I'm terrible at writing thank you notes. Always have been. Not sure why, but now you have me wondering if it has something to do with fear. Maybe I don't think I will say the right thing? Maybe I don't want to stop and soak in gratitude because I'm so anxious to move forward, to the next thing, to the beckoning future? I don't know, but you have me thinking.
So. Here I am writing a thank you note because last night was brilliant. You arrived here in my home, my home and, as you know, these two things - HERE, Home - are two thing I've been thinking about so much recently. And you and I scurried around unpacking boxes of books and talking and sharing bits of ourselves. And then so many beautiful and thinking women showed up and we mingled and munched and sipped our wine and water and then we sat in the yellow living room and we talked and talked. About your staggeringly thoughtful book SOME NERVE but also, really, about us. All of us. Our lives and our loves and, yes, our fears.
A friend of mine who was there last night said that as she watched me sit there next to you during your talk, it looked like I was thinking hard. And I was. My mind was buzzing with ideas and realizations. Dots were connecting. I felt myself cracking open and I know I was far from alone because I have heard from so many who were there that last night changed them. That sounds dramatic - and it is. One night and one person can stir change? Yes. I believe it. Because I felt it.
For me, the night served as accidental research for my HERE Year. I realized as the night wore on that my yearlong exploration of Presence, of the concept of Here, is one that was, unconsciously, borne from fear. I'm literally piecing this together as I tap these words on this screen, but I'm suddenly awake to the fact that I have harbored a fear of being here. Why? I don't really know, but I have a few guesses. I think being here, being present in the moment, means really feeling and not just the good stuff. It means feeling sad at times, and scared, and angry and uncertain and overwhelmed. It is so much easier sometimes, and safer and more pleasant, to escape. By fidgeting with our phones or shopping for shoes online or numbing out with reality television or a bucketload of wine. Being here is tricky and challenging and I don't blame myself for trying to avoid it at times. I think this is human and something we all do, but I guess my goal is to try to be Here more, to immerse myself in what is, the hues and textures of the life that is mine - even when they aren't always pretty.
But sometimes they are. Sometimes everything is gorgeous and glorious. Take this morning. I woke up smiling because last night was so lifting and bright and my girls were so happy. The big girls were playing a math game with dice and when their baby sister woke up, they went to fetch her and then they all walked down the stairs in their PJs holding hands and wearing matching smiles. And they were sweet to each other and didn't fuss when I told them to get dressed. And then I took my oldest daughter out to wait for the school bus. And it came and she hopped on and I said, Have a good day, babe and she flashed the best smile and was on her way. And instead of going back inside, I stood there and watched her yellow bus pull away and I sat for a minute on our front steps. And the birds were loud and happy and deep in morning conversation and I felt the chilly air on my cheeks and drank my cold coffee from my big mug that says Love You More and I felt wildly in it, truly Here, and it was nothing but good. But sometimes in these exquisite moments, I feel fear most. Is that strange? Fear that it can all be taken away, that something might happen. It was the most brilliant October day many years ago when I was literally skipping along and Mom called and said Dad had cancer. It was the most brilliant day many Septembers ago when I heard the radio in the taxi say that the tower had been hit.
So, fear. Yes. So much of it's about fear. For me. For so many of us. Maybe all of us who are willing to be honest about it, who are willing to stop telling the stories that are false?
There are so many things you said last night that I want to share here because I know that for every shining face in that yellow room, there are countless others who would have liked to have been there, here, with us, who are interested in these big questions. So, I will share a few of the bits that really struck me. I'm calling them secrets because that's kind of what it felt like last night, like we were all sitting around baring our selves, telling our secrets.
1. we must stop saying "it's just the way i am, he/she is."
She is in a terrible relationship and can't get out. She is a mess, a total hoarder. She is selfish. I am not athletic or adventurous. Pressed with the question of why, why are these people like this, why we are like this, the answer is too often fatalistic in tone. She/he/I will never change. That's just who she is, he is, I am. Patty encouraged us to stop telling these false stories about ourselves and those in our lives and think about how fear and past experience might underpin our behaviors/decisions. Maybe she is in a terrible relationship because she's fearful of the unknown. Maybe she holds on to things because she had very little growing up, etc. We must peel back our assumptions about identity.
