The magic of conversation

How many unsaid things do you have simmering inside of you?

Saying things out loud helps in so many ways. It helps us think through things, solidify things, feel things, get over things. Sometimes just letting out a frustration makes it stop hurting, or putting an anxiety into words suddenly reveals its harmlessness. Many of us learn what we believe and care about by talking through our thoughts.

There is power in saying our stuff.

We are all surrounded by people. If you know a hundred people, you know two hundred ears. That should be enough, right?

And yet . . . how many unsaid things do you STILL have simmering inside of you?

~

A really wise friend likened a marriage to walking on a plank over the Grand Canyon. The view couldn’t be more beautiful, but the height couldn’t be scarier. Lay the same plank on the grass in your backyard, and you’d do it with your eyes closed.

The value and depth of our relationship and attachment to someone significantly impacts the fragility, the fear, the pressure, the importance. Saying the wrong thing–or even saying the right thing the wrong way–to your co-worker is, you know, oh well. . . . Saying it wrong to your best friend, to your life partner, to your mom, dad, daughter, son . . . those moments leave bigger scars.

Obviously–bla-bla-bla get “better” at your close relationships, go to therapy, learn to open up, etc. (Legit, actually do those things.) But the truth is still: The more Companionshipy a relationship, the higher the stakes when it comes to what you say, how you say it, when, why . . .

So we clam up. Because the people we talk to are people that need us to say this, to not say that–people who need us to keep showing up the way we’ve shown up for them, people in whose lives we function a bit as an anchor–stable, consistent, strong–dependably us. They’re people who we want to speak extra gently to, people who we want to be extra positive toward. And sometimes they’re people we’re extra worried might have a problem with who we are becoming. The people I’m close to know Peter as Peter. Some of them need Peter to keep being Peter. They stand to lose more if Peter suddenly sounds more like Jason or Jack or Jimothy. (#fortheofficefans)

On the other hand, we’re surrounded by thousands and thousands of people every day who live and sleep and think and talk and listen less than a mile away from us who don’t know that we’re Peter and don’t need us to sound today like Peter has sounded all his life. What if you could talk to one of those people today? Do you think maybe you’d get some stuff off your chest? Try on a new perspective? Find some freedom to learn who you really are, what you really believe and care about? Would it help to practice the tough, weird, scary topics with people who aren’t going to be as worried or sad or stressed or hurt if you don’t get it just-right today?

I feel like I need to say a thousand times: A good goal is that you feel this freedom in your close relationships. AND . . . I bet that’s a goal you’ll never stop working toward, so in the meantime . . . what freedom is waiting for you in conversations with everyone else? Everyone you haven’t talked to yet?

Conversation is different than companionship. It’s not better, just different. They’re not totally separate: You find companions in conversation. And then you get lifelong conversation from those companions. But we frequently limit our conversation to those with whom we can already claim companionship. And I think this limits us a lot. Robs us of a lot of magic.

I propose that you and I should talk a lot more to a lot of people who we know a lot less.

~

Photo by Micki Benson

This year, I’ve been part of a movement that is spreading across the world. A movement that has connected brave voices with listening ears from Minnesota to California to New Mexico to Florida to Manitoba. I’ve seen people try on their voices and discover they can make an impact. I’ve watched people voice their anger about “those kinds of people” and then learn that “those kinds of people” turn out to be you and me and then discover that we actually can connect. I’ve witnessed people express their biggest fears and insecurities only to find a bunch of people waiting to hold them up in loving support. I’ve heard people open up about their mental health, their traumas, their loneliness, their struggles, their demons, and their dreams.

It’s really not a complicated movement. We call it 5K Everyday Conversations, because every single day, some place (or places) at some time (or times), we gather–three of us or eight of us or twenty-two of us–to spend 3.1 miles (ish) having conversation. Some people run 3.1 miles with each other fast and talk about the stuff they’re angry about, or the habits they’re building. Some run it at a calmer pace, listening to each other share about a stressful family relationship or dream out loud about the work they’d like to do. Some, understanding that that the conversation itself is magic, show up for the conversation without worrying about the movement. And some hop online in Canada to be an ear for someone holding conversation through live video from their home in Wisconsin.

