Dwelling in Discomfort

Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
         we’re inconsolable.
                               Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
                                                                Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

– Richard Siken, Scheherazade


We’re getting older.  We’ve had our hearts broken.  We’ve broken bones.  We’ve bet on the wrong horse or man or woman.  We made a poor investment along the way.  We lost something important.  We wasted time or money or energy on the wrong people.  We’re all a little more fragile now, a little more careful.  Curiosity is a trait we most associate with children or cats.

Not for us.

We tread the familiar paths.

We frequent the same coffee shops and restaurants.  We have our favorite pair of sweatpants, riddled with holes, but washed to the perfect softness.  We enjoy our rituals – a glass of wine at night, a cup of coffee in the morning, a walk in the same park through the different seasons.  Life is softer now.  We’ve earned that, haven’t we?  We’ve cut ourselves on the edges of the world and what deserve now is a little tenderness.  Heartbreak is for high-schoolers.  Passion is for university students pursuing liberal arts degrees.  We don’t have the time or money or energy for that now.

We experience the world through a blanket.  Nothing can hurt us.  We’ve seen it all, haven’t we?  Experienced it all?  There are no surprises left.  No new pains the world can inflict.  Nothing that can make us pause and exclaim aloud, “oh, the wonder! oh, the beauty of it all!”

We’ve read the road signs.  We saw it coming.  We plan our retirements.  We save for a down-payment on a mortgage.  We find the perfect wedding gown.  We pick our childrens’ names from a book.  We make plans for our aging parents, the way they once made plans for us.  We battle an illness.  We think about our own mortality.

Most of our childhood dreams seem a bit silly, a bit laughable now.  We were never going to be an astronaut or a firefighter or the first woman president.  We’re just happy to have health insurance, a 401k plan, money to pay the bills each month.  Besides, we’re too old for all that now.  Our time has passed.  We are immutable.  We are mountains.  Our foundations run deep.

We can’t imagine changing our career path.  We can’t imagine moving to a foreign country.  We can’t imagine leaving him or her.  We can’t imagine starting over.  We can’t imagine tearing up our roots.

We. can’t. imagine.

There’s safety in the familiar, well-worn paths.  We don’t even notice the paths are turning into trenches.  That safety, that comfort, can be a grave of its own.

It’s nice to be comfortable.  Often, it’s something we aspire to.  “I just want to be comfortable enough to pay my bills and take a nice vacation once a year,” we tell ourselves.  “I just want to be able to have a fancy dinner out now and then.”

If the fairy tales are true – this period of our lives is our long ride into the sunset.  This is our happily-ever-after on a white horse.  Or at least, our contented-ever-after in a family sedan.  We’ve built our castles. We’ve fought our battles.  Now is the time to rest on our laurels.  To reap the spoils.

But we’ve forgotten.  Why we fought.  Why we dreamed and felt.  Why we jumped off cliffs.  Why we entered the dragon’s lair.  Why we tore our gowns to shreds.  Why we cried.  Why we despaired.  What that felt like.

The princess does get her happy ending, but first she must escape the tower or give up her voice or prick her finger or brave a forest of brambles.  First, she must go up against an evil queen or a domineering father or her own warped perceptions of herself.

To move the story forward, the princess has to let her curiosity about the outside world overwhelm her desire for safety, security, stability.  She must leave her ivory tower, her small village, her ocean grove.  She must venture into the dark woods alone, she must drink from the goblet, she must sink into despair, she must cut off all her hair.  She must reject other’s plans for her.  She must take command of her own life.  She must dwell in discomfort to reach the other side.

By striving for comfort, we mire ourselves in stagnation.

We grow in uncertainty.  We grow in discomfort.  We grow in the in-between times.  We grow from pain, sadness, anxiety, loneliness.  If we build armor against pain, we build armor against change.

Our journey does not end.  Our story does not end.  Riding off into the sunset is just heading into another set of trials we must have courage to face.  We must fight the urge to barricade ourselves against the world.  We must look at the world with a child’s wonder.  Approach new experiences with the curiosity of a cat.  We must not be mountains.  We must be rivers, carving new paths.

We must not lie down in a soft bed of enchanted clover – that bed is death, that bed is heaven ever-after – and we are not done here.

Instead, we dance.  We sharpen our swords.  We smear our faces in dirt.  We create.  We dwell in uncertainty and discomfort.  We forge ourselves in the fires of doubt and come out something new.  Something changed.  Something better.  Not something hard or inflexible, like a mountain, but something green and elastic, something with shoots of new leaves.

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