“In whatever sorrow you may be, however inconsolable and irremediable it may appear, believe me that the old woman in the cottage, with the young eyes, knows something, though she must not always tell it, that would quite satisfy you about it, even in the worst moments of your distress.”
-from Phantastes by George MacDonald
Have you ever noticed that most of the heartbreaks and hurdles you face in life always seem so much more navigable after you’ve gotten past them? I think about the bullies in junior high, or dating and worrying that I’d wind up alone, or that year I lived in the cold north with that joyless job and the three hour commute. So often I’ve wished I could dispatch an older version of me into the past to stand up to those (probably wounded) little sadists and to tell junior high me that I don’t need to change even a shoelace to be worthy, and loved, and enough. Or to tell a love-sick girl that love comes in its time, to cease my striving, and to realize that alone can be very welcome company. Or to tell myself that I have important work to do in this life and not to wait for ideal circumstances to begin it. Those once impossible hurdles all seem so easy to jump over now. There are these key words, if your younger self could truly grasp them, that once spoken would unlock the entire problem.
It’s not so much that we outgrow our problems, but that we’re always living on the very edge of our capacities. Life is always stretching us further, pulling us toward a wholer version of ourselves. We are liminal creatures who pitch our tents on moving thresholds. In the present moment, we are always ill-equipped, scrambling to keep up, but when a new frontier has been crossed, our muscles are stronger and we’ve learned that terrain. But by then it’s already time to move on to the next range of mountains, higher than the hills we’ve just climbed.
This is why I’m writing to you. I thought you might appreciate my advice since I’m the only person who can look back and understand the landscape you trudge through now from an eagle’s point of view.
You’ve never been more challenged than you are right now. I remember it all. The exhaustion. The feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. The sense that your life exists only to meet the demands of others and that your own needs and desires are sorely unmet. The feeling that someone kinder, or more selfless, or more patient, or smarter, or more naturally gifted would surely do this job better, but that you are not a good enough person to handle this assignment. Sometimes you feel trapped and sometimes you just want to lay down and play dead and sometimes you want to run away.
Here is what I can tell you:
You are enough right now. Every noble quality that is being wrung from you is actually growing like an underground well. When you finish this assignment and begin the next, you will reach for it and find reserves beyond your imagining.
You are loved and you can rest in that belovedness, which never falters no matter how you succeed or fail.
You are going to be ok.
And the sacrifice of love is never wasted, even on those unable to receive it or to understand how much it cost you.
You think there is an idyllic future beyond the boundaries of your present struggle. In a way it’s true: this too shall pass, as they say. But there will only be a different mountain beyond. It’s not a cruel trick. It’s the result of a life built on becoming someone whole. And so you yield to the season and all it brings, the heights and the depths, because the alternative is to stop becoming, which is the same thing as killing your soul. You keep moving that tent, you keep walking, a lifelong nomad, toward the next horizon. But you do so knowing that there is rest even inside this struggle. There is beauty in this hardship. And you will wish you had allowed yourself to fully behold that beauty when the hardship is over. So force yourself to look now.
That’s all I can say. Walk on into those mountains. I’ll see you a few summits from here. I’ll hold you and cry with you and tell you how beautiful you are. I know you can do this because I could totally go back and kick ass at this, if given the opportunity. And you’re me. Almost.
J.M. Roddy is a domestic creative, food enthusiast, and children’s author.