2. we all have fears and we must face them.
No one is fearless. Patty mentioned one man, a surfer, whom she met and whose story she includes in the book. She felt that this man was an authentically fearless man, but after the book was released, he reached out to her and confessed that he had recently had an MRI and it scared him terribly. We are all more alike than we think. Fear is universal.
3. change is possible.
No matter how old we are or how fixed we feel in our lives and routines, change is possible. Patty is the perfect example of this. She is Chinese-American, a self-proclaimed risk-averse people-pleaser and as she approached her fortieth birthday, she decided to face her fears in a methodical way and she did it, she changed. She learned how to dive, is training for the five-borough bike race, has been surfing in arctic temperatures. She changed and reminded all of us in the room that we can choose to change.
4. we must part with the past in order to own our future.
Patty told a wonderful and hilarious story about working with a professional organizer to de-clutter her home. Patty had this white file box full of all of her documents from her days at the New York Times and she held on to it because it represented an important and quintessentially successful time in her life. Even though she had moved on from that job, she didn't want to part with that aspect of her past and identity. The organizer insisted she get rid of it and Patty did and then rescued it from the trash later. Ultimately, she threw it out, and moved on, and said that this freed her up to write her book.
5. we must think about how we want to be remembered.
More than once, Patty talked about the question of how she wants to be remembered when she is gone. She cracked a joke about how, before facing her fears, her tombstone would have read, Mom. She worried a lot. And we all laughed - there was a lot of laughter last night - but there was a serious message here. What kind of life do we want to lead? How do we want our kids and the world to remember us?
6. faith in ourselves is critical.
A friend mentioned that she heard somewhere that faith is the opposite of fear. Patty thought about this and spoke about how faith in ourselves is huge in combating fear. If we develop courage and belief that we can try things and handle the success or failure that will result, we will feel far less fearful in our lives. An important aside, this is one of the best things we can do for our kids, help them develop faith in themselves and also model for them that we are doing the same.
7. you are you.
Patty is a certified yoga teacher and said that in training she learned to say "My name is Patty" and not "I am Patty." There is an important distinction here. We are who we are and this includes everything - our quirks and our hopes and our fears. Our name is just our name.
8. we must find the friends we truly need.
Such an important one. If we are interested in change, in improving our selves and our lives, in facing our fears, we must surround ourselves with friends who cheer-lead and support us. We all have the kinds of friends who say You are great just the way you are. Don't be so hard on yourself. But this is not necessarily what we need. What we really need, and should seek out, are the people who say other things. Go for it. Face the hard stuff. Maybe even those who say: I'll do it with you. On a personal level, this one resonates because I am a project person and I have taken it upon myself to make changes in my life. When I gave up alcohol for a year and now that I have again, many people say, Oh, why? That's not necessary. You're FINE. Live a little! But a few say something different. How wonderful. Good for you. You have my support 100% and I can't wait to hear what you learn.
9. we must step out of our safety zone.
Patty made an interesting remark how we often seek out people in our lives who have things in common with us because then it is easy to connect with them. It's easy to chat with someone who does similar work or has kids the same age or who loves the same shops and television shows. This is fine and natural, but we must get out of our comfort zone from time to time, have hard conversations, take risks, retreats, etc.
10. books can change people.
I've been hosting my Happier Hours for several years now, but last night something happened for the first time. A friend of mine raised her hand and shared something incredibly vulnerable about her past and said she wouldn't have done that if she hadn't read Patty's book. I felt something electric in those moments when my friend was talking. It hit me that words and stories and books can actually change people and help them. After the event was over, this friend and I traded emails and I said to her, Thank you for sharing what you did. We have all been through things and a whole world opens up when we talk about them.
Goodness, there were so many more things I'd like to share, but this is getting long and I have a beautiful day to get back to, but one more thing. At the end of the night, Patty handed us cards and encouraged us to fill in the blanks and share it publicly. We had to name one fear we will face and articulate how we plan to face it. Here's mine:
Patty, it is a privilege to know you. Your book has been a timely gift to me and I imagine to many, many others. Thank you. And thank you to our incomparable agent and friend, Brettne Bloom, for bringing us together.
Okay, it's your turn! Fill in the blank: