The harder, beautiful bit of relationships – also known as staying

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Packing suitcases remind me of all the pieces of goodbye and staying, and how they hook into one another. They share the same body, opposite ends of each other, friends yet enemies, elements that are together  yet separate.

Maybe it is the action of standing in front of my wardrobe and deciding which pair of pants I will take. Which sweater and dress? Which scarf?

I imagine my clothes excitedly jumping up and down: pick me, pick me. It is a vulnerable moment as my hands reach out for my favourite bits – the ones that wrap around me with comfort and warmth, the ones that mold to my body in perfect lines, displaying my curves but also hiding them. At the end of this process when my hands finish grabbing at garments and I survey the damage, some clothes are chosen, some are not.

If my clothes were living things they maybe would feel the stab of not being chosen. They would lower their eyes in disappointment and settle into that heaviness of  heart. They would feel things just like I feel things as I pile my suitcase with pieces of myself to take to another place.

I have to get onto a plane next Tuesday. Flying is not really my thing at the moment. My best friend would tell you that I haven’t yet recovered from the careless way planes have been falling out of the sky lately. That I am still hang over from the incomprehension of the unexpectedly random loss of lives.

But much more than that, it is the way I have been thinking about what it means to stay.

We know alot about leaving. I think we do. About packing bags and walking away. The world never lets us forget that it measures our strength in relationships in chunk sizes of self-empowerment – of not taking nonsense or not letting our heart be smashed on by the other human in the relationship. There are even songs about that. Wonderful songs that make us fist pump the air and deliver courage to our shaky legs to walk away.

It is the age of self definition and somehow self definition has come to mean not letting people step on our toes. We are masters of our souls. And so we are schooled in the art of goodbyes when boundaries are crossed and love breaks. Yes, goodbye is still painful but we are more afraid of being forever known as those people who didn’t love themselves enough to walk away when things broke into pieces.

There are books about getting over people. They come in bold, beautiful covers that ensure you bury yourself in them. They want you to emerge out of their pages feeling victorious.

We all have stories about getting over people. Stories like mine. The one about that first boy I really liked when I was 16. The one who made my breath catch as it tumbled allover itself within the four walls of my chest. I didn’t know how to do it, the whole walking away thing. I turned the thing this way and that way trying to find the perfect way to walk away. There was no perfection in that exact moment. Instead it was messy and  full of ugly cries. But I walked away. And in walking away I became more of the woman I am today.

So, yes, there are times to walk away. To leave old things and places behind.

Staying is much, much harder. Maybe this is why there are no books on the bookstore shelves with bold titles like How to Stay. And maybe deep down we all just want to stay; to stay in love; to stay in that relationship. Maybe deep down we all just want to keep each other forever. But sometimes we don’t exactly know how.The ups and downs of being human beings in relationships is at best unravelling, sometimes confusing and often exhausting. The skill to know when to stay and when to go is not easily acquired. It takes discernmanet. It takes knowing ourselves and how we fit into other people, and how they fit into us. We map ourselves onto them and project from a distance all the places that may or may not align in all our relationships, good or bad.

But in staying we choose the harder, beautiful bit. Because it means showing up for the relationship time after time, again and again. It means taking a chance on our heart and giving a little piece of it away to those we love.

As much as I respect people who walk away from things I’ve only ever wanted the ones who stay. I find them inspiring in the totality of how they sit in relationships. Their fingers curl tightly around your fingers finding spaces to draw close and occupy. And all the goodness they can find in themselves they pour into the relationship. They are not perfect – and maybe this is the most beautiful part of all  – but they never use that as an excuse not to try and not to love you. It is never a reason for them not to deeply desire to learn how to be properly human in relationships.

Maybe these people understand what I have learned, what we all learn at some point:

Apart from growing a love that is visible in action, real, true, strong and godly there is no formula to staying in relationships. There is no mystery. People stay by staying because the only way to stay is to stay.

**Photo by Jo Chin**

History & belonging

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Everyone belongs to a piece of something, to a part of the world that begins with humanity. Someone ought to tell the girl that because she shifts nervously in her chair, the air of discomfort growing taut around her. It envelops her like a cloak and saturates the breaths she takes in and out.

