Disaster movies can be a guilty pleasure of mine. It allows me to go on this adventure of destruction and terror we’ve all been scared of at one point or another but secretly yearn for. There’s something wonderfully terrifying as the adrenaline runs through our bodies watching the main characters run for their lives, laughing at cliche explosion scenes, and letting it all come together in a pretty bow when the problem is resolved. I remember when the movie 2012 came out as the internet blew up about the Mayan calendar and the supposed end of the world. The horror that swept through the gullible part of me was overwhelming. My anxiety crept higher than it had ever climbed as December approached. Watching that movie didn’t help. When I walked out of the theaters, stiff as a board and pale as a ghost, I expected to see a giant wave overtaking the building we had just walked out of and closed my eyes, waiting to be drowned. My imagination is quite the active one. Some Hollywood crew is sitting back enjoying the profits made from the public’s strange fascination with destruction. I look back and laugh now at the hysteria and mayhem that ensued. It’s wild to me that the idea of the world ending could bring out the worst in people. They’re like a soda can that’s been shaken far too long and they finally found a reason to open and explode, drenching everything within a four-foot radius. When the world didn’t end that fateful December day, the explosion from the soda can left a sticky residue behind that never completely went away. I can’t imagine the bitterness and anger that followed the reckless actions of the night before. It’s the, “The world is going to end. I’m invincible!” train of thought that take people to a place where they forget that they are still human and still vulnerable to the forces of nature. I woke up and felt relief wash over me like the wave I was convinced was coming the night before.
Watching the movie now brings back laughter and funny memories. There are always people in those movies who remained terrifyingly still and peaceful when everybody else run around like a chicken without its head. They bark at each other until their voices are gone and add gasoline to the fuel of mania. Those people annoyed me to no end. It was the monks in the mountains who were truly mesmerizing during that 2012 frenzy of a movie. I had no idea how anyone could stay calm when the world was ending. I wanted to yell at them to run and do something but they sat perfectly still, looking peaceful. I was Sherlock Holmes face to face with Irene Adler, unable to get a read the way I could with everybody else. Comprehension was out of grasp no matter how far I stretched my fingertips. Their peace was out of place with the situation around them. How could someone’s innermost-self be that comfortable while the world was crumbling?
The image that comes to mind is of one of those monks standing on the peak of a mountain watching the mountains below being swallowed by an enormous wave. The snowy tops of the other mountains desperately try to keep their heads above the water but the wave is too strong, too tall, and too fast to escape. Meanwhile, the monk simply stands and watches. He makes no attempts to run, shows no sign of panic, and doesn’t turn his head to scream. The only thing about him that wasn’t still was the robe that wrapped his body. The brilliant yellow of the top was sliced with a blood red piece of fabric that draped around from the top of his right shoulder to his left hip. Only that piece of fabric had come undone and was trying desperately to catch a breeze to escape the wave below. The leash was only so long and the piece of fabric continued to try and catch each breeze that passed. From the waist down, the monk was covered in the same blood red fabric frantically trying to leave. The little sunlight bounced off his bald scalp and reflected no drop of sweat. There were no signs of nervousness. His arms appear to be clamped in front of him, fingers laced the way a teacher stands before a mischievous student. There is no fear, simply authority. If you were to run past him in a disaster, you’d wave at him to follow and he would simply nod, staying in place. I imagine myself being frustrated, trying to get him to come, but he would instead stand and face the wave completely unafraid. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I would be drawn to the peace that radiated from him and find myself standing there too. When the wave eventually reaches us, I would cringe and shield myself as if my bare arm was enough to stop a thousand feet of water rushing at me. Out of the corner of my eye, I would see him close his eyes and stretch his arms out beside him as if ready to embrace the wave. The wave would break right on top of us, and to my shock, the water would simply go around us. Not a single drop would land on any part of our body. Courage would prompt me to look ahead and all I’d see is chaos trapped in stillness. It’s like someone framed this moment in time so delicately that if we were to even touch the frame, the chaos would explode out the way it had been trapped. In the building windows, I’d see the furniture flung to one side of the room from the force, people trying desperately to breathe and full of anger at their neglected swim lessons, and things left on the street swirling around our heads, until the break had passed and we were in the aftermath of peace. The monk wouldn’t move. The hairs on his arm wouldn’t raise from fear because he contained none. He would stand there full of a strong, quiet, stillness. What did he have that I didn’t? How could he be so brave?
I imagine his response would be, “I am not brave”, and I would be in shock. How could someone withstand something so horrible and not be brave? Then, I’d learn.
