Doing Things and Being

For a while, I’ve been trying to articulate some thoughts on life, and BOY do I have a lot of them!! To start off-

My heart is very very very full! If I could post one thousand Instagram photos and sing one thousand Ed Sheeran songs and yell for one thousand years, I still would not have expressed how full my heart is. I know I’ve definitely already over-shared about my trip to Maine with my friends by way of live tweets and snapchats and Instagram posts (but don’t you feel like you were there?? Isn’t technology so great?? YOU’RE WELCOME.) but my mind is still dancing closely with thoughts of that weekend and this year and this life, so I’m going to try to write some of them down!!

 

To preface this- everything I’m about to write is ridiculously and disgustingly cliché, but for me, here, right now, it’s all true. So here we go!!

 

My first thought is that I am very excited about doing things. When I think back on how many hard things I’ve done, I’m very happy. I’ve had so many hard conversations and made so many hard choices and made so much lemonade out of so many lemons. If you think back on your life, I think you’ll find that the same is true for you, and I think that’s something to celebrate and be proud of. We are DOING things people!! We are, quite literally, making history!!! We are out here making our lives look how we want them to!!! How exciting, amiright guys?? Think for a minute about how capable you are of doing things. All of the things. Going to class. Going to work. Getting in your car right now for a road trip. Moving across the country. Moving across the room. Going to see your favorite bands play. Going to Maine with your favorite people. None of these things happen without your consent and your initiative. Is that cool, or is that cool?? So that’s the first thing I’m very excited about lately- doing things. Doing hard things and funny things and beautiful things!! Interacting with my world and my friends and myself. And, most extravagantly, driving 20 hours to Maine because we wanted to. I LOVE DOING THINGS.

 

The other thing I am very excited about lately is being. (I can already feel that I’m about to get a little ramble-y here, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.) On Sunday, our only full day in Maine, we drove to Cape Elizabeth to see a lighthouse. It was cold and rainy and exactly how I pictured Maine. I don’t think I can express how excited Sam, Haley, and I were to just stand on some rocks next to some water. I mean, we were really, REALLY excited. We were just frolicking and laughing and remembering and taking photos, and I had a moment where I was just ridiculously aware that I was. I looked out at my friends laughing and at the sea and at the lighthouse and just felt myself so there. My heart was just so full. I started thinking about all the times in my life that I struggled with myself, with anxiety, with sadness, and the only thought I could form in that moment was “I can’t believe there was a time in my life where I wasn’t—where I just wasn’t.” I know this is a pretty common sentiment, but I can’t believe there have been times in my life that haven’t been totally saturated in love and experience and authenticity. I’m not even sure I can express what that feeling was that day, but I just became so aware that on those rocks by that sea, I was, and that who I am at this point in my life just is. This Maddie is so here and so alive!!! I genuinely see things and feel things and hear things! I laugh and enjoy and express! I am experiencing a universe that’s experiencing me, and it is SO. BEAUTIFUL. It is so beautiful to be.

 

So to sum all of that up, I am 1) very dramatic, and 2) very thankful. That’s the whole takeaway here. I am full of joy and gratitude and experience and I just want to shout it all from the rooftops. For years, I prayed for a life that I’m living today. (Is anyone else crying here?? No? Just me??) For right now, my goals are to keep doing and to keep being, and there’s such a beautiful fullness in this life I’m living!!

 

I am one thousand exclamation points, and I am very grateful, and I’m doing things, and I just am.

 

(P.S., if this weekend was a song, it would be Tenerife Sea by Ed Sheeran. Listen to it while you’re googling photos of Maine and reading my live tweets and it’ll be just like we were all there together!!!)

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The Truth About “Closure”

…is that it doesn’t exist.

To preface this whole discussion: recently, I’ve seen a massive universal longing for “closure” on uncomfortable and disappointing seasons of our lives among people my age. I think, on some level, we’re all always hoping that if we force just one more conversation, or if we go back just one more time, or if we have just one last life-changing epiphany, we’ll finally be able to wrap up unpleasant occurrences in our lives and leave them behind us for good. We’re all always hoping that we’re right on the verge of moving on from any given let down or heartbreak. For some reason, we all think that just one more encounter with that uncomfortable situation will somehow resolve any residing internal conflict we harbor regarding the issue, and that then, and only then, will we mentally move on from whatever has lately been the painful subject of all our emotional attention.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it ignores one serious truth about us, as people; we’re all just walking culminations of our past experiences.

