The Things That Break Us

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When you’re in pain, you can’t see a way out of it, can’t envision a future when the weight isn’t pressing down on you, crushing you, sucking the air out of your lungs. In that moment, it can be hard to imagine that the hurt you feel will ever hurt less.

A week ago, my thigh was an angry purple bruise. The very real one hundred and twenty five pound metal weight that had pressed into my skin had left it sore and ugly. I marveled over it in the shower, ran my fingers over it every time I changed my clothes, showed it to friends who shared my disbelief that such a quick incident could leave such an intense mark on me.

We never know what will mark us, what will leave us sore and bruised, which things will pass without notice and which things will leave us reeling for weeks, months, years. We are masters at pretending and protecting. We excel at thinking the things that break others will surely not break us.

And then, inexplicably, something comes along that brings us to our knees. A person, an event, a loss, a truth we weren’t prepared to hear. One minute we’re coasting through our days and the next minute we’re counting our breaths and wrestling with the unimaginable, doing whatever we can just to stay standing.

I won’t try to talk you out of that feeling, would never try to tell a drowning person to just relax and wait for help to arrive. When you’re in it, you’re in it, and there’s something to be said for allowing yourself the space to feel whatever you need to feel, as intensely as you need to feel it.  Be sad. Be angry. Be jealous, frustrated, confused, disappointed. Let it soak in, let it settle, feel the weight of it. Because you can’t expect to ever heal from something until you’ve allowed yourself to feel it in your bones.

If you love yourself enough to put in the work, someday, somehow, you will come up for air. You’ll laugh at something that tickles you, have a conversation without feeling distracted by the big, ugly thing, enjoy a quiet moment without heavy thoughts creeping in. The thing that was blocking out the sun will slowly become a shadow at the edge of your vision.

My bruise has faded. It isn’t tender to the touch anymore. And I can’t help but notice that it’s taken on the rough shape of a heart. The thing that once hurt me now looks like the thing that keeps me alive. The things that break us allow us to heal and grow in ways that shape us for the better.

That’s the choice we have to make over and over again. When things are hard, when life hurts, when moments threaten to crumble everything we’ve worked so hard to build, will we lean into it, or will we try to ignore it, bury it, wish it away? Our brains tell us to avoid things that hurt. Our hearts, if we listen, will tell us something very different. Our hearts will remind us that if we can make space for the uncomfortable and impossible moments, we’re creating space for the unbelievable and lovely days that lie ahead.










That Wasn’t Your Train (On The Quiet Strength of Giving Up)

It’s an honorable and agonizing thing, waiting. Waiting for a job opportunity, waiting for a relationship with a family member to settle, waiting for the person we love to finally and truly love us the way we want to be loved. Sometimes we put so much energy into hoping and waiting that it can exhaust us for all other things, blind us to all the goodness that’s just around the corner.

It’s a lovely thing to hope for something. To put your faith and trust in a situation that you can’t really know the outcome of, to want something so badly that you’re willing to work towards it even when the world is telling you it’s an impossible battle. Courage can look a lot like craziness to the people watching.

But here’s the thing, there’s got to be an endpoint. You can stand on the platform of the train station at the exactly perfect moment, ticket in hand, craning your neck to look down the tracks, certain that all the pieces are about to fall into place for you, and still that train might not show up.  Because the truth sometimes is this: That wasn’t your train. You can pack your bags and plan your trip and dream of all the lovely things you’ll see, but that wasn’t your train. You can imagine conversations that will finally happen, new experiences that will be open to you, even sweet little naps you’ll take along the way, and still, that wasn’t your train.

Sometimes the reason the thing or person or relationship doesn’t show up is because it just wasn’t your train. And that’s such a hard thing to recognize and accept when you’ve been waiting so long, working so hard, hoping and wishing and praying with everything you’ve got. We’re taught to not quit, that hard work pays off and dreams are meant to be chased. We’re told that if we love people enough, they will feel that love and reflect it back to us. We’re told that the best things in life are worth sacrificing for.

This is all so, so true. But it’s also true that sometimes, we have to let go. We have to realize that we can want something with all of our hearts and it still just isn’t in the cards for us. At some point, we have to stop waiting for that train.

It’s a sad and sickening feeling that washes over us when we know it’s time to go, but I promise you we all feel it. We feel it in our hearts, in our brains, in our bones. We each know on an almost genetic level when it is time to walk away. So why do we work so hard to ignore that understanding, to try to bargain with facts and slip out from under the truth?

There’s a moment in any relationship or situation that has gone sour when you have to ask: Will I leave now and begin to heal, or will I stay longer, and hurt for longer? Those are the only two options. Try to remember that. There is no magical third choice where things become all you had hoped for. It’s ugly and it hurts, but it’s true. Sometimes, things are just over.

Maybe today is your moment. Maybe today is the day that you take one last look down those tracks, and send out one last bit of love for the thing or person or situation that you wanted so badly. Maybe today is the day you take a deep breath, pick up your carefully packed bags, and leave the station. It’s so hard to do, and you might have to take slow steps and stop to rest and ask for help from friends and strangers and pet some dogs to make yourself smile when it hurts too much. But the thing is, you have to leave. You have to turn away from the thing that wasn’t yours so that you can move towards all of the things that can be yours, all of the people and places and situations that are waiting for your love and time and attention.

Maybe there is no train for you. Maybe there’s a bus or a plane or a bicycle or maybe you’ll walk on your own two feet for years and years. Maybe you’ll slowly see that the bag you’re carrying that’s full of memories and old dreams is no longer comforting, but just a weight that’s holding you back. Maybe you’ll be brave enough to set it down, to keep moving without it.

Maybe you’ll meet other people who waited for their trains, people who are walking around damaged and raw and sentimental for the things they left behind. Maybe you’ll see that in each other, see the hope that glimmers beneath the surface, the hurts that still need soothing. When you see that, when you recognize those people, reach out to them, connect with them, be present with them. Whether you know them for five minutes or five years or five lifetimes, these people will become your tribe, your salvation, your hope for whatever comes next. And you will be theirs. You will be able to encourage and support them, to listen to and really hear them, to know that your energy is going into someone that is ready and able to receive it. Feeling that acceptance of your love and time will heal your heart more than a thousand therapy sessions, more than a million inspirational quotes.

So, go. Make today your day. If something is hurting you, if someone is not showing up, if that opportunity is just not going to materialize, turn around and walk away. This is real life, not a movie, so there’s not going to be a dramatic scene with perfect background music and one silvery tear slipping down someone’s cheek. Nope. This is just everyday life, and today is the day to just walk.

Walk away from what isn’t and towards what could be. Allow yourself to feel the hurt and know that it’s sad and cry if you need to, but walk away. Remember all the work and love and hope you put out there, recognize that it was not wasted, that every time you give time and love and energy it changes you for the better. See that whether that time and love and energy was received or not has no reflection on you, and is only a sign that you need to move towards people and places that can accept what you are offering.

It’s ok to take a quick look back if you need to, to wave a little goodbye to the things that weren’t, the future that isn’t. But remember, just one quick look. Don’t linger, don’t hold out hope for a surprise happy ending. Just say goodbye and keep on walking.

Because, honey, that wasn’t your train.