Courage

That moment of truth. Your truth.
When you stop running. Because you have to.

Because your soul implores you.

That moment you discover, what you feared most
was, in fact, what you’ve been searching for all along.

girl-buffalo.ionut

Images by Ionut Caras

One stop at a time.

So, here I am, back in Denver, one of the last places I thought I’d end up. But I honestly didn’t know where else to go.

It’s not a bad place to be, Denver. I just never felt like it fit me. But nowhere seems to fit. Paris maybe, but that’s not really an option right now.

A dear friend offered me a room in a condo she rents out until I get my feet under me. It’s cozy and I have a warm bed to sleep in, so it’s a start.

But it is a bit further removed than I’d anticipated, which wouldn’t be an issue if I had a car. Let’s just say Denver isn’t famous for its public transportation.

I actually don’t know anyone who has taken the bus by choice…and now I know why. I avoided it as long as I could, but my neighborhood has little to offer – one coffee shop a mile away in one direction and a handful of bars and stores a mile in the opposite direction. I don’t mind the walk so much, but the destinations don’t feel worth the schlep, especially when it’s freezing outside.

The bus I have to take is ‘the 0’. Fitting, since that’s pretty much where I’m starting from. I’ve tried to put a more positive spin on it, but all I came up with is it will be a hard one to forget. (Or an easy zero to remember for that ‘positive spin’).

My first experience was…interesting. A trip that used to take me 15 minutes to drive took over an hour. But it wasn’t terrible.

The way back, however, was a bit of an adventure.

The 0 was delayed by half an hour, so I hopped on the first bus headed south. This seemed like a logical choice until I realized the route ended way before my stop, which meant a transfer at “the station.”

bus

We pulled off the main road to what was basically a huge, empty lot. It was darker than it should have been, which made it feel like we were in the middle of nowhere.

The bus drove off, leaving me with three other men, each sitting on a separate bench.

I’m not the paranoid type, probably to a fault. And yes, I have put myself in some questionable situations. But I’m not reckless either, and I know when I need to stay vigilant. I didn’t feel like this was one of those situations. However, my phone had conveniently stopped working, and I had no idea when the next bus was coming. So, not exactly ideal.

I paced back and forth, trying to stay warm. I caught the three men looking my way a few times, but they seemed harmless. And I’m sure they were curious why I was there. I don’t think I qualified as a typical passenger on this particular route.

The youngest of the three finally approached me. He wasn’t threatening at all,  more concerned. He asked if I knew which bus to catch. I assured him I did.

I had no idea.

After what felt like hours, a bus finally pulled up. I didn’t care which direction it was going, as long as it was going.

My next trip after hours proved to be…I guess “animated” would be the best word to describe it.

It wasn’t that late, but the bus was almost empty. Two younger girls sat huddled in the seats lining the wall, facing toward the aisle. A very talkative, somewhat obnoxious man sat across from them. He was trying to interact with them, but they kept their heads down, doing their best to ignore him. I couldn’t help but feel protective, so I casually moved over to the seat closest to them.

We came to a stop. The driver got up to lower the ramp for a man in a wheelchair. The obnoxious man hopped up and lifted the bench to make room for him, which made me feel bad for thinking he was obnoxious. We started to pull away, then jerked to a halt when a woman began slamming her fists on the door.

The driver knew her and they began chatting as the woman made her way down the aisle. She sat in the seat directly behind me and continued to yell up to the driver. “So, did you hear that so-and-so from the center just got thrown in jail for murdering his wife?”

This abruptly transitioned into her announcing to everyone, “You know what happened to me last night? Four policemen jumped me and tried to take me to jail.” She rolled up her sleeves and came over to show me her hands. “See the marks from the handcuffs?”

The man in the wheelchair and the ‘not as obnoxious’ guy teamed up, laughing at her, saying she was crazy.

She jumped to her feet and screamed. “I am not crazy! They ran all their god damned tests on me that proved it. I am not fucking crazy!”

I pulled the cord, exhaling when I heard the words, “stop requested.” Cold and dark for a couple of miles seemed preferable to murder and abuse.

