Oct 5, 2022 • 4M

Folding In 34-If not this, what else?

daring to choose the howl of joy.

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My life, until this point, has been innocently dedicated to collecting needless things. I have been carrying a bag on my shoulder, filled with what I thought belonged to me—my beliefs, the unforgiven and unforgotten haunted past, my hard-won victories, and the stories I have relied on to make sense of things. One month before my 40th birthday, and right on time, I found a hole in the bottom of the bag. Everything I have held as absolute truth, the stories that have made me who I thought I was, are gone. My memories are unreliable, and I can't seem to hold space for them any longer. I see I have been filling a bag, and everything has fallen out. I am empty, it turns out, always have been, but seeing it more clearly than ever, I feel my knees buckle under me as my familiar touch points are strewn over a vast expanse of open land. Wobbling on new legs, I hear a question rising from some guttural place:

"If not this, what else?"

I know how to suffer beautifully and love unconditionally, some of what I live. I know what I dislike and what causes me discomfort. I know all the names of the fears I hope never to encounter. I know the stories that send me into a trance of endless, looping conversations by heart. But when the carousel stops and I am no longer on the spinning ride, I realize how briefly I venture outside what I think I know. It's unnerving, in some way, to sit in my open heart—the quiet observer and lover of its life and to stop my violence and war against what comes or doesn't come. Perhaps unnerving is better said as unfamiliar. So, comfort seeks comfort, and the being, out of habit and ignorance, picks the bag back up and slings it over the shoulder, resuming the only road it knows. It's an inherited direction. It's our great grandfathers and great grandmothers, and as the loyal ones, we follow the worn footpath in front of us mindlessly. Meanwhile, joy calls, like a howling wolf off in the distant mountain. We can't mind it because we think we risk losing everything we have.

Sitting in the middle of a raucous restaurant in Vancouver, I asked my 12-year-old niece what she thought of the city. She grew up on an acreage in a small rural town, and visits to a bustling city were rare. She leaned across the table and answered quickly, as if already loaded with an automated response, "I think the city is loud, chaotic and stressful." I smiled, leaned in a little closer, and asked, "Who's answer was that? Yours or your parents?" She grinned at me, hunched in closer as if hiding from her voice, and added, "I think it's fun. I love how everyone is so alive and animated." Dutifully, she held her parent's opinion of the world, and then, upon deeper inquiry, she found her own.

I was sitting with one of the sweetest little girls; she has an incredibly nurturing spirit. I've known her since she was a baby, and her instinct has been to care for everything. She runs to the crying and hurt and does what she can to help soothe what is in need. This time though, I noticed something different. I had a grain of dirt in my eye and was complaining about it, trying to get it out, and she looked at me and said, "toughen up." She was even using a different voice than hers, a gruff, throaty one, very distant from her melodic tone. Stunned, I sat there, sad, for I knew those words weren't hers. They were learned, adopted from someone else's mind, and now, she innocently carried them as hers. I wonder how long she will live under their spell and hold them in her bag, on her back. I wonder how long she will believe she must be tough when hurting.

My father-in-law told me his father lost hearing in his right ear, and he and his brother have now lost their hearing in the same ear. All three of them, necks crooked, straining to listen from the same side. My grandfather stopped being able to walk, mysteriously, at 74 years old. My dad, now 74, is nursing gout and curious pain in his feet and ankles. My grandmother endured 45 surgeries during her lifetime. She was looking for a cure for the pain that no doctor could help. My body aches in the same places. I'm treating mine how she didn't know how— by inquiring to the root of the irritation and thoughts preceding them. There is no way of knowing if these examples are coincidences or genetic predispositions, but it's worth considering what else they could be pointing to. Maybe we have not discovered our identity beyond our inherited view of life.

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