This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date.
On the morning of March thirty-first, I and five bags containing the bulk of my relevant possessions boarded Delta flight DL296 from Shanghai to Tokyo. This was long overdue, as anyone who has known me for any amount of time would tell you, and in ways a very fulfilling experience. However, it came at an extremely difficult time and was not the wholly positive experience I had always hoped it would be. It was, for example, a transition that signaled the failure of a five-year relationship, despite my best efforts. Also evident was the realization of what not having had the confidence to pursue what was truly important to me had cost me.
I had followed those I wanted to be with for the previous decade. Aside from a period of six months right in the middle, I had spent the prior ten years split more or less evenly between two long-term relationships, neither of them representing a time in which I had honestly stood up for myself after a while, choosing always to try to make the other happy at the cost of my own needs. In the end, I no longer knew who I was on my own.
This is a time of truth-finding.
And so it was that I experienced a success that felt like a failure. When I got into the city and dropped my luggage, all my baggage remained firmly in place. I was out of China but two weeks into flying solo here and I don’t yet have any idea when I’ll be out of the woods.
That this is a difficult time, filled with uncertainty and doubt, is a given. I’ve been having nightmares. I’ve cried more than I’d like. But thankfully, there have also been periodic moments of feeling good, like I’m precisely where I need to be, that I am finally following my correct path, and in doing so making up for years of time lost to unintended detours while honestly trying my best to love people with whom it ultimately wouldn’t work.
The second relationship in particular was something I wanted to make work more than anything else in my life I’ve ever experienced. But it didn’t, and it was this in particular that has added the crushing weight of failure to what should be a joyful and exciting time. This is why these moments of clarity and purpose carry so much weight. In these moments, I feel as if I am a tiny cog that has miraculously fallen into its correct place in the infinite clockwork of the universe after many years of wearing down its teeth trying to force itself into places it didn’t fit.
These instances of positive experience are extraordinarily important right now. They are packed so densely with a sense of belonging and being in the right place for once. They act as a vital counterweight to everything, real or imagined, that would threaten to pull me down into depths of depression I vowed years ago to never allow myself to visit again. They are ballast to keep me upright in the midst of a great storm that raises waves so high that I sometimes lose sight of the sky above me.
These moments are now indispensable in the process of working through problems and doing my best to remain open and vulnerable, thus allowing healing and growth to take place. I could shut out the pain, wall myself off from it, but we don’t get to choose what goes and what stays when we do that. Separating ourselves from our pain also insulates us from our capacity to experience joy. So as much as I would like to no longer have moments of waking up in the middle of the night to sob bitterly or swear furiously in the dark at someone I still can’t help but love, disallowing such things would also mean failing to remain open to experiences like the simple joy of appreciating the cherry blossoms with a group of friends in a lantern-lit park at night. It would mean refusing to allow myself to be moved by the music of an experimental vocalist in a tiny basement venue in Tokyo filled with people standing perfectly still, being vibrated inside and out by what the pretty girl in the angelic dress was sending down her microphone wire. It would mean ignoring the comedy of rounding a corner to see a fat dog waddling down the sidewalk with a flower petal stuck to its nose.
These things are lines on a map, helping me to navigate and orient myself to better times ahead. They provide hope at a time when feeling hopeless is only just slightly more of a chore than breathing.
In making this transition, I have thrown myself off a cliff and must grow wings on the way down. Each experience that shows me that I’m headed in the right direction is a feather added to my plumage. It’s a long way down, but soon enough I will find that I am able to fly, at a point when the lift provided by my wings overpowers the ever-decreasing weight of sorrow.