I decided to sync up my bus outings with the light of day for a spell…and never leave home without my headphones.

The next morning’s ride was a short one, no more than 15 minutes. Odds were good I could make it to my destination without incident.

I was just a few blocks away from the coffee shop when the man next to me requested a stop. He started making his way to the door but stumbled backward when the driver hit the brakes. Something fell out of his bag and I instinctively reached down to pick it up.

I did my best not to react as I handed him back his knife.

It wasn’t a menacing knife, necessarily, but it wasn’t a pocket knife either. I don’t believe this man had the slightest intention of using it on anyone. And given the direction he was coming from, I get why he had it…just in case.

I’ve never really felt like my life was in danger. Everyone, for the most part, is harmless. But I have realized I don’t exactly blend in, as I seem to be the one “the man who had a few too many” gravitates toward.

I also see the curious side glances when I sit down or the blatant scans from head to toe. Maybe I’m just paranoid, not because I think their looks are threats or advances. They feel more like judgments, as if to say, “who the hell are you?”

I usually ignore it, but sometimes I just want to look them in the eye and assure them…

I have no fucking idea. I lost her quite a ways back, and I can’t seem to find her.

That’s what I want to say. I want them to know that I don’t think for a second I am better than anyone else who takes a seat on Bus 0. We are all doing our best to navigate our circumstances.

But no, I don’t want to be here. I actually couldn’t be further away from where I want to be.

Yesterday, I missed my stop. But instead of getting off and working my way back, I just sat there, staring out the window. We headed downtown, making our way closer to where I used to live. We passed the place I used to take Biscuit to get his bath, then the place ‘E’ and I went the year I decided to like football, then the gym I used to drag him to, the place I took dance lessons, the coffee shop where I used to study during grad school…

This was my world, where I no longer belong. What used to be home, now feels like a warped cassette tape. The same song is playing, but it doesn’t make sense anymore-the words are garbled, the melody distorted. And there is no way to fix it.

I feel like I’ve been exiled, still able to roam freely, but imprisoned by boundaries I can no longer cross and memories that have been hallowed out by regret.

The bus stopped and everyone got off. It was the end of the line.

I was mad at myself for wasting the morning searching for a place I wasn’t going to find and ending up nowhere close to where I needed to be.

I finally found the bus I needed to get back and waited impatiently as everyone boarded. The driver closed the doors and headed out, then stopped abruptly to let someone else on.

I was annoyed, tired of waiting, of feeling isolated and lost in a place I used to call home.

I knew I was spiraling, so I forced myself to revisit my ‘gratitude list’.

I’m grateful for my friends, for my warm bed…that I have all of my limbs. 

But it wasn’t working. I wasn’t grateful. I was angry.

The woman slowly made her way up the stairs and stopped to greet the driver who seemed genuinely happy to see her.

He smiled, “How was your day?”

Without hesitating, she responded, “Well, no one I love died today, so I’d say, all and all, it was a good day.”

That sounded much better than “I have all my limbs”, so I added it to my list.

I’m grateful that no one I love died today.

The woman sat in the seat across from me. Her face was hard and soft at the same time, her demeanor firm but gentle. She seemed familiar. Did I know her?

She caught me staring at her and I tried to smile. She nodded her head slightly and made her way to the exit, disappearing into the crowd of people waiting to get on.

She had only said a few words, but her voice lingered, filling in the words taking shape in my head.

Hold on, love. You’ll get to where you want to go. But you won’t find it back there. You’ll have to take a different route. You’re headed in the right direction, though. Just keep moving forward…one stop at a time.

 

I have a request…

It’s regarding the subject I keep coming back to.

Magic.

Not the “make shit disappear” kind, the other kind. Although that kind is a bit more difficult to define.

Here is Merriam-Webster’s attempt:

“An extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source. Something that seems to cast a spell.”

I don’t think that does it justice, though…

I think it is impossible to define magic, just as it is to define love or evil or god. But this is what makes us human, I suppose. Our inherent need to define everything around us- to place all things firmly and tangibly into reality- I believe is one our greatest tragedies…magic’s nemesis.Most things clearly defined leave little room for the extraordinary.
– b. breazeale

For me, it’s a feeling or experience…or how an experience makes you feel. It’s electric, exhilarating- the sound of waves crashing against the shore. Or it’s soft, tranquil- a hummingbird in flight.

