Life scared me into being small. It pushed me to be fearful, to be quiet and obedient, to never be “too much,” too intelligent, too driven, too ambitious, or too much of a leader. To take what I earned and worked for and “just be grateful.” To only speak when asked, to only act when prompted, and to settle for mediocrity when excellence and brilliance were my signals of virtue.
Life scared me into believing that my purpose on this earth was merely to exist. It led me into thinking that I was a singular cog within the capitalist machine that trudges on and on. It engrained into my mind that insignificance and replaceability were facts of this life, and that in spite of the depth of my heart and my mind, I would never have the capacities to create, reach, and impact the way I wished to.
Life scared me into believing that I am too weak, alone, and unprepared to deal with pain. That I was incapable of braving the storm and it somehow taught me that because I felt things so deeply and thought so deliberately, the world and all of its pain would be too much for me to handle. It made me believe that the heart beating inside of my chest and the mind functioning in my head like clockwork were not sufficient, that all I desired would forever be unattainable, and that the anguish, heartache, torment, grief, and suffering that reveals itself in abundance would ultimately defeat me.
I’ve always had BIG thoughts. BIG feelings. BIG connections. BIG ambitions. BIG dreams. BIG opinions. BIG words. A BIG aliveness within me that was waiting to prevail and to break through the confines and the cages that society urged me to create for myself.
As I’ve grown, learned, and evolved, there is one truth that I have discovered and will forever cling to: that if I truly desire the things I believe myself to value and uphold, that I must not only be willing to face the storm, but that I embrace and move towards the pain it may bring. What I want most out of this life— fulfillment, love, vivacity, wholeness, compassion, impact, meaning— do not come to those who cower away from the pain. In fact, I’ve found that in the moments during which I felt most complete and human, pain has always been close by. I have learned to welcome the pain this life breeds for me and for those close to me, and I do my best every moment of everyday to inch closer and closer to the discomfort, for that is the source of growth. The deepest pains of my life have also been the ground from which I have evolved abundantly, loved most deeply, felt most wholly, and have succeeded in being most human. In spite of life’s relentless teachings that pain and sorrow may only beget more, boundless pain and sorrow, the end we reach after enduring such pain is anything but an end. Following the pain, learning how to navigate, cope, create, and feel our way through is the beginning of our journey towards becoming more human— of unraveling and untangling the cages and systems that have always inhibited us, the negating of the age-old teachings that push us into taming ourselves for the likeness of others and of society, the revolution and evolution into who we are truly meant to be.
I shied away from the BIG for longer than I care to admit. I believed my big feelings, big thoughts and insights, big wishes and dreams, big aspirations and intentions for inspiration, and big voice to be *too* big. I stayed in the cage that the world presented me with upon entering this life, and as I grew and began to better understand what womanhood and minoritization constitute in this nation, I enabled the tightening of my cage. As I came to understand the nature and function of a capitalist state, I felt the bars around me closing in more and more everyday. As I began to face pains and the inevitable tribulations of life and the human condition, I began to stiffen the bindings of the cages myself. I withdrew, scared of it all. I had tamed many of my big feelings, but the fear always remained, a haunting reminder that I could not shrink myself nearly enough to escape everything I so desperately wished to. I thought that avoidance would lead me to happiness or joy, or at the minimum, apathy. Perhaps the fear was so big that I would have rather felt nothing at all than the feelings I knew to be so powerful that they might kill me. I convinced myself that self-preservation was the highest virtue I could settle for, and I believed my survival to depend on my own withdrawal, my ability to anticipate the potential harms, pains, despairs, and anguish that life could have waiting for me right outside the confines of my own cages. So I withdrew. I settled for a small life, because the BIG seemed too much for me to cope with:
To feel nothing at all was less scary than feeling everything all at once.
How wrong was I?
