On Hard Days, Staying Soft, and Walking Toward the Water

Photo Credit: 123RF
Photo Credit: 123RF

Sometimes you need a good, long cry in the car.

The past few days have been hard. Really hard. That isn’t easy to write, but if I believe in authenticity and vulnerability as a writer (which I do) – and as a person (again, I do) – then I need to write about the good days and the bad, I need to acknowledge the bitter along with the sweet. So I will say it again, the past few days have been really freaking hard.

The boys have been testing my already thin patience. Matt is traveling a lot for work. And, lately, life has generally felt more confusing and overwhelming than I would like. To top it all off, I inadvertently, and despite all good intentions, stepped on the toes of someone I respect. Misjudgments and assumptions led to heavy words that questioned my integrity. I felt gutted, raw, and thoroughly heartbroken.

Yesterday, with leaky eyes and sunglasses on (despite the rainy weather), I sought refuge in the busyness of the day, packing school lunches and emptying the dishwasher and arguing with Jackson about why he needed to wear a sweatshirt. But then, after dropping Teddy off at preschool and running the requisite errands, I pulled my car into the garage and cried. A good, long, ugly cry.

I have twinkly, idealist visions of the world sometimes. I like to think that we live in a world that is big enough for all of us, where ideas can be shared, where we aren’t quite so easily threatened or quick to label. I like to think that the writers’ world is built on mutual support and camaraderie, where inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean imitation, where we make room for new and different voices.

But, alas, the writers’ world is a world like any other – human, fallible, imperfect. We make mistakes. We step on toes. We say things that cannot be unsaid. We rush to assumptions, unaware of the impact that our words can have on a person, on a life. We write about supporting each other, but then we act differently. We try our hardest to be kind and respectful, but we fall short sometimes. We hurt people that we didn’t intend to hurt.

This is true of all worlds, of course. It is the story of the entire world since the beginning of time.

I am regretful and hurt and angry and disappointed, all at the same time. Every part of me wants to curl into a ball and hide. I want to make rash decisions and fix things. I want to abandon the writers’ world completely. I want to retreat to my corner, lick my wounds, and draw into my shell.

But a voice keeps telling me: Be still. Have faith. Stay soft.

I have been reciting this Kurt Vonnegut quote (one of my all-time favorites) for the past two days:

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

Though I am tempted to pull my whole self into my hard shell like a turtle, abandoning this writers’ world all together and tossing aside new projects before they even get off the ground, I want to stay soft. I do not want to be hard; it is cold and dark in there. I don’t want to let this pain – this searing pain – make me hate, nor do I want to let the bitterness that I currently taste prevent me from tasting the sweetness that I hope will come. I believe the world to be a beautiful place, and no one can convince me otherwise.

And yet…

Staying soft is so damn hard sometimes. Staying soft means long conversations in the middle of the night with someone you have never met in person because you know in your heart that her heart is true and tender. Staying soft means stillness, assuming best intentions, and forgiveness. Staying soft means apologizing for the hurt you inadvertently caused, crying in the car, and then finding a way to create that wide open circle you haven’t yet found.

Like the turtle, staying soft means pushing each tender limb out from inside the hard, safe shell in spite of the knowledge that doing so comes with a price, the journey is long, and you might never make it.

Staying soft is moving forward anyway, slowly and cautiously, toward the sunlight sparkling on the clean water.

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