I’d learned the basics, how to guide the boat up and down the lake, and how to get out of irons. The instructor announced that our next lesson would be the climax of the series: how to right a capsized boat. I had come to adore sailing, but I thought he was crazy–we would capsize the boat on purpose? Create a catastrophe in the middle of the lake just to (try to) fix it? Was this some kind of Navy drill? Had I been drafted? Was this necessary? At my desk this week, hands shaking uncontrollably above my keyboard, I likened my state to a capsized sailboat; I’d tipped over a bit too far, it seemed, and now found myself somehow upside down under water, trying to figure out how to right myself again. From underneath the surface, without oxygen, light filtered through brown muck, every normal thing is pressurized, every mundane task, every movement a thousand times heavier, a thousand times more difficult. Everything is scary, and the accumulation of fears starts to hurt, and starts to wear, and takes its toll.
Over the last five or six years, my constellation has expanded, the points of light farther flung, moving ever outward. But the weight, the gravity of the galaxy remains. There is no escaping yourself. Recent chapters of my life have seen travel like I hadn’t expected, but that I embraced with the zeal of a child offered an unexpected dessert–that’s for me?!–probably undeserving but jumping at the opportunity, spoon poised for attack, in knowing haste. I’ve seen my fair share of visa-related riots, people crowded around the speaker panel, lunging towards the glass and banging with their fists, arms outstretched, frantically waving white paper visa applications like so many seagulls flitting madly around a dumpster, shouting at the tops of their lungs about trips that should have started 3 days ago, and the ineptitude of the staff and the obscene processing delays.
I don’t know exactly when she fell ill, or when she shared the news. Home from Washington D.C. one summer, I mailed her a hand-written letter, an ode to all she had taught me about being a woman, lessons that have nothing to do with fashion or babies, nothing to do with demurring or apologizing, nothing to do with high heels or perfume. In a fit of adoration, I had painted a paperback-sized canvas with acrylics, and sent it with the letter: a single tulip in a slender vase, set behind a brownie on a small white plate.
At times, I can feign a decent rock. But I am in essence, and unequivocally, a leaf. We marvel at the fortitude of our rock friends: even in the most challenging moments, their certainty shone bright. Whether their choices turned out for the better was irrelevant; they were confident in those decisions, and that made all the difference to their state of mind. Lately, I’ve been responding to life’s knocks and turns with a a stonier veneer: unmoved, unimpressed, essentially not giving a f*ck. I’ve been more solid in my stance, I don’t brace for impact as much, and criticism doesn’t knock the wind out of me in the way it normally would.
Some argue that your calling isn’t WHAT you do, but HOW you do it: How do you impact the people around you, as a banker or a shepherd or a chef? On the other hand, maybe your passion doesn’t have to culminate in a single, grandiose gesture to humankind; you can live out your calling in small pieces, offering yourself to the universe as you go.
Somewhere in there I lost myself, I tipped into the darkness that comes around every now and again, pays a visit without invitation, overstays its welcome. The darkness of old would shock me into submission, steamroll me to the point of immobility. And, looking for something to blame, I’d get lost in arguments with myself about the origins of my own depression – circumstance, coincidence, fate, dumb luck, or my own mistakes and missteps. I’d resisted the shadows as best I could, thinking I could hold them back. Once I realized I could not, I opened the doors and welcomed them: Let’s have a go, let’s make our way down the stairs, and sit for a while in the darkness at the bottom.