I am, and always have been, an open book. I say the things I think the exact moment I think them. Apparently I write that way too. There is no filter, no editing, no careful selection of facts and emotions to create a picture of a theoretical existence.
And if being an open book means talking about the myriad times I have chosen to find joy even in heartbreak, it also means talking about the times when I could not.
Maybe it’s not pretty. Maybe it’s uncomfortable. But it’s real. Besides, a good book always makes you a little uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
Last week I had what I can only describe as a complete breakdown that lasted for 4 days, a lot of which was spent in the bed crying. Silent tears. The kind of tears, hot and salty, that burn the corners of your eyes and sting your cheeks. I couldn’t stop them. They ran down my chin, soaking my shirt, the silence intermittently giving way to gasping hiccuping sobs.
And that’s where I stayed for days. I have been there before. In that dark place. Only this time, there was no relief in the release, no joy that I could find, no gratitude in what had come before, no hand to pull me out.
A friend asked me what the trigger was but I couldn’t answer. There wasn’t one. It was a million little things, big and small, that made me question who I am, who I am supposed to be, whether I am the mother I thought I was, and whether I should keep writing.
I was beaten down. By negativity. By insensitivity. By apathy. By thoughtlessness. By insecurity. By loneliness. All of the bad seemed to be winning and I didn’t have anything left in my arsenal.
The truth is it was a million little things that added up to one question: What if loving hard wasn’t making a damn bit of difference?
That might not seem like a big deal but for me it was. Because it is the underpinning of every choice I have made in my life. It is the girder of all my beliefs.
My belief that raising two kind, loving human beings was more important than any job I could ever have.
My belief that small acts of kindness and love change the world, one moment at a time. One person at a time.
My belief that there is more good in the world than bad.
My belief that there is intimacy in words and poetry in the small acts of affection which we bestow on friend, foe, and stranger.
My belief that love always wins.
And if all of that was built on a false premise, then so too was everything I have ever written. What, then, was I writing for? Who was I writing for? Was anyone even reading?
All of these thoughts conflated on one another until I was spiraling into a place where I thought – no, I felt – like nothing I was doing mattered.
It sounds dramatic. I know.
But the truth is, it should be. Our contemplation about our role in the world should be complicated and messy and, at times, full of doubt. It is doubt which tests the strength of our faith and the fortitude of our convictions.
The truth is doubt isn’t easy. But it is necessary.
Sunday I took my family to the beach early in the morning. I was hoping to reset myself. All of us. I sat in the cross currents of the waves and felt the water pull me out and push me back. I glanced down the beach at the house we had stayed in two years ago, right after my dad died, and all of a sudden it occurred to me that it was August 21st.
I found it both disconcerting and comforting that this particular day has always brought me to this particular beach with big questions.
This year, unlike the last two, it provided no answers.
I still don’t have any. All of those questions still swirl around me. I can’t sweep them under the proverbial rug. I cannot pretend that my faith in myself – as a person, as a parent, as a writer – is not in doubt.
And the best I can do, I think, is listen to the doubt. To give it a voice. To try and answer the questions honestly, even if they aren’t the answers I want. But also to remember that faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to.
To remember that every answer starts with a conversation.
The truth is I don’t want to sweep it under the rug. It is easy to love hard when everything is going well. When your actions are affirmed. When the love is returned.
But when it’s hard – when you feel like the bad stuff is winning, when you feel like you are failing – well, that’s when it matters most.