She looks around the table at the five faces she knows so well yet also doesn’t know. She wonders about the cords that tie her to them. Are they real and true? Or are they figments of her imagination?

In the moment she thinks about relationships – the belly in which they get formed, intricate detail by intricate detail. The history that collects around bodies to form an impenetrable wall that sometimes holds up its hands to others:

“No, you are not one of us.”

History. Does it come between people as a foe or as a friend? And when is it time to open up that history and let others in?

The seat beneath her feels too big for her. The conversation passes around her like delicious morsels, of things she knows yet history dictates her ignorance. She wants to grab every tidbit of the words and themes and concepts and tuck them into her body. To feel a part of the table and fit into her seat fully and securely with these people who know her so well yet don’t know her so well. She wants her place claimed for all times.

But instead she gets up from the table and smiles.

“I have to go,” she announces.

No one objects so she walks off still clutching the wonderings about friendships and family and the places these things get made. The easiness that comes to her, to tumble around with these sorts of things is not shared by many.

I watch her as she walks away, gently rubbing her chest, massaging the doubt that was beginning to beat behind the fleshy walls. I want to tell her how beautiful she is, from her heart to her mind and to the way her life pours out of her fingertips when it comes into contact with others.

In times of doubt she doesn’t see the full version of herself. And so I want to hold the ground for her. To hold up a mirror so she never completely forgets what she really looks like.

I want to tell her that family and friendships are things requiring honesty and vulnerability and that the world doesnt always do them well even where history is present. And a history that is not based in love will always keep others out. It will always be built around the superficial things of belonging:

—we have blue eyes—our father is that man—

If these are the only things we hang relationships on what kinds of families and friendships do we create? And maybe a look around the world today is enough answer to that question.

The girl gets onto the bus and sits in her favourite seat, her gaze following the setting sun. The red glow of twilight bathes her face in light making it luminous. Her lips twitch as though resisting a smile or a sigh. She does both.

I mentally grab her into my arms.

You are doing great, I whisper to her.

The deep things are mapped onto your bones. And love is the core from which you are hewn. This is where you belong, and where history should grow out of. And all the people you gather to you may not always know but they will experience the belonging etched all over you. When you give yourself permission to belong to yourself and to the spaces you occupy, others find the magic of wanting to belong where you belong.

Disappointment and his contours

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How does disappointment sit in the chest occupying all the sides, up and down, and filling every space between the ribs with heaviness? What colour is it? Is it a brilliant red that shocks the senses? Or a dull painful gray that spawns numbness?

I have been to disappointment’s house, so grand and so cold. He has invited me in. I have sat in his chair and listened to him give a soliloquy about himself. How he deserves so much more than the things and people he settles for. How expectations must always be high and met by those who claim to love him.

I have tried to leave then, quietly getting up from my chair so I can slip away only to have him push me down again.

Tales of how things can never be the same after he arrives on the scene of a relationship, and how he wishes humans would learn to walk away from people who fall short flow from his intoxicating mouth. He has a smooth tongue, his voice sure and mesmerizing. It catches your breath. And soon enough I start thinking to myself:

“He must be right. He must be right.”

He smiles at the defeat that creeps into every facial line I own. He knows exactly when he hits a jackpot.

In the past I have left his house drained and dejected. Under his tutorage I have watched people I love walk away because it was too hard to stay. Just too hard. Disappointment has applauded me in those times laughing with his big, deep voice and slapping his hands together joyfully.

“You did great!” he beams.

I know it is not true but I convince myself that it is so, so I can sleep at night.

But life always teaches us that people are just people. And that in all the ways we rub against each other sooner or later we will fail one another. Our world may stop. There might be thunder and some mountains in our corner of the earth may shake violently. But we will surely arrive at this point. Because the truth dictates that human beings are fallible, beautiful and messy.

It doesn’t mean we pick every disappointment and add it to our personal collection but that we are intentional about how we arrive at disappointment’s house or how we let him into our homes or sleep with him or frolick with his tantalising contours so we never forget that for those we love and cherish, we will both disappoint and be disappointed.

Loveliness

 

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How is it that hurt arrives, fully dressed onto our front porches and into our homes?

How is it that we invite hurt in and then delicately and sometimes violently serve it to our friends, lovers, neighbours and strangers? That our bowels fill with tears we cannot cry and words that cannot be spoken?