He has to be brave, right? Bravery can propel someone to do the impossible and face their fears. They may sit when others stand, stand when others sit, run when others stayed, stayed when others ran. That’s brave, standing out from the crowd. Bravery gets rewarded when noticed and the person who holds the torch of bravery won’t turn it away because there’s a reason why they should have the trophy. They did something extraordinary in the eyes of everyone else and the reward is welcomed. Not every brave person is rewarded or noticed. I know if I was the brave person who was not rewarded, I would think about it and talk about it until I did. Why? Because that’s human nature. We can deny it all we want and pretend we’d be the good samaritan without recognition but we’d all be lying if we said we didn’t love the spotlight of reward. Bravery isn’t the foundation that keeps one still. Bravery is good. Bravery can be great. But bravery is temporary.
Is he courageous? How is that different from bravery? In my mind, courage is more active. Bravery can be the motive and reason for doing something, courage is in the follow through. Bravery can be voicing a controversial opinion, courage can be doing something about it. It’s the gas that fuels the car of bravery that we try to drive each day of our lives. For most people, the car is under a tarp of fear, desire to fit in, or any other excuse we can think of. It’s sitting in the back, maybe hidden in the garage, or by the house where we don’t have to look at it. It turns into a reminder of what we could do, what we could accomplish if only we decided to drive. It’s easy to sit in the car for a moment but we often lack the fuel not because we can’t find it, but because we search with our eyes closed unwilling to truly seek. Everybody wants to be courageous. Why? Our ego loves the praise we receive but we’re not willing to work for it.
Isn’t that what most things boil down to? How good it makes us feel? If it makes us feel good, we’re more willing to do it. If it’s uncomfortable, we look the other way as if something interesting suddenly appeared on the wall. The paint had never been more fascinating than in that moment when the feeling of unease enters the room. Living and acting on our ego is easy and it often contradicts what’s right. Our selfishness clouds the justice that needs to take place. Maybe we’re all cowards in our own way, sitting in our car of bravery pretending the fuel doesn’t exist. My ego fights me now as I try to think of the fact that I can be a coward but it’s true. I can’t change that if I don’t accept it. I can’t change anything about myself if I don’t accept it. What do I need to accept so I can change and be like the monk standing beside me, facing the wave? How do I be braver, more courageous? My mind begins to paint up scenarios where I can stand up and be the first person willing to voice justice or something ridiculously extravagant so my ego can feel good. I get so easily swept away by the idea of recognition, reward, and even fame that I often forget about the bravery and courage it takes to actually get there. This damn ego of mine seems to get in the way every time I try to do something good by twisting my motive from something pure to something rotten.
That familiar shame that follows the desire to be recognized comes mixed up with the glory my mind had begun to feed my ego. I physically shake my head, in slow motion framed by the wave, to clear the thoughts. I look at the monk, the strange man beside me, and I cannot put my finger on it. His stillness eluded me and the sunlight of realization refused to touch my face. The rain of understanding refused to even drizzle. All I can do is watch. The peace that poured from him was profoundly unexplainable. I longed to learn. He still hadn’t moved. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window past him. I’m laughing as I type because this is exactly how I feel right now. It’s funny how time works to land me at this moment at this exact place feeling exactly the way I’m about to describe. I look at my reflection and this is what I see. A woman, underwater, next to a man as still as a statue. Her hair is flowing around her catching the current of the water. Underneath the hair being pulled one direction is the face of a cartoon character who just ran over a cliff. There’s the classic pause where they face the camera with that look of terror when gravity pauses for a moment right before they fall. Her expression contains the anxiety of the cartoon character coupled with sorrow and confusion. The search for stillness was driving her to anxiety, a heartbreaking irony she can’t avoid. The eyes are wide, the lips are stretched tight and thin, her shoulders were next to her ears and tension gripped every limb. Her knuckles were white, trying desperately to break the skin on top of her fists. The posture was one of the defense and the offense combined, a desire to run but sit still, a contradiction of emotions. I don’t even recognize myself. The chaos inside was contrasted drastically by the stillness of the monk who had not even twitched. His peace was completely untouched by anything outside of himself. Realization began to break the clouds of confusion and a small ray of understanding poked through.