Why the running part? Hmmm . . . helping rid the world of the superfluous statement “I’m not a runner.” And because movement is fun. Happy. Because a few run every mile they can, and a few have been looking for motivation to run. Everyone has their own reason. . . . What I’ve found, though, is that running turns out to be the best anesthetic to the pain and fear of saying hello to someone you don’t know. Nothing quite like panting and sweating to make us immediately drop all the posturing and see that you and I are just two humans. Movement breaks ice and warms hearts. It fuels the conversation.

So yes, it really is as simple as conversation. And it’s a powerful thing.

~

Experiencing so much no-strings-attached conversation this year, I’ve noticed a few magical things about it:

Conversation can hold no expectations for it to be more than conversation. Free. Pressureless.

Saying things out loud helps us get over things, release things.

It helps us see things clearly, helps us think through things.

Helps us feel seen, heard, appreciated, cared about, accepted, loved.

There is something really freeing about talking through the yucky stuff, the hard stuff, the delicate stuff–with a total stranger who doesn’t expect or need anything from you.

The braveness and freedom you get to practice with a stranger is easier to bring back home to the people you love deeper and therefore stress about more. No-strings-attached conversation is like a gym for your speaking-your-truth muscles. . . . Sort of like with that plank-over-the-Grand-Canyon analogy. What if you could practice walking on that narrow plank from not quite so great a height. Like–practice saying how you actually feel but with someone who doesn’t need quite as much from you. I wonder if you walked that plank in the grass every single day if next time you had to walk it over the Grand Canyon, you might trust your feet just a little bit more?

Not only do you get to try on bravery, you get to try on new ideas. Maybe I don’t usually speak kindly, or I’m not usually really open-minded, or not very accepting of this or that “type.” And maybe I want to try changing that–try a new way–see how it goes. What better place to try on a new way than in conversation with somebody I may have never spoken to and may never speak to again? It’s a free space. A safe space to try something new. (For example: I think a group run with a bunch of new faces was the first place I ever answered the “What do you do?” question by saying “I write a blog.” It felt good.)

Conversation with random-people can also be a helpful place to talk a little about your demons. I know there can be great risk in sharing, depending on the context. It’s hard to know where and when to open up. But . . . I’ve been really amazed–in a no-strings-attached conversation space–amazed at the stuff I’ve heard people get off their chests or open up about, and at the acceptance I myself have found as an also-complicated human being. Sometimes it’s easier to finally get words out like “I don’t think I can keep up this façade anymore” or “I think I have a problem” or “I need help” when it’s someone who doesn’t already need stuff from you. There is some safety in . . . strangers. Weird? Yeah . . . but it works.

Sometimes, with life being as complicated as it is, it can be easier to be there for people as an encouraging, accepting, listening ear when we don’t know them. Again–end goal would be this level of acceptance and trust in companionship, too . . . but it’s also true that in no-strings-attached conversation, it can be much easier for us to be there for people. Take, for example, the dad who is estranged from all his kids, because he screwed up a lot as a dad. And it haunts him. His family can’t be there for him anymore. But maybe a stranger . . . can? A stranger can see the very true and very important and very safe reality that, no matter the struggles or weaknesses or history–this is a beautiful human being who is worthy of love. A lot of us have had to let go of some people, and now spend sleepless nights worrying over where they’re getting their needed doses of love and acceptance. Conversation and respect with a family member comes with a ton of baggage that can be too heavy. But that same family member can find baggage-free conversation with a total stranger, a stranger who can be there for them. Maybe you’re that person who needs a stranger’s listening ear. Or maybe you’re that stranger who gets to be there for people who don’t have many people left. Or maybe you’re that stranger who can be there for that kid who just got chewed up and spat out by the unloving world they grew up in. You never know . . . lots of people with lots of weird stories who just need an ear sometimes. Sometimes a conversation with a stranger is exactly what is needed. Hope-giving. Life-saving. Perfect.

Conversation detached from ongoing companionship is also a healthy place for those of us who are struggling, going through rough patches, to shine–to be appreciated for exactly who we are, without this pressure to first graduate to a healthier season of life. That’s powerful and really, really good, too.

