Mercury Studio, a coworking space in Durham, NC
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Megan asks us, how is your heart?
My heart breaks a little, because I have to leave to get to a meeting. And by the second answer, I can tell this conversation will be rich and deep.
As I go about my day, Megan's question stays with me.
Then some combination of a deeply held conviction, the opportunity to learn something new, a passion for a cause, the possibility of connection, my new meds kicking in, or an external sense of urgency (deadline) would get my blood pumping again.
My heart would get right back to work, and for a little while, I might even feel hopeful, like this time might be different. But I never felt safe, never felt like I'd built up the necessary stamina, that my initial burst of momentum would get me across the finish line.
I've finished races. I've even won a few. I've received praise from reliable sources and dismissed most of it, no matter how thoughtful or heartfelt. I'd smile and say thank you, filled with grief over how separate I felt from everyone else, how little I felt like celebrating.
At one time, my inability to accept praise may have been about low self-worth. But that wasn't it, not anymore. It was more complicated.
Though we are all better about this now, I was not encouraged as a child to take a breather to appreciate my success. My father believed in our potential so whole heartedly that pausing to recognize an achievement was, in a way, counterintuitive. He never doubted we would succeed. Why make such a big deal about it? Look ahead to the next milestone!
My mother inherited, and dutifully passed down, a terror of the possibility that anything she said might be interpreted as bragging. Praise was a private matter, and as such, practiced judiciously, lest one might slip up an say something in public!
The other thing was, my heart used every bit of oxygen coursing through my veins to fall through the yellow tape. There wasn't much left to go on. Bed rest was in order.
I'm resisting the marathon metaphor, one because it's obvious, and two, I understand that sprinters also have enormously strong hearts. But I can't get this vision out of my head: I'm running along, and just when I'm starting to lose heart, I notice a station filled with people handing out water in little paper cups. I gratefully swerve over to receive my water, brushing hands with the giver. It's just what I needed. I holler thank you, and crush the cup with my hands and drop it on the ground. (I think I've seen that on TV.)
Maybe at the next station I get one of those little energy gel packets. Maybe I match my speed with another, and for a few miles we are running the same race, and we encourage each other when we hit the wall -- hopefully not at the same time -- and hang in there until the endorphins kick back in.
I find this metaphor so irresistible, finally, because finally, I get it: I am not alone. I am not grotesque, or a freak, destined to a life alone in my bed, or mildewing on the couch. Look at all these people! Each running our own race, together.
My heart is delighted. My heart is strong and pulses in a reassuring rhythm: You got this. Keep going. I'm with you all the way.