I have no idea how this happens; it just keeps happening.
Every year we arrive here and my head is left spinning at the speed with which time sprints past, leaving me staring out my windows at the blur of what I think may have been an entire year that escaped inside of one breath. I mean, I’m fairly certain I blinked and June became October and then… Here. We. Are. Waist deep in the colors (Vibrant reds! Fiery orange! Luscious purples!) and scents, (Fires burning! Freshly fallen rain on pavement!) and sights, (The leaves! Misty mornings followed by clear night skies riddled with stars!) and all the feels that are fall. Even writing the word makes me want to abandon all responsibility, escape to the coziest spot in my house, cuddle up with a book in front of a fire for hours on end, and drink tea (Or wine. Probably wine. In a mug.).
And of course, we are all listing off all the things we are grateful for one day at a time on whatever social media platform we find most affirming. (Or feeling guilty that we are now a full week behind on that #gratitudechallenge we swore we would do this year. Just me? Oh.) The relentless pursuit of authenticity is kinda my jam, so I am most sincere when I say I am deeply thankful for this beautiful/crazy/brutal/amazing life we live. I believe with my whole self that the practice of gratitude is essential to fully experience being alive. And without hesitation, I readily admit to “hater” status when it comes to all the things/peoples/corporations/consumer-obsessed-culture-vultures who insist on the practice of skipping Thanksgiving. I am still waiting for a response to the email I sent in 2015 demanding Starbucks create a Thanksgiving-themed cup. But amidst all the pumpkin spicing the shit out of, well, everything, I’m gonna pause here just one minute to call bullshit on myself while you watch. (Ahem. **clears throat** While you read.)
About 11 years ago, whilst I voraciously pursued perfecting the art of parenting, at the potential expense of my first child, I came across a blog post about Halloween and FEAR. Written by a beautiful soul whose voice and perspective I deeply admired (and still do!), my world was rocked as I poured over her exquisitely articulated expression of her disdain for Halloween. “Why,” she implored, “would we choose to celebrate fear as a national holiday?” As I read, I could hear the voice in my head (one of many, perhaps) chanting a resounding, “Yes!” “Yes!” And again, “YEESSSSS.” To most of what she had to say. I hated fear. Along with anger, and disappointment (and a few choice others). I was convinced that fear is a “bad” emotion. My only reference for fear was a long list of experiences that inextricably linked fear with pain. Pain was to be avoided at all costs. Soooo, I found it quite easy to whole-heartedly agree with the writer’s perspective. Halloween celebrates fear. Fear is linked to pain. Pain is bad. Therefore, Halloween is bad. We just stopped celebrating it.
These days, around here, we still have an interesting relationship with Halloween. We are basically 0 or 100 mph. It’s all or nothing. Over the years we have vacillated from one extreme to the other, occasionally pausing somewhere between the two. We have both skipped it all together and spent hours meticulously planning and creating elaborate homemade costumes our children don with pride (in full character, of course.)
At this juncture, I would venture to say that we have been released from the grip of our previous overly-ambitious parenting selves, lightened up a bit, and embraced trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, dressing up in costumes, all in the name of fun, rather than fear. If we were sitting at my favorite coffee shop having this conversation, I would probably say, “I’m done hating fear. I’m okay with pain. I think I have evolved.”
And here is where I have to call myself out.
Because my relentless pursuit of authenticity is actually really important to me.
And because deep down in the place where all the voices are quieted and stillness is actually possible- in my gut - I know the truth. The truth, my truth, is…the fear, of fear, is still very real.
I don’t want to be afraid. I want to be fearless. I want to face my fears with bravery and conquer them with intensive behavioral therapy (and perhaps the occasional liquid courage). I want to be who I know myself to be. Bold. Fierce. Free.
And sometimes I am.
Sometimes, I am not.
I am both/and. We are both/and.
We are not bold before we are timid.
We are not strong before we are weak.
We are not brave before we are unsure.
We are not fierce before we are fearful.
We are not free before we are able to recognize our chains.
We cannot conquer our demons before we know what they are; whence they came.
We can only truly know joy; deep down in our knower joy, to the depth of which we have met its predecessor. Pain.
I am afraid of pain. Especially the emotional variety. (For reasons we may explore another time.) Knowing that about myself, owning the painful pieces of my story gives me a sort of emotional permission, if you will, to experience the pain of life without being swallowed whole by it. I can be afraid of the thing. Then the thing happens. I am vulnerable and brave. And I survive.
We survive. Hell, we may even thrive.
But if we don’t see the fear, if we ignore it or worse, pretend it isn’t there, we miss out entirely on the invitation to walk through it to the other side. And what if? What if on the other side of that fear/pain/insecurity/weakness/anger/self-doubt/fill in the blank here_____, is a version of our life more beautiful than we can fathom?
So far, my survival rate of painful experiences is 100%.
Am I still afraid of pain (Especially the emotional variety)? Yep.
But I am also bold/brave/fierce/joyful/strong/self-loving/free/ Fill in your blank here_____.
It’s November, again. And I am afraid. But I am less afraid than I was before. Less afraid; more honest. More authentically me. More grateful. Most importantly, I am more alive.