There’s another reason conversation with people we’re not close to is super powerful. It’s this: I’m probably, probably, probably close to people who are a lot like me. Think like me, enjoy the same stuff, rant about the same things, see the world through the same lenses. And sticking to the conversation of my closest companions means that I’ll never ever hear all the other truths screaming to be heard. The world is a big place with countless cultures and experiences and hurts and passions and values. And so much suffering in our world comes from “my group” not listening to “your group.” The only way we’ll ever take your experience seriously, care to help, notice how we’re affecting you–the only way to improve our world for each other is by listening to each other. Not listening to each me-clone. Listening to each OTHER. Hearing different perspectives.

Those thousands of people who aren’t your companions . . . they’re holding the eye-opening revelations for you. Waiting for you to say, “Hello, who are you, and what is happening to you, and what do you wish I understood about your world?”

Nothing bad ever came from listening more, understanding more, learning more, seeing people more. And nothing good ever came from settling comfortably into our own way of life and thinking, blocking out the inconvenient reality that our world really is very diverse and complicated.

Especially this year. We clearly haven’t been listening to each other in this world. Listening to our own people, yes. But not to those OTHERS.

So . . . say hello. Start the conversation. Watch the magic. Change the world.

Oh and just because this is one fun little bit of the magic: You never ever ever know where you’re going to find your life-long companions.

~

This year I’ve come to believe that you and I and EVERYONE would benefit from regular conversation with no strings attached, no expectations, no pressures, no agendas. Just conversation for conversation’s sake.

Conversation. Freedom. Magic.

Photo by Micki Benson

~

If all this sounds good to you, sounds . . . intriguing? A little hopeful? Magical, powerful, or like maybe there’s some hope there . . . I invite you to try one of two things:

Start a conversation with somebody.

And . . .

Follow 5K Everyday Conversations on Facebook and find a local time and place to join the conversation.

If you don’t find any local members, pick a time and place and invite a friend . . . or a stranger. Bring the magic of conversation to your own community, and feel your community open its arms a little wider every day. The whole world needs conversation.

And when you show up for a daily convo, and find yourself thinking “How does this work?” you can look back to that simple invitation a few paragraphs ago: Start a conversation with somebody. As simple, scary, and magical as that.

“Everyday in 2020 we have held space for people to meet for conversational movement. At the same time, we have been making the term “conversational movement” a thing. For 285 days we have been working to normalize and inclusivize two things: (1) People talking with people that they don’t know regularly. (2) People feeling safe “running” together. . . . This is what we mean when we say conversational movement. We move at the pace that allows conversation to happen between two or more people. We define running as an act not defined by speed but by the way it makes you feel…alive, full of breath, moved forward by things that are filling you up and people who are lightening your steps.”

JC Lippold, who extended the first 5K Everyday Conversations invitation, sparking the magic

The whole world needs conversation. You need it, I need it. You need my ear, I need yours. We both have some unsaid stuff, and we both have some corners of the world to open our eyes to.

It only happens if one of us gets up the courage to say “Hello.”

And from there–watch the magic unfold.

~

P.S. I feel like I just wrote a bunch about the heavy stuff with conversations–the struggles, the overcoming . . . also, maybe even especiallyconversation is just FUN and BEAUTIFUL and totally AWESOME. It WILL brighten your day.

Photo by Micki Benson

Love is it.

It’s a new year, and I’m sitting at a coffee shop thinking about what I want to do as a writer this year. I want to grow. I want to get better at writing. I want to make more of an impact. I want to take it seriously. I want to chase the dreams I have about it. But what do I want to write about this year?

Impact. Significant impact. I want to write about something that has significant impact. That’s my dream. I see a world full of mind-boggling wealth and full of cold, starving, sick, and homeless. I see news stories about people shooting people. I see vicious arguments between people who just think a little differently. I see so many turning blind eyes to people who are suffering. I see abuse. I see people being shamed for being themselves.

What heals all this?

I guess that’s a lofty goal.

What heals some of this, then?

I think it’s really good to learn about communication. It’s really good to learn about relationships. It’s really good to learn about teamwork. About motivating and inspiring people. About mental health and well-being. About vulnerability. About honesty. About happiness. About strength. About psychology, the brain, the heart. Those are all big things.

But if I had to pick one thing that I could inspire people about in my life? One thing to show, to make okay, to spread, to advocate, to learn, to be an example of, to share, to celebrate–one thing with which and about which to make an impact?

