“Many people between the ages of 30 and 60 - whatever their stature in the community and whatever their personal achievements - undergo what can truly be called a second journey. The second journey begins when we know we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the morning program.”
– Brennan Manning
When I first decided to document this year of “showing up” by writing a monthly letter I didn’t have a plan in place. Would I just write and see what showed up on the page? Would I organize these letters into sections or by monthly themes? I’m still a bit unsure, but it’s time to go. My hope is that these letters are both personal—vulnerable—and yet come from a higher, weathered perspective. I love how writer and public speaker Glennon Doyle puts it: Write from the scars, not the wounds. Well, it’s proving hard to determine exactly what has scarred and what is still an open wound, but I’m trying. So much of my life feels like an open wound, and yet when I take the time to examine and look around, I see healing. I see growth. I see tenderness, yes, and I see pain, but I see progress.
I decided to open my first letter with this quote from Brennan Manning, shared with me this week by a friend. (One of you, actually!) The instant I read it something stirred in my soul. Turning 35 was a good excuse to start this new project—to begin a new way of living—but the truth is that this summer would have been a wake-up call even if my birthday was in the winter. I've experienced an awakening of sorts. I have been woken up. It hasn't been pleasant—when do we ever welcome a rude awakening?—but here I am. I am awake. I am awake and I continue to wake to realities about myself - who I am, what I'm afraid of, where those fears live, what I do when I'm afraid, who I want to be, who I'm created to be…
The thing is, I haven't been who I’ve wanted to be for the first 35 years of my life. There isn’t a time in my life when I can recall not being in pain. Not being angry. I mean, of course I can recall times of joy and happiness and delight. Times when things were really, really good. I’m not saying I’ve been angry and sad for 35 years. I’m saying that there has always been an undercurrent of pain and anger running through my soul, just under the surface, and I haven’t known why. What’s more, that undercurrent has often broken through the surface. To its credit, I believe it’s just my heart trying desperately to be noticed. I’ve always felt her, but I haven’t always noticed. I notice her now.
It hurts to know I haven’t been my best self for the first 35 years of my life. That’s not a good feeling. And yet, haven’t I been doing my best? I haven’t been phoning it in. This quote from Courage to Change, An Al-Anon Family Groups reflection book, seems fitting:
“At all times I have done the best I was able to do. If my only way to cope with a difficult situation was to deny it, I can look back with compassion to that person who saw no better option at the time. I can forgive myself and count my blessings for having come so far since then.”
We who have woken up and face the afternoon of our lives don’t need to waste our time or energy regretting, wallowing, or bemoaning what we did (or didn’t do) in the morning. My past self, what else could she have done? She got me here. She survived. I feel for her. I love her. I want to hold her and tell her “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
While there have been times when my best hasn’t been great, when my best looked like giving up or attacking or withdrawing, I know at heart I have always desired to do my best. The thing is, I haven't always had the knowledge. I haven’t always had the tools. No, I haven't always been the best friend, daughter, wife, mother, sister, coworker I could be, based on outside standards. There have been times when I haven't shown up, when I have chosen to put up walls instead of opening doors, when I have chosen disengagement and self-preservation instead of courage, compassion, and connection. I know this now. I see this. We can’t do better until we know better, and while I don’t always like the way that phrase is thrown about I really do find it appropriate here. I’m awake now. I’m starting to know, if not better, differently.
If all this seems too “woe is me” or even self-defeating, worry not. Here’s the good stuff: I have also awakened to the absolute and complete mother-fucking badassery that lies within me.
Yes. Badassery. It lies within all of us as it turns out. And the self that has felt inferior, misunderstood, worthless, etc., for the past 35 years has, as it turns out, been the exact right self I’ve needed to be all along. I feel like there’s a lion roaring inside of me as I write this. I’m a phoenix rising from the ashes in the middle of the flames. I am the storm. (I hope you’re laughing, friend. I know I am.) But on a serious note, really. I actually feel this ball of powerful energy inside me, like it’s been waiting to be noticed and unleashed all these years. Why couldn’t I have tapped into this sooner?
I wasn’t ready. I am now.
So, this is my goal this year/everyday/right now: being my most authentic self - acting from a place of worthiness, rooted deep in my soul, in the very place where my true self lives. Being this self takes courage. It needs compassion. It requires connection. If those words grouped together sound familiar to you, it's because I've commandeered them. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown cites courage, compassion, and connection as being three essential characteristics of wholehearted people. Friend, read this book. Get a copy and read it tomorrow.
To clarify the terms, by courage Brené refers to what she calls "ordinary courage" - speaking the truth of one's heart. Not grand heroics, but the quieter (and sometimes subversive) act of speaking our truth and acting as our true selves, despite the torrent of pressure demanding we do otherwise. Conform. Keep quiet. You know, that crap. Compassion, then, is the empathy, care, and kindness we show others and ourselves, when our instinct might otherwise be to judge. It’s being gentle with ourselves and with others. It’s opening our heart to the very real possibility of pain—but opening up anyway. (It’s not without boundaries, but I’ll have to explore that in another letter.) Brené goes on to define connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued…” Genuine connection requires courage and compassion. Courage and compassion without connection would wither. It would feel fruitless. We need connection—we are wired for it. And yet with all our technology, our nonstop streams of information, our social media addictions, our constant activity, we are starving for it. Well, maybe you aren’t. I am. I’m dying for the real thing. I’m dying to be myself with the people who have earned her. Perhaps you can relate?
Here’s one courageous thing I did this month that also required compassion and led to connection: I went to a “mom’s night out/Bunco night.” I met this mom at a local splash pad a couple weeks ago and she invited me over to play with her Bunco group. I’m not great in brand new social situations (I’m not that great in social situations with people I’ve known for years, either), but I went. I was nervous, but when fear started whispering my ear, telling me I didn’t belong there, that no one was interested in getting to know me, I told her “thank you for your concern, but I’m going to keep playing.” It ended up being a pretty fun time, and I’m looking forward to the next one.
“Morning Gloria” may not have gone at all. Or she would have given in to the fear-whispers—the inferiority demons—and would have sulked when she felt ignored. “Afternoon Gloria” needs to learn how to ask good questions, how to initiate meaningful connection. “Afternoon Gloria” speaks up when she feels something and is her own advocate. I’m not so great at that yet. I’m super good with introspection. Not so great with external stuff. Time to practice.
What is something calling you to be courageous, show compassion, and seek connection?
Until next time…