How is it that the human heart is good at shielding away every thing that would make us admit that we have been failing at loving well and fully? That our only crime has been that we have not been loving hard?

Relationships are simple. Truly. On paper they move from A to B and to C effortlessly. We imagine ourselves as pros, strong and capable. We can do relationships like warriors.

But after walking into the arena we soon find out that not everything that is simple is easy.

Relationships take us on a journey. A journey that is unravelling even as it is edifying. But no matter how far we go or how wide our every limb is spread out, we must always come back home, beat brow and all, we must always come home to the truth: relationships are about love. Without love there is nothing lovely.

We must all set down our burdens and look at each other. To look closely to see where loveliness has died and bring it back to life.

Relationships should be the space where loveliness lives – the very love child of love herself.

I string together a wish, for you and for me, that the hurt will stop, between friends, lovers, neighbours, and strangers…because hurt is the opposite of lovely.

My wish is that we will become breathless for loveliness; to want it so bad we become fierce for it, for our relationships.

 

**I am taking a break from long posts so I can re-group, concentrate on other writing and finish my dissertation** xoxo

The right way to make assumptions about other people

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Is to not do it. Don’t go there. Just don’t.

There is this thing we human beings do. And we do it well – we assume we know people better than they know themselves. Not being the other person does come with a privilege – we can stand across them and see their blind spots much more vividly than they can. This, however, does not make us experts on who they are.

People are not blank pages that we arrive to write on with our fluffy fountain pens. They come with a lot of intricate stories tied to their past. They come with their own bags of experiences and awareness of the muddy paths they have trod. People come with themselves. And this is what they offer to us.

But in its organic form it is quite perplexing for us mostly because where on earth do we fit these people who are so different from us and so imperfect? Which cupboard in our mind could we shelve them?

It is sometimes uncomfortable to find spaces within us for people to occupy just as they are. And so we pick up hammers and start chipping away at the self they present to us until we can shave off all the excess bits that don’t agree with us. And so we construct our own version of who and why they are and the reasons they act the way they do.

There are different kinds of assumptions. There is the kind we do when we have never met the person before but because of all the whispers we have heard in the hallways we come to a conclusion about this person. Then there is the kind we do with people we know where instead of clarifying facts with them we simply find it easier to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Both types are hideous. The latter perhaps is more dangerous in the big and small squeezes of poisons it brings into our relationships.

Assumptions give us the power to hurt others by constructing them in a way that may not be entirely accurate or true. They can cause pain and misunderstandings because to assume something about someone is essentially to impute motives particularly to what they do and what they are. It is saying I know who you are regardless of what you say to me. It is at the core, misrepresenting and twisting a person’s self.

Assumptions reveal a failing in how we listen. Are we truly listening to what the other person is saying or are we hearing what we want to hear? Are we asking for clarification when we don’t understand or are we going to seek that clarity by talking to someone else about that person?

Make no mistake, our minds will make short cuts that help us make judgements about situations in life; and we are built to discern people and the fruits they produce. Making assumptions is different. It is an active speculation which sometimes involves sitting around a table with coffee and dissecting other human beings. I know this can’t be a lovely thing because I get a sickening feeling at the thought of being a subject for discussion on the table when I am not there to speak on my own behalf.

It’s easy to make assumptions, I know. We seem to come hard wired for it. Doing the opposite is much harder. It demands that we be brave and ask people the deep stuff; it is looking someone in the eye and asking that question that may fill the gap in our perception of them. It means we listen to what they have to say for themselves, holding the pieces of themselves they offer to us with grace and compassion. It requires us to embrace a kind of raw, crazy love that looks for the good in people first and wraps their brokenness in tender swaddles that heal not bruise.

I think we can align ourselves in the path of this kind of love. To become hard wired for it.

While it is true that what other people think of us is none of our business, it is also true that what we think of others has the power to harm their reputation, their integrity and their core. Perhaps it starts here, with the intention and commitment to do right by each other in our thoughts and in our attitudes.

                                                                                  

Friday shots: a person

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What makes a person special?

Is it the way the unique molecules collect together to form the individuality?

Or is it the reflection of us in them we see?

Or perhaps the way the person’s life intersects with our own?

