“The finest souls are those who gulped pain and avoided making others taste it.” -nizariat
I come from a family of healers. My father heals bodies and my mother heals minds, and the two of them together have consistently fought to soothe all of the aches and pains of their children and those they hold dear. It is crucial to point out that they have never sought the absence of hardship or the elimination of struggle for any of us. Rather, they have knit the strong roots below us, encouraging us to grow and reach and fall and stand back up again, all the while standing to the side with a watering can, waiting to fill us up when we are empty. Their incredible dedication to realizing the lessons learned from their own struggles and journeys has, perhaps most importantly, shown me how to live a life of gratitude and taught me to treat every obstacle as an opportunity.
I think it’s because of this emphasis on experimentation, empathy, and self-nourishment that I have always seemed to gravitate towards whole-souled, grounded others. My people are those who fight so strongly and love so fiercely. Another facet of this is that for a long time I think I believed I needed these fiery others to make up for the lack of something in myself. Of what, I’m not sure yet. I will never be able to shake the memory of immense emptiness, the feeling of hollow isolation, so I use these memories to fuel my present actions and decisions. Instead of using relationships to fill up a hole, I aim for all of my connections to amplify, to add on, to contribute to the life I am trying to live. Creating constellations is easy once you learn how to identify the stars that are all around you everyday, at any point in your life.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the type of person I want to be for others. No, not how I need to change myself, not how society thinks I should look or feel or be, not even how I think others want me to be. I’d like to be someone who fights for the well-being of others. I’d like to be remembered as a warm hug, an understanding brain, and a kind spirit. I’d like to use my relationships with others, which I value so highly, to practice and test the methods for cultivating a caring relationship with myself. Genuine is a character trait that seems to be disappearing with every passing of the day, and I think it is the one we need to work the hardest to preserve. Being raw and open to my own experiences doesn’t directly translate to the way I want to relate to others – how do I make sure to live my own experiences honestly and openly while also making sure to react to others’ feelings and not taint their moods with mine if that isn’t what the situation needs? In addition, how do I honor my personal characteristics of being very private with my emotions, protective of my heart, and tough as nails with life circumstances, without becoming alienating and closed off?
There is a fine line between making sure you are a warm, open presence and hiding any negative emotion. I think it all comes down to authenticity—honoring your own emotions but also being cognizant of the way you express them to others. So often we behave like atoms, bouncing around in our own little worlds and occasionally colliding with others, causing us to miss out on the benefits that can come from strengthening our network—like ions, sometimes the only way we can remain stable is to give or take a little proton here, share an electron there (yes, that was me making a chemistry metaphor, let’s acknowledge that and move on before things get weird..).
As I move forward into this decade, leaning into everything the world has to offer—be it opportunities for joy, for laughter, for connection, for broadening my horizons, for pure fun, or be it lessons learned from hardship, the best teacher of them all—I am developing a new list of skills I want to cultivate. Being careful to avoid the “constantly striving,” never-ending “self-improvement” hamster wheel, I find so much comfort in knowing that tuning into myself and my relationships with others and the world at large allows me to live every day like its even more magical than the last. Right now I’m finding that as I’ve grown better able to be the friend to myself that I have always needed, I’m more inclined to flex that amicable, empathetic muscle with other people.
You learn a lot about hospitality when you grow up in God’s country, right smack in between neighborhood backyard barbecues and debutante balls. As I sat contemplating the potential beneficial iterations of including the skill “good hostess” on my resume, I remembered an entry I read on the She Reads Truth blog. Guest writer Susie Davis was explaining how the story of Lydia, a woman in the New Testament, helps her live out her motto of “Life is short, make it beautiful.” Susie explains how prior to conceptualizing hospitality as impulsive, creative, and selfless, she thought it “was just another word for entertaining – a platform to show off a beautiful life.” Then she continued on with a sentence that resonated with me far beyond the definition of cordiality and the application of interior design principles. She stated, “I’ve found the most beautiful thing about a woman is not the way she decorates her house or sets her table. The most beautiful thing about a woman is the vulnerability of her heart.”
And I think that just about perfectly sums up not only the kind of woman I want to be, but also the kind of presence I want to have in the lives of others.