I have been absent for a long time, unsure on how to proceed and if I should. Until now, I thought I realized the “shoulds” and expectations I placed on myself. I thought I healed them and let go of my perfectionism. It’s funny, once we think we heal something, the universe comes to give us a dose of our own medicine. This opportunity gives us a chance to show what we learned and I see I still have a long way to go. And, I am much further than I’ve ever been. I acknowledge myself for that.
I’ve sunk into a depression in the past year. I haven’t known how to deal with it and if it was real or not. I realize it is. Real is what I experience and am going through. Life has been like a riptide. I stand up to face it standing tall and strong only to get swept under and tossed around by the current. I’ve found my footing only to get pulled under again and again. I wasn’t sure if I could stand back up and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
I kept choosing life. I chose to keep a perspective of gratitude and I keep moving on. And since doing that, amazing people keep coming into my life to hand me lessons and gifts.
Last week, I met a young man in the burn unit of the hospital where I volunteer. I talked to him and heard his story. 12 years ago he came from Mexico when his dad sent him here as a teenager. He came alone while the rest of his family lives in Mexico and they soon lost touch. Independence and self-reliance became his backbone since he had no one to fall back on. This became his truth and the story he lived with.
Two weeks ago, he was in a terrible car accident. He had burns on his arms and legs and terrible lacerations across his face. The skin on his left eye was melted and almost completely covered his eye. And yet, his smile lit up his face and his eyes shined brightly.
He told me about his work and the important people in his life. The love of his work radiated out of him as he told me over and over agin about his job. He worked in siding/construction and loved working even the long days because of the people he works with. They have become like his family, they have become his everything. He told me about his determination to get better and to heal himself so he can go back to work. Every waking moment he dedicates to his recovery, willing himself to heal.
“I have to be strong.” He said. “I have to be strong.”
“What does strong mean?” I asked him.
He told me that strong means to take care of himself, to provide for himself, and to help others. He began to cry as he told me how afraid he was and admitted he has never cried in front of someone before. What if he can’t work again? What if he doesn’t get better fast enough? What if he has to accept help?
“My friends want to help me. They want to help with my bills, but I have to be strong.” He said as tears poured down his face.
“Would you help them if they were in your position?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t think twice. I would just pay it.”
I looked at him and saw myself in him. I saw the loneliness, the fear, the fear of looking weak, of accepting help, and not being able to do it on my own. I saw how similar we were even though our skin color, our language, our upbringings are different. I saw us as one.
I took his hand and I invited him to look at what he was saying differently. I said:
“What if we looked at us feeling and crying not as weak, but what true strength is. The easy thing is to sweep it under the rug, is to distract ourselves with meaningless things, to pretend it is all okay. It is easy to not feel. You are feeling. It takes someone so strong to allow themselves to feel the hard things and to choose life anyway.
And what if we didn’t look at accepting help as weak, but instead, true strength. What if we saw it as understanding we didn’t have to do this alone and that strength means allowing others to show up for us. By letting people in and trusting them to be there for us, that takes true strength. What if by accepting help, we decided to show it as a sign of gratitude for those who we love and who love us?
When I came in today, the nurses asked me specifically to come in and see you. They said that you bring so much joy into their lives everyday and so much appreciation. They are grateful for who you are and the energy and perspective you bring into this unit.
If we looked at strength as all of these things, I would say that you are one of the strongest people I have ever met.”
He looked at me and said, “I think I am learning how to be strong.”
We are all learning how to be strong. The experience we are going through now is helping us identify that strength in us. It is helping us heal and be the person we truly want to become.
I am here to stand tall in my strength today. To show up for myself, you, and the world in the best way I know how. And that is through compassion, strength, and most importantly, vulnerability. It is okay to feel and be. It is okay to cry and then smile. It is okay to be exactly where you are because it is divinely perfect and crafting you into the person you are becoming.