If it is anything real, specialness is often unquantifiable. It walks into another’s life and the whole atmosphere reconstructs. And what used to be impossible emerges into the real.

A person can bring you back. Back to the place where you function from the whole. Back to the beginning and the end. Back to God. A person can pull the strings back for you, gathering all the parts of you and handing them back to you. With everything afar and inbetween, the person stays and loves you through the hard bits. The person brings you back.

This, is a special person.

Friday shots: in plain sight

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I want to stand somewhere where you can see me.

Not behind fences or other bodies.

I want to own this face and this skin. It is all me and all I’ve got.

Some people say I’m too fat, too dark, too dumb, too quiet, too much. But people measure things by remote control. They do not take the time to see how the pieces fit. How the beauty is right in the pores of me.

So I want to stand somewhere where you can see me.

I am a work in progress.

I am a work of art.

Secrets & passive aggressions

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I am not a psychologist nor am I a therapist.

Yes, I am doing a PhD but it is not in attachment theory. I am still an expert though. I know the secret places of my mind, the dark and illuminated crevices where no one else goes but me. I trace the lines of my every unfolding back to its core, cracking open the things that hide in corners.

I am an observer of people and life. I watch and listen and tie things together. I tuck them in. Here, there. Sometimes closely and tightly. And at other times, loosely so they can find their way back to where they need to be.

The other day I came face to face with something in me I had never named before. Little actions that can be easy to dismiss. Little actions that can be huge in the ripples they create.

There are moments, dear friends, when I can be passive aggressive.

At first this hit me like a tonne of bricks. Me? How? Where? When? I had to sit down for it. When I did sit down with this fact and allowed it to press against my chest, the swelled questions flooded in. I rode them to the end, and at the end there was nothing but quiet. I didn’t need to hurl insults at myself. I just needed to understand as understanding made herself visible. And she does.

I found myself sitting on that chair with the secret parts of me open in my hands that particular day because my best friend had to work. But when her work slid into the spaces of time when I needed her to be there for us to talk and connect, I became angry. Yet it seemed so silly and childish to be angry, and so I took a heavy-duty plunger and pushed the emotion down, down to the pit of my being. I thought it would never bother anyone there and I would be okay. Until she arrived in our space and I found it difficult to lovingly respond to her. There was something heavy sitting in my belly. I was avoiding her questions, evading and not initiating conversation. I was sulking and resisting the connection she was offering.

Later I realised that I was hiding. I was withholding myself from her as punishment for her absence. My unacknowledged and unexpressed anger was finding other ways to self-manifest.

Passive aggressiveness is often supressed anger seeping out in subtle verbal and non-verbal ways. It includes the bubbling to the surface of the uncomfortable feelings we try to push down into the bowels of our being where they will not see the light of day either because we are shamed of feeling them or we think they should not be expressed.

Experts will tell you there are particular people who are textbook passive aggressors, complete with textbook characteristics. Here is my theory: anybody who is a human being can be passive aggressive. Even though some human beings may be more prone to passive aggressiveness that others, it is not a secret society group to which some are condemned. Rather, it is a consequence of the human failure to express and interact with emotion in a healthy manner. When we hide or suppress emotion that needs to be expressed, over time we create blockages in our communication channel, which in turn miss-feeds the harmony that chains body, mind and soul. Emotions will always find a way to self-manifest; this is why it is crucial that we learn to do the tango with them. Emotions are not a curse. They are the rain showers that make the gardens of our lives rich and decadent. But if left to control us, they become the floodwaters that carry us away.

This is a big space of a subject. And it can be overwhelming. But I want to make it simple, human to human:

Say it. Say the stuff that hurts. Say it. Say it to the one you love. Let them see your disappointment, your anger, your pain, your hurt, your confusion. Say it. But whatever you do, please say it with grace and integrity; with compassion for yourself and your loved one. Learn how to. And listen. Listen to the moment. Listen to the one you love. Listen to yourself. This is a two-way thing. It is not just about you. It is never just about you. As long as we are human, our potential to be passive aggressive will be one hundred percent. But we need not succumb. We can rise above this.

