Humans never break. We may bend in the wind, and feel the tug of the violent air. We often find ourselves at the limit of flexibility, where snapping seems certain. We may become a victim of a lightning strike, and bear the scars of vicious rain.
Yet for each of our flaws and vulnerabilities, there exists a strength. Our roots go deep. Even parched of thirst and on the brink of madness, a spark of the self remains. A spark that lingers. It never fades: never to find itself snuffed out by mortal means, it can remain buried for years.
The spark is patient.
While the storm of the world rages around it and we grow with the seasons, it continues to flicker. We may lose sight of the flame from time to time, but it still burns within us. There are a thousand kinds of pain in this life. The hollow emptiness and hopelessness accompanying empty cupboards. The gut wrenching sense of loss that accompanies the passing of someone beloved. The aching bite of guilt over decisions made long ago; the sting of remembrance that haunts us. The tiny, sweet hot moments of triumph that follow a fight for something.
The burning that accompanies us as we wander the battlefield, wondering if any of it was worth it.
The worst pain, the most common and that which possesses the same endurance as our spark: regret. It’s something universal to everyone, painted in a hundred different shades of intensity. Confusion and self doubt are its’ siblings, and it is the enemy of desire. How many fall beside the way because they feel to follow a dream is impossible? How many find themselves shattered by a relationship that’s become cracked as mirrors? Unlucky. How do we build new bridges?
It could be argue that our propensity to fuck things up is the foundation of life.
If we were perfect beings, there would be no lesson to learn. Nothing to overcome, nothing to challenge us. It could even be that without conflict and struggle, there would be no point to our existence. The meaning of life eludes us, as so much does. We roam life with unanswerable questions, and stumble from one curve-ball to another.
How we handle the inevitable heartache of all life entails is what will define us in the end. That’s not to say that it’s easy- it’s not, but nothing worth doing ever is. One day we land on this Earth with a finite amount of time to play with. What we choose to do with it remains a personal choice, but to squander it is becoming the norm.
Putting things off until ‘tomorrow, or whenever’ has become the new norm and I’ve been as guilt as anyone. Stagnation is comfortable and familiar: change is terrifying. Does it make us bad people? No, it makes us people. But it’s a heartbreaking thing to witness so many drift through life in a stupor. Mental illness is the greatest epidemic we’ve ever faced. Each year more find themselves with a diagnosis and prescription, the hope of a numb state.
I’ve been on that side of the glass, and it isn’t worth it. To watch the world roll on while you sit in quiet and hope time passes quicker is a tragedy. The spark still burns fierce, but you become distanced and everything else atrophies. You might as well be dead, because when you hit the pause button and give into the void, you’re somewhere between. Neither life nor death, but pale shades of gray to others’ vivid colors.
I spent a year of my life watching wallpaper. So doped up on an irresponsible cocktail of mind-bending medication and weed that the idea of even being did not occur. Put in simplistic terms: I gave up. I stopped talking to most of my friends, refused to engage with the things I loved and suffered.
Society operates on the opinion that suffering is romantic, and gives rise to great art: achievements otherwise unimplementable. This is a lie. Suffering causes nothing but darkness: there are no epiphanies, no sudden realizations or moments of genius. Suffering is suffering, and that’s all there is. It could be said that I dug my own grave, and in some ways I did.
I was a slave to the idea of serving and pleasing others before myself. I found myself told by those with less than pure intent that to think of myself or my own dreams was selfish. That to pursue something for the sake of my own pleasure was reprehensible. The truth is, these people were also bent out of shape.
The old cliche of ‘hurt people hurt people’ often rings true, and those who would tear me down found themselves haunted by past failures. It’s far easier to force someone else to carry blame you’ve amassed yourself. It’s simple and requires no effort to tear another down into the grave with you.
Those who have never felt a sense of empowerment are so frequent to take from others.
That’s not to imply everyone who is down on their luck will visit their misfortune on others. For every narcissist, sociopath and mediocre human being there are ten kind ones who’ve overcome. They are humble, kind to the extreme and will throw themselves in the path of danger to protect the ones they love most.
My mother was such a person, and her death was a wake up call. Not so much the dying itself, preceded by traumatic illness. The months of losing her did not bring epiphany; nor did the first months that followed. When the heart is raw and bloody upon the plate it cannot stand to reflect or think of life.
When the bitterness and rage of bereavement give way to reflection, we breathe again. Our lungs, once shriveled as the November leaves, sooner or later inflate and begin to pump life and color. Where once there was sadness, hope blooms as does memory. With each memory comes clarity, and by figuring out the puzzle those we walk without have left us, we begin to build a road.
It’s not a linear process and there are gaps in the path.
Sometimes we jump, and sometimes we’ll fall.
The reality of this strange and tragic, beautiful world is that with each fall we learn. Our outer shells thicken while the spark remains bright and safe, cocooned by layers of scar tissue. We teach ourselves to fall better than before, to land and roll on our shoulders and emerge upright. Before we’d shatter both ankles. The lessons those who came before gave us live on, and give us the wisdom and strength to avoid certain pitfalls if we only listen.
The fall is in our nature, and it is an essential and inexorable part of our DNA.
A Roman general is often quoted as saying that he learned more from a thousand failed campaigns than a successful war. While we can assume the numbers exaggerated, the sentiment holds true. It’s only when we fall to our knees and find everything we knew stripped away we begin to finally know, and with knowing is understanding.
When our outer shell has become as a tree pitted with age, stripped of protective bark by the wind, only the spark remains. We struggle only so that we may rise, the truth of our nature revealed. Because when the outside, the superficial has found itself decimated by circumstance or insanity, only the truth remains.
Truth is never comfortable, simple or easy to live with.
Loving yourself is not something mindfulness apps or others can teach: it’s not a reachable destination. We could live for a thousand years or longer and still suffer days of self doubt, of wondering and fretting. To do so is human. Self love and understanding is a journey, and it’s the longest we’ll ever walk. Even those we may look upon as heroes or role models have their flaws and insecurities.
We find ourselves in an age where perfection is in demand, and nothing less will suffice. The reality is that perfection is a falsehood and a worthy life does not spring from perfection or the ideals of any society. Any kind of perfection or transcendence is, quite honestly, born from love. If you find yourself motivated by shallow reasoning, you’ll become a hollowed trunk. If you give into bitterness and rage as I have done in the past, your roots will rot and refuse to draw in any good.
It is when we act in faith, love and a sense of compassion that we begin to bloom.
It can backfire and end with pain, but if we refuse to let that pain beat against us the way ancient trees withstand hurricane winds, we will become better. As a species we can often be savage and uncompromising; a herd mentality benefits no one. If you nurture the individual and let beauty and love into your life, thriving will follow.
None of this is easy.
Life is the hardest battle to win.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy.