"I will stay, so the lantern in your heart won't fade..." - Jon Bellion By way of "Guillotine"
I ran away.
Pulled on my coat, wrapped a scarf around my neck, threw some jeans and an assortment of grey sweaters into a carry on bag, and just went. My hair was freshly washed, which meant it’d last me through the trip before needing another wash. I knew I wasn’t going to be gone long, just long enough.
Long enough for the numbness to wear off of my bones and for my humanity to set in again. A couple of days, and a couple of prayers, had me hoping that mortality would be something I feared a bit less once I found myself sitting on the airport floor in Chicago during my return layover. ORD was going to bear witness to my changed soul. I hoped. I prayed.
Have you ever been through a health scare?
It’s not for the weak of heart. It takes it out of you. Whatever “it” is on that given day — your breath, your faith, your hope, your willingness to deal with bullshit and pettiness. On days with clarity, you ask the scare to go ahead and keep the pettiness and bullshit because you could do without. It’s a knee-jerk ask, the same way it was instinct to respond with “Not if they want to be in my life,” when my brother asked over lunch if it was okay for people to be 24 and act like a child.
Then you move past the pettiness yourself and say a couple of other quiet prayers that if the scare could you’d really like your faith and ability to breathe back.
Because maybe regular breaths would somehow make the pain in your arm radiate a bit less, maybe it would make your neck feel less knotted. You look at the guitar hanging on the wall and you feel the lump grow in your throat, the one on the left side of your chest pulsates — what if you don’t ever get to learn how to play the guitar?
Caitlyn Smith’s “Do You Think About Me” has chords that you’re wanting to learn, lyrics that remind you of the Murray Hill boy you swore you loved when shots of Jack were still acquired tastes, the Hell’s Kitchen guy you gave so many firsts to, the man who holds your heart.
I run away. Those thoughts, of curtains closing, they’re just too hard to swallow. Too early in this process for me to go there. I know the lump in my throat isn’t going to go away if I keep down the path, so instead I shift.
"When you've done everything you can do, that's when God will step in and do what you can't do." - 2 Corinthians 12:10, by way of Marianne.
Ohio is beautiful. The trails are tree lined, the winding roads take you further from reality, closer to your own roots. The air is thinner the higher up you go, your ears alternate between listening to the laughs in the car and the popping from elevation. Breathing stops being something you need to remind yourself to do. It just happens. The tears flow freely, in my eyes, in my heart, when standing amongst pines that touch the sky.
Have you ever gone through a season that brings you to your knees?
It makes you want to feel small. Every day pokes you in the side, asking for today to be the one where you take yourself somewhere that reminds you that you are such a small fraction of what this world has to offer. The deeper into the season you go the less you sit in your own importance, the more you search for what nature, your people, the stranger in the street have to offer you.
Hours before, I’d gotten off the plane to a cold gust of air. I’d made my way past the airport shop, the newly released book that reminded me of home was on full display. I smiled and was proud, but kept walking. The women’s bathroom had one single full length mirror and on the floor before it sat a woman with purple hair. She told me she was going to see her husband for the first time in weeks. Her smile, the hand on her slightly grown stomach, it made me want to cry. What if I never get to put a hand on my stomach?
Moments like the one I’m living through, they push you to make plans. Trips with your people, work phone call next Wednesday at 1pm, dinner dates. Anything and everything that can fit into your google calendar so that you don’t sit in the awareness that this is your 5th doctor’s appointment in 3 weeks and you’re more afraid than you’d like to admit that the appointments will keep going.
Mortality is something that I’d come face to face with in other occasions, but the face that looked back at me was never my own. Since I found the lump I look at mirrors and wonder what my legacy would be if it all ended tomorrow. Who would feel like a piece of their heart had been stolen if I had bad news to share? Who would wait till the last minute to tell me they love me? Who would not take right now for granted and act now?
Just weeks ago I looked into the eyes of a boy whose face I’ve seen come close to growing into that of a man’s, whose person I’d spent the last 454 days learning and choosing to love well, as I told him that I’d found a lump. On his face was painted the same reaction I know my brother and my best friends must’ve had when I told them. It was eyes squeezed shut, it was heart beats racing, it was knowing that until someone said it was nothing we were all going to think it was something.
For weeks I’ve been pretending like my body doesn’t feel foreign to me. Every time my breast hurts or my neck feels tight or my arm feels sore I pretend it’s just because I slept funny. Running away, it helped cement the fantasy. I could buy a flight. I could go whenever and wherever I wanted. I could bet on tomorrow.
Then, I would sink into a couch, or rest my head against a wall while I tried to work, and wonder — what if I never get the time to learn to forgive the people in my life who need forgiving?
"I don't wanna die for them to miss me." - Drake by way of "God's Plan"
I’d started figuring out my faith over the last few months. I rested on beds in the middle of the night and prayed for peace and clarity. I asked God to show up for me, for the people I love, to help us keep our priorities in order. I didn’t know that He was going to shake my world to the point of not recognizing any of it. The only things left standing in this season are my strength, my faith, my people, and my heart. Everything else is rubble on the floor that I step over every time I have to go to another doctor’s appointment.
When I was on the couch in Ohio and I was asked about the speeches I give at the UN, I felt empty. I don’t mind talking about my career, I’ve worked hard to build it and the reputation that comes with it. It’s a testament to my dedication and passion for championing vulnerability and emotional resilience. But right now, it’s just another thing that can be written out in a press release about me. It isn’t who I am. It’s what I do.
This season has brought who I am to the surface and not given me any room to compromise any of it. I show up, when mistakes are being made, when hearts are being questioned, when tears are freely flowing and panic attacks are being had. I laugh, when we’re in the middle of forests, in the middle of Best Buy, on the phone and states away. I love, when it’s easier to leave, when it’s murky and lines are blurred, when you don’t deserve it.
I found myself on the floor of ORD after a few days in Ohio, and for all the ways my soul felt cleansed, my hair could use a wash. The knots in my neck felt tighter, the ones in my heart had loosened. I am scared.
The blunt truth is that I am so scared. The fear makes my bones hurt and there are no sequence of nice words that will make that any less true.
Have you ever been through a health scare?
It makes you want to forgive everyone. It makes you want to learn the instrument you’ve been talking about learning for months. It makes you want a signed letter from God that you’ll be able to hold your own baby one day.
It makes you want to be in a season where you and health scare are not in the same sentence.
It makes things like Instagram likes, and dollars in the bank, and flights, and VIP invites, even more superficial because fuck, I have to go to another doctor’s appointment, and smile, and pretend like I’m not wondering if Google’s diagnosis of me was accurate. Like, maybe they’re benign. But what if they aren’t?