I keep coming back to LOVE.

I didn’t used to. It was too broad, too obvious, too cliche, too already-been-done.

But I think I notice, every single day, the impact love makes in this world–and the impact made when love isn’t there.

Abuse. Greed. Addiction. Taking advantage. Neglect. Poverty. Violence. Loneliness. Bullying. Cruelty. Hunger for abusive power and control. Fear. Brain-washing. Shame. Low self-esteem. These are a few of the things that happen when love isn’t happening. And these are a few of the things that need love.

Love, as a subject, has definitely been talked and talked and talked and talked through for hundreds and thousands of years. It’s nothing new.

It’s also a pretty simple thing, I think. Yeah, how it ends up looking and feeling in each unique life is a pretty complex and difficult and scary and weird thing. But love is a simple enough concept. Simple enough that it doesn’t take much to share it, to spread it, to advocate for it.

So if it’s so simple and so already-talked-about, why keep coming back to it? Because we’re humans. And humans need a lot of inspiration, a lot of patient reminders, a lot of help, a lot of love.

Many things about our world make love very unsafe. All kinds of love–intimate couple-love, family love, friend love, stranger love, all-the-world love. Our experiences make love unsafe. Our fear makes love unsafe. Others’ reactions make love unsafe. Society’s expectations make love unsafe.

So despite how much we all know the deep importance, the centrality of love–we need to hear it again, see it again, feel it again, talk about it again, try it again. Every. Single. Day.

There are so many voices around us and in our heads and in our pasts and in our fears that drown out love. So there’s no such thing as spreading love too much.

It’s been striking to me lately how much everyone knows the solutions. We live in a smart age, a knowledgable age. Everything you need to know is at your fingertips. There’s no reason for there to be so much hurt and ugliness every day all around us. Everyone knows better. Everyone can do stuff to help. Everyone can stop doing stuff to hurt. From casual little interactions to big government policies and business decisions–people can choose to do the good thing–the love thing. But every day people don’t. And we’re left with a lot of ugliness in the world.

I don’t think the problem is that people need to know all the strategies and all the statistics and all the skills and all the ideas and all the answers. I think mostly people need to choose love. And to choose love, people generally need to feel love. And to feel love, people need you and me to get genuine and vulnerable and expressive and kind with them. You and I need to love.

Love has the biggest impact.

 

This isn’t a new thing. It’s timeless.

“Where there is love, there is life.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“God is love.” – John the apostle

“Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.” – Buddha

“Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything.” – Ray Bradbury

“Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.” – Khalil Gibran

“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” – George Sand

“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.” – Henry Miller

“Love is our essential nutrient. Without it, life has little meaning. It’s the best thing we have to give and the most valuable thing we receive. It’s worthy of all the hullabaloo.” – Cheryl Strayed

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.” – Viktor Frankl

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“All religious institutions, despite different philosophical views, all have the same message: a message of love.” – Dalai Lama

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” – Jesus

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” – Maya Angelou

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” – Oscar Wilde

“Love each other dearly always. There is scarcely anything else in the world but that: to love one another.” – Victor Hugo

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” – Sophocles

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

“. . . but the greatest of these is love.” – Paul the apostle

“Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child.” – Buddha

Love is timeless. And that means it is very much a right now thing.

Every day, love.

Most of all, love.

 

I think love really is the biggest thing.

 

P.S. Honestly–I challenge you to remember love every single day this year. And when you remember it, give someone a smile, text someone what they mean to you. . . . Love is powerful.

Victor Hugo - nothing in the world but to love

Sad People

“Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
‘Pathetic,’ he said. ‘That’s what it is. Pathetic.’
He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
‘As I thought,’ he said. ‘No better from THIS side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.’
There was a crackling noise in the bracken behind him, and out came Pooh.
‘Good morning, Eeyore,’ said Pooh.
‘Good morning, Pooh Bear,’ said Eeyore gloomily. ‘If it IS a good morning,’ he said. ‘Which I doubt,’ said he.
‘Why, what’s the matter?’
‘Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.’
‘Can’t all WHAT?’ said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
‘Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush. …I’m not complaining, but There It Is.'”
~ A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I don’t know if I’m a “sad” person. I’m figuring that out. I think I have been sad a lot. But I don’t know if I’m a Sad Person.

