Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at a graveyard. There’s a specific tombstone I always find myself walking towards. Graveyards are not the first choice for a fun hang out location yet I find myself captivated by the life there. Each stone represents a life someone lived out fully or almost full. There are billions of stories that made people laugh until they cried, stories that people cried over, memories shared between people that loved and people that hated each other. Each story, memory, feeling, is buried with the dead. For each of those stories, there are at least five memories that weren’t able to become reality because of a million different things: time, money, energy. If we’re lucky, we have people that love us enough to pass on parts of us so that we’re not fully buried. Parts of us are lucky and get to survive for maybe a few generations, others are timeless. This particular graveyard has blank tombs, like boxes waiting to be filled with forgotten things to be stored in the attic. There’s one with a name and it’s the one I find myself sitting by every day and I don’t even realize where I am until I finally open my eyes.
For months I’ve been searching for Inspiration. I’ve been sitting at my laptop begging my fingers to pour out more than useless thoughts that are meaningless. I’ve been dragging beach after beach for full shells and everything I pick up is just glass left behind. Garbage disguised as something beautiful to trick my vulnerable mind. I sit and pour out what I think is good then read it back and am appalled. I have stared at my hands in shock and confusion wondering, are these really mine? Are these ten small fingers the ones attached to me? Are they the ten that have poured out beautiful stories that make me cry months later when I rediscover a box in the attic? What happened? I often thought someone stole my mind and ideas and left me with blank space. The echo of my mind sounded louder than before and it scared me, not because I’m afraid to hear my own voice, but because of the nothingness that responded. The life had disappeared. I didn’t know I had lost Inspiration, forgotten it in a crowd somewhere like a child lost in a sea of adults. Now I open my eyes. Is this where Inspiration went? In a box tucked in the attic to be forgotten?
For months all I’ve felt are crazy emotions that jump over me to grab the steering wheel at 70 mph down the freeway. They take turns grabbing the wheel, pushing me out and whooping and hollering all the way towards whatever exit they see up ahead. I find myself crying randomly, feeling passion over small things, great anger at betrayal, and joy to the point of hysteria. I confuse myself. It’s like the emotions are so loud that Inspiration was left behind or shoved out of the car altogether and I didn’t even see it. I sit down and want to spill out Inspiration’s gift but the emotions are too much and I realize there’s no gift to spill. When you’re numb for years and suddenly learn to feel, it’s like placing your hand on a soft blanket and being able to take in the texture for the first time. At first, you don’t know what it’s going to be like or what’s going to happen to you. You place your hand on the gentle texture and immediately pull back, inspecting your hand for any little change that the blanket might have left on your familiar hand. When you see that nothing has changed, you place your hand tentatively back on the blanket and allow the feeling to flood your system. You pause yourself and allow the feeling to take you over for just a bit. The sensation is overwhelming and it takes a few moments to realize that it’s not a painful sensation but a wonderful one. It’s strange but brilliant. Suddenly, feeling things isn’t so terrifying and you can explore, touching everything around you. Then the day comes, oh that fateful day where you place your hand on a hot stove and you realize this sensation isn’t like the others. You inspect your hand only to see the red spread across your hand like an army ready for battle. You can feel the heat spreading and your system screaming for relief. That first burn suddenly makes everything a little less friendly and you approach the world with more caution and maybe don’t touch as many things. You begin to limit yourself in order to avoid pain but then you’re robbed of certain sensations that could’ve changed you forever. We do this until we stop touching anything and then we forget what it feels like to feel. It’s easier to live in a shell, touching nothing and no one so that we’re safe. If you spend your whole life in a shell, are you truly living? I wasn’t. I was surviving for years. I settled for the certain pain instead of risking the unknown with the world. The devil I know is bound to be safer than the devil I don’t know.
When my shell dissolved slowly with the alcohol leaving my system, touching became an option again and it was one I could not refuse. Feelings, one by one, began to fill my system once again and I practiced until it wasn’t so foreign. Tears were once again able to flow down my cheeks, anger could be felt, accepted, and let go of, laughter could escape my lips uninhibited and pain could roll through my heart because I knew it wouldn’t crush me the way I believed it would. Somewhere along the way, I learned that to care and feel was to be in pain and that the pain would be devastating. When the protection was gone and the pain came, I remember bracing myself to die and to lay there, defeated. To my surprise, the pain rolled through and yes, it hurt, but after the worst was over, I stood up and was okay. I looked at these hands of mine and saw that they weren’t damaged. Pain does not have the power to fully destroy me if I choose to stand, and that’s what I’ve been doing: standing. It’s weird when emotions come for no reason at all, it’s like an extra gym session with a personal trainer you didn’t sign up for. I tried to fight those at first but then I just decided to get up and go sweat. Feelings are muscles that need to be worked, a skill that needs to be practiced, and something precious to embrace. Feeling something makes us part of the human race. When we hurt together, laugh together, cry together, and are angry together, we’re connected by an unspoken comfort knowing that we’re not alone when we’re vulnerable. Nobody looks at someone vulnerable and thinks they’re a coward, no, they stare in envy begging any power that will listen to give them the strength to be that vulnerable. When you’re vulnerable and feel, you live. You truly live. It’s too easy to tear down somebody else for having the courage to live when you’re too afraid to try. It’s harder to step up and be the one to live and risk, but it’s worth more than words could ever express. That’s what I’m learning. It’s hard to describe the process of feeling; words can only shape so much, but I can try.