It disregards time, is indifferent to circumstance, and deems logic absurd. It’s elusive, fickle, fleeting- sometimes bold, sometimes mysterious- but always undeniable. It can be terrifying, detonating the safe place we created that lulled us into complacency.

But what is it, exactly?

My experience of it is the warm glow of a harvest moon, a flower drenched in sunlight, and a sky full of stars. It’s the call of a kookaburra, the wind dancing on the ocean, and the smell of morning in spring. It’s a rustle in the trees when there is no breeze or a whisper that brushes your cheek when there is no one to speak.

It’s love, feeling it, unabashedly, and seeing it reflected back in the eyes of the person you want to spend the rest of your days with.

None of these experiences are lost on me. I see magic all around me, constantly. Except for the last one. That one I can’t seem to find.

I’ve had glimpses of it. But it’s proven to be more of a disappearing act…not the kind of magic I had in mind. Now, I’m finding myself looking around for the little man behind the curtain. Except there are no ruby slippers or home to go back to.

Courage, though, that I have…and a brain. But a new heart, that one I’ll take. I think mine has permanently lost its shape- too many cracks, too many pieces left behind for those who didn’t know what they’d found.

Of all things intangible, magic might be the most elusive. It is a very real force that influences almost every moment of our childhood, allowing us to navigate our world curious, uninhibited, full of wonder, and open to every possibility. But this elusive force will inevitably succumb to its nemesis: reality. We all have to grow up, right? We all must face reality.
So, like most people, magic eluded me for decades, until reality had sucked all the life out of me, and I realized that the only one who could save me had gone missing.
– b. breazeale

Love and magic, the elusive duo I have risked so much for, lost so much for…and hope is quickly following suit.

But it does exist, right? I mean, you’ve heard about it, haven’t you? The sweet, elderly couple who still dance in the kitchen, the guy who flies across the globe to win her back, the seemingly impossible love that persevered against all odds…the chance meeting that turns into that epic love story.

I understand it’s rare. It means risk, vulnerability, potential rejection, and unbearable pain. It’s terrifying, really. We now know the stakes, and they are high. We have tasted heartbreak, and it is brutal.

But we can make a choice. To take the risk, to heal and grow, love better, feel more. Or, we can retreat, build up our walls and remain in the realm of comfortable, safe…ordinary.

I know you skeptics and non-believers out there are shaking your heads. This isn’t a fairytale. No one is going to climb up my balcony and whisk me off to happily-ever-after. This is reality.

I’ve heard you, I’ve actually dated you. You have adequately presented your case- a convincing one to be sure- and your actions have been deafening. Your work is done here. So as you were.

But for you believers, can you help a romantic out here? Because she is, in fact, starting to feel hopeless.

Show me it exists. Tell me your stories, or stories of someone you know, or ones you’ve heard- whether they be epic or seemingly small, day-to-day things you do to sustain it.

Please, for all of us who refuse to settle, help us believe…magic is real and love can be extraordinary.

Because honestly, why waste our time on anything less?

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Quote Challenge, Day 2 of 3: Coming out of the shadows.

Here is my humble attempt at day two of a challenge offered up by one of my favorite blog gurus, brandewijnwords. The task at hand is to share my favorite quotes for three consecutive days.

This has proven to be more difficult than I anticipated. I have so many quotes swirling around my head right now. But this one is the first that came to mind, so I’m going with it. (You can visit @summoningmagic to see more of my favorites.)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…our playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
~ Marianne Williamson

This first time I read this, I realized I had done this my entire life: played small. There were several reasons why I chose to do this, the primary one being I desperately craved love and acceptance from those I loved…most who didn’t exactly know how to reciprocate. Regardless, it became very clear to me that being the center of attention was not unacceptable.

I never understood it, really. It was next to impossible for me to believe I had any redeeming qualities…precisely because those were not to be cultivated or celebrated. They were to be stifled.