I have had stretches in my life full of everyday giddiness, high on life, can’t-stop-smiling, can’t-stop-laughing. Like life was one constant summer evening drive with the windows down. In fact, “happy” used to be the word I’d always, always use to describe myself. It was my identity.

I definitely am not always a Happy Person, though. At least not these days.

Do you think you HAVE to be a Happy Person? SHOULDN’T be a Sad Person? Maybe you’re a both. (That sounds pretty human.) What is YOUR relationship with sadness?

There is something to be said, to be acknowledged and understood, about sadness and sad people. They’re there, they’re real. I don’t know why some are mostly sadder and some are mostly happier. And like I said, I don’t know which one I am or if I’m right in the middle. Maybe that will change every year. Maybe one day it will stay one or the other. But I think the world is a better place when we acknowledge and see and accept that some people are Sad People.

I stumbled upon this little moment in a Ray Bradbury story this year, and it spoke to me, a little too directly:

“Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.”
~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

I’d like to share a little bit of my story with sadness, because I want to tell you a few things I know about sad people.

My journey with sadness must have started very young. Maybe, like Ray Bradbury said, “no special reason.” I just remember hearing when I was growing up that I had always been a very anxious little kid. Always afraid, crying lots. Having deep, sad thoughts.

I remember as a 7-year-old having very real fears that my siblings and I must not be real Christians because we were always fighting and being mean. I tried to have a sort of one-kid intervention about it, where I made a big pronouncement of doom and despair with my 7-year-old voice, trying to be heard over all the kids-fighting-because-they’re-kids noise in the back of the station wagon, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

I sucked my thumb and slept with stuffed animals for a lot longer than was normal “for a boy” (which is a dangerous phrase). I always felt afraid and I always felt a desperate need for safety, for assurance, for comfort. I still have my tigers Jack and Dakota and Sebastian, and when I find them once in a while on my closet shelf I feel a “better” type feeling, like when I hugged them close as a kid. I hugged them a lot because I needed love and I needed safety. I had this nightmare when I was only several years old that spoke so strongly of my day-to-day fears that I can still replay the nightmare to this day: Out on a family walk in Chattanooga, I’d fall behind, my family would round a bend, and gypsies would jump out of the woods and steal me away to be their own child. (I don’t know where I learned about gypsies.)

We moved to Florida. A lot of times I couldn’t sleep. My mom found me sitting on the stairs. I explained, when she asked what was wrong, that I was just so worried about getting spinal meningitis or small pox and dying. I shared a room with a brother and two sisters, and we would stay awake planning how we could protect ourselves if a bad person broke into the house while dad and mom were away. I knew where my granddad’s Japanese WWII sword was. Swords were my thing. At first I would draw swords and then eventually I’d make swords out of old broom handles and duct tape and then one day a deacon at church said he had a jigsaw and would love to help me carve the swords so I dreamed them up and drew the outlines on old bed slats and I brought them to him and it was a good day but he also was a little rough around the edges and said some unkind words to me and it scared me and it made me sad but when I got home I had my swords. My favorite sword was a beautiful little one. Duct tape wrapped around two pencils gave the handle a handle-shape and I think I painted a red jewel on the bottom. One time I was “fooling around” with it while the family read out loud for school, so my mom told me to bring it to her, and I asked her to please, please, please not spank me with it, because I was afraid it would break, and it was my favorite sword, but she spanked me with it, and my sword broke. And I was a kind of sad-in-every-way that lasted a long, long time.

As a teenager I got sad about deeper things. Things like my imperfections. I thought it was good to beat myself up over my mistakes and my weaknesses, so I did, a lot. I felt lots of shame and stress and struggle. I worried so much about God. That wasn’t a new thing. When I was about 9 I had asked my dad how we could have gotten to the present if eternity stretched for all eternity into the past. We couldn’t have gotten to now, so it all must have started sometime, but how could God be God if he hadn’t stretched to eternity past? And who got God started? This was a deep, aching, upset-stomach kind of problem to me. But my dad explained that God is outside time, so I felt better and went back to worrying about getting kidnapped instead. In my teen years, the God fears got more complicated. How could I know that I had the right kind of faith? Not the “Lord, didn’t I know you?” only to hear God say “Depart from me, I never knew you!” kind of faith. I would lie awake night after night crying in bed, afraid of going to hell, imagining it, hoping against it, wondering, sick to my stomach. That fear never went all the way away. (“Perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18)

