This past spring, a wise lady named Hannah Brencher replied to an email I had sent her. [[If you don’t know Hannah, you should check out her blog and her social movement, More Love Letters. She’s ah-mazing]] In response to my angst-ridden message about feeling blue, restless, and overcome with intangible negative feelings, she responded:
“Dearest Claire, I just feel this strong itch inside of me to tell you– with no ruffles and no frills– that you’re doing okay. You’re okay. You’re okay. I think the culture we live in has this tendency to tell us that we either need to be sky high or rock bottom but there is a middle ground we don’t talk about much. And we don’t ever romanticize it when maybe it is the thing we should learn to romanticize more. There is something beautiful, something enviable, about being okay. And being good with the world. And trying our best to just fall in love with the pieces around us. So for the moment I think you need to know, more than anything, that you’re okay. And life is good. And you woke up today. And there are blessings sitting in your hands.”
I keep this email in my Starred folder, painted golden, with imaginary flashing lights around it — not only because it’s my very own, precious and beautiful message from one of my favorite bloggers, but it’s because she sent me one of the truest truths I’ve ever heard in my life — a bit of a slap in the face when I first read it three months ago, albeit; but a necessary slap in the face. *slap* Claire! Wake up! You’re okay. You’re okay. Look at the life you live. Look at the blessings around you. Look who you have the pleasure of doing life with. You’re alright; you’re okay.
Even before I received this email from Hannah, I’ve definitely had this feeling that our society distinctly highlights two kinds of people: those who are millionaires in any sense of the word – financially, intellectually, socially -, and those who are knee-deep in the dirtiest of the dirt, finding their way out of all sorts of bad situations.
[[Hear me out: I don’t think that giving recognition to the people who are in these two categories is bad; in fact, I think it’s fantastic to make a point of recognizing the top contributors of our world for their hard work, and recognizing the most broken and hurting among us so we can help them. In no way am I trying to undermine the people who are in one of these stages of life at the moment.]]
In the same breath, though, for those of us who don’t fit into either category at this point in our lives, we look from the sidelines and think “There must be something utterly wrong with me. I’m boring; I’m mundane. I’m in the middle ground. I haven’t been awarded top honors, and I’m not going through a dark valley. I’m…okay.” Being okay and good with life is suddenly the wrong place to be; you either have to be on top of the world or the one with all of the struggles piled onto your back. If you’re not in either of those positions, you’re not worth anything. You have no story to tell, wisdom to share, reason to ask for help. Being okay is all the sudden uncool.
I would like to say, with my little mouth and my little voice and my giant laptop, that it is absolutely okay to be okay. And “okay” in this sense doesn’t mean “I’m just barely clawing my way through the dirt of life.” “Okay” here means “This life thing makes a little more sense to me. I don’t have it all together, but I see the blessings and I see the opportunities and I’m loving the way that I wake up every morning and get to do it all over again. I’ve got this.” If you can relate to that definition in one sense or another but have been feeling out of sorts lately, I’d like to step out on a limb like Hannah did for me and tell you that I think you’re doing okay. You’re okay, dear reader. And it’s okay to be okay, to stand tall on this middle ground and stake your claim.
And here in this middle ground we don’t often get fireworks just for walking in a room, nor do we get looked upon with pity or immense sympathy for our dire circumstances. We’re just here. We’re just living and breathing and doing stuff — good stuff, I might add. Here in the middle of the scale, things can feel a little fuzzy sometimes. I think that’s why I thought I was so down in the dumps for all these months when in reality, I’ve been here, I’ve been okay this whole time. I just didn’t realize it until someone reminded me that making myself the center of attention for either positive or negative reasons isn’t the way to get out of the hole I dug for myself. I got out of the hole by realizing that my life and the blessings in it are exactly what I need, and I don’t want to waste anything anymore trying to pick apart the mechanics. Nothing’s broken, it’s just figuring itself out and finding how to run best.
Dear fellow middle-grounders,
Don’t feel guilty when you’re surrounded by people who can’t see the light shining bright in their faces, but you see it more clearly than anything.
Don’t feel like it’s wrong when you choose celebration while everyone else chooses complaints.
