This time of year has become a point of reflection for me. In many ways, I can trace the beginning of the changes in my life to this time two years ago. I find that it humbles me to recall the past, where I have traveled and what I have struggled with over the years. In the last few weeks, a number of things have happened that have reminded me how short our time on this earth truly is. One of the most amazing, wonderful, and yet disconcerting parts of life is its unpredictable nature. Life and death, love and loss, hope and despair—these emotions make up the fabric of our lives. Those of us who choose to write, to pursue acting, music, art—we seek to explore and express that tapestry. We endeavor to paint its vibrancy and its grayness with words, to give it voice, to express it in the stroke of a paint brush. We shade tears and laughter with pencils and typewriters. And, in the end, it helps us connect to ourselves and the world in which we collectively travel.
Life offers us a broad range of experiences when we open ourselves. Opening your heart inevitably requires that you become vulnerable. Loving ensures that we will experience loss. Dreaming brings both excitement and disappointment. It is easy to sometimes lose ourselves to the hopelessness that grief and disappointment conjure. If there is one lesson that I have learned in my life, it is that there is a purpose to loss as much as there is to love. And, it is that all things spring forth from love—our need to love and to be loved. Even the most painful parts of the human experience are rooted in love.
A mother endures the pain of childbirth simply so that she can love a child. A baby enters the world in a rush of cold and light, shocking and frightening, immediately seeking the comfort that love offers. We are created for one purpose and one purpose only in this life—to love and to connect. Our fears, our insecurities, our anger, even the hatred that mankind is capable of finds its origins in the need to love. I believe that we come into the world knowing this. Along the way, we are taught to think rather than to know. We replace faith with thought. We replace understanding with reasoning. And, in the process we develop fear. We fear the unknown that once was completely known by us. We seek to avoid pain, forgetting that pain as much as joy reminds us that we are alive, that we are loving, that we are present in this experience we call life.
In no way am I diminishing loss nor pain. Pain is real and it can be crippling. Fear exists in all of us and it threatens each of our dreams and ability to live fully. I existed in my life tempered by fear for many years. I had lost the knowing. I forgot who I was. I forgot that I was LIVING at all. It feels safer sometimes to exist. After all, wouldn’t life be better without pain? The problem is we can’t avoid pain, we can only alter the kind of pain we feel. And, we can only heal if we allow ourselves to be open, to show forgiveness, not only to others but most of all to ourselves.
Mark Twain once wrote, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
I agree with his sentiment. Life is meant to be lived and to be felt. Looking back two years ago this time, I was on my way to Austin, Texas to attend and Awareness Seminar. I was afraid of everything. I felt anxiety about sitting in a room full of strangers and being who I am. Could I even hope to be who I am? I was nervous about finding where I needed to go. I was a wreck about flying alone into and out of a strange city. Everything I felt then felt as if in some way it flowed from fear. How did people look at me? How did I look at myself? How could I ever become NANCY again? Who was Nancy? I was looking at my life from so far within myself that I could no longer see who I was. It might surprise people who know me to know that I second guessed everything I said that weekend, every honest thought I shared, every joke I made. But, somehow I shared them, and in a short time they began to flow from a different place….And, a small hint of who had been hidden from my sight for so many years became apparent—ME.
Something pulled me to make that trip. I could not explain it. I could not rationalize it. I saw a video, quite randomly, that talked about Awareness and shared it with my wife. She signed me up for the seminar. More than once, I considered backing out. I swallowed my fear, the pull to go was stronger somehow than the apprehension that I felt. I stopped thinking. I followed a sense of knowing. And, each moment that has unfolded since the day I walked through that door I have slowly opened more, like a rose blossoming one petal at a time. I have continued to close my eyes and follow the sense within me of feeling and knowing, rather than reasoning. I do question myself constantly when my doubts arise. I ask why? And then, I allow myself the truth in my heart. There is always a why. And, almost always it flows from some old fear that no longer serves my LIVING—if it ever did at all.
And, the truth is that there has been substantial pain on this journey of self-discovery. Opening oneself and allowing yourself to be vulnerable does ensure loss and disappointment. People have disappointed me. I have reached out and been met with silence by more than one soul I thought I had developed a rapport with. I have felt the sting of betrayal and harsh words. I have lost people that I love. I’ve been forced in this openness to acknowledge my shortcomings. I’ve confronted the truth about emotions that I would sometimes prefer to banish. But, through all of that I have learned and grown. And, I have discovered a truth, a knowing that for many years I ignored. Ain’t nobody getting out of here alive. You have to LIVE while you have the chance.
Nearly every day, I connect with someone new, much of it through my writing. I have been given the opportunity to travel and experience new places and take chances that I once was terrified to even contemplate. It does not mitigate the moments of loss or hurt. I have come to realize that not reaching out, that betrayal, that someone’s silence, even death, these things do not stop me from loving. Love is always present, it manifests itself differently through experience. Knowing that has given me a sense of peace.
One of my favorite songs includes this lyric:
“But now it's just another show, you leave 'em laughing when you go And if you care don't let them know, don't give yourself away…”
It truly sums up most of my adult life. Don’t give yourself away. Make people laugh and mask that pain, mask that vulnerability, don’t say “I love you.” Perhaps, somehow that will prevent the pain. Simply not true. It only ensures that you lose yourself. Better to love and lose. Better to LIVE fully, and that means loving openly. Ain’t none of us getting out of here alive.
That terrific song called Both Sides Now goes on to say:
“Tears and fears and feelin' proud To say to someone I love you right out loud Dreams and schemes and circus crowds I've looked at life that way, sometimes I still do Now old friends are acting strange They shake their heads and they tell me that I have changed, well I have Something's lost but something's gained in livin' every day..”
I can’t advise anyone on how to live. I can say with experience that LIVING is a far better alternative to existing. And, I can say that LOVING, that FORGIVENESS, that GRATEFULNESS, that REACHING OUT, endeavoring to do all of this is what makes life’s journey worthwhile. There is only one destination…FEEL the journey. LOVE and LOVE and LOVE some more until it hurts and then LOVE even more. The thing about love is that honestly, it is infinite. It never gets used up. I promise. Even when love falls. Even when love changes. Even in the sting of betrayal. Even in the painful silences, love is the essence of life. Say it out loud. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Dream, stretch, give, and forgive…and most of all LOVE…..That is how we leave our imprint on this world.
I don’t think it. I don’t believe it. I feel it. I know it.