I fell down a set of concrete steps last week. And as the bruises start to surface and the scrapes reach that ugly scabby stage, I wonder if these outward wounds are a representation of something deep inside.
When I tumbled down those stairs, I landed at the bottom with my skirt up around my waist and as one of my friends would have delicately put it, tomorrow’s laundry in plain view. No one was around to see me in this undignified state, and I was deeply grateful for that. Yet, there was a certain loneliness I experienced as I arranged my skirts and gently picked myself up off the ground while trying to assess the damage. Though most people would have felt like intruders in that moment, there are a handful of people that I would have gladly fallen in front of in order to hear them ask me if I were ok as they rushed to my aid and made sure I was presentable and whole before helping me to my feet.
I posted later that day about the incident and I mentioned that my internal angst had manifested itself externally. I didn’t mean that flippantly. Lately, I find myself juggling the deep gratitude I hold for my own internal strength and the desire to have someone notice that I am not ok. Sometimes it feels like it has to be either/or. But, as was mentioned in a beautiful sermon I heard on Sunday, oftentimes it is actually both/and. It’s ok to want someone to help you up even while knowing you have the strength to do it yourself.
I feel like to a certain extent this has been my internal struggle for the past five years. Five years ago I began a journey of self-discovery. It included a major faith shift, huge life changes, and lots and lots of processing of who I have been, who I am now and who I am becoming. It’s been a rewarding process. And I’ve grown really strong through it. The external circumstances that have been a part of this process have required that strength in order for me to survive them. In my husband’s words: I “have gently but firmly held things together against what often seemed like overwhelming odds.” When the therapist I had near the beginning of this process helped me realize what exactly I was doing, she warned me that this is a lonely process. There has been a lot of separation from those around me in order to discover who I am. Separation from family, from friends, and even in some ways from my husband. I am glad she told me that then, because it has helped my extroverted, community-longing self hang on through a time when past connections were slowly dissolving.
That separation has been hard for me. I hold wounds from the past 5 years that are still not completely healed. And I think most of the time, I keep those wounds to myself. Yes, I have held things together, but sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I want to let it all go and let myself fall just to see if anyone will be there to catch me.
Now, more than ever I want friends. I will never be done discovering myself, but I am hopeful that I am ready now to both reform connections and make new ones. I long for connections that are not shallow, but deep, real, raw and vulnerable. I am ready for a friend who not only can pick me up when I fall down, but who knows me well enough to notice that I’m in danger of falling before it even happens.
This is not to say that I haven’t had deep, strong connections the last five years. I have found very rewarding friendships over and over again. But our transient life the last few years has meant that what I feel I am missing is those friends that are physically present in my life. I look back with loneliness and grief on periods of time when that has been true for me, even if it was only for a short time. Even as I list out these relationships to myself, I realize how few of them actually reached a level of complete vulnerability and how very few of them have maintained it with distance. I long for intimacy, to have friends that I can feel completely safe and open with. My husband and I have discussed this often, our longing for friends and community, and our fear that it will not happen.
When I fell, I was on my way to have coffee with a friend, someone who had offered to have coffee with me should I ever need it, and I had finally taken her up on the offer. I walked shakily into that coffee shop and she bandaged up my elbow without a second thought. I know that there are people around who are ready to step up and stand beside me were I to give them the chance. But in this time of transition, I hold back from engaging too deeply, waiting rather impatiently for the next stage and hoping that it will bring with it a feeling of being settled and the courage and capacity to open myself up to be vulnerable with new people.