I had to apologise to my best friend. I told her I was being passive aggressive and that I was sorry. I said the words. Saying it made it real. It forced me out of hiding. And in that moment I knew that I can rise above this. I am committed to. I can cultivate a healthy and loving way of dancing with my emotions. No more secrets. This work begins today.

 

Love is…a renewable resource

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It is our most desired experience. We salivate and drink wine for it. And its pulp in our veins makes us do heroic things or convinces us that we can spread our wings and fly. But for the most part, our understanding of love is complicated. We tie so many things to it, a stranglehold that redefines it in our minds and alters what proceeds from our fingertips in its name. We believe love ends. Finishes. Dies. And we all have the evidence to prove it. We can trace relationships where love simply gave up its life; where love was not enough to save that connection. Separation was inevitable and the only way to peace. We know these stories oh so well. We all have them. They live on our skins.

Mine are written in red ink. Splattered all-over my life. Blots of pain here, regret there, and disappointment. They are reminders of the sheer difficulty of life and the hardness that lives in human relationships. I had reached a place where I believed real relationships were impossible. How could they not be? How could they not be when we are all just so imperfect? And love is never quite enough?

These are the questions I burrowed my whole being into for the last eleven years. I sat with them, ate with them, obsessed over them, had fights with them and wrote them down – looking for the colour, volume and texture that would finally explain their mystery to me. And I rewrote them, just incase I missed a syllable or letter; rephrasing and restructuring. Perhaps everything I have ever written before has been about trying to understand love and what humans do with it. And the truth of that is I simply wanted to know why my heart breaks so easily when it comes to people and love, and why these leave an indelible imprint on my canvass.

It turns out heartbreaks tell us something about how we are made to live and move through this world. Heartbreak, like any other pain, means something has not worked right. It means something is wrong; a malfunction. And this something is often, love. Or more accurately, our wielding of it. How we hold it in our hands and use it to express our unique souls to others.

In relationships, there is more coming to love than love coming to us. The act of walking towards love is a choice we make. This, in practice, means love is always there, holding its own and unending. An abundant resource that can be harnessed in the same way water runs through the whole earth in its cycle or the manner of grains coming out of the ground, again and again. Love is always there. What changes is us…our understanding of it and how it proceeds from our fingertips

Relationships get their structure from their core and their core is love. Because we are human we project our failings onto this core and when those failings cause a rupture in the skin of relationships we tell ourselves stories about how love ended, mainly to assuage ourselves. But love was always there. It just became too hard for us to use. From the depths of our being we could not reconcile our thoughts and feelings into the space love hedges. We do things to one another and in the process we forget to walk to love. And when it is just too hard, and sometimes situations indeed are, we walk away.

And this is why the heart breaks – because love doesn’t do its work.

I used to believe the world’s declaration of doom on real relationships, friendships and love. Until I met people who wanted to have this realness with me. My whole world changed with just one friend who is willing to love the way I love; fiercely and with sheer abandon to the requirements of love. And this is what happens when love is used, it changes people.

I am finally learning that love was created to be renewed, everyday.

Like the oxygen we breathe that is never used up but only rearranged, love is renewable because it is never depreciated but instead gets restored and replenished through a process of actions and commitments. Renewing love means constantly choosing it and going back to its beginning. This takes work, of course, but our misconception of love dying is precisely built around the belief that love is responsible for working out relationships, and therefore, when relationships fail, we believe it is because love was simply not strong enough.

Here is a fact: people are responsible for working out relationships, not love. Love is a resource, given to us to bind, grow and sweeten the beauty that is born out of people connecting. Love is the thing that makes relationships work the way they were designed to work. But the CATCH is, love has to be used BY people who are working out their relationships.

Human relationships are hard but love, when used well and full, is the hedge that keeps us from spilling out. Instead of saying love ended, let us be truthful that relationships end because we fail. And we fail to use love for its purpose

It has been many years since I first walked into the arena of the world, naïve and crazy pumped to love human beings with my little heart. Many years since my first heart break. Now, I have profound respect for the work of committed people that rise at dawn with the intention to love better than they did yesterday, people that take each day as another gift to love anew.

 

Every bit of together

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It counts. In all the corners of our being, growing from there & unfolding into one piece of human fabric; bone of bone & flesh of flesh. Attached in the all the ways important.

