On The Things We Carry

illustration by Tanya Shatsheva

she said “my life hurts.” i held

her hands, and replied

“sometimes, this is what it

means to be alive.”

-nayyirah waheed

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about all of the things I am able to carry with me, every single day. The many Me’s that have taken up residence inside my skin. I’ve realized that these different versions of myself don’t need to fight for the forefront, there doesn’t need to be a “winner.” All of them together make up the holistic me, the unique code that was written just for this very flesh. Looking back, I can begin to notice different parts of my life when I let a certain Me drive or when I decided that one was more important than the other.  Or even when I tried to throw all of them away and create something from scratch, arguably the worst damage that can be done to a human soul – to take hold of it and wrench it and try to break it, to grip it between your hands and tear and then try to fill in the holes with something artificial and temporary. Because that’s just it – it’s fitting a square peg into a round hole, its taking a random piece of cardboard and thinking that you can make it work as the final piece of your puzzle. It’s just not gonna work.

Now, that doesn’t mean that growth and change isn’t possible. I think that the beauty of having all this nuance to yourself is that you are completely self-sufficient, at the core of it all – you need only to recognize this ability and learn how to foster it. You know the answers, you have access to the depths of your wonderings, but it takes raw honesty with yourself and with others to unlock this potential.

In this week’s newsletter from one of my favorite blog’s, The Simply Luxurious Life, writer Shannon said, “I have come to realize a liberating truth: we hold within us all that we need if we can just find the courage to learn how to access it, tap into it and let it do what it is capable of doing.” She speaks of courage, which I think is an essential piece of the equation that is often lost, especially on myself.  To even have the desire to explore this potential is incredibly brave – being vulnerable is scary, facing possibilities is sometimes a risk that doesn’t seem worth the taking. Sometimes not knowing the answer is easiest, ignorance is bliss.

But then where does that leave us?

Broken. Battling. Fighting for control, for understanding, for some kind of peace in this shattered world. Because we all carry things, we all have invisible armor on every. damn. day. Armor that both shelters us from the full blunt of feelings and denies us access into the full depth of being. I’ve always, always been one of those “let’s jump headfirst into the embers” type of people, for better or for worse, so I’ve spent the last few years of my life attempting to rip off that armor like a Band-Aid, which has led to some of the most shame and loneliness but also the most gratitude and insight.

The Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1) says “To every thing there is a season,” and this I truly believe. We ebb and we flow, but you can’t define yourself or your life at any one moment by either the ebb or the flow. More than the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, I think we are the sum of our parts plus something more – we are all of the pain and all of the success that we carry inside of us, but we are also how we choose to see the world and how we decide we want to interact with it. I think this may be the root of my issue with vulnerability – I have such a hard time digging really deep down with people and giving them more than metaphors and generalities. Yes, I talk about bits and pieces of my experience, but I am 100% confident when I say that there is not a human on this earth that knows the depth of pain or the full force of evil that has once lived in my heart. Just as no one knows the amount of happiness and empathy and love I carry with me. I write and I read and I think a lot, in line with the whole throwing-myself-into-the-fire thing, but I really struggle with giving these bits of myself away. I never want to be seen as those hurtful bits, I don’t want to lead with my pain.

And I think that’s where the action piece comes in – every day you must decide how your name tag is going to read. I’m Madeline, and I like flowers and beautiful things and deep discussions but also reality television and buying too many shoes. I have darkness inside of me but also sunshine. And that’s cool. So do you. You must commit to seeing the world in a certain way, in an outlook that acknowledges the bad bits in people but also lifts up the good and fosters its growth, valuing the dark and light all the same. 

We forget what our purpose in life truly is, beyond our diplomas and our salaries and our things. At the end of the day we are here, on this ground, under this sky, to just be – to survive however we choose. As animalistic as that sounds, that thought has offered me the most clarity. I am a living, breathing thing and if I want to keep living and breathing I have to do certain things. But the way in which I go about doing those things is totally up to me. I need to eat, but my relationship to nourishment comes down to the way I view myself, the values I hold, the life I want to lead. I need to sleep, but the way I define rest is completely personal. Yet again it is so important to constantly revisit your values, to be ruthless in your pursuit of learning and growth if you want to be fulfilled (note: not happy. I don’t think you can be happy all the time or that you’d even want to be. Boring with a capital B. And also impossible). And maybe you don’t care much about fulfillment or happiness or learning from mistakes, and that’s a choice, too.

If you’re hurting, or if whatever you are carrying with you seems particularly heavy today, that can be a gift – it’s like the world is speaking to you, is tugging at your shoulder and trying to tell you something. By accessing this hurt or analyzing the heaviness, you are getting at the true root of your suffering. You are not only scratching the itch, you are learning why that itch is there in the first place. And that doesn’t mean that you won’t itch again or even that your scratching did anything to make the itch go away – but now you know why it is there, and you can carry that with you and move on. You can choose to lead with something else. Hi, I’m Madeline and I like purple, as opposed to Hi, I’m Madeline and dammit does my heart really hurt. Even though both of those things may be true. I’d rather you know upfront that purple is my jam and discover through trust and honesty my other nuances.

Now more than ever I feel confused about the dichotomies of the world – I have finally begun to feel the most profound joy that I’ve longed for my whole life, but I also feel the heaviness of the world with so much force. I’m scared for the future, I see the world breaking in front of my eyes, I see so much grief and loss and confusion and there are so many reasons why I want to throw up my hands and stop swimming. And I think I’m tired of beating myself up about that. Yeah – life’s hard. The world is a big ole place full of cracks and bruises and fire but also full of sunshines and outstretched arms and picnics and wrinkles in the corner of eyes because of so much smiling.

Raechel Myers on the She Reads Truth blog verbalized very well this double-sided capability that I often feel is conflicting, but I now realize is just the definition of balance. “Life and death are not respecters of each other,” she says. “Mourning and dancing – they don’t always take turns. Not in my story, not in yours, not in our world. While people celebrate weddings and first steps and the sweetness of life, the broken world continues to break our hearts, sometimes at the very same time. The tension is there – wondering when to celebrate and when to cry. Often the best thing we can do is acknowledge the tension and do both…”

Do both. Carry the things you’re carrying but accept help when someone offers to bear some of the weight for you. And maybe on the days when you’re feeling bouncy and light, go out and support those who are waning or sinking that day. Hold the black and the white in both your hands and allow them to weave together a path that is uniquely yours. There are four seasons, there is night and day, there is water and fire. And we need it all. Just as you need all of the things you have experienced to give subtlety and refinement to your purpose. Will experiences define you or give you conviction?

And that’s all on that for now.

xx mm

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