When I was about 7 or 8 years old I was home alone (divorced parents lead to some odd circumstances) watching the rain fall through a window. I’ve always been a little whimsical, a little free-spirited, a little adventurous and I remember deciding to take off my clothes, open the dusty sliding glass door to the backyard, go out under the storming sky, heavy with rain, and then throwing my head back, twirling and hopping— innocent and free. Dancing naked in the rain.
And then in this carefree and expressive moment of my childhood I looked up to see my 30-year-old male neighbor staring over the wooden fence we had painted green that summer, straight at me with a look in his eyes that jolted fear into the core of my heart.
I burst back into the house, locked the doors, closed the blinds, wrapped a towel tightly around me.
That’s a pretty bad memory. But it also feels eerily like an analogy for how I’ve lived my life. I have the sense that inside of me there is an innate desire to be vulnerable, bare, free, young-hearted, to be in awe, express like no one is watching, feel all the world has to offer, and radiate joy. And then, when it comes to sharing this desire with the world, all I want to do is hide in the house, close the curtains, contemplate how unsafe it is to share that much of my soul with this world.
And surely it is.
. . .
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
. . .
On my way home from work on Friday night I began to cry—the sort of cry that sneaks up on you. The radio playing, you’re singing along, not really thinking of anything specific, and then your chest convulses a little. Before you have time to process what’s going on the tears have already started running down your face and on to your lap in big alligator splashes. And there in the red lights of 5 o’clock traffic I was caught off guard as I realized that I was crying…because I was happy.
Somehow in the last year I had let contentment find me, let a settledness sneak up on me, a deep trust that life is more slippery and changing than I am comfortable with, but that it also has the potential to yield beautiful, unexpected things at a moment’s notice, and most disturbingly of all I had started to really love myself.
Unintentionally this year, I spent a lot of time soul searching. You spend a lot of quality time with yourself when you’re unemployed. So between episodes of The Office and bowls of cereal, I had taken long walks, journaled page after page, let novels read me. And in the process rediscovered some part of what had led me out the sliding glass door at age 7 in the first place, an innate lightheartedness and joy.
So, on this seemingly average drive home from work, all of that slow, quiet cultivation caught up to me like a siren. Happiness, blaring through my body, shining into places that had, had the curtains drawn for decades and it was a bit like waking up in the morning with the sun already high in the sky, overwhelming all of your senses.
And with it, came fear. Fear that danger was watching me just over the fence. Fear that rose up in my throat, like a thick curtain trying to push all of this light back outside of me, keep me safely in shadow.
Because when I’m serious, vague, frustrated, exhausted I can keep the world at a safe distance, keep the creativity and passion tucked away inside of me, create prison-high walls from connection and expression.
So I felt I was betraying myself with this happiness I had so little control over. Because happiness causes one to want to connect, share, express. If I’m too happy I may find myself vulnerable in a world that is unsafe… if I give in to this laughter, this faith, hope, contentment, joy, confidence, peace, this awe of the world around me…that has found its way into my heart this year, I may forget to keep my guard up, to protect my heart from the outside world. To remain tight in a bud.
Is anyone else just a little afraid to be happy? I find that it comes easier to me to be a little anxious, guarded, melancholy. To be wildly, deeply happy…that is some scary, vulnerable, open-your-heart-to-the-world kind of stuff that I’m not sure I’m all that interested in. And yet there I was, driving home from my office—deeply, wildly happy…unsure of how to be so very happy and still stay sheltered and hidden and safe. It was an awkward collision of emotion the whole commute home, so deeply wanting to express myself and so anxiously wanting to bottle everything inside.
The thing was though, that happiness had already found me, and it seemed awfully laborious to try and stuff it all back down again. And frankly, a little silly. So I decided that this is the year to unveil. Not to unveil in the literal
dance-in-the-backyard-in-your-undies sense (as a friend advised me against), but to let whatever it is I have been trying so desperately to hide and protect out into the light, under the rain, to let it dance. Isn't that what I have been getting at trying to be more creative? To let free that wildness that lives inside of me?
This is the year that I will write more freely, love more freely, laugh louder, be in awe of the little moments in my life, get too excited about good food and tea and books, take big risks, follow dreams, invest in others even when it seems dangerous, give everything I've got to give. Certainly, it is not safe to open up to life this way, to not stay hardened and hidden.
But regardless, today is the day I make the decision to stop cowering in dark corners and instead face the bright, overwhelming warmth of those scary words; happiness, expression, freedom—and let myself shine a little.