If I had been my own parent and had believed in things like therapists and psychology, there was one year in particular that I would have brought kid-me to a professional. I had this awful thought where maybe God wasn’t real–and it all went downhill fast from there. For months and months and months, I could hardly eat, I could hardly sleep, I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn’t look people in the face, especially not the eyes. I truly could not smile and people commented on it. I couldn’t enjoy anything. I couldn’t be happy. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see straight, sometimes. I felt like I was walking in a tunnel. I felt like I was floating away on the outside, looking in at all the peopleish people who knew how to be people, while I was dying in my heart, desperately waiting for the world to make sense again, waiting for a thing to hold onto. I was lost and scared. All of the happy and fun things were not happy and not fun anymore. At all. Every day was awful. Every single day. For the better part of a year. It was so dark. I would shut myself in my bedroom and cry for most of every day. Think, worry, and cry. That was my life for quite a while. I was a Sad Person in a big needs-help kind of way.

In my late teen years, my sadness turned mostly toward love-stuff. Cute-girl love but also family love and friendship love and world peace love and all the feel-good stuff that we celebrate on a day like Christmas, the day I find myself writing this. I felt deeply lonely and sad about not having a lot of friends, about never really learning to have friends or to be around other people who were different from me. I felt stuck in a place where I couldn’t feel much love, and every day it felt heavy and lonely and yucky and sad. As an 18-year-old I would covertly bypass our burglar alarm so that I could sneak out of my window to take walks alone in the dark. It felt like a little bit of freedom, getting to just be me. There were really rough times where I felt like I had lost so much love and support and friendship. Where I felt like I had been rejected by almost everyone, left completely alone, broken, to navigate life by myself. I needed love, but I couldn’t trust.

Eventually I claimed the freedom to go do my life the way I wanted. Unfortunately, that freedom coincided with an unrequited-love time, and juggling that and an 18-year-long scar of sadness got really, really dark.

But then, fairly randomly I think, I learned how to be happy.

I found real, huge, giddy, outrageously GOOD happiness! And honestly, I had experienced lots of happy things or happy corners-of-life in my childhood. Playing baseball in my backyard, feeling like a world traveler as I caught a plane and the MARTA to escape to my loving friends in Atlanta, and playing all the happy songs on the piano, like Linus and Lucy. But lots, I’d play the sad songs, too. Finally, as a young adult, the sad songs started slipping into memory and every day started bursting with happiness. A beautiful girl named Lyssi. Cheese and other yummy foods not as worthy of mention as cheese. Epic movies to see. Sketch pads. A fresh, cool breeze rushing by as I ran for miles and miles. My own car to adventure in. People who were there for me and the chance to be there for people. Kind words. Hugs. Purpose, excitement, confidence, and giddy, giddy, giddy happiness.

And then more weird life things happened that shook me pretty deep and brought me back to the pretty constant hum of worry and stress and fear and doubt and sadness. Several years swung back and forth pretty regularly–actually probably pretty healthily–between being generally stressed and generally happy. I wasn’t a Sad Person, but I wasn’t the Happy Person I had been, either.

Then one summer, over a year ago now, two things happened that shook a lot of Sad loose from deep inside my heart. First, I took a trip and saw some people whom it should have been wonderful to see, and saw a bunch more people who were once my tribe. And it was not good. It was not good at all. It was hard and sad and heavy and frustrating and a little bit gross. After that trip I came back to the happy-home I had found the freedom to make, but I couldn’t shake the hurt. For months after that trip I would wake up almost every night sweating, shaking, panting, having nightmares about the sad stuff I thought I had left safely behind in my childhood. Trust started becoming hard again. I started feeling sensitive and oh-so-protective. Second that summer (and I’ve written lots about this before) I bonked my head way too hard hiking in the Colorado Rockies and I knocked even more feelings loose. If you’ve ever had a concussion or known someone who has, you might know a frequent effect is intense anxiety and emotional lows. Like “I’m crying and I don’t know why” twenty times a day. This time around for me, the emotional lows were there again, but the anxiety was so present and so forceful, I could hardly make it through the day. I became weirdly mistrusting of everything and everyone, and I constantly felt that at the next moment my whole world might come crashing down. The concussion effect on my brain lasted a surprisingly long time, especially the anxiety. But by the time I felt probably-back-to-normal, so much Sad had been shaken loose that I felt like a significantly different person than I’d been before the ordeal.