So, for survival purposes, I stayed in the shadows. And it truly was to survive. For me, being rejected by the ones I love the most was and is my worst possible fate. Being the smartest or prettiest or anything that threatened anyone else was simply not an option.

So I played small.

This meant that I constantly attracted people who demanded the spotlight, and I gladly gave it to them.

I’m not sure when the shift happened, but I know this quote fueled it. I imagine being a trainer/coach also contributed. That was my first experience having someone look to me for guidance or want my permission to shine. It changed me. On a fundamental level, it changed me.

There is nothing more beautiful than to be a part of someone realizing their worth.

So I still gladly offer up the spotlight, but it’s no longer for acceptance. It’s for the joy of seeing someone shine from the inside out.

As for the ones who feel they need to steal the light from others, I think I understand it now. They are simply doing what they think will prevent their biggest fear- their worst possible fate- to be rejected by the ones they love the most.

Spotlight Stage Background

Your attention, please.

I wasn’t feeling it today. It’s grey out. I don’t do well with grey (except to fend off black and white).

So instead of writing, I committed to catching up on reading and stumbled upon Behind the Scenes by Brandewijn Words.

It wasn’t his generous words that got me (although beyond humbled by and grateful for them), it was his message. I realized it plays into the same theme as the two posts I read immediately before, and the book I’m currently reading, What is in the Way is the Way, and a documentary  I just saw, Leaning into the Wind.

Apparently, there’s something I need to pay attention to.

The theme/s, more or less:

In BW’s words:
“…the way that the world grabs me sometimes. How it twists my perspective and I see it from a different angle… why it’s important to get on the ground, sometimes, and look at something from a completely different point of view.”

Andy Goldsworthy’s words: (Leaning into the Wind)
“There are two different ways of looking at the world. You can walk on the path, or you can walk through the hedge…step aside off the normal way of walking or looking.”

 The Incurable Dreamer’s: 
“Each step I took was with intent and an understanding that pain is what paints the sky with breath-taking beauty and ignites your soul in the grasp of darkness…even when your heart loves so deeply it threatens to destroy you, it is possible to feel blessed.”

Tom Being Tom’s: 
“But if we can learn the lessons of our past and focus our attention in the present…we can build the tomorrow that we want, instead of the one that we fear.”

In short, it’s about perspective, about paying attention to what’s happening in the moment, being curious, leaning into the questions, and most importantly, the emotions behind them, especially the uncomfortable ones

It’s the very thing we stop doing as we get older. We know all too well the spaces that hurt. We’ve experienced the pain of loss, heartbreak, disappointment, rejection, and failure. And we’ve become masters of avoiding them, no matter the cost.

Yes, we survived it, but it changed us. It scared us. Why risk feeling that way again? Running, numbing, suppressing, avoiding: these all seem like the safer bet. So we stop taking risks, “stay on the path”, chalk it up to life is hard and spend our days either stuck in the past or praying that things will get better in the future. Or, we lose ourselves in trying to control and fix everything that’s wrong.

Life, its unfolding, loses its color…and turns to grey.

“Fear needs time to exist. It needs stories of past and future in order to get a foothold in your mind.” – Mary O’Malley 

I see this happening all around me. I see this happening to (or with) me. I’m missing out on so much of the good that still exists, wasting what could be beautiful moments because I’m so focused on fixing the handful of things that are wrong,

But the pain is there to teach us, and the lessons will keep coming back until we learn them, increasing in intensity until running, numbing, and avoiding are no longer options if we’re going to survive.

The fucked up thing is these lessons stem from stories we made up based on beliefs we adopted when were tiny…based on fears we developed when we were tiny.

We run away from them, imagining the pain, shame, or anger will be too much to handle. But by doing so, we give them their power, letting them gain momentum and snowball into something so enormous, when it finally catches up with us, the blow is crushing.

Crushing, but not final.

“If we can learn the lessons of our past and focus our attention in the present…we can build the tomorrow that we want, instead of the one that we fear.” ~ Tom Cummings

The irony is we spend our entire lives trying to find happiness, experience joy and avoid pain. But it’s pain that amplifies our experience of happiness and joy. And neither joy nor happiness needs to be found. We always have access to them. We just get so focused on avoiding pain, we lose sight of them.

