First the Pain, Then the Splendor

“Owning our stories means reckoning with our feelings and rumbling with our dark emotions— our fear, anger, aggression, shame, and blame. This isn’t easy, but the alternative— denying our stories and disengaging from emotion— means choosing to live our entire lives in the dark.”

—Brene Brown, Rising Strong


Once upon a time, I was so deeply immersed in the dark, I couldn’t even see who I was.

Lately I have been walking up to complete strangers and striking up conversations with them. Some of the strangers have been the type of people who used to intimidate me, the type whose eyes I used to avoid because I thought if I tried to say hello I would be ignored; I assumed they hated me on sight. I thought they hated the way I look, I thought they hated the way I might sound if I opened my mouth. I was riddled with feelings of low self-worth.

During the last decade of my life I had grown accustomed to playing it safe, solely pursuing customary activities, restricting myself to social circles I was familiar with, refusing to branch out, and when I wasn’t moving in those circles I became the turtle retreating into her shell, desiring to know no new person and no new thing. I was on a self-constructed hamster wheel typically known as an ordinary life.

I knew what to expect, everything had become predictable and I felt some semblance of control. My life was orderly and boring. I could cruise into old age on my safe nine to five job, my safe family life and my safe social life. Wow. It occurs to me now, I was merely biding time until death eventually arrived (even if it was still decades away).

I had spent my whole life doing exactly what the quote above says— … denying our stories and disengaging from emotion …

Thank God for books! I got my hands on Rising Strong during a time in my life when I had become tired of hiding, tired of pretending and tired of going along merely to get along. Like a hand shooting up though the mudslide and grabbing a branch, I decided I wanted to live! Oh yes, the reckoning and the rumbling with emotions were hard. Facing my demons and acknowledging long-buried feelings may have been one of the hardest things I have ever done. Seriously. It felt like a swift boot-kick to a naked breast, it fuckin hurt! But once I was past the pain — oh beautiful day! — life opened up like an exotic flower.

Hip-hip hooray, mofos!! Is it just me or does the sunshine seem brighter? And the sky? I think it got bluer overnight. Even the leaves on the trees look greener! Were these flowers always around us? So many colors, they all look radiant! And the people. Wowee. I love all the beautiful people, all the different faces, all the different expressions. I especially love all my black people! I love all humanity! We are confused, we are hurt, we make messes, visiting our confusion on others. But we’re also brilliant, full of love and kindness, and we’re so resilient and resourceful. I have finally found my place in a population teeming with chaotic genius and it feels splendid.

I am alive. I am better. Life is better. Safety is overrated. Vulnerability is truly where it’s at. And guess what else? It’s you. You, the one reading this blog right now. I love you, I really do. And maybe we’ve already met or maybe we’ve never met, and maybe one day we’ll meet for the first time or again, and maybe this is as far as our meeting goes. It doesn’t matter because I still love you. We are doing with each other exactly what we were all born to do, we are connecting.

And the world becomes a better place every time we connect. Be well and stay strong, my friend. I need you just as much as we all need each other.