“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anaïs Nin

Lately, I’ve been reading and listening to true stories all about how hardships are opportunities to grow. They illustrate that, without difficult times, there are few true chances to become better versions of ourselves. 

You cannot rise from the ashes if you never light a fire.

If you go through the old posts on this blog (as I recently did), you may notice that I often sound rather self-assured, like someone convinced they have all the answers. Certainly, I admitted that I did not know everything, but my attitude suggested otherwise. 

My willingness to say “I don’t know” was armor. I did not explore my ignorance or inexperience. I wrapped it around myself so that I would always have an excuse when I slipped up or inevitably made a fool of myself.

I built my words and opinions so there would be a net there to catch me when I fell. But the tightrope I walked across was mere inches above the net. My actions risked little more than a sprained ankle or a barely bruised ego. I wrote about vulnerability, but I did not attempt the feat. I did no more than marvel at the possibility of a life lived openly. 

Once, I described the walls I built around me as a stairless tower. Though I knew this was not a good thing, I also did not know how to change it. 

The thing about me is that I’m a good listener (mostly). And most people aren’t (mostly). When someone listens, others talk. Ergo, I do not talk. 

In life’s relationships, I am the caretaker. I am the shoulder. I am the rock. I’ve been hiding in plain sight. I’ve been in my tower with no way out, because I refused to see the door that was there all along. So I’ve been the only one who could hear my own screaming. 

I wait for people to ask me how I am, and, if I trust them, I tell them as much as I think they can handle (and as much as I’m willing to share). But, in general, people do not ask how I am. Or how you are. Not really.

So, the release value at the top of my tower has been closed and holding back hot steam my entire life. It’s leaked out a bit and seeped between the cracks here and there, but my bricks have held strong. My secrets remain.

But something happened when this strange time of pandemic forced us to break routines and stay within the walls of our homes. I found I could no longer stay within the walls of my tower. I am no longer willing to let the steam build. The time has come to set a fire and see what rises from the ash.

I could not have done this without the bravery and understanding of others. Or maybe I could have, but not now. Not for many years yet, I suspect. They loosened the bricks of my tower. They cracked the mortar with the chisel of their own vulnerability. The steam is clearing, and streams of light have revealed the door I could not see before. There’s already been so much pain, but my hand is just now turning the knob.

I can sense the better, fuller life on the other side—the phoenix I could be. But I cannot skip the struggle as I always have. Shoving down and ignoring uncomfortable truths are no longer options—not if I want to face the flames, not if I want to grow wings. 

All of society seems to be breaking down towers and starting fires. Fear and possibility mingle like fireworks without a pyrotechnist. We’ll surely see a spectacular show, but there will be injuries and disasters on the ground, and perhaps nothing left but ash after the colors fade. 

No generation is able to escape this fate, the painful evolution of growth. Defeat comes, not when we face difficulty, but when we try to move around it rather than through. I think, for the first time in many years, we are charting a path rather than wandering in circles.

My aim is to struggle my way to a better self, a better life. I guess the goal is to be less wary. Or rather, to be wary and do it anyway. My hope is that we will all struggle through to a better society, a better future.

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