struggle and overcome every single hurdle that life has thrown your way. You are the embodiment of that time Churchill gruffly declared If you’re going through hell, keep going.
And no, you can’t do it alone (as much as I like to think I can). You can’t. We have to rely on others as much as they rely on us. Relationships are two way streets: you can’t be the only one giving help or the only one receiving it. It takes that awful thing that seems like such an uncomfortable word: vulnerability. You have to reach down deep to the nitty-gritty aspects of your life that nobody else knows about and share that ugly with someone else. Shine some serious light on that, hon, and give it some sunshine. Rip out the weeds and fill that garden right up with life. And yes, it’s uncomfortable. It’s weird, being vulnerable with people–even your best friends, sometimes. But as weird and uncomfortable as it can be, it’s necessary. It’s helpful. Vulnerability pushes and pulls and scrapes and molds that weakness of yours into some sort of newly-forged strength.
It’s like this: you can treat your scars as horrible reminders, or you can treat them as beautiful reminders. Life has been hard for everyone, so I know you’ve got a few bruises and stories saved up there. Don’t be scared of them.
Scars are proof of healing even as they show old wounds.
So get out there. Your hearts are already diamonds. Your scars are already healing. You can do this. After all, you’ve had a life survival rate of 100% up to this point.