When I was in high school, I had to write an essay as the last step in becoming a National Merit Scholar. I remember it vividly because I wrote it on the growth that I’d undergone within my years in high school, from a shy, closed off kid to one who was still shy, but realized that in order to enjoy life, I’d need to put myself out there, take a chance or two.
As a kid, I had what you’d probably call a traumatic childhood. My dad died too young, and many of my memories involve being really scared. But I learned the awful truth of mortality too, the simple fact that none of us are guaranteed a certain number of days, minutes, or hours.
I guess you could say the reality of the fragility of life shaped a lot of who I am today. And as a certified introvert, I’ve done a lot of looking inward, thinking on my ultimate question: If today was my last day on earth and I had to leave it all on the court, would I be satisfied with the life I led, with my effort, with who I was?
I think the question of what would make you satisfied is a very personal one and probably looks different for everyone reading this column. For me, though, it means truly living, living my values for sure, but also allowing myself to feel everything along the way. It’s true what they say, you need the darkness to see the light; you can’t really enjoy the highs without feeling the lows.
There have been a number of times in my life when circumstances have pushed me to close myself off as a protective mechanism. Hello trauma response, my old friend. Sometimes it happens so slowly that I don’t realize I’ve done it until years later. At times, I’ll get so frustrated, feel so trapped that it’s like I can’t breathe.
And, at that point, that’s when I realize I’ve come to a crossroads. I realize I’ve been walking around cut off from myself, numbing myself to the pain, yes, but also numbing myself to the beauty too. As I stand at the crossroads, I know that down one road lies the same — protected and predictable, yet numb — and down the other lies uncertainty — and the ability to feel alive again.
Now, I am in no position to judge anyone for the decision they make when they come to that crossroads. Your choice is your choice, I’m not here to change you or your mind. Me, though, I always seem to choose the uncertain track that lets me feel again, even if it’s the more difficult one.
I’ve been told a fair number of times that I’m brave, or that I’m strong, because I am willing to make the hard choices. My passion, my fire, the ferocity of my love, my willingness to take chances because of their potential and fight for the things I believe in, I don’t know that they make me brave or strong, or stupid and weak. They are me, and they are what happens when I allow myself to be vulnerable.
However, being vulnerable can be ridiculously scary. It means not only am I opening myself to great happiness, I’m opening myself to great hurt as well. And yet… and yet… If I want to live a life that is satisfying, if I make the most of every moment, is the pain worth the potential for beauty? The cost seems so high some days.
I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, really, although the notion that you can wipe the slate clean and start fresh is nice. But 2021 just plain knocked the wind out of my sails. I’m both in the process of letting myself be vulnerable again and picking myself off the ground because of it. I don’t half ass things, what can I say? So, here’s to 2022, embracing life completely, and trekking down the uncertain path.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
Amy East is a freelance copyeditor, wannabe homesteader, and recovering archaeologist living in Cass County. She loves her family, her menagerie of animals, and her garden, although depending on the day, the order of those may vary.
Any views or opinions expressed in “Critters, Culture, & Compost” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.