You Don’t Exist In A Vacuum
"Fuck a wave, I might pull a new tide on 'em..."
The text was followed by a phone call. Two different friends, each with the same shared perspective - isn’t it seemingly poetic, they said, that I noticed something was toxic, acted on it, and then removed it from my life.
Just a few days ago I’d walked through ORD feeling more anchored than I had in months. I made my way to the Starbucks kiosk, smiled at the barista, and let Mat Kearney sing me into an even better mood.
The pain in my left arm was radiating, my right was pushing my carry on bag, and my heart was just...present. It was there and open to possibility. I let my weight root itself to the floor at the gate, Chicago’s cold air was making its way through the window at my back, and my hand was ferociously jotting down my feelings in the journal I’d bought in Ohio.
“I am going to be a really good mom one day. A huge part of me knows I have no idea what I’m in for with motherhood, but another part of me knows that if this season has taught me anything, it’s that I know how to show up when tantrums are being thrown and childish behavior is the MO.”
I’m back to last night when the poetry of my life was written in the small gaps between the 6 pieces of tape on the side of my boob. My friends were right, at the heart of this, it was all poetic. To me it had God’s fingerprints all over it. He spared me from having to endure more pain than was required. He spared me from having to see castles crumble because by the time I turned around I already had a brick in hand for the new foundation I was ready to start building. I wasn’t fixated on what was, I was focused on what could be.
As I walked into the bathroom, I knew looking at myself for the first time would be hard, but it was also necessary. I stripped down in front of the mirror and stared at my left breast. It was larger than the right and the prodding and poking had led to bruising. A small price to pay for peace of mind. A small price to pay for my people’s peace of mind.
I turned to the side and looked at the way a team of doctors had just redefined “side boob” for me, then I felt the magnitude of this moment hit me. In the middle of the quiet of the bathroom I sat in the biggest truth — no matter how far removed, no matter how many closed doors between me and the world, no one exists in a vacuum.
Knowing this can be your biggest burden or your biggest release.
Because the vastness of the world makes us feel like decisions made in the middle of an empty construction site affect only us. Our ego feeds this narrative by giving us delusions of grandiosity. With it, the belief stands that you have a right to make all your decisions with blinders on. Because it’s your life, isn’t it? But just because you cover your eyes doesn’t mean that everyone else’s are covered. Covering your eyes doesn’t safeguard you from losing the respect of those around you - it just delays your own feelings of disappointment.
By definition existing in this world means we exist in community. Your decisions contribute to another person’s poetic moments. Your omissions underscore another person’s perceptions of you. We learn the most about people based off how they handle their own pain and hurt because it’s during that time when running from demons, burning down houses, and leaning on temporary highs become the easiest vices to turn to. Seasons of pain weed out those who are strong at heart from those who feed off temporary highs and others’ attention instead of working on real personal growth.
As I looked in the mirror at how swollen the side of my boob was I was reminded that I never stopped walking through this season. Even when it felt like I was dragging hundreds of pounds of dead weight with me, I kept persevering. I kept putting one foot in front of the other like it was my day job.
I touched the six strips, I looked into my eyes in the mirror and breathed in the questions that carried me through all of this — how can I handle my pain with dignity? How do I take responsibility for myself and the impact I know my actions have on other people’s hearts? How do I give to God that which I can no longer carry myself?
Because I don’t exist in a vacuum. I know that my actions tells stories that are written in cement. I know that at the end of a hard season I want to look back and know that I didn’t hurt people gratuitously just to make me feel momentarily better than. I know that if I died tomorrow the absence of my presence in this world wouldn’t just affect me.
Slowly I put my bra back on, this has all been hard but it’s also been a beautiful learning experience. The quiet taught me knowing you don’t exist in a vacuum can be your biggest blessing. It can be the antidote that stops you from leaving a wreckage in your path. The truth, it quiets the ego, pats it on the head, and reminds it that you are in fact not the center of the universe. Your life is only your own until a certain point.
When you fall in love? Your heart and your well-being are no longer just yours, responsibility for them are shared with your partner during orientation. When your parents are alive and present in your life? You are, and will forever be, their child. Your reckless behavior endangers the most valuable gift they’ve given the world - you. When your friends are your people and the family you get to choose? You see poetry in pain, you feel their presence in the darkness, you’re reminded that you are as much theirs to protect and love as you are anyone else’s. As you are your own.
Because I’m not afraid to love myself by way of letting myself be loved well anymore. For some the emotional weight of knowing that others care about them, that they are deeply loved, that they are being looked out for, it makes them run and spiral. It’s self-destructive in nature and self-harming by definition.
I’m not afraid to feel a lump and act on getting it removed, because I’ve sat on metaphorical lumps before and nothing good comes from ignoring them. They fester. They grow. They become things you despise and uncomfortably sit in the presence of.
Eventually the swelling will go down. I may have a small scar, but the worst of the lumps in my life are gone. I can breathe again.