The Longest Journeys are the Ones We Go On Alone
Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried, it’s over.
Someone tweeted this photo of me speaking to a group of media executives in Madrid yesterday. No filter applied. No posing of my face to show the angle you might find most flattering. Ever since seeing it, I can’t stop thinking about how unphotogenic I look. How old. How big. How ugly. I felt myself growing embarrassed as more people liked and shared the tweet.
This kind of thinking started coming up more frequently as I began venturing into public again, seeing my face and body in photos taken with friends during deeply meaningful reunions. I see happiness and joy. I also see evidence of the journey of grief I have experienced since January 3, 2020, and the collective grief we’ve all experienced since the start of the pandemic. Away from Zoom and perfectly cropped Instagram photos, I also see the lines on your faces, how your bodies have changed, but I do not see ugliness. I see strength, I see pain, I see resilience. I see your will to live, to thrive.
To see the same for myself is a lifetime process, I believe. To remember that we are not seen as freeze frames, my worth is not measured by the absence of rings around my neck or double chin, nor is value evidenced by the likes on my perfectly filtered existence. Paradoxically, this understanding comes with the amount of time it takes to earn those wrinkles. I see photos of myself from years ago and remember even loathing her then. Now I long for her. For so many I love, particularly the women I love, this is something we struggle to resolve until the day we die.
Building self-worth can be a tricky process. Growth soars in one area as it slips in another. It’s a messy game of whack-a-mole with a non-trustworthy partner whom I should’ve disinvited from the game long ago.
And then there is the rage. Rage-filled that I can’t yet seem to celebrate the lines, the sagging, the expressive nature of my face, the one that carries my charisma across stage and audience, across the ocean, connects my heart to others. Rage-filled that I’ve bought into the belief that my value is wrapped up in what you think of me. Still.
Rage-filled that I can’t seem to appreciate this body, when my brother was robbed of his.
There it is. That feeling is always there.
The moment I landed in Paris, I felt a wave of grief and gratitude wash over me. Grief for all that has been lost and gratitude for the sense of optimism that stepping out of the self-contained bubble I created to survive the past 22 months allowed. To think that after Oscar died I thought I would never want to travel again.
I am gobsmacked by the beauty and my fortune to be here at this time. Europe is bustling. The streets are full of people eating, drinking, laughing, living. I am struck by how new it all feels, despite it all being more or less the same, minus the vaccination checks, COVID tests, masks and sanitizers. The cities haven’t changed, I have.
Before arriving in Paris, I taught for days in Madrid and spoke to media executives about my work, because they said they needed to hear the lessons I learned in order to make their businesses successful. I made new friends and spent time with my dear friend and former colleague, and dreamed up new adventures. I also met an amazing group of humans in Edinburgh at TED’s Countdown climate conference, and got to work with my talented and heart-centered team on a conference we had been planning for two years. We were part of complicated, challenging and promising conversations focused on systems change, something that I hope will lead to positive outcomes in the future.
The most profound experience of the trip during the conference was during a short period of time I spent with Sister True Dedication, a monastic dharma teacher and Zen Buddhist nun ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh. Interestingly, she is also a former journalist (much to chew on there) and when I told her I had decided not to continue onto my second year of interfaith seminary (I know, this topic requires another newsletter in and of itself. I only just told my mother the news.) she told me she was so happy to hear that I am instead bringing the message to those we reach through my work at TED.
Sister True Dedication gave a powerful talk on presence and mindfulness, developed in a practice of self inquiry and walking meditation. I will share the talk when it comes out, but I can tell you now that the message to care for ourselves and love in the present moment is simple, yet profound. This practice is the cornerstone for developing insight, which Merriam Webster defines as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something.”
What I saw in her actions and presence, holding space for herself and for others to find room for that insight, was an act of love.
I walked a lot while in Paris. I aimed toward a final destination and promptly got lost for hours. On one walk I was stunned when the Eiffel Tower appeared in front of me after I thought I’d been walking away from it for an hour. GPS failed me, the only guide I had was the caw of crows on each and every walk. The crow, I learned, symbolizes transformation.
Maybe I wasn’t lost. I call myself a flâneuse, one who gets to know a city by aimlessly walking its streets. What if it is only through that same wandering that we are known? What if we must leave home in order to find home, in the world, in ourselves? As I prepare for my flight home after these two weeks I am eager for transformation and answers, but am also open to more questions, for I know this is the stuff of living. The search for truth and beauty, insight. The crow cawing for me to go home.