Her tears made a puddle on the clean white tabletop, and she dried them away with her sleeve. She asked if her mascara had smudged. I told her it had not. She’d never been an ugly crier.
And she went silent, that silence that is hopefully, desperately, expecting the listener to extend advice, a hand, a word. Something to grasp on to.
But I didn’t know what to say. I was trying to meet her where she was at, a phrase I’m beginning to learn and own, but I didn’t know how to meet her where she was at.
And maybe it was because it wasn’t just another story she’d share over coffee when they say “I want to know you.” It wasn’t the breakdown of the three bullet-point message she would give when she wants to sound impressive. It wasn’t a victorious anthem of how she’s come out on the other side.
The weight was present.
It was real and honest and vulnerable and hard.
And I was looking in a mirror.
Our stories were vastly different and our experiences spread across broad spectrums.
But I was not a stranger to her shame. I was not a stranger to a safe place no longer feeling safe because the source of pain walks through the same halls you do. Drives the same streets. Lives in your neighborhoods. Goes to your schools. Friends with your friends.
And we sat in that silent, dimly-lit space, away from the noise and the people on the other side of the wall, breathing, feeling, grappling with pain, and how even after you tell ghosts to go, they stay.
“It’s stupid,” she whispered. “It’s so stupid I haven’t moved on yet. I feel like a baby.”
“You’re not,” I whispered back. “You’re far from it.”
I wanted to say a million things and nothing at all. I wanted to fill the space with words and leave it empty because I felt the pain with her.
I thought of the people who’d met me where I was at for the last year of my life. I thought of their names. Faces. I thought of where they were at in life now, whether or not they were still in mine. I thought of the words they’d told me. The things they’d do for me. The late night phone calls when I cried until I had nothing left. The midnight drives into cities for coffee and french toast because my worst days had come. The hallways bathed in early morning sunlight, cultivating a safe space to start the climb from ground zero.
This pain is real, and I am no stranger to it.
I don’t think you are either, though.
And maybe we just aren’t brave enough to talk about what hurts us now because what hurts us now is too raw, too vulnerable, too painful.
And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to not blog about everything we’re feeling and tell every person we ever meet over coffee exactly where we’re at in life. There’s always a time and a place.
But I know the pain doesn’t get any better until you start talking about it. I talk a lot about putting ghost stories to rest, and sometimes I fear my messages over my blogs confuse people because I say one thing and then I say something else.
But maybe it’s because you can do both. You can tell your ghost stories and you can put them to rest. You can write them a letter or you can burn the words. You can resolve things over coffee or you can send a long text and never hear from them again. You can move four hours away from home or you can stay and battle your shit from places you feel most exposed.
But may I just say that one of the bravest things you will ever do is sit in a safe place with someone you trust and create pools of tears on clean white tabletops and speak your current truths. Not just what was true six months ago.
So I told her true things.
/ / /
You have an army of people fighting for you.
You may not think you do, but I want you to take a moment and list off eight people who are there for you. Not just the people who have been there for you in the last year — the ones who are here now. The ones who have stayed.
Make a list of stayers and paint them on the walls of your heart.
You have come so far.
Progress is slow and it takes a really long time. Sometimes you get lucky — sometimes you see big changes in four weeks alone. It gives you hope the next eight will be the same. Don’t discount how far you’ve come.
Maybe it hurts to remember, but remember where you were a year ago. Remember the dark places and the shadows that would creep in at night, the stories you used to tell that are now set free or actively being set free.
The memories you are making now are replacing the old ones.
Maybe what you had was so beautiful and good. Maybe it was a shadow of what is good. We live in a world that is seeking real in a world that can only produce imitations. We have to fight for what is good. Fight to put those old memories aside that hurt too much and write new words and moments over them. New faces. New people. New songs. New infinities.
Sit in the moments that make you laugh the hardest. Sit in the moments when the food tastes so freaking good and the coffee even better. Sit in the moments when strangers become friends and conversation flows so smoothly.
The people who you think have it all together don’t. Promise.
