You wouldn’t think I’d need the Universe to tell me to get out of my comfort zone. It hasn’t been that much comfort for a long time. Just familiar. A familiar zone. The path of least resistance. I keep trying to “change up”, meet new people, take on new volunteer commitments, remember to breathe. Objectively speaking my life is far from a disaster zone. I could write a long list of the good things and good people in my life. And yet there is dis-comfort. Dis-ease. Dys-phoria. It starts to sound like I’m entering the medical realm. Which is NOT where I want to go, and not what I think this is about. Though for years I did think that. The body does strange things in response to old and new emotional wounds, especially the ones we don’t let ourselves experience and heal from, especially as it ages.
At sixty-seven, I know through direct experience –mine– that the body situation is inexorably a downhill one. I also watched my own father who was still playing serious handball (a terrifyingly fast and life-threatening sport) into his mid-60s, and riding his bike in his 70s, go seriously downhill in his late 80s, with no diagnosed malady. Just the body aging and weakening to the point his legs wouldn’t hold him up, couldn’t take a step. How could this 6 foot tower of strength, handball champion go without injury or illness so impressively for so long, then, like a slow motion train wreck, but soundless and without trauma, move right on into frailty, and death?
My mother, at 95 (in 3 weeks), is doing great, still walking, still engaging, still with more of her marbles than many 60 year olds. She has a great two bedroom, two bath apartment in a wonderful independent living place in Phoenix. Every afternoon, she gathers with 7 other people for the earlier-than-early-bird dinner at a round table in the big dining hall. A rather handsome 90 something year old who looks young for his age, and has a terrific broad smile, teeth flashing white against his rich brown east Indian skin is one of her regular dining companions. His name is Matt and apparently smiling is what he does best. I was told he doesn’t talk because he can’t remember anything from one minute to the next, but when I went over and sat next to him and asked him a question, he started telling me about his life as a nuclear physicist. (He was not making this up. He WAS a nuclear physicist.) But mostly he just sits there, eating, alone in his world. Smiling when anyone makes contact. It’s enough to break your heart. A fraction of this whole world is enough to break your heart, not to mention the whole of this whole world.
Cheryl Strayed, in one of her Sugar columns, wrote to an advice-seeker, “Be brave enough to break your own heart”. I have this printed on a pink bracelet I got at a workshop I took with her two years ago (and now also on a coffee mug I won in a trivia contest at the last workshop I attended). It’s always intrigued me because I really don’t know what it means. But I know Sugar (Cheryl) is brilliant and it means something important. In the meantime, heart break finds me daily (I only have to read my Facebook feed and listen to NPR). I try to be brave enough to just deal with that, never mind adding to it with breaking my own heart.
Still I can’t help wondering about this quote, if and how I will finally understand it, and about the bravery I feel and will need more of. Frankly I need a shit load of bravery just to get out of my comfort zone, which I am doing writing this, and need to do more of. And then, more bravery for everything else, including, I guess/hope? when I eventually break my own heart.