Sometimes, you see it green & I see it red; it gets complicated. The together we share is shaken. You storm out leaving the door to my heart open & bleeding. I’m angry so I slam the door when you return. in your face. It’s too hard to talk; it’s too hard to be vulnerable; to say, I’m sorry or I don’t know how to love you, show me. I want to learn. Instead, we say we used to be friends but the together we shared broke. & so we moved on. This is life, they say. This is sad, I say.

For life is short. truly short. A day ago, I was a little girl with pony tail braids running through the pastures behind our house, without a care in the world. I could name what hurt me & I giggled when my daddy threw me in the air & mama made blowing sounds on my tummy. I was easy to love.

Today, I am a woman with a heart that beats at a thousand miles per minute. Humming & pounding & breathing in & out passion, love, hope, need, longing & all the stuff that sit at the core of me. sometimes full & incredibly blissful with the abundance pouring into my lap. & sometimes, empty, lonely & broken, clutching my heart into my chest, desperate to give it away, please sir, will you love my heart? I’m still easy to love, I promise. Please sir”

But togetherness is not as easy as it sounds or looks. No matter how hard we try to make it so & dress it up in blog posts & facebook photographs. We leave out the bits that are raw; the bits where we cry ourselves to sleep because we hurt; the bits where we are giving each other the silent treatment because we don’t know how to voice the pain that is tumbling within us; the bits where we just want to know, like really, really know that we matter to someone. These bits of together are hard to capture or treasure & yet when done right they are the bits that together stands on. Not the sounds we make when we retell only the good bits of the story or the visions we send forth into the world.

Here is my heart, come closer & see, there is no guessing here, I want to say to every person who wants to hitch their togetherness with mine. I am not the most perfect creature you will ever come across, honey – I struggle with contentment & sometimes I can’t look my own beauty in the face. But the whole earth will give you no one as genuine. I am as raw as they come, right from the very ground. Even in my imperfection, my love is pretty damn good.

I want to show them my scars – the ones I gave myself because I loved without reserve; because I dared to cut myself open. it was scary. It was risky. But it was the only option worth the woman I have become.

I want to show them my bruises. The ones other people’s togetherness have left on me; the imprints of the misunderstandings, the working it out & the glorious love born out of those spaces; out of that vulnerability.

& then I want to show them my soul. So pretty & colourful, raw & intense, heavy & thick, sexy & passionate – everything lined up from A to Z. take your pick.

But instead, I tremble as I hand you the best & worst version of myself all wrapped up together, like two lovers making the sweetest love possible. To get to my heart, scars, bruises & soul you have to go through me. hook yourself into me. Every bit of togetherness we have counts. To get to your heart, scars, bruises & soul, I have to go through you. hook myself into you. Every bit of togetherness we have counts.

The in-betweens of togetherness have to be nourished too. Those moments when you want to un-cling perfect fingers from mine. When you want to stare at the walls all day & see nothing else but your shadow. Togetherness works because two separate beings come together, full & complete in their own way.  They create one new, beautiful thing. Without separateness, there can be no together. & so we learn to give loved ones space for growth & replenishment. For my soul to matter to you, it has to matter to me too.

I don’t know who decided to hitch fear to together. They should have talked to me first. Something so beautiful became something so poisoned. & so the world demands that we walk around with heavy armour protecting ourselves from all those selfish people who only want to keep their hearts to themselves; they don’t want to share. they don’t want to share themselves. they don’t want to get hurt. who can blame them? we don’t want to get hurt either. So, who is going to make the first step?

I’ll just sit here & wait…

Hurt will be present in together. always. Because wherever people are taking off their heart’s clothes, there will be nakedness & hurt & shame. Our greatest fear in many of our relationships is getting hurt, getting broken. I’m scared too. But logically the only fear we should tolerate is the fear of hurting & breaking others. If we all started our race from that point, we would all be loving each other like the days were made out of gold; we would be loving each other like superstars. We would be a little more vulnerable, a little more open.

Nobody said together would be easy.  Nobody said it didn’t require work. Nobody said it didn’t require your showing up with your knees steeped into the business of getting it right. This togetherness stuff is crazy hard but it’s crazy beautiful too. The kind of beauty that knocks the air right out of your lungs.  This is what together does – it brings beauty into our lives.

And that counts. Every single bit of it.