I’m thinking a lot about how stories we tell ourselves affect our paths. What we say are our strengths and weaknesses, gifts and shortcomings, triumphs and regrets. If we change our stories, we can change our minds. And if we change our minds, we change our hearts. And if we change our hearts, then we can change everything.
“The 3 C’s in life: choice, chance, change. You must make the choice, to take the chance, if you want anything in life to change.” ~anonymous
This weekend I said yes to a very big chance. I never imagined this kind of opportunity was out there. I never imagined I’d be asked to take it. I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. But something in me knew this was not a coincidence, that I had to try, despite the fact that it’s a very long shot that it would work out. And you know what? It felt liberating. It felt empowering to just try. And no matter how this goes, maybe that’s the lesson—say yes and try.
I’m posting these embarrassing selfies for your benefit:
I got off a plane from vacation in Vancouver. It was a fantastic trip—more on that later. This post is about you. Well, it’s about you via a story about me. I’ll be brief. My eye started to hurt on the plane. Nothing big; just noticeable. I got home, picked up my dog from boarding, and decided to take a nap. I woke up with my eye crusted shut. My doctor, via video call, thought it was a case of pink eye and prescribed antibiotics. 24 hours later, the swelling, redness, and oozing got much worse, and then spread to my second eye. I got on a video call with my doctor again, and she was alarmed to see how much my condition had deteriorated. She sent me to the emergency room.
I didn’t have pink eye. I had a condition known as periorbital cellulitis. It’s an extremely dangerous infection if left untreated, and can be lethal by causing sepsis or meningitis. It’s usually caused by an insect bite or another similar kind of trauma. I’m immensely lucky that I have access to great, timely medical care. Again, my gut instinct to get help saved me, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Now the bit about you:
1.) If you’re sick, please, please, please get medical help quickly. Don’t worry that you’re being a hypochondriac. If you think something is wrong, it’s much better to get it checked.
2.) Do what you love. Please. What you’re passionate about, what lights you up, what makes you curious to learn more and more. Create beautiful art. Write. See your friends. Help people. Share what you have. Fall in love. Adopt a dog. Live. If you’re in a job or a relationship you don’t love, go. Quickly. Don’t waste your time. You never know how much of it you have. Your life can turn on a dime, from something as insignificant as an insect bite. So wear bug repellent and sunscreen because you might as well give yourself your best shot at your best life.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” ~Alexander den Heijer
In a classroom, if a student’s not thriving, our education system too often assumes that there’s something wrong with the child. Imagine what we could achieve in just one generation if we could instead see all children the way a gardener sees flowers: as something we cherish, nurture, and encourage. What a world, right? Let’s change the system so all children can thrive.
“If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.” ~Horace Traubel, author and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement
The world is in need of people who can bring their best selves to it, who can see what’s needed and then have the fortitude to make it happen. Before I jump to the conclusion that this or that could never happen, I’ve lately found myself looking at challenging situations that I’d like to see come to fruition and asking, “What would it take to make it so?” And then I get to work.
As I think about my own storytelling projects, I am reminded of my introduction to it when I was a young child.
I grew up in a rural area where Native American culture is still very much alive. We had a family friend who was a Mohawk chief, Chief Black Bear. We would often go to visit his trading post. He was a very tall, solid, regal man. I was fascinated by him. I remember the jewelry, items fashioned from animal skins, the art, and the tobacco pipes carved from natural items. I have no Native American heritage in my blood, but I somehow felt very much at home in his culture. I still do.
One year for Christmas, my mom bought me several books about Native American history. The way they live and what they believe makes complete sense to me. They take care of the planet and each other. They believe in the connectedness of the heavens above and the Earth below. And their storytelling—that’s what captivates me the most. They make deep wisdom palpable, even to a child.
Yesterday I learned about how some members of some tribes welcome people back from war. There is a recognition that they must have transition time. They go with the medicine man for a number of days to literally and figuratively have the blood washed away. The trauma of war is recognized and processed. They deal with this in the light so that it doesn’t get subsumed into the shadows. They grieve. They’re cleaned. They’re healed so that they can return whole.
Setting war aside, if we just look at our own grieving process today with any lens, we often don’t allow space or time for it. We are supposed to move on quickly and in earnest to sunny skies and smiles. We are told to let it go as quickly and cleanly as possible. Though truthfully we hang onto things inside of us. We don’t always give ourselves time to adequately mourn our losses and reflect on what we’ve learned. And so it piles up, and up and up and up until we literally collapse under it. We do ourselves a disservice all in an effort to get on with it. Except we haven’t gotten on with anything. We are playing a role, and eventually we will have to leave the stage and all of our grief will be there waiting in the wings. And we will feel alone and isolated and ashamed of it. And we will bear it until we can’t.
Our society is dealing with massive public issues now, issues that have been ignored and swept under the rug for too long by too many. Of course they now seem unwieldy. Look how much time they’ve had to grow unattended. We cannot and should not shrink away from dealing with them now, no matter how large they loom. If we don’t recognize and set ourselves on a course to solve them, that task will fall to the next generation and the generation after that. Bringing them into the light is painful, but it is the only way to create a better tomorrow. Have faith, and let’s get to work. We can do hard things, together.
“Live out of your imagination, not your history.” ~Stephen Covey
What if today you decided, just for a day, to live the life you imagine rather than the life that’s dictated by your past? What if you could drop the boxes you’ve put yourself in, the labels you’ve adopted (willingly or unwillingly), and all of the can’ts, don’ts, and shouldn’ts that have been impressed upon you? What would you? How would your life change?
“Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.” ~Unknown
We get stuck, don’t we? Bad experiences from childhood, from broken relationships of many kinds, jobs that didn’t work out, things and people and circumstances that hurt us. We have a tough time letting go. When that work is tough, I remind myself that the effort is so worth it. If we don’t let go of what was, then we can’t make room for what’s in front of us now and what’s on the way. There are good things coming to us that we don’t even know about yet, and if we’re bogged down by our yesterdays we’ll miss out what’s meant for us now. Keep the lessons, but please don’t let them hold you hostage. Your past doesn’t hold the keys to the castle that is your future; you do, right now, just as you are.
In Japan, “kintsugi” is an art form and method of mending. When a piece of pottery develops cracks, those cracks are filled with gold. The flaws aren’t hidden; they’re highlighted. We try so hard to give the illusion of perfection—in photos, in words, in life. What if we not only let our imperfections and flaws and mistakes and scars show, but we actually brought attention to them? What if we shouted them from the rooftops and claimed them as sources of strength and resilience and courage? What if we could celebrate them, in ourselves and in others? Imagine how much kinder and more productive we could be if we stopped being so afraid to try, and just decided to go for it without any concern of failure and success, only to embrace doing our best and learning every step of the way. What would you try first?
Science and art are not mutually exclusive. There’s so much cross-over, so much cross-inspiration. Be a scientific artist, or an artistic scientist. They are languages, forms of communication about the experience of the world and our place in it. They are dialogues. They are stories of discovery and chance and change. Find them, write them, and share them as clearly as you can. It’s all beautiful.