Since then, I’ve dealt with a weird and tough stretch. Over a year feeling the loss of a lot of things I had, feeling the loss of a lot of things I thought I had, figuring out stuff that many people get to figure out as a kid, like how to be angry or how to be mad or how to love someone and yourself at the same time. Thank god for therapy. When my wife asked me a few days ago who had made the biggest impact on me this year, without a second thought I knew it was the therapist I’ve been seeing. I think it’s all going to be okay. Turns out, people get anxious. Some people get anxious a lot, like to the point where you could say they “have” it. And it turns out I’m some people.

And as someone who understands the anxiety and the sadness stuff a little better now than I used to, I’ve gotten to look back and read a bunch of journals and letters from when I was a teenager and a young adult. And oh my goodness, they are DARK. Just heart-breaking. I was a deeply, deeply sad and anxious person.

And then I was a super happy-go-lucky person.

And now I’ve had a pretty sad year or two.

But I’m still so happy a lot. It’s just I’m also so sad a lot. These days, probably more sad. That’s okay right now.

And honestly, knowing all this history, I still don’t really “get” exactly how my sadness works. It’s still confusing. It’s still weird. It still acts in unexpected ways. It’s still “emotional” and acts like it. And then when I think I’ve made sense of it and suddenly it doesn’t make sense again, I keep coming back to Ray Bradbury’s words: “No special reason. . . .”

As someone who’s been a Happy Person and a Sad Person, I want to share a few things, things that I hope will make you feel some mix of not-alone-in-your-sadness and inspired-to-be-a-good-friend-to-sad-people.

First, I understand why my therapist teased that I’d be thankful for my concussion that shook loose the sadness and anxiety deep in my heart. Life is actually better when I see and accept and work with those feelings.

Second, again my therapist, he told me he doesn’t wish people lives of abundant happiness, just abundance. Abundant everything. Some days that means deep happiness. Some days it means deep love. Some days it means deep excitement. And some days–some days it means deep sadness.

Third, go see a therapist. From the bits and pieces of psychology I’ve learned, I know Ray Bradbury’s not wrong: Some people are just sad without a clear cause that therapy can fix. And it’s good for your mix of emotions to include sadness. But, there is a lot of deep, constant, unnecessary sadness that a therapist might be able to help you with. You never know till you try. For me, it’s been life saving.

Fourth, you probably should not always be happy. (Not like “please stop being happy,” but just a warning from my personal experience that, I think, if you think you’re always happy, you might need to check on yourself a bit more, a bit deeper.) You should be happy and sad and mad and scared sometimes. There are good reasons to feel all of those and all of those are normal feelings. It is a lot of pressure to tell yourself (or to tell others, or to let others tell you) that you should always be happy.

Fifth, sad people aren’t bad people who are causing problems by being sad. Many sad people learn to take care of their feelings without taking them out on other people. Mr. Rogers–Fred Rogers–said in an interview that he learned to express his angry and sad feelings through his fingers on the piano.

Sixth, and closely related, if you’re the sad one, you really can learn how to be sad in a healthy way. I’ve learned that it is okay to be sad. Sometimes the things that made you sad aren’t okay, like when you’ve been abused or bullied. And some outlets you might find for your sad feelings aren’t okay, like abusing or bullying others. But you can have healthy sadness.

Seventh, please don’t judge sad people as somehow worse, defective, rain-clouds, melodramatic, silly, not-good-enough, their-own-fault, all the blamey and rejecty labels. Each person has a story you don’t know. People have such long, complex stories! If we’re being honest, we probably don’t really know our own stories all the way. When you see someone–someone who looks sad, who looks like their life is a hard one–please find some compassion. And if you’re a sad person, same goes–please don’t judge yourself for it.