When you shake a soda can, the liquid moves around and the pressure begins to build. If you shake it a little bit and then open it, some foam may try to escape the lid, desperate for air. If you shake it a little more and then open it, the foam may successfully begin to bubble up on the metal platform your lips rest on for a second until you suck the foam off. If you shake it for a while and then open it, the can may explode with the foam and the drink running all over your hands, leaving that annoying sticky residue. The soda is like a thousand bulls getting ready to charge as you shake the can. The amount of the bulls that get sent through the gate depends on how long you shake the can. If you shake the can and then put it down without opening it, eventually, it will calm back down and the bulls will once again rest their heads. The back of the punch-in lid on the soda can has been painted red like a target that drives the bulls mad, desperate to punch their horns through and see the light.
A dam is a solid wall of rock that prevents water from rushing where it wants to go. The water can come at the dam with immense speed yet crashes at the end with nowhere to go. The dam holds, standing tall and strong. Sometimes, a rush of water so great may come when the dam isn’t ready and cracks begin to form. The water forces its slippery fingers through the small holes in the wall holding it back until it finds a breaking point. With all of the water teaming up against a single wall, cracks are bound to form until the water forces itself through the small hole and wiggles its way out the other side. When the crack begins to form, it becomes easier and easier for the water to find its way through and the holes get bigger and bigger. Eventually, a flood so great charges towards the already weakened dam and the dam closes its eyes, braces for impact, and crumbles underneath a force it can no longer stand. The water explodes out the other end to freedom and rushes down the river, ready to flow as it pleases.
A castle is a fortress of brick, rocks, and other strong materials manipulated into a beautiful shape royalty call home. The King keeps an eye on his beloved home to protect his queen and heirs. They trust the home to stand strong for all of time, forever sheltering them against any storms. The problem with being royalty is that there are usually enemies eyeing your beloved fortress looking for cracks and ways to get in whether it be a weakness in the foundation or a weakness in the guards. Betrayal can stand at the gate giggling as it lowers it down for people that aren’t supposed to get in while the family is sleeping. It stands and waits for its reward for helping the enemy, hoping against hope that they, in turn, don’t betray it too. Other times, the foundation proves weak and tunnels begin forming under the castle desperately trying to stand for the family and the moles appear in unexpected places. When the more passive ways fail, some other kingdoms are brave enough to bring their best archers, grunts, and warriors to bring it down with force. The fortress that once stood so strong can be rained upon by rocks, cannons, and the enemy trying to scale the sides. The knights and warriors inside do their best to keep the gate up and the walls sealed, but eventually, force can wear anybody down. The castle can be infiltrated, the royal family is taken hostage, and the place of refuge becomes a place of war.
The greatest compliment I’ve ever received was, “Welcome to the human race.” It was spoken casually and I didn’t register it at first. It was spoken to me nearly five months ago and I still remember the moment that first seed was planted. It was ever so gentle, being placed with care in the dirt that needed to be worked desperately. The fertilizer wasn’t the good kind and I forgot about the little seed. There was a bit of water, probably not enough for life, yet the seed kept growing. I didn’t know that seeds could sprout and be magnificent with so little help, but then again, I didn’t know that the magnificence of something beautiful could be found inside the vessel itself. Magnificence can be natural and within you already. It was true for the seed. Within days, it sprouted and became larger than life, providing protection from the storm of my ego, threats of my self-hatred, and provided shelter for my damaged self-esteem and the scared child within me that never got a chance to come out and play. The words repeated themselves slowly at first then intensified louder and louder until it was all I could hear and it finally sank in: I was a part of the human race at last. It was the belonging that I had been desperate for and didn’t know. It was the answer to the question I didn’t know I had. It was the last piece of the puzzle with a picture still unclear. Here I am.
Being a part of the human race isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Feelings are wonderful, brilliant, and terrifying. The risk of pain is always there but I want to choose to live like I’m not afraid of it because I know I can stand and it’s my truth. That truth is slowly being planted within me and soon it will sprout. The muscle will be worked. I will believe it and live like it’s true. Not every human is great or even good or even tolerable sometimes. The reality is, every family has that one member that is the black sheep that causes terror for the rest of the family but it doesn’t mean that family name is ruined or destroyed. There may be a blemish but it doesn’t define them. One negative simply cannot be allowed to overshadow the thousands of good. The ugliness of one tree simply cannot be allowed to overshadow the beauty of the forest. One black heart simply cannot be allowed to overshadow the millions of kind, vulnerable, and courageous ones behind it. I’m going to stop spitting in the face of the courageous when I give the spotlight to the bad and the evil and instead give it to those who deserve it, to those who truly represent the human race. I know for a fact that the human race isn’t represented by the horrors of humanity but by the love and kindness that radiates afterward. The spotlight deserves to go to those who stay after the storm and save those injured, rebuild homes, and trudge through the pain and devastation, unafraid to hurt and feel it. It’s not enough to stare at the TV screen, feel bad for five seconds, and return to our favorite shows, leaving the situation to politicians who only care about publicity. It’s easy to say I don’t owe them anything and that’s true, we don’t, but we owe it to ourselves to live a full life and that’s impossible when we let our shells rule us.
It took me time to embrace the human race. It took time to see the dark side and accept it. Overlooking it doesn’t do anyone any good. It was accepted and I chose to focus on the light of the world because it shined brighter than anything I’ve ever seen. I would rather lay awake all night in pain staring at the ceiling than be sleeping restlessly, numb in my shell. It’s worth going through in order to be present and part of the human race. Sometimes I want to retreat when the world gets scary but humanity time and time again reaches out with love and I realize there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. So bring on the tears, bring on the pain, the anger, the jealousy, the ugly emotions because I know it comes with the purest joy, loudest love, and greatest peace. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some feelings I need to feel, tears to be shed, memories to be made, and a life to embrace.