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- the joy & the strength -

Today, I feel soft. Like I can be the most pliable version of me and I don’t just mean in my body, but my spirit feels that way too. Like I can soften into the corners of my life that have become walls without worrying, like I can meet the edges of my own self and not turn away, to instead wear them proudly on my sleeve, to lead with all the parts of ourselves we so desperately hide away.

This is a lesson lately that I have been unable to turn away from. The lesson has been crying out in all my relationships: my students, my friends, my family, my husband. It has felt like weeks of work figuring out how to soften into the joy, to not suffocate it before it grows out of fear of losing something that we never allowed to exist. 

There is so much transition happening: in me, in this season, in our society, in this era. There is so much to be fearful of and so much to be grateful for happening at the same time. And if we neglect either of those, we neglect our whole humanity.

I spoke with my high school students today about how control stifles creativity and compassion, a theme we’ve been exploring from our most recent read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. But the truth is, I’m as much of a culprit of this as anyone else. It’s habitual, it’s societal, it’s a part of living with an open heart, and a byproduct of past trauma. It’s also the number one thing that prevents me from being the human I want to be, the teacher I want to be, the sister, the daughter, the wife I want to be.

The irony is out of an effort to protect my soft heart, I close it off. And in return I cut myself off of joy, which is the greatest medicine of the heart. And it spreads. When we live closed off from ourselves, we lose empathy for others, the harm spreads like wildfire, and so others close their hearts off too.

The hard part of it to accept is that in order to live with an open heart, we must feel the full spectrum of what it means to be human. We must bear deeper witness to the suffering, our own and others, we must feel the fullest extent of our grief. We must do this so that we don’t forget joy. Not because of the old cliché that we need to know evil in order to know good, but because we have no other choice. Because the way we prevent our hearts from building walls so tall that nothing can get in, is by bearing witness to our own strength, our own resilience.

As an educator, I hear all the time about how our teenagers lack resilience. But what they really lack is adults willing to model vulnerability, willing to be strong enough to wear their sorrow, and their joy, on their sleeve. They don’t know resilience because they don’t see the process that goes into; it is a myth that skirts on the underbelly of society, undervalued & unseen. 

When we talk about resilience we treat it like it is this magic trick: “Things get hard and you just don’t give up!” In reality, it’s more like you meet the deepest depths of your inner demons, question your life’s purpose and everything about yourself, and still (somehow) keep on keepin’ on. It might feel like you’re barely breathing, like there’s no joy left to be had and the world is ending, and you can’t imagine how you face another day, and yet there’s still little moments of joy hidden inside the pile of shit you’ve been handed. 

That’s resilience. 

How we choose to wade through the shit to face another day is resilience. To choose to accept the joy that cannot be separated from the suffering is living with an open heart. To show that whole process to the world is vulnerability. Vulnerability is the medicine our world needs right now and the courage to face our suffering is what gets us there.

We are the joy; we are the strength. 

There is no other way.

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