Don’t beat yourself up for not doing more, getting more, achieving more than anyone else. That doesn’t mean you’re not doing enough with your time; it means you value your time enough to realize that life is not about beating everyone else. That’s not what it’s about. Let others compete with their own crowd if they must. You’re above it. You don’t need to make life a competition; you know it’s more than that.
I’ll say it again, life is so much more than a competition of who can achieve the most.
Life is all in the details within the big picture, and I think that’s what middle ground, “I’m okay” kind of people are able to see really clearly — the big picture, along with the incredible little blessings thrown around every single day. Life is about all those cliches that everyone secretly likes deep down but won’t be the first to admit it – like pancakes and coffee in the early hours of the morning and sunrise hikes and late-night walks and blasting music in your car and the way your fingers felt curled around his and the belly laughter after a hearty meal and hour-long phone calls and thought-provoking questions and stupid movies and books that make you cry and pictures that make you laugh and adventures that look different than anything you could ever imagine. Everything you’ve ever thought about that comes with the afterthought of “But that’s silly” or “It only happens in the movies” — all of those things — you should add more of those to your life. Not even kidding.
And once you do, you’ll realize that more people than you originally thought are also not fitting into those emotional extremes — sky high or rock bottom. You’re not alone. More people are finding themselves standing in the middle ground — finding out sooner or later that they’re okay, just like I did, just like you did. Life is a little more beautiful on that middle ground than we sometimes give it credit. And once we realize that it’s okay to be right where we are, we can see the beauty of life a little clearer and share it with the next person so they, too, can realize that they’re okay. Those little details of life are the exact things that make us realize that the sustainable middle ground is where we want to be. That’s where you can take deep roots and grow strong. It’s harder to do that when you’re standing on top of the world, or buried too deep under insecurities and doubts and fears.
So I used to think that I wasn’t okay because I was letting my feeble, fleeting feelings guide my emotional state all the time. I was listening to the voices of self-obsessed negativity and low self-esteem. But now I know that I’m more than my emotions, those swirling, toxic thoughts of “What am I doing right now? Could I be doing more? What’s wrong with me?”
I don’t base myself or my happiness solely on my present circumstances and feelings. I owe myself more than that.
And not only do I owe myself more than basing my worth and happiness on my emotions, but I also owe it to the people surrounding me to stop flailing around in the “I’m being a dramatic overthinker” water, distancing myself from them, when they’re the ones who are trying to knock some sense into me, telling me that I am worth something, that they want to spend time with me, that I’m not annoying (this is a really big problem that I have; if you want to love me well, please remind me that I don’t annoy you). I’d be a much better friend, daughter, sister, aunt, student, and peer (and someday girlfriend, wife and mom) if I stop aimlessly thrashing around in that pool, climb out, dry myself off, and go find the people that I can serve and love and do life with.
And that’s what we need to do. Instead of getting locked up in our own minds, asking too many questions, getting wrapped and tangled and practically strangling ourselves in our circular thoughts that get us nowhere, we need to jump out and look outward. Look to the people who really are struggling, who really do need our help. Look to the people who want to build relationships with us.
So I challenge you to make the decision to see yourself as being okay, right where you are, and romanticizing that, like Hannah suggested.
See every day as a rundown of options, of choices; choosing joy, or choosing sadness; choosing to lock yourself up in the negativity, or choosing to set yourself free to love and live and recognize blessings for what they are.
Choosing a daily outlook should be like choosing your morning coffee drink. It should not be a decision that your emotions have already made for you by the time your alarm goes off.
If you have been stuck in a rut like I have been, you know it’s easy to stay in the hole that you’ve dug for yourself because it gets comfortable down there. But I promise you, it’s a lot prettier up here. You can’t see the sunrise from down there. You can’t enjoy being fully genuine, fully real and fully alive amidst other people from down there. You can’t accept yourself, flaws and all, from down there. You can’t know what it is to be okay from down there.
Trust me, climbing out is a lot easier than you think. So do it. Climb out and come up here. I want to show you what it looks like to live life on this oh-so-beautiful middle ground, my territory for choosing celebration.
[[Note: the phrase “Choosing Celebration” was intentionally inspired from the song “Joy” by Rend Collective Experiment. Look it up, it’s a fantastic song! ]]