As it turns out, the lessons that the world drilled into my mind were not, in fact, what I have found to be true. Not only that, but they were completely antithetical to what I actually want my life to be like— what I want ME to be like. But then again, how could I have ever expected the world that created and handed me the cages to be the same source of my freedom and wholeness? The past few years of this life for me have undoubtedly been the worst of my life. I’ve felt what I thought to be the greatest heartbreaks and griefs imaginable, I’ve lost more than I can properly put into words, I’ve failed miserably time and time again, and I’ve had my fair share of finding comfort in the darkness and anguish the harrowing realities of the world brought to me. What I didn’t expect, though, is that with the heartache came insight. With the loneliness came contemplation. With the loss came an emptiness now home to my most precious and beautiful memories. With the failure came reflection. With the grief came connection and humanness. And with the darkness ultimately came the arrival of a light breeding a transformation and strength I could have never seen, felt, or anticipated. If the lowest of my lows have taught me anything at all, it’s that no matter how fiercely I run away from pain and how extensively I try to shield myself from its impact, I will never run fast enough. I can never fully disappear. Pains and trials will always approach me faster than I can move away from them, and it will always find each of us, for it is what makes us most human.
It took me a long time to figure out that in this lifetime, trying so desperately to avoid the BIG-ness I knew deep down that I wanted was simply impossible to see or experience from within the confines of the cage I allowed myself to adopt and exist in. If I truly wished to seek the dreams I had conjured, speak with the strength I knew I had, write with the power and impact I wanted, and experience the fullest, most authentic and beautiful life I knew, pain was inevitable. It was the starting line, and a daunting one at that. But somewhere along the way, I got tired. I got tired of living a small life, having a small voice, settling for what the world told me I should be grateful for, and waiting for “the moment.” I had waited years and years for something extraordinary to wedge its way into the orbit of my restraints, and it never came. Because it never does. The moment that I was constantly waiting for would never come, because not only was I so conditioned to feel and see only the surface of everything this life offers, but I had not even granted myself the time, space, and freedom to grow into knowing exactly what moment I was actually waiting for. Much of my life has been spent waiting for these BIG moments that have never arrived, because I felt more comfortable in the waiting room of my cage than outside of it creating and existing in the moment I wanted to experience. Because all I allowed myself to feel and be was small, I was constantly anticipating the BIG to arrive— the euphoric joy, the greatest of tangible successes, the most brilliant of thoughts. The gift of time has provided me the necessary pain I needed not only in order to begin breaking free of my own bounds, but to begin being the BIG I had been impatiently waiting for.
Years ago, I never expected to be here. In grad school. Thinking these thoughts. Writing these words. Loving and losing. Growing with every step and breath I take, never knowing if the direction of my growth is in alignment with what I desire or value. What I do know is that now, having faced the pain and knowing that I will continue to walk towards it, is that my life is the most true, authentic, and beautiful it has ever been. I am here to keep becoming deeper, more true and real versions of myself time and time again. To be alive is to be in a perpetual state of revolution; some of it willful, some of it fateful.
The people I most admire in this life are many things, but resilient, courageous, intentional, empathetic, and human are my favorite things about them. I now know that no one gets to be those things without having first faced the storm, endured the pain, and learned to overcome. The overcoming, or rising, follows the conquering of the pain, and there is nothing more true and beautiful about this life or the human condition than this— that the same pain and deep suffering that makes us fall to our knees and falter more than we can imagine is what also grants us the freedom to evolve, to see the world through new eyes, to become all that we wish to be, and to grow into the people we are meant to be. You don’t get to be resilient, brave, courageous, insightful, or wise by shying away from the pain and avoiding all the heartbreak that comes your way. Only the brave are warriors, and that is the greatest sense of freedom I know.
So now, whenever I sense the cage closing in on me and taunting me with its confines, I remember the pain, and then the rising. And as many wounds, aches, and troubles I may face in both embracing and being the BIG I always waited for, I remember how living a small life felt. I remember the roads and paths I could have taken that may have eased up my journey and made it more bearable. But then I remember the feelings; the ones that cannot be replaced, understood, or even felt inside such a small life. Untangling myself from the world’s expectations, definitions, and dividing lines will always be messy, and I know that it will inevitable leave me more open to harm and pain than if I were to choose the safety and preservation that accompanies societal boxes. But I’m tired of waiting for the big moments, and I refuse to allow this singular, ever-fleeting, precious life I have to shrink into anything less than magnificent. If I have one shot at this, I would rather risk feeling everything and living through it all than avoiding all I can and diminishing my human potential with every inhibition of freedom I procure. I would rather be “too much” than nothing at all. I would rather love so deeply and risk losing just as intensely. I would rather feel great joy and risk the great sorrow. I would rather feel inspired and enthusiastic and risk disappointments and frustrations just as large.
I would rather be vulnerable and leave myself open to the pain and suffering, for without it, the truth, authenticity, and beauty of this human life and in the rising would be lost.