So what happens if we stop pushing pain away and invite it to stay instead? What if we just get curious about it, without berating or judging ourselves? Whether it comes from anger, shame, sadness, or fear, we simply ask where it’s coming from and why…and we listen.

What happens is we hear the same story we’ve heard for decades- the one we made up to try to understand the inexplicable when we were tiny…the one we play on repeat, that confirms our deepest fears.

If we’re not vigilant, if we don’t pay attention to our underlying agenda to play it safe and avoid the pain, the cycle continues: we get sucked back into the past, scared the future will hold more of the same…and we lose the moment.

So what if we try something different, change our perspective? Instead of doing whatever we normally do to escape it, we welcome it and give that tiny one the attention and compassion s/he has been screaming for?

I can’t answer that yet. My lesson, the one I thought I’d outrun, it caught me. And yes, the blow was crushing, the pain, excruciating. But there’s no more escaping it, and I’d rather not repeat. So, I’m leaning in.

You have my full attention.

I can say this, though: it isn’t screaming anymore. It still demands my attention, to be sure, but it has loosened its grip. It has also made it clear that I’m not in control. I don’t get to decide when or how, and there is no one clear path out of this. I just get to ask questions…and listen.

Oh, and the sun finally did come out, as it always does. But to be honest, the colors were more vivid before. I was just too focused on the grey to see them.

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* Image by Ionus Caras

“When she turned to face it, she transformed it. Her biggest fear became her greatest strength.” ~ b.breazeale

A Love Story of Sorts

In keeping with the theme this week, I’ll offer up a love story of sorts.

Okay, it’s not really a “love story”, in the traditional sense. But it is a story, and it does involve love.

In the romantic sense, love has proven itself to be a fickle companion. I’ve lost myself in it and also found myself. I’ve sworn it off completely, and then blindly plunged back in. I’ve felt it with a force as powerful as breath, and now find myself wondering if it even exists.

But I’m a romantic and seem to be incapable of giving up on it completely.

So Valentine’s Day. I admittedly get seduced by it all: a day dedicated solely to celebrating the person I love and being spoiled by the person who loves me. It’s a subject I believe worthy of its own holiday.

But I’m also acutely aware that this day can place loneliness and heartbreak at center stage, making the absence of the person we love as consuming as their presence used to be liberating.

That’s the side of it I was on, once again. There was no lover to spoil. And besides the sweet guy at the coffee shop, I wasn’t the object of anyone’s affection.

All to say, I expected to be in the same place I was last year: front and center.

I am, in fact, front and center, but not in the same place.

It feels more like equilibrium.

There was no huge revelation that occurred. I didn’t even realize anything had changed until the sweet boy at the coffee shop gave me a chocolate heart. It made me happy. And I didn’t want it to be from anyone else. And I was completely content with the fact that I had the whole day to myself. And there wasn’t anyone I was missing (not entirely true. I miss perhaps the true love of my life, my Biscuit, terribly but subject at hand.)

It seems I unknowingly declared a truce.

Despite the fact that I desperately wanted to move on, I kept looking back. I’ve recycled everything possible- memories, relationships, behaviors- all of which kept taking me back to the exact same place I was before…which was the last place I wanted to be.

This isn’t to say that my mind has completely stopped revisiting what’s lurking beneath the surface. But I finally understand its tactics. I can catch it now, reel it in and release what has clearly been sustaining my demons all along.

But there is admittedly one last relationship I’m trying to rekindle. It’s risky to be sure. It was extremely messy before and full-on destructive when we parted ways. But I really do believe it will be different this time.

I think she’s finally realized she had something special that she came really close to losing.

and-suddenly-she-found-herself-grateful.

I hate you because I love you (Elephant Journal)

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I hate to inundate you with hate here, but I had no idea this was published in Elephant Journal back in August. I hate you because I love you

Promise, no more hating after this!!! (And god, the picture is a bit dramatic… no say in that department!)