Eighth, please don’t decide for people who they are. Don’t label them as officially happy or officially sad in your book. People are people and life gets weird. When you decide for someone that they’re a Sad Person, you only make it harder. Harder for them to freely express the happy moments, harder for them to ask for support, harder for them to feel appreciated and loved, and honestly harder for them to move towards more happiness. Just as importantly, please don’t decide for someone that they’re a Happy Person. When someone knows that they are, to you, dependably happy, positive, always encouraging and inspiring and energetic and enthusiastic, it becomes an unrealistic burden. Such a burden that when sad times do come, they can’t talk about it. They can’t share. Because too many people are counting on them to not be sad. So please just don’t treat people like they’re a “Sad Person” or a “Happy Person.” Don’t set those expectations. Don’t put that pressure. Don’t plant that guilt. Just let people be people and meet them where they are, every day. One of my most deeply held beliefs is that people can’t be summed up in a nutshell, pre-determined, dependably defined by a set of 4 letters, because humans can change, suddenly and drastically, and they can grow, and they will surprise you. “Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . . Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Ninth, let people be sad. Let yourself be sad. Sad is okay.

And tenth, love sad people. Instead of trying to fix them (god knows if they can’t, you can’t), love them. Instead of pressuring or guilting them or trying to change their minds, love them. Instead of tiptoeing around them on eggshells, get in the messy feelings world with them and LOVE THEM. If anything, anything, anything will ever help a Sad Person find a little more happy, it will be love. But honestly? Don’t let changing or helping them be your goal. Just love them for them, period. And if you’re sad? Love others and get love. Ask for it. Talk about it. Accept it. Trust it. Feel it. And love yourself. You are sad, but you are beautiful.

P.S. Please remember that there are more Sad People than you think. Many people–maybe most people–have learned not to talk about their sadness. Not to cry. Not to share. Some not even to think about their sadness, when they can help it. Many have learned to smile, to be excited, to have fun, to be energetic, and still, just under the surface, there is an ache. Sometimes the biggest smiles hide the deepest aches. So remember that there are many more than you think there are. And remember that they’ve learned, a lot of them, that they’re not allowed to tell you they’re sad.

P.P.S. Also, let’s all do our part in making honesty and vulnerability okay, even when that means tears. You with me? We’re all in this together.

P.P.P.S. I love putting an inspiring quote on a picture and placing it in my blog posts. And I was thinking, what could be a good, inspiring, positive message about sad people? And then I thought, why should it be positive and inspiring? Sad people are sad people. They’re there. They exist. They’re right next to us. They are us. And sometimes that, itself, just needs to be acknowledged and understood and accepted and made peace with. It should be okay.

Ray Bradbury - some people get sad young

Say your stuff, no matter how messy

000 - Carl Jung - loneliness is being unable to say your important stuff

I hope you find these words from Carl Jung as inspiring as I do. They resonate so deeply with me. This is so big.

Say your stuff, the stuff that that means the world to you, that you need to say, that you feel deep down, that you have to get off your chest, that you want someone to understand, that you just need to hear yourself say. Even if it’s awkward, confused, messy.

Let someone hear your stuff. It might feel scary at first, but it helps. So much. It will be so much less lonely.

And help someone say their stuff. Just be there and listen and let and accept and hug.

We’re all in this together, guys.

If you’re deep-down alone this holiday season, ask someone if you can tell them some of your important stuff.

And if you know someone alone this holiday season, ask them how they’re doing, but then ask them again–maybe use the word “really.”

Good luck! :)

Happy holidays!

~

P.S. If you’re too self-conscious or scared or embarrassed or pessimistic or anxious, etc, to actually get deep with someone, read these words for you from one of my favorite people in the world:

“People connect at the level of their struggles.” – Glenn Pickering

Dare to connect

There are lots and lots of people in the world.

And all of them want friends.

Everybody wants the really good kind of friends–the kind that support. The kind you can be real around. The kind that smile and hug and laugh. The kind you can call when you need.

You’re not the only one who feels this deep need to make a friend, to connect.

You’re very much not alone. You just might not know that you’re not alone.

The people really are out there. They all, like you, know what it’s like to be a person. So deep down they, also, are ready for connection.

So make that awkward move. Dare to connect.

You never, ever, ever know what might happen.

Maya Angelou - friend may be waiting behind a stranger's face