The thing about us, as people,  and how we operate chronologically, is that every day we wake up just a little bit different than we were the day before. We’re now working with 24 hours of new mental material. We’re now seeing the world through a lens newly colored by the last 24 hours of our lives. We’re now drawing from 24 more hours worth of experience, and no matter what decisions are made that day, they are bound to be affected by the experiences of the previous 24 hours. Those same decisions are also, intentionally or otherwise, inevitably informed by all the experiences of all the hours we’ve ever lived. In this way, we’re constantly changing and growing and evolving- and so are our perspectives. Every experience we have is automatically and instantaneously built into our character, and thus, into our worldview.

With this in mind, the idea of closure doesn’t really make sense. The idea that we can just box up the unpleasantries of life and leave them in an abandoned attic somewhere just isn’t plausible. Even though it’s sometimes easier to ignore this fact, the truth is that for the rest of our lives, we’re going to draw understanding and perspective from all of our uncomfortable and painful and unpleasant experiences. No matter where we find ourselves standing in the days and months and years to come, we will inevitably find ourselves standing there as someone who underwent some sort of disappointment or heartbreak or general unrest. Gaining “closure” on these experiences (that is, closing them up and moving on; ceasing to be affected by them) is not something that we can really ever achieve- nor is it something that we should ever strive for.

In my experience, a search for “closure” will always lead straight to disappointment, and will leave the searcher with an unsatisfied need for control. Instead of asking, “How does this experience shape my thoughts on life and the way I live it? What can I learn here?”, an unending cry for closure screams “This situation didn’t go as planned and I refuse to accept it or learn from it until it looks exactly how I wanted it to- or at least how I expected it to. I need to understand so I can find a way to stop it from affecting me.” This way of thinking ignores the inherently transitory nature of human perspective, and doesn’t create an atmosphere for personal or interpersonal growth.

Basically, if we really want to get the most we can out of this super short, awesome, wild life, we have to stop waiting until we feel like we have a full and complete understanding of any given disappointment to live. We have to learn how to come to peace without demanding “closure,” and we have to learn how to draw from past experiences without having made total and complete sense of them. Once we learn how to honor and appreciate painful past experiences instead of demanding their absence from our present lives, it’ll be a whole lot easier to grow and transition. It’ll give us more freedom to shift and change and widen our perspectives, and it will help us glean everything we can from everything we experience. (Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” comes to mind here.)

In short: closure is overrated. Don’t worry if you can’t find it, and don’t waste your valuable time chasing it. Instead, spend time culminating a personal honesty and openness, and learn how to make peace without necessitating full understanding.

Loneliness and Generosity

A couple weeks ago, after my last Tuesday class, I went to see a band called Givers (they’re wonderful and you should check them out) play. Before they came on, a woman named Doe Paoro opened. She was such a dynamic performer (check her out too), and although the room was honestly pretty empty at that point, she was clearly thankful for every person there. It was such a good set, but then, towards the end, she said something that has stuck with me for two weeks: she looked at every one of us and said “I heard someone say recently that ‘listening is an act of generosity,’ so thank you for being so generous tonight.”

“Listening is an act of generosity.” (At the time I didn’t quite catch where this quote was from, but after a quick google search, I found it and the podcast she later discussed here.)

Listening is an act of generosity.

Going somewhere new for an extended period of time- be it a new school or a new town or a new job- will naturally find you in some lonesome places. In this new season of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be alone, and what it means to be lonely. I’ve come to the conclusion that we all suffer through two types of loneliness in our lives: loneliness by proximity, and loneliness by understanding. (Side note: I use the word “suffer” here, but the truth is that you can also experience loneliness in a good way. It can foster creative and personal growth, and it can force you into some courageous situations. I’ve thought a lot about this kind of loneliness too, but for the purposes of my thoughts here, I’m going to keep addressing the loneliness that’s not so fun.)

Loneliness by proximity can best be described as that feeling you experience when you’re standing in a crowded room and no one knows your name. You’re lonely because you’re not near anyone you know, or anyone that you find comfortable. Even in a fun environment and even when you’re having a great time, if you’re in a new place, you’re bound to experience some loneliness by proximity. So there’s that.

Loneliness by understanding, however, is, in my experience, much more cutting. Loneliness by understanding is that feeling you experience when someone who should know you just…doesn’t. Loneliness by understanding makes you feel invisible and unknown- two of the worst things to feel, ever. The reason this type of loneliness stings so badly, is because it shows the truth of a relationship. It whispers to you that you don’t know someone as well as you thought you did, and that they don’t know you as well as you wish they did. It’s the realization that a certain comfort in your life was, on some level, an illusion. And it’s no fun. And when you’re adjusting to a new place, you feel it a lot.

