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My story doesn’t have a precise beginning point; I am the continuing story of my family, culture, faith, and world. I am optimistic enough to believe that I’ll leave enough behind me in the way of culture-creation, relational footprints and all-round inspiring human behaviour that my story will exist far beyond my physical presence on this planet.
But this story, of raw growth, concentrated loneliness, and choosing beauty and healing over the ugly scabs of mere coping, began this January when my friend died unexpectedly, almost 6 years exactly after my sister wrote a goodbye letter and left.
I was determined to do things differently this time. Surely my ability to cope with grief had improved in those interim years. I would talk about my friend, acknowledge the loss, create something beautiful and meaningful to share with her family and keep for myself. I would not hide from grief. Through this loss, I would grow.
However, growth is stupidly hard and I have a Master’s Degree in Coping, so it was a quick slide back into what I knew. On the bus, earphones in, listening to Passenger, and scrolling through Instagram, I was on my way to have drinks with a friend. In only a few short weeks, I had managed to cope my way through the loss and I was now back to my normal self.
I remain unsure exactly how fate works. For instance, I met a guy that night. Now, was it fate that I met him or was fate perhaps on holiday and forgot to make the necessary adjustments before she left? At any rate, it took this new relationship, unexpected and unasked for, to break me enough that all my excellent coping became utterly inadequate.
I have always avowed that I would not follow my family’s patterns; I was born to break the mould! Unfortunately for me, being the first to attend university was not enough to attain such a lofty goal. I was still a Scot, raised by a Scot, who was raised by a Brit. Privacy is reserved for your personal feelings (as much if not perhaps more than it is for the bedroom).
It’s as if our family crest read: Let n’er an unholy question or heavenward curse pass your lips, and if they should, let it be whenst you are wholly alone, at night, sobbing into your pillow.
I was crushed. Always lively and capable, I had been reduced to listless and introverted.
Then someone whispered in my ear, a new question. What if community is actually intended for the support of each broken individual? What if I could go, my flightless wings clutching years of baggage, to another person? The question was a flash in the pit of my stomach.
What if I let others see me need?
So I called the same friend two days in a row and I’m pretty sure I cried both times. I found a counsellor and actually went to the appointment. I had started, just a tiny little bit, to accept the idea that other people could help me.
And so it goes on. A friend calls and asks (not by way of a colloquial greeting, but actually expecting an honest response), “How are you today?” A new friend knows more about me than just my career ambitions and obsession with cute animals. I am being saved when I wasn’t sure I believed in salvation anymore. Unexpected, the way this community held my head above water when I wilfully refused to take off my wool coat.
I lost my sister for many reasons, but mostly because she felt hopeless and alone. And now I know a little bit about that, when each day is long and sucked dry of joy. I am not extraordinary, just a human like her, like you. My sister said she envied me, my easy-going attitude and my expectation that things will turn out. But these are not eternal qualities. They can get sick, be crushed and completely die off. Hope is fostered within and without.
For many, Vancouver is the loneliest city but still we’re all too afraid of rejection to smile at each other in the street. So I’m trying to follow more of my impulses.
Pet a dog, expect more from small interactions, smell every flower, sit in the sun wherever it is found, and tell friends, “You know what, today’s been hell, can you bring the wine and just sit with me?”.
I’m surrounding myself with people who believe more than I do. Reading books about those with bravery I aspire to. And I’m accepting need in myself.
Every day I’m rejecting a baseline existence. Every day I’m working on hope.