I used to be terrified of getting lost. Terrified. I’m not sure what I thought would happen to me if I took a wrong turn and ended up in an unknown place for a while but the mere thought of it put me into panic mode.
Then I went to Europe for a couple months with my college roommate and we ended up falling asleep on a train that dead-ended at a cargo station in Bischofshofen, Austria with no idea how in the world to get where we were going and a particular inability to speak the language. We were lost. I mean – LOST. We weren’t even in the right COUNTRY. That’s lost, yáll.
We ended up in the kitchen of the cargo station drinking coffee and eating cookies and talking about Disney and American sports teams with a guy who was probably generally pretty lonely at that cargo outpost. He got on a radio and convinced a passenger train that would be passing through to stop at his station and pick us up and then he explained, repeatedly, in broken English, how we would transfer to two different trains to get to Budapest. It was fun. And we were in the Alps which is SO gorgeous. And had we not gotten lost, we could never say we have been to Bischofshofen, Austria which, in a rather limited cargo station way, we totally have.
That episode, plus a number of other, smaller, geographical emergencies, have led me to the point where I will often venture out to an unknown place without a map or directions. Because it will either lead to me feeling like a rock star for finding the location without help or I will have some sort of adventure – either way, it’s a win.
But losing the fear didn’t make me stronger…or a better traveler. I’m certainly not better with direction – I’m still pretty easily turned around. But I have been lost enough times that my perspective on being lost has changed. It doesn’t kill ya and, sometimes, it’s fun. That isn’t strength, it’s just the wisdom that comes with experience.
I have come through an awful lot in the past eight years and I’ve had a few of those moments where I thought the pain might certainly kill me – the deaths of both my parents, a couple miscarriages, the diagnosis and liver failure and transplant of my son, and the sudden divorce that has somehow gotten much worse since the papers were signed which, in my divorce naiveté, I had no idea was even possible.
And I’m not stronger, guys. I feel pretty tired.
I have a thicker outer layer, for sure, kinda like how skin that gets exposed to the elements too often – like the skin on the heels of my feet – becomes hard and thick. Kinda like that. And you might mistakenly think that skin is stronger because glass would have a harder time penetrating it if you stepped on it. But it is also kinda scratchy and not-so-nice to play footsie with and it cracks and then you wear sandals and dirt gets in the cracks and your feet look dirty even after a shower.
That’s WAY too much info about my feet, huh? I really need to do something about my feet.
I have a tougher skin, for sure. But it doesn’t make me stronger.
It makes me shut my boyfriend out every time things get really hard. So now he knows that if he doesn’t hear from me in a timely manner, he should probably worry. It’s unfair. And it isn’t strength. Because it is infinitely braver and stronger to allow yourself to trust and be vulnerable and let people in and I now struggle with that more than I ever have before.
And I have a newfound ability to compartmentalize the fear and anxiety that seem to have become a permanent part of my existence. I can sit in a room and be insulted repeatedly and people can talk doomsday scenarios about my future and then I can take my kids to the annual school Fun Run and have a great time. I can focus in on getting tally sheets pinned to my kids’ chests (as well as to the chests of a bunch of other little kids who ran up when they saw my safety pin prowess) and I can go over the rules with all of them and make sure they know how to get their laps marked off and then I can make sure their yearbook is purchased and I can chat with a bunch of other moms about haircuts and summer camps and downtown parking issues and I can celebrate the medals my kids won and the other awful stuff from earlier in the day is completely gone for a while.
I can be bullied repeatedly – as I have been for a couple years now – and what used to upset or threaten me, I can now read with detached wonder. Wow. Look at the way that there brain works. That’s AMAZING.
And people tell me that looks like strength.
It isn’t strength.
This stuff won’t kill me. It’s just really really awful. More awful, sometimes, than I thought life would ever get. But that other stuff didn’t kill me and this won’t kill me, either.
And, in the meantime, there are so many other lovely things to focus on. Things I would never have experienced if I had remained on the path I was on.
And, for better or for worse, things will change and time will pass and everything will look different after awhile anyway.
It’s all about perspective.
ps) You guys! Check it out! The more times I write the word “perspective,” the stranger it starts to look. It starts looking really weird. My perspective has changed on the word “perspective” just in the time it took to write this blog – which is a blog that was mostly written last spring but never published. Nutty.
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