His peace was a decision. He had seen the chaos happening around and decided to choose peace. He held it in his heart, mind, body, and soul; that was why he was so still. Instead of being dictated by his surroundings, he walked above it. It wasn’t that he was denying reality, he instead chose to accept it and choose his response. For most of my life, I had believed that my emotions were beyond my control; life happens and my emotions come from the events. It felt like I didn’t have a choice. I also didn’t have the ability to cope or live with these emotions. I didn’t understand how people around me got through death, breakups, disappointment, and every other emotion I was a slave to. Desperately trying to be numb, I froze my heart with endless amounts of alcohol. Fear kept me running from every emotion that tried to spring out from the infertile soil.
I know now that emotions aren’t my master and I am not a slave. Emotions bring meaning to life. I have experienced pain so deep I lay awake staring at the ceiling, paralyzed, being trampled over and over. I have experienced anxiety so crippling I stand frozen for hours staring at a wall while my insides dance in a mine field. I have experienced regret so great I dare not look in a mirror. I have experienced uncertainty for so long that I begin to question reality. These sound like the most awful experiences anyone could go through, and I agree with you, but I would much rather lay here and feel all the terror in the world than to lay here numb to it all. Without it, I would not have experienced the joy so deep I’m smiling from the inside out. I would not have experienced the hope that runs through my veins like a soothing river. I would not have experienced the excitement that makes my heart pound when I’m waiting for a second date. I would not have experienced the love so profound I am completely dumbfounded every time I look at someone I care about. I would not have experienced this beautiful life fully. I was stuck in the background without a voice for too long and now, I’m part of this world and that is not something I would trade for anything. I will gladly endure the pain and uncomfortable moments in this adventure of a life if it means I get to be active and engaged with those I love. I have wasted too many moments letting them pass before me.
Today, I choose peace. It is an intentional positioning of my heart towards stillness rather than being swept up by the wave of emotions. I choose to stand still so I get to participate and live this life with you instead of outside you. This isn’t an easy decision to make and it certainly isn’t something I’ll perfect right away. There will be days when I’m so hurt I want to scream, when I’m so sad I’ll drown in my own tears, when I’m so mad my muscles ripple as I tighten my fists, when I’m so disappointed words escape me. But those are simply moments. When I remember that those moments are temporary, they’re suddenly tolerable. If I think it’ll last forever, then I prolong my own pain and extend that awful moment. Moments are only seconds long and anyone can withstand anything for five seconds. String enough moments together and I have a minute. String together some minutes and I have an hour. Hours become days. Days become weeks. Weeks become months. Months become years. Years become a lifetime. When I reach the end of my string and look back, that boy that broke my heart is but a speck. That humiliating presentation is forgotten. Every argument is drowned out. The pain I felt is suddenly put in perspective as I see the astounding beauty that ties together my string of moments.
So, today I choose peace. In this moment, I choose peace. I’ve decided to never have a bad day again and I can only do that by having bad moments. Once that moment is passed, the rest of the day can be great. A day may be rocky, sure, but it will never be horrible with the beautiful moments tucked in there of a best friend comforting me, my heart finding healing, a funny joke, and a beautiful sky. That monk had it right all along and I am so lucky that I was the one that ran by him in the disaster who was silly enough to stop and look. I am so lucky that I get to make this decision before my string of moments became too long and hope was buried too deep. Today, I experienced a moment of heartbreak. Had I chosen to stay in that moment, I would not be going to bed with the smile that I have on my face right now. It’s easier now for me to shake my head at that moment and laugh at myself for forgetting that my self-worth doesn’t come from anything external, especially not a boy, but from within me. The rest of the evening was spent with those who truly love and appreciate me and I them. Had I chosen to stay in that moment of pain, I would’ve missed out on the love that was so freely offered to me. Today, I had to really ask myself a hard question. Are my friends, my higher power, my family, and myself enough? Subtract anything romantic from my life, and are they still enough? I wasn’t sure for a while to be honest, but the minute I got a hug and saw a smile from people so dear to me, the answer became so obvious.
Disaster movies are still some of my favorite movies. They make me laugh and I enjoy living vicariously through the silly characters. The best part is no longer the pretty resolved ending, the cliche explosion scenes, the characters that baffle me, or even the intriguing plot line and attractive protagonists who just happens to be shirtless half the time. The best part for me are the people sitting on either side of me, the people who make choosing peace so easy, the people I choose to say yes for. Yes, they’re enough. They’re more than enough and I choose to be the luckiest, most loved girl in the world because of them. The next time a bad moment comes, I’ll close my eyes and count to five. If I’m still hurting, I’ll do it again and again. I’ll keep going until peace once again becomes my reality and answering yes comes without skipping a beat. Until that next bad moment comes, I’m going to keep smiling, keep saying yes, and keep still next to that clever monk so my reflection may mirror his and be one of peace.