Most of my life has been hungry and quiet. Spent trying to figure out how I feel about people, places, or the cold. Or at least this is what I would tell you if I didn’t know for sure. I do know for sure. I wrote it down. What I know is most of my life has been spent wavering between pain and gratitude.
This week, I found a box in my basement, filled with 32 journals, packed with papers and scribbles. All filled with dates, recollections. The earliest entry is 1999 and the most recent, 2018. Almost 20 years of events, joys, and heart breaks written down. What I learned cracking the spines of these worn books again is that I have nothing to be nostalgic about. Nostalgia has a rose-tinted color. I sometimes feel a fondness and generosity for the past – ah, how nice it was at times. But when I wrote each experience down as I was living it, it was not rose-colored. It was as raw and mundane as my present, now. So I feel oddly stripped of fondness for the past. Had I not sat down each night and told my future self what I was feeling that day, as I lived it, I would sit here and believe it was all beautiful.
Instead, sitting on my floor, reading my own words, I am at time nauseous at the painful intensity of certain times in my life, certain relationships; at other times, I am awe-filled and humbled at my own spirit and growth. I don’t always recognize myself. In this re-visiting, I come to listen to certain advice I gave myself then. I smile at the endless crushes and forays into love. The men who messed up, the ones I left, the ones who left me. I read about all the heartaches; I read through years and years of how I tried and failed, tried and failed. How often I did attempt vulnerability and risked myself, again and again. I tell myself, you’re braver than you think you are. Not just in love, in hope, too. In sum, the totality of my existence in the last twenty years is not one of failure. Instead, I see pages of breathless wonder at nature, airplane rides, new countries, new jobs, new places, new friendships, and new aspirations. I have continued and continued and continued to exist and to write it down.
There is something miraculous about this practice, too. I wrote about the night there were cross-burnings in Raleigh-Durham. I recorded my reaction to the Virginia Tech shooting, September 11th, Hurricane Katrina. I talked about teenage fights with my parents, pets dying, my first days of college. The normal, the abnormal, the frustrations, a man choking me out in a dark street in Italy when I was just trying to walk home, the experiences I’d forgotten, the shots in the dark, the reasons I made the decisions I made, and the constant struggle to give life to my dreams. More than the struggle to give life to my dreams, I find a constant effort to feel joy and to stay alive. A deep-rooted tenacity, or perhaps just a knowledge that although it may not be a perfect life, it is a worthwhile one. Today, I pause to look back, let it run through me and glow. This mad, mundane, precious life. I am truly grateful and in awe of every step, even the ones I take that take me back.