The spring equinox often signals a metaphorical lightness to supplement the physical one… Bethany Toews asks if it’s really as simple as that.
I am a writer. So I write. I write to make sense of my suffering. To try and uncover some universal truth. Hoping to help. A map for the dark places. A way out. But it’s been so bright lately. It is sunny in Los Angeles.
After an exceptionally wet winter, spring has already erupted with flourish. The hills are alive. Millions of Painted Lady butterflies are fluttering by in record numbers. Tall grasses appear as though breathing in the breeze, a vibrant green exhalation. It is spectacular to behold. And I am happy to behold it. Happier than I’ve been in a good while. I. Am. Happy. But I’m starting to think I might be bad at being okay. What do I do with okay? Who wants to read an essay about smiling?
So lately, when I sit down to write, I find myself absolutely stumped. Stuck. Lost in a gentle calm of contentedness with nothing much to say. I am afraid I don’t know how to create unless I am suffering.
Writing has been my lifeline for as long as I can remember. When the pain is too big to bear, I search for words to break it down into manageable pieces. Overwhelm turns into comprehensible sentences. Depression is made survivable with the help of these guidebooks I’ve been putting together over time. On nights when I’ve thought I couldn’t make it to the morning, I would write until the morning came. A new lightness arriving. Writing as a way of shedding the crushing weight. Articulating the hopelessness so as to learn to navigate it instead of drowning in it. In some ways, it has been very simply what has kept me alive, and more than that, what has kept me company in the isolation of my grieving.
But now, now I feel I may be standing on new and stabler ground. It’s been quite a process, learning in time what I need to take better care of myself. Finding the courage to ask for help. Gathering the tools and the support to take to heart the task of tending to my mental health. For the first time in my life I have an understanding of how to hold my hurt without believing it will destroy me. I am getting bigger than my pain.
Add to that that after two decades of trying to find a partner I could grow old with, I find myself beside a wonderful man. He makes me laugh. He makes me breakfast. He is a fantastic kisser. He listens when I talk. He holds me when I cry. He’s impatient and apologizes for it. He’s real. And he’s here and I feel with more confidence than ever before that he’s not going anywhere. That I am safe.
And that has unsettled me. What do you do once you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted for so long?
Am I bad at being satisfied? It is starting to occur to me that, like pretty much everything else, it might require practice. I am unpracticed in peace of mind. Discomfort is more comfortable simply because it is what I have known. Distress itself being the familiar tension that ties me to life. Tranquility can feel so strange. A foreign state for my body and mind. Almost like a gentle dissipation, a non-becoming. The absence of feeling. I suffer, therefore I exist.
Anxiety has been my North Star for as long as I can remember.
So where do you go once you’ve reached your destination? When you’ve built your whole life on the glory of going? A latitude and longitude of longing. What does it mean to stop? Am I capable of simply sitting down and settling in? Patiently watching my mind as it desperately grasps for something to fret about. Gently reminding myself over and over again (as many times as it takes) that it’s okay to be okay. That settling in isn’t the same as settling. Surrendering my obsession with striving isn’t the same as giving up.
To learn to be okay with being human. To set free the idea that I need to be anything more. To stop relating to myself or my life as an endless pool of inadequacy needing to be forever filled. To know that I am deserving of love just as I am. That we all are.
I want to be good at living. That alone seems a worthy enough pursuit. I don’t want to worry about how that might look on paper or spend my precious energy on some outside assessment of success. I want to live a life that matters to me, no matter how small it might seem on the evening news.
I want to taste my coffee in the morning. To be kind. To listen when someone is talking. To laugh when someone says something funny. To reach out and touch other humans with love. To be honest about how I’m feeling and to challenge others to share with me the same. To be patient and forgiving of myself and others when we give less than we are able. To recognize growth just the same. To celebrate it.
To accept every time I shrink, too.
To be oh-so-gentle. To be generous of spirit and open of heart and mind. To be a safe place for others to be seen. To see. To really see. To acknowledge. To be someone who gives what I hope to get. To show up for what the day holds. The glorious, the awkward, the painful, and the dull. To show up and catalogue the beauty and the wonder. To thank the gray and rainy days for all the spring blossoms. To honor the decay for feeding what is now growing. To enjoy being content. And to endure feeling unsettled. I can’t imagine a more impressive profession. A Lover of Life. A Holder of Hope. Someone to remind us that there are infinite ways to measure a meaningful life.