I am a member of several communities — preachers, writers, the King family – in which the Venn diagram crossover includes the following: fixation on metaphors, hyperbole, and melodramatic storytelling. We love a symbolic, inspiring narrative where the three key points all begin with an M. Give us literary devices or give us death.
One of our favorites involves some version of the hero slaying the villain, the good guys killing the bad guys, the preferred country winning the war. There is dominance. There is drama. There are weapons. There is a very clear winner who secured victory with an unflinching resolve and refusal to be bested.
I generally love this shit, and I have crafted many a speech, sermon, essay, chapter, post, and response around this language. Be a hero! Slay your giants! Conquer your fears! Fight your demons! (The only phrase I outright reject is Stephen King’s advice to writers to “kill your darlings” because that is just rude and every author knows none of our work belongs on the cutting room floor.)
A couple of weeks ago, I had a super-weird day — a specific calendar day that may always be weird, I don’t know. I’m not sure how long a day lingers after it has lost its meaning. Does a birthday stop being a birthday because that person is gone? Does Father’s Day quit registering if you’ve lost your dad? Is an anniversary still an anniversary after the marriage is over? Like I said, I don’t know how these things shake out or if they ever completely do.
I wasn’t actively watching the calendar tick toward the date I got married in 1993, but our bodies store traumatic memories, man.
I started feeling a low-simmering anxiety, a tightness that registered in my shoulders and lower back. Having mostly overcome the crushing sleeplessness that accompanied divorce, I woke up in the middle of several nights with that irrational sense of doom that only the 3:00 a.m. hour can deliver.
Our bodies let us know, not because they are mean, but because they are wise enough to say, “Hey, might want to take some special care of your wonky little heart today, and ‘powering through like a soldier’ sounds like something for the battlefield which your one wild and precious life is most definitely not.”
As much as I’ve always leaned into the vanquishing arc, our lives are not actually a war, and we do not triumph by being immovable, unbreakable, and invincible. Life isn’t a zero-sum game either; we don’t win or lose… we live. And our pain has much to teach us if we’ll listen to it instead of trying to conquer it. Battle armor may protect us from suffering but it also blocks all the joy, all the softness, and that sacrifice is too much.
I don’t want to be a soldier. I just want to be a person, which has a downside.
But also an upside.
Soldiers don’t get to be tender and open to new love. They are always bracing for impact, so they never know what it means to settle into safety, to exhale. Warriors only see enemies and have inflicted many a wound with friendly fire. When you carry defensive and offensive weapons every day, you will harm anyone who gets too close, adversary or not.
Soldiers live in constant fight or flight, thus forfeiting their capacity to be anyone else’s soft place, the person someone else calls home. People feel anxious around soldiers; they feel safe around a person who has nothing to win, no enemy to slay, no battle to constantly stage.
I don’t want to fight for victory when I could choose peace instead. Frankly, I’d rather be vulnerable to pain but alive to life. Sending love to all the movable, breakable, vincible (??) ones.
We get the hard parts but also the beautiful parts, sometimes all in the same day, and that is called a human life.
I’ll take it. Keep going, human people. Stay soft even if it terrifies you. Look around with clear eyes; battles are temporary. You may not even be on the battlefield anymore. Recognize safety when it has come to lead you home. Drop your armor and live. Let it all in, and watch and see if those beautiful parts don’t outlast the rest.
If you are walking through what feels like a battle time right now, I want you to know this: You are not alone in your pain or fear. There is a whole club of us out here with open arms, shared stories, understanding, even hope if you can believe that.
Life is so hard. Harder than it looks from the outside. Harder than we know. Harder than we see. Harder than people let on.
People are fighting unimaginable battles right in front of us while they smile and ask how our kids are doing. People are doing their jobs and answering emails and managing customers after getting only two hours of sleep from worry and anxiety and tears. Maybe you are, too.
If you’ve been around, you’ll remember me talking about my very own therapist Carissa Woodwyk and sharing little glimpses of “free therapy” when I was at the bottom of my ocean and my world imploded.
Carissa has all the fancy letters at the end of her name. But, she has something far, far, far greater — and that is her wisdom, her heart, her compassion, her honesty, her ability to peer inside and understand where the pain and the suffering is and take you by the hand and wisely, gently (tough-love) you up from the bottom of the ocean and back to the shore.
We cover things like how to navigate our responses to suffering, what healing looks like, how to access the road to recovery, and more. And there is tons of bonus content, including videos on coping mechanisms, boundaries, forgiveness, a playlist with 80+ songs, a list of recommended books from Carissa, recommended meditations, podcasts, and more.