The featured image is a note in a card given by one practical ten year old to another–the front image is an elephant walking a tightrope.
I have some really dear tough-guy friends who indulge my demand for sweet-guy behavior. I won’t name them here in case they are embarrassed by what sweeties they are (such sweeties). About once a year, when we are all hanging out, I insist we engage in the ritual of giving affirmations. They hem and haw. They heckle me and try to change the subject. Everyone suddenly needs to use the bathroom or get another beer. I wait. Then we choose one person at a time and each of us offers a toast to that person. Affirmation: a gushing, specific account of what we love and respect and admire about them. The value they add to our lives, to our unfurling understanding of the world. The hard part of affirmations is receiving them. It’s best to do it in the starlight so you don’t have to worry about anyone looking right at you while they compliment you, totally uncomfortable and sitting silently and listening to this loving account of a person who has the same name as you but seems to be a much better human than you feel like you are. Because the thing is, nobody knows you. Not all the way, not the days or weeks you slip into a pattern of disarray for a bit. Not the stupid things you think to yourself. But these people, people you admire, point out how much they like the things about you that you like about yourself. And then you remember to be more like that, like your best self. I carry their voices in my head, reminding me that I am sometimes who I want to be. Even if I’m not always quite there yet.
But when it’s your turn, and everyone’s toasted you (“to Seema motherfuckin’ Reza”) four or five times, you get a chance to respond to the value of the group before we move to the next person. And by then, you don’t know how to hold your hands or your face, don’t know how to look into anyone’s eyes. So you never say what you wanted to say.
I first connected with the organization that brought these guys to my life on a conference call on which I was busy being very bossy (this should have foreshadowed that I might force-sweeten them one day). I could not have imagined then the impact their minds would have on me, how developing deep friendships with total strangers would shape my thoughts and ideals. Strangers, you guys. Strangers who are completely different than me, who one could argue by a glance at our bios, have nothing in common with me. Except for art. Our complete and absolute agreement that it is necessary, it is life-saving, it is ours. And everyone else’s too.
I took a near total mental break after my last workshop of the week. I read a novel and ate a whole pizza and tried on jeans (wow, that’s a bad plan, looking back). I read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad on a long ago recommendation from my dear friend (and former stranger) Amelia. The narrative shifts perspectives and crosses time. So you know some people’s futures. It’s really really really amazing and it’s all I read this weekend. I went kayaking on the Shenandoah river with my friend Melissa who I haven’t spent time with for months and I just let myself be still inside. I let go of the to do list. Man, I needed that. Today the brain-on-fire feeling was back and I felt like myself again, for the first time in months. It didn’t hurt that I had a driving heart-sharing pep-talk with my friend Cheyenne and an energizing TLA Network phone meeting on Monday. It didn’t hurt that I saw some of the people I look forward to seeing the most each week. It didn’t hurt that I had coffee with a friend who brings clarity even to things we don’t talk about, and a long telephone conversation with the sister of my heart, Cynthia, who I don’t talk to as much as I’d like, but who always answers the phone with, Hello! Yes! I’m so glad you called. And then tells me everything and listens to my everything.
All of these people were strangers to me fewer than 7 years ago. And now I can’t imagine a future that their friendship won’t have impacted profoundly. When I was little, I’d hold my palms out and ask my mom if she could read my future. She’d make some guesses, kiss my hands and give them back. I wanted so much to know. But the lines didn’t have the right words on them anyway. The lines were about husbands and children and years you’ll live. There were no lines that could have the language for this life, and I could not have imagined that life could be so non-traditionally full. I don’t know how life got to be this way. It’s not what I had planned, or imagined, or even hoped for. It’s different, but it’s right. It stands in the light. And sure, the dark things rise every now and then, the dark things I remember dragging with me all those years, a heavy restraint that slowed my expansion. And sure, I feel afraid when they rise (and also yearn for some of the chaos of their complication, if I’m honest). But also: I know they will pass over me and show me something new, and then go on their way. I know that the people whose friendship fills my life will listen to my discoveries, and applaud me as I keep trying to get closer to being who I want to be.
So to you: even though you can’t imagine another life. Can’t imagine this will pass, can’t imagine you won’t always feel this way. Maybe you can’t imagine that you’ll ever have friends or loves as dear as the ones you lost. You can’t imagine that you’ll ever be still. But one day you will be. And your stillness will be unguarded, complete, and (I’m sorry to tell you) temporary. But that’s okay. You haven’t met all the wise friends you need to help you through. Believe me, there are some really great ones that you don’t know yet, there are a lot of people who don’t know you yet but need to. There are a lot more people you can love and protect in new ways with your big bright heart and your great, competent noggin.
The poem I really want to point you to is “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford. But I’ve used that before, here. If you haven’t read it, go have a look.
The other thing to read is Terry Tempest Williams on why she writes. Click the link. Start with the set up. Where are you, what time is it, what does the sky look like outside your window, what is the state of your heart? Then, “I write to…” and repeat that, as she does. Why are you writing? Why do you keep coming here to visit me for prompts? There’s something extraordinary about your drive to keep unfolding yourself in this way, pulling out the truths you contain and examining them, even when so much of the world we inhabit tries to blur your vision of your own possibility.