A while ago I wrote a post about the kindness of strangers on a bus. It was a couple of weeks or so. When it was written is irrelevant. When the experience happened is relevant as day by day since, the experience has been settling deeper and deeper into me.
Being cradled and cared for and supported by a bus full of strangers in an odd, raw and needy moment has jostled me into wondering what else I may be missing out on by having my shit together. Further, what we are all missing out on by having our shit together, or pretending that we do, or thinking that we should.
I saw a commercial the other day for a cold medication, something about an athlete taking it because when you’re a pro sports dude, the game doesn’t stop for your cold. This is one of many ads just like this, group it with ads that boast a similar message and we begin to see some of the pathologies of our culture on the glowing screen (well, don’t we always.)
Because the game doesn’t stop for a cold. Because my day doesn’t stop for a headache. Because life doesn’t slow down for my kid’s cough. Because life won’t wait for you. Medicate, suppress, dig deep and push through. Don’t stop for a cold or an ache or a heart break. Don’t stop for a friend or a gut feeling or the cancer growing. Don’t stop for a stranger or a child and for heaven’s sake, don’t stop because you just feel like a break.
The cultural call to be successful and productive or just seem like you are is overwhelming. The cultural call to be strong and of value and have your needs and vulnerabilities tucked away in the privacy of your own hidden anxiety is so pervasive that it’s rarely questioned. Not only have I bought into this, I am a cheerleader for it. I have tolerated the intolerable for far too long. I have dismissed the quiet whispers begging for release. I actually said ‘Ah, I’ll sleep when I’m dead’. I have checked email while talking on the phone while driving my car. I have worked over twenty hours straight fueled by caffeine and adrenaline. I have motivated myself with fictitious deadlines. I have woken so sick that I sobbed all the way to work and didn’t even consider canceling my day.
At some point I would have been proud of these things, like some badge of honour, the warrior able to defeat the trite trials of being human. Now I think it’s utterly pathetic. In the most compassionate use of the word pathetic. This past year has been difficult. In the very raw, real and messy sense of life being how life is with pain and loss and stress. It has been difficult for me personally and for most of the people in my community with layers upon layers of challenge. What started happening is we’re beginning to break a little. And it’s luscious.
When we armor up and suck it up and take it on and push through, we are lonely. When we have it together and take care of others and ask for nothing we not only deny ourselves the support we fundamentally need from other human beings, we rip others off of the opportunity to really know us and contribute. We may look up to the strong or fierce or successful. We may see someone who seemingly has their shit together and envy them. But the more deeply I get to know individuals, the more embodied the knowledge becomes that we are all suffering in some way. What I admire these days are the people who let the cracks in their armor show a little of the light that’s inside.
I am breaking down and breaking open. I don’t mean in some dramatic mental crack kind of way. I mean deeply and intentionally. I notice the push to armor up against the world and life and people in painful times. I see it in my community too. But I want something else. I want to hold and be held by the ordinary grace of humanity. I want to see the cracks in your armor. I want to know when you’re confused or uncertain or hurt. I want to feel the tenderness of your broken heart aching to be seen. I want to know what you need from me and how I can help in so sugar coated, uncertain terms. I want to know where I have failed you. I want to see the darkness and the ugliness. I want to know about the needs that aren’t polished, the wants the aren’t clear.
I want to stumble through it with you.