Oh, I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those who ain’t afraid
I remember that time you told me,, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely you touched mine ’cause
Part of you pours out of me
in these lines from time to time….
–A Case of You, Joni Mitchell
I’m on vacation this week in Upstate New York, where I used to live. I come back here every year in the fall…to soak up the autumn colors, post a ridiculous number of photos to Facebook and Instagram, spend time with a best friend, and give myself permission to take a long pause from life, work, parenting, and all the things that wear me down.
The nice part of having these few days to myself is that I can ponder and reflect with few interruptions; there is silence and stillness without responsibility, and it feels like these trips literally save me and make me useful to others and hopeful again for the coming year.
This trip I’ve been thinking about the people that have come in and out of my life – some for days, some for years – and how they’ve helped create who I am now. In my last post, I talked about how I want my life to be influenced and colored by others who are brave and creative. I’m constantly amazed at the people that swoop into my life…people that I never could have seen coming, people that I never fathomed could actually exist in the world, people that brought me gifts with their presence, people that showed up right at the moment I needed them – even when I didn’t know I needed them. This, again, is grace…when you’re given what you need before you knew you needed it.
Another thing about people that I’ve been thinking about, but which I don’t entirely like, is that sometimes, you can outgrow them. Or, maybe you don’t outgrow them, but you grow off in opposite directions, and no matter how much you hash through things with them and try to come back to each other, you can never understand each other again. This growing away from people does not feel like grace, although it probably is in the long run.
Sometimes, the voices that you once trusted implicitly are no longer safe voices to speak into your life – they have become the devil, the accuser. And, it’s not because those people are bad or have ill intentions, but it’s because your paths have veered off in different directions and you lose the resonance that you once had with them. You’re vibrating at different frequencies and when you try to merge together like you used to, the result is clanging dissonance. Maybe the flip of that is also true….your voice becomes the devil for them, as well. You can no longer understand the path they are taking, and so all of your words, suggestions, and encouragements are useless and unhelpful.
Not long ago I met with someone who once knew me very well, someone who I allowed for years to speak into my life because we were on the same path. But this time, I realized how far we had moved from each other. It was like we were complete strangers talking past one another, and there was no point in agreeing to disagree because we were already too far gone.
I told my story of the last five years, in the same way that I tell most people that come into my life these days. To my complete surprise, though, I was wrecked by this person’s response. I came away from the meeting believing for a few minutes that I was a selfish asshole who had really fucked up my life. Why was I working so hard on my writing career? Why was I going to grad school when my children are still little? Why didn’t I just ask my ex-husband for more child support? Maybe I’m just not cut out for marriage or committed relationships in the first place. Did I not realize I’m treating my children like bowling pins in the pursuit of my own self-expression and fulfillment and joy? Was it not apparent that the path I’ve pursued is surely devoid of empathy and compassion towards others?
I believed for a few short moments that what I thought was being brave might actually just be folly rooted in my own self-centeredness. I questioned hard the joy and peace I feel most days now, where once I had little joy and no peace. That meeting was an encounter with my devil, my accuser….a voice that sided with the lingering insecurities hovering around my mind.
I’m so intensely attracted to people I see in the world who are being brave – not necessarily the ones who are doing nutty things that are dangerous – but the people who are ruthlessly pursuing themselves and searching for meaning in life even if means they risk losing everything. When I come across these kinds of people, it’s almost all I can do not to grovel and beg them to let me just be around them once in a while. Their stories help me to be brave, and there’s really nothing good that has come out of my life that has not been painted on or sculpted in places by these people.
After my momentary deep dive into depression and certainty that all of my decisions over the last five years were impressively horrible, I ran to a different voice – one who is resonating on my wavelength and has every right to speak into my life because she knows me and understands me, and somehow, I can do nothing wrong in her eyes. [Side note: EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves a friend like this, where everything you do and say and dress like, plastered or sober, is accepted with love. Grace, I tell you.] I brushed away my tears, pulled myself together, and actively remembered who it is I WANT to be. I don’t want to be a person who plays life safe and lives according to platitudes and rules. I want to be a person who does hard things, and loves people easily and quickly, and shows my boys that sometimes the very best life is not the easy one – but the one with challenges and difficult decisions and a mom that will do anything to find herself, so that they can one day know how to really find themselves.
I want to keep chasing after the brave people and beg them to let me be in their lives, to show me how it’s done, to reveal more of the joy that I haven’t yet seen, to love me despite my fear and faults and failures. I want to keep resonating with the amazing people I already have in my life who show me on a daily basis what it’s like to live wholeheartedly and authentically, even when they are still afraid.
I don’t know…maybe I am selfish. Maybe it is selfish for me to try to squeeze every little bit of joy and glory out of life that I can, even when it looks irresponsible to some people. But I know there are people who resonate with me, who GET IT, who know that there are things you can’t unsee, places you can’t go back to, and ways of being that you can’t unbecome.