Today is a special day, my friends. Today, is my big sister Rian’s birthday! Happy Birthday Ri, and thank you for always being such an amazing example of what a big sister can be, if done so wonderfully as you do. I have a lifetime of amazing memories with you, from swimming pools scattered across these United States (and beyond), to being driven to school in that old Subaru every morning, blasting Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” or Alanis Morrisette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” to summers in Albuquerque, Bakersfield, Boone, North Carolina, in a thousand ballparks. I am lucky to call you family, to love you, and lucky for the lessons in strength, grace, and endurance you have taught me, simply from being you. By the way, I still have the letter you wrote me the day you went off to college for your freshman year, and I tried my very best to follow all the advice you gave me. Happy Birthday, and as I said, thank you for all you’ve taught me, some of which I want to dive into today, as I think so many more people can, and should learn those same lessons.
I will not go into deep detail as to the what, the story behind the learning of these lessons, as in truth it’s not my story to tell. I can tell, in vague approximations, how the story affected me, but the depth behind it isn’t mine, and doesn’t need to be told today. Suffice to say, our family underwent a traumatic event when I was a child, and my sister Rian was forced to find strength in a way no one should have to. Not only did she find it, she manufactured more of it, she harnessed it, she endured, survived, and maintained all the grace, poise, and even humor, that most people would have lost. In doing so, she showed me what true strength can be, and what’s more, she showed me that when we think we’ve run out, when we think we’re depleted and emptied and can no longer rise above the circumstances we find ourselves in, we’re actually only getting started. We’re actually just beginning to see what it is we’re made of, and we’re actually on the precipice of discovering our own hidden well of power, of grit.
This lesson, is one that I value, perhaps above almost all others that I learned not only from her, but from everyone that has waltzed into and out of my life. I’ve seen, in my own life and in the lives of those I am lucky enough to know and love, that we all are conditioned to believe that there exists within us a hard limit of sorts, a horizon wall that cannot be crossed. We believe ourselves planets flat, and we’re programmed by society, fear, and even well-meaning people who try to protect us, that if we sail too far on the seas inside us, eventually we’ll fall off the edge, that we quite simply cannot go further. What a tragedy, this. What a farce. I know, from Rian, and from my own experiences testing some of those lessons she gave me, that there does exist a wall within us, one that seems tall and daunting, concrete and razor wire and bullhorns and snipers posted on the ramparts. But, and oh you know how much I love a good but (sorry, I’m a child, after all this time), but, this wall is a hologram, it’s CGI, it’s perfectly constructed visual effects, and it’s not real AT ALL. The fear of the wall is very real, the mirage it creates is one that we are absolutely dead-to-rights convinced is tangible and standing directly in front of us, but if we only had the courage to keep walking forward, to prepare for the climbing, we’d find that we’d pass right through it, like ghosts through plaster and drywall, like plane through thundercloud. We’d find, that right beyond all that menace and impossibility, light, so much light.
I know this because I’ve been to this wall, hell, I used to camp outside it in so many different ways. I got so used to making it all the way there, then convincing myself it was too tall, too sharp, too hard, and so I would turn around. I’d tell myself I could try harder, practice more, get ready and then return. Then, I’d say, THEN, I could climb over it, I could risk it all and find what lies beyond. Had I only trusted my own strength, my own grace, my own unfailing reserve of power and bravery, I could have passed through as effortless as smoke, as ether, as spirit on All Hallows Eve. Perhaps this lesson from Rian is the most important, that if we convince ourselves that only forward will do, that going back is not an option, all we can do is try to climb that wall, and all we can find is that it doesn’t really exist, at all. There is always more within us, always another breath, another push, another try, until there isn’t and then we begin again. And my friends, that beginning again, I believe, is nothing to fear at all.
Point is, we are built of stronger stuff than we ever allow ourselves to see because we never allow ourselves to get to the place where we actually Need to see it. We are capable of surviving such great loss, enduring such great trials, and we are made to survive despite it all. We can keep going, we can keep pushing, if only we allow ourselves to tap into this reservoir of hope, of strength, of grace. If only we go forward when every single thing in us screams Retreat. If only we reach out towards that towering wall that sprung up on the furthest horizon of us, and try to climb.
Try to climb, my friends, and watch as your hand passes right through the concrete and steel, the razor wire and spotlight in the dark. Think of all the times you have stopped, all the times you swore it was too much, and walk until all you feel in front of you is the light, all you feel behind is the shadow of the doubt you left behind.
If you find yourself at that wall, if you’re too scared to reach, then reach out. Find me, find someone, that will remind you how strong your hands are, how fake the wall before you. Think of this essay, think of Rian on her birthday, think of all you can do, if only you give yourself the permission to be brave.
Strength is forward, when it all feels lost. I’ll see you there.
Strength in many forms,
in pushing yourself forward
when it all feels lost.