I used to think I could do everything by myself. School, sports, getting a new job, moving across the country – whatever it was, I could handle it. I’m sure part of that stems from growing up near the tail end of a big family. I saw the antics and drama of my older siblings and even as a kid, consciously decided to try to minimize my part of the burden on my parents. Part of that also comes from events from my high school years, where my options were to either whine about it or take charge. I’m not a big fan of whining, so I chose the latter. I’m sure there are all sorts of other reasons that contribute to that “fierce independence” as well, as one friend put it a few years ago.
Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director. For those who may not be familiar with that term, a spiritual director acts as a guide for someone who is seeking to deepen and grow spiritually. The way I think of it, the spiritual director isn’t there to tell me what to do or think, but rather, acts as a light on my spiritual journey and helps me to figure out the best way forward. As we were wrapping up, he said how happy he was to be walking my path with me. I told him that I couldn’t do this alone and I was grateful for his help. And that’s completely true: the reason I finally asked for his guidance was that I felt stuck spiritually and didn’t know how to move forward.
I love opportunities to pause and reflect, and that got me thinking about my life over the past few years. Next week makes four years since I left California, and in many respects, I feel like a completely different person. Perhaps one of the biggest changes has been a shift in the way I view independence and relationships with others. I’m still a guarded person, and I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon. I’ve never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve. I respect and admire some of my friends who do, but that’s not quite my style. Before I trust someone with my story, my experiences, or my heart, I want to know that they actually care. In some of my darker moments, I would wonder if people out there actually did care.
And then I think about the wonderful people I’ve met and the ways in which they have changed me. There have been many of them over the years, but my thoughts today focus on those who entered my life since moving here, to a state that I had never seen until I landed with a single suitcase and a desire to try something different. I think about my first roommates here who taught at the same dysfunctional school, and who experienced one of the lowest points of my life with me. Through our weekly Piloxing classes, collapsing on the couch after an exhausting day, long conversations about what we were trying to accomplish, and many bottles of wine, they kept me sane during that difficult year.
I think about the friend I texted when my grandfather died, who came over that night with crispy M&Ms in tow and just sat on my back porch with me, enveloping me in love and support through the simple act of presence.
I think about my running crew, who I’ve written about at length. The people who helped me accomplish something I never dreamed I’d want to do, and something that at times, seemed like too big of a goal. The folks who, even though I’ve moved and they are no longer my “running” crew, I consider my second family.
I think about a friend from grad school who understands the importance of showing up – whether it be moving day, a morning run, or my first big swim, he’s always just a call away.
I think about my good friend who has told me on more than one occasion, “I don’t really care what we wind up doing; I just want to spend time with you,” who collected notes of encouragement from family and friends before I ran a marathon to remind me of the support I had, and who has always been there.
I still consider myself to be a fairly independent person. But I’ve realized there’s a difference between independence and isolation, and relying on others can make you stronger. It’s an easy task to snap one twig, but a far more difficult one to break a bundle of sticks that has been tied together. Similarly, community and relationships can build us up and ultimately empower us to go out and lead the lives that we are meant to.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I don’t have to sacrifice my independence to let others in, and that there is strength, beauty, and power in sharing our lives with others. In the beautiful song “Never Alone,” Lady Antebellum croons, “So when hard times have found you / And your fears surround you / Wrap my love around you / You’re never alone”. I consider myself blessed to feel that so many people in my life are the ones singing these lyrics to me, day by day.