I had a very thought-provoking conversation with a dear friend of mine this weekend. I don’t feel I had anything wise to say to him during the conversation, well, not anything beneficial, but the heart of the matter has continually been rolling around in my mind since he spoke. He’s at a crossroads in his life and having an existential moment, questioning the decisions he’s made, is making, or will make in the future. He’s full of anxiety, some regret, some fear, yet there’s some hope too.
“I realize I’m living every day of my life for retirement but not for today, and I’m miserable,” he said.
My heart broke for him because I know what that moment feels like. I’ve been going through it these last few years ago. I quickly felt overwhelmed, filled with anxiety, because I wanted to tell him to be careful. Uprooting your life and throwing everything you’ve worked hard for away as you step to change it, will take a certain amount of courage. And the cost … well, the cost is the true risk, and the risk is sometimes very high. But is it worth it? It was for me. But, that’s me, and he’s not me.
There was a moment we were talking and I don’t think I expressed clearly something that I recently discovered in my own life-uprooting journey, and that concerns taking a risk and who’s willing to actually do it. I hope I can explain it better here than I could then.
How much risk is a risk if you’re jumping with a safety net? How much bravery is required to jump with safety lines connected to you and you know that though the experience will be thrilling, it’ll also be safe and you’ll live? Imagine jumping from a cliff with no safety line, no assurance, no insurance, and no back-up plan. You MUST defy gravity and the laws of physics and fly. And if you don’t fly – you die?
I’ve watched many people in my life NOT take a risk, not make a change in their lives because they were too afraid to lose all they’ve worked for up to that point. Because … to make this kind of change is to risk everything. I understand the hesitation, but then again, I don’t. I don’t understand why people who can afford to fail because they have a back-up plan, a source of protection, or a support system to help them if they should crash, remain rooted at the edge of a dead field, yet choose to remain on the cliff, or wait to be pushed before they leap. I’ve also watch these same people being tortured with regret and haunted by the proverbial “what if” when they don’t jump. Most make excuses for their practical decisions, but they can’t lie to themselves all the time. The truth has a way of bursting free at odd times, especially right in the middle of the night when you’re just about to reach the best sleep of your life.
This isn’t a motivational message to encourage anyone to jump into a risky situation. It’s a warning… that if you’re thinking about jumping there are real risks involved. You can fail. You can crash. You can lose everything. I have lost security, money, position, reputation, possessions, things, stuff, respect, admiration, dreams… but most of all… I’ve lost love. I’ve jumped. I’ve crashed. I’ve burned. Yet like a phoenix, I’ve risen from the ashes.
Listening to my friend pour out his heart, which I appreciate very much that he loves me enough to share this difficult time with me, I can’t help but learn something else about myself. We should always strive to learn from those around us, letting their experiences be a teaching tool for us, or at least a measuring rod or mirror to help us see ourselves better. Hearing the pain and anxiety in his voice, reminded me of my own fears and anxieties. Without a doubt if I were in his shoes, I’d have no problem walking away from the life he’s built for himself, because I’ve done it already in my own life and KNOW, not suspect but know, that cutting ‘stuff’ out of my life didn’t mean anything. The world didn’t stop, though I wished it would have, the other people in my life didn’t suffer because of my decisions, though I wished some of them had, and I’m still alive, though many times I thought the pain of my heartbreak was going to surely suffocate me. I don’t think I was able to properly breathe for almost two years.
I jumped from that cliff with my arms wide open, and I crashed hard. Then, when I was on the ground, darkness, heartache, and death surrounded me and tortured me daily. Several times I wanted to die. Many times I thought of killing myself because the pain was just too much. I was so lost. I was so scared. I was so alone. I didn’t know who I was anymore, because I lost the labels and the identity that the world gave me, that others had put on me, especially the ones I had put on myself. I lost everything. I lost everyone, and it hurt like hell. But, as that identity was stripped from me, as the mask I had worn before the world was removed, there was nothing else left to face but the real me. She was a dirty, ragged, starved, naked, unwanted little thing. But she wasn’t that way because of what the world had done to her. No. Her condition was because of what I had done to her, how I had neglected her, how I had forced her year after year after year to deny herself to fulfill responsibilities and expectations. I took all the credit for the things she’d accomplished. I wasn’t the fighter, the survivor, the lover, the forgiver, or the wise. She was. She was that small voice of reason that could be heard when all my yelling would stop. I hated her. I was ashamed of her. I despised her because I thought she was weak. But, she wasn’t the weak part of me. That outer mask that I worked so hard to create, in a vain effort to protect myself from the world and it’s judgment, was the weak part. That part of me depended on her own strength, ability, knowledge, and effort to get through this life. She convinced herself that she could work hard enough to earn love and respect… and that she could do it all by herself. That part of me was wrong. My college degree, my salary, my status, my church membership, my family name, my talents, my acumen, and even my pretty face all failed to grant me those things in life I thought I deserved. I didn’t live or have time for the things that did matter…precious things only found when you live in the moment, when you live in the day, when you live for what your heart desires and not for the practicality of what the world expects from you. Things like faith (not religion), hope (not a wish list) and love (not sex).
Wrapping my arms around my friend, I wanted more than anything to pour those little tendrils of love I’ve recently received in my life. Because I knew if he ever felt it, if he could just touch the edges of that miracle it would strengthen him. Every day I seek those moments, those beautiful moments when the world just shifts in the right paradigm. I still have to fight the old me for those moments, casting down the loud strong voices of opposition, of rational thought. I still seek that deep, true love, that fire, that passion, …that naked truth. I’ve tasted it. I’ve had a moment of looking into another pair of eyes and seeing and feeling something real, something beautiful, so I know beyond doubt it exists. It’s out of my reach at the moment and it tortures my soul that I can’t have it, and I struggle to understand why I’m denied it. But knowing it simply exists gives me hope I’ll find it again. Maybe not today, maybe not in the same pair of eyes or behind the same mask, but it’s out there. That love that I felt, oh my god, it shook me to my very core. And that inner woman inside of me… she sang the most beautiful song. I can still hear her song. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the music of that love. When I remember… I can still taste it, and it was good.
So, if I could convey to my friend only one thing… it would be:
“Don’t worry about tomorrow’ for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Therefore, I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” ~ Jesus Christ.
My friend, don’t be like the rich man in Luke 12 who tore down his barns and built bigger ones and said that his life was good because of all the possessions he had gained. God called him a fool because that very night his life was required of him and he had no one to leave all his treasure, no one to morn his passing, no one to miss him. His life meant nothing because it was spent chasing down what he could collect, not what he could spend or use while he was here, or for love he could share. Treasure is meant to be displayed, used, worn, and given, not stuffed in a barn and buried somewhere. He didn’t live for the day, but for the ‘morrow … for his retirement. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, neither is retirement. Success is not guaranteed, neither is failure. Satisfaction is not guaranteed, neither is want. What I do know is that regret is preventable and love is possible. So jump, damn it. I hope you fly. I hope you soar to the greatest heights. But if you fall, if you crash and burn, I’ll be there to hold your hand.
Till next time,