All this to say, however, Doe Paoro perfectly summed up my thoughts on the subject when she repeated that listening is an act of generosity. In a world where we’re all struggling to feel visible and heard, the best defense against loneliness of any sort is the act of listening. Listening to the people close to us helps strengthen and build relationships, and listening to strangers helps show that we see them and that they’re valid and valuable. This listening takes many forms: asking someone about their weekend plans and following up on Monday to see how they went, or asking someone for their thoughts on current events and engaging in an honest and open conversation, or bringing a friend their favorite breakfast pastry the morning of a stressful day. In short, listening is paying attention. Listening is making an effort to know. Listening is an act of generosity.

So basically, I think all of our lives will get a lot better when we become more generous, and when we make an effort to better see and hear the people around us and express gratitude and understanding. Because, honestly, we’re all just out here yelling about our lives hoping somebody is going to hear, and hearing people really isn’t that hard.

When Everybody Else’s Life Works Out

One thing I’ve observed over the past two months: everything always seems to work out for people who are not me. People who are not me always seem to have all of their problems solved with the quick drop of a tear or a single emotional conversation or one easy phone call. People who are not me seem to always be a top priority in the universe, and people who are not me always seem to be completely visible and understood and valued in their respective environments.

Two thoughts that I’ve developed on this line of thinking:

  1. None of this is true.
  2. But even if all of it was true, I think there’s an upside to being un-worked out.

To begin- if I’m being honest, I know that nobody would ever confidently look me in the eyes and proclaim, “All of my issues have worked themselves out and all of my problems have been solved! My life is perfect and I cannot relate to anyone who has ever experienced pain or strife!” I understand this. Even when I feel like this isn’t true, on some level, I always know that it is. Even on my worst day, I know that somewhere out there is another person who also feels un-worked out and unprotected and invisible.

Because we all see people in relationship to ourselves, and because we most easily singularly identify them by their relationship to us, it’s easy to sometimes forget that people are multidimensional and can simultaneously celebrate achievement and goodness, and grieve disappointment and mistake. Our friends are not just our friends; they are also, simultaneously, daughters and sons and students and parents and people and musicians and athletes and hard-workers and slackers and go-getters and happy people and confused people and heartbroken people and scared people and brave people and lost people. Any one person can be any number of these people at the same time. While I might see a girl walking across a parking lot and think, “she just got the parking spot I wanted,” someone else might see that same girl and think, “she is the sweetest!” and a third party involved might see that same girl and think “she is always so involved, keeping herself so busy and working so hard!” All of these descriptions might be accurate, and all of them are definitely subjective, but none of them fully capture who this girl is. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why I, the only person on the entire planet who has ever struggled with anything at all in the history of the whole world, would mistakenly see this girl as having all of her issues worked out, because, for heaven’s sake, she did just get the only parking space left in this entire lot. Why does everything always work out for her?! Why not me?!

We all see the twisted logic here, and yet it’s still in our very nature as people to feel this way when we see ourselves struggling and we see everyone else just…not.

But what if I really was the only person on the whole planet whose life wasn’t working itself out? Is it really so bad to not have things falling into place?

I don’t think it is. I think there’s a certain magic involved in being un-worked out. I think there’s something really beautiful about the fact that I have no idea how the next year of my life is going to look. I have freedom. I have fear. I have apprehension and excitement and possibility, and these are things that not everybody has. These are things that I might one day lose. This flexibility-this uncertainty- will come and go and pass with the moments as my life begins to work itself out. One day I’m going to find myself looking not forward to surprises, but back on memories, and I will know, once and for all, how my life has turned out. It will all be worked out like a math problem at the bottom of a page, and that will be that. No more dream schools or dream jobs or dreams in general. Just reality. Just past. One day, I’m going to be 150 years old (trust me on this one), remembering life before I knew how things turned out. Right now, at 18, everyone else’s lives seem to be working themselves out. They all seem to know where they want to go and how they’re going to get there, but I still have those gifts to unwrap. I might have to wait a little longer for my Christmas Eve, but I get to live in that anticipation and freedom and happiness and childlike hope for just a little bit longer.

So basically, what I’m saying is my life is super un-worked out and it’s unfair and terrible but it’s also super cool and I’m happy about it.

And I’m being as dramatic, excited, and confused as I possibly can about it.