It’s cliche. It’s said a lot. But maybe that’s because it holds a lot of truth. And if you think you are the only one, in wherever you at, I challenge you to invest in people and wait a few months — you’re not going to see their struggles on your first coffee date. Or your second. Or your third. It takes repeatedly sitting with someone, eating food, watching movies, building trust. But that’s when the real demons emerge. That’s when the tormented souls crack their windows and peer out into the light. I challenge you to stay up until 4:30 in the morning, when the darkest secrets are revealed and you find yourself shaking your head in awe and wonder and disbelief, that someone else’s spirit is whispering “Me too.”
The me too’s are out there. If you don’t believe me, look at your list of stayers and tell me they don’t all have something in common with you. I guarantee the reason those are your stayers is because they’ve been where you’re at or they’re where you’re at now. Someone is either leading you out of the woods or you are walking out together.
Don’t leave them behind.
Then there comes a moment when you’re out of your woods. And our souls walk many woods. There is always victory when you come out on the other side. But there are others trapped. There are still more, always more. Blaze a trail out of that dark place so others don’t have to feel the same pain you do and feel so alone.
Be brave to go back to the thing that hurt you so you can blaze a trail for others to crawl back on.
You will come back. Even if it’s two years later.
And you will laugh at how far you’ve come in two months alone because two years ago you weren’t singing these songs. You weren’t praying in huddles. You weren’t serving on a team. You weren’t staying out until midnight at restaurants and houses, laughing and getting to know new people. You weren’t cracking open that dusty book and journaling your thoughts. But one day, maybe you will be. And you’ll wonder why you ever left.
The prodigal son resonates with so many of us because we are natural runners. But the moment we come back, that’s a moment to be celebrated. Wait for your comeback; it’s coming. And a whole lot quicker than you realize.
/ / /
I put things on repeat.
I don’t just own my favorite song — it runs through my blood. I know the chords, the lyrics, the drum beat, the instruments. I know what it sounds like live and what the studio version sounds like. I know when someone covers the song and does it right or does it horribly wrong.
There is a whole group of people dedicated to studying money to know what is counterfeit and what is real (if you think I just accidentally deleted a huge paragraph and dove into another topic, bear with me). They work in secret places in D.C., pouring over paper and searching for symbols. Letters. Words.
But what you may or may not know is they don’t study the counterfeit money. They don’t have a warehouse of stacks of cash that are fake; they don’t teach classes on what counterfeit money looks like.
They study the real thing.
And they look at it over and over and over and over again until they know it by heart.
And if people in D.C. can look over money until they know it to be true, maybe that’s exactly what our broken and decaying and desperate souls need most :: to put truth on repeat.
To whisper the names of people we know who love us, even when we feel most unlovable.
To replay videos and look at pictures of the best moments of our lives, even when we feel most lazy and lonely and unseen.
To whisper what you’re thankful for, again and again and again, when you start feeling the depression coming back.
Because if what is said is true, that the truth will set you free, then maybe the only way we can meet people where they’re at is listen to their heart, to feel their pain and cry with them and hug them, wiping away puddles of tears on white tabletops, and then remind them of this truth.
They are not too far gone.
/ / /
The story doesn’t end there.
We went to our friends’ house after our tabletop talk. Twenty year olds acted like twelve year olds. Worship music played in the background.
And I watched her laugh and lose herself in the moment because it was a good moment, it was a sacred moment.
It was gezellig, the Dutch word for a sacred sense of belonging and existing infinitely in a finite, momentary space.
She was safe. She was so loved. She was so seen.
She is safe. She is so loved. She is so seen.
And I hope she left knowing that those moments are what she is fighting for every day when the pain walks by and tries to tell her she’s unworthy. I hope she knows she is not allowed to stay in the place she’s in because her army is with her and fighting for her and alongside her.
I hope she knows she is braver and stronger and more beautiful and wiser than she believes, and she is going places.
Her flicker is not fading.
On the contrary, it’s starting a wildfire.