I invite you to listen to this song first.
I started singing You Light Up My Life, around the age of eleven. I think it was the only song I wrote down the lyrics to and memorized. That, and Away in a Manger. I used to sing songs at the tippy-top of my lungs, squeaking and squealing to anyone that would listen, including my downstairs duplex-landlords, who sometimes brought me indoors for cookies. I could tell when I sang, by looking in the observers’ eyes, that people didn’t think I sang super well or close to on key. I could tell they thought I was a lonely child searching for attention. I could tell that they were smiling in an attempt to help me feel accepted. But I couldn’t say all that. I didn’t think to say it. I didn’t know that everyone else, or most everyone else, didn’t think like me. I figured we all knew what was being unspoken. That we all just pretended we didn’t.
When I sang my heart out, I slipped into a fantasy world. I leaped across time and stood on stage. I imagined refuge in a bountiful light. I imagined being lifted and protected and seen. The song itself didn’t free me; nor did the audience observing. What freed me was the freedom I was—the capacity to be me. What trapped me was the realization that all about me others weren’t free.
There was a time where people approached me for my light. They were drawn to me. Something about me pulled them in. I know now it was and has always been Spirit. Then I did not know, and I didn’t wonder; I thought everyone had this; I thought everyone heard God and could see through people.
I remember going to the church around the corner, a Catholic cathedral where I never once attended mass. I was drawn there, at times, the little girl I was, with her un-brushed hair and with her big searching eyes. I would swing on the monkey bars in the church playground over and over, until my hands blistered. Then, if I hadn’t already entered, I’d walk quietly into the empty church and just breathe. I felt safe there. I felt connection. But I didn’t know why. The candles, the light of the candles, they spoke to me, as did the colors of the glass windows and the movement of sunlight through the grand space. I wasn’t frightened. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t anywhere. I just was. Sometimes time stopped and I traveled into the future where I would walk in as full-grown woman and be, with the others, I would be.
I wasn’t a religious child. I wasn’t even spiritual. I was magical. I believed in magic everywhere. I believed everything, each and everything. I believed in everyone around me. And I loved everyone. I trusted them. I gave myself freely: my attention, my time, my love. I had an over-flowing abundance of love. And I was me. There wasn’t anything about me that I had created. I radiated from within.
Something about me, or perhaps something within me, gave me the incapacity to be anyone but me. This gift of being authentic was beautiful. But because I trusted and believed others so greatly and so freely, when they told me what they thought, I believed them. Because if they were beautiful and I loved them and they were perfect, then they must know, they must have the answers.
I believed when they, the others, told me that I was just a child and didn’t know things. I believed them when they said life was hard. I believed them when they cried and cursed what was wrong and unjust. I believed it all. And I began to see that I lived in a world entirely complex in its simplicity. I began to see that I held all the secrets of love and joy, but that none could see them. I knew how to laugh and how to make other people laugh; and I did so without intention or want; I just was joy.
Then came the passing of days, when I learned my joy was not enough. When I learned that my heart, no matter how big, could not make a difference—at least I thought. Soon as my friends grew older, they changed. Their views became more broken and fragmented, their opinions stronger, their hatred taking shape. Divisions were made, as I watched, fingers pointed, sometimes at me, but mostly at others. And everyone started playing this part that didn’t make any sense; except that their ways kept people, for the most part, in an imaginary role of control.
I began to see that love was divided and measured. I began to see that love came and went, as did people. I learned that love didn’t mean love; what some called love actually meant conditions and fleeting moments of spiked emotions of some sort that didn’t feel or look like love at all. I learned that whatever shape I took, I could receive part of this love, that wasn’t love. But since I couldn’t find the other love anymore, the one I held in the backyard during slumber parties and collected, as the others laughed with me, without cause or pause for judgment; since I couldn’t find that love anymore, I took what I could. It never felt right. It felt false from the start. It was false love created by my want for connection and the growing emptiness I had inside.
My actions seemed to define me. I seemed to become who people thought I was. It didn’t matter how much goodness I had inside me; no one could see it, unless they chose to. No one. And when they did think to see the goodness, it was because I emulated them; I showed them a part of themselves they liked, or wished to like. I showed a commonality or I complimented them by my presence or in my spoken words. I collected false-love this way: pretending to be who they wanted me to be in an attempt to connect. To say I played, would be false, as there was no joy in this. To say I fought, would be false, as there was no friction. It was a space and place that I am incapable of defining or marking. For how can I define a place in which everything was false—the only thing real my want to fill the emptiness of falsehood?
This falsehood permeated much of my life, far into adulthood. A falsehood that eventually blinded me as well, to my own inner light. I had to snuff my light to continue to exist. I was given no choice.
I had to extinguish who I was, if I ever wanted hope of connecting. At least this is what I conditioned myself to think. I learned to track the actions of another to determine my next move. I could tell from every flinch, every switch of voice, every motion. Responses were my indicators. Reactions my compass. I stopped feeling inside my own body. I became numb to my needs; everything was masked in my effort to predetermine how to respond to the responders. For I could see in their eyes the judgment, the dislike, the wondering. I could see so much that they wouldn’t ever say. Particularly their thoughts about me, or about the way they perceived me. I knew they thought what they dare not say. I knew there were all these connections going on just in seeing me. I was being categorized and dissected and figured out. It’s not that I thought I was that important, it was that I thought they were. I think all along I knew they were a reflection of me or at least a mirror to my own experiences. I knew we were one and the same, but didn’t know how to define the feeling. And so I would watch, until I laughed and joked, trying to squeeze the joy out of someone whom had seemed to forgotten where he or she put it.
Mine, my joy, was always there, right in me, never gone. Even with all the poured in sorrow, I had this joy. It was always growing and blooming. There was always hope. It seemed no matter how much the others responded in a way that carried the potentiality to sting like thorns, that I still kept my hope. There was this unstoppable faith. Something in that song about the light through the window, about the light itself; I knew this. I saw the light n my dreams and I heard light in the whispers. I knew my destiny. I knew my calling. But this too, I was often told was wrong. I was made in form divinely perfect, but undoubtedly I frightened people. And this brought me to a place of confusion, so very great, I dare not venture there even in thoughts and rememberings.
For how could I, one held by the angels and light, have been so terribly flawed? And why did all around me seem to be such blindness? I searched and searched as a child—in the trees, under the school buses, in the grassy fields—for reprieve. I slipped into my imagination. I hid in the shrubbery and shadows documenting my own thoughts. And I came to the conclusion I was someone made wrong; though even this, deep down I knew to be untrue.
In time, I learned to conform. I learned to tuck away the voice of truth and the rays of light. For I believed the misery of disconnection to be far worse than hiding my light. And so I hid, for a very long time. And though I was a keeper of the light, it dimmed.
And here the dark found me. So very freely, as if beckoned by the very ache of my soul. I walked forsaken to my self for decades. I learned, through my mind, to hear the lies before the truth. I heard the negative talk, and I collected this, for if I did not believe them, I could not be with them, and then I would have to be alone. In order to connect, I had to believe what others said about me. If I believed in my light and my angels, and in my very soul, than I would be without the company of humans. I would only have the invisibility of my hope and joy—and alone whom would I share anything with?
Eventually, the lies became my truth. My whole truth. I was what others created me to be. And then a shift happened, in which they were what I created them to be. I began to see like other people. I began to believe the lies. I began to think that yes, only my point of view counted. That yes, I am in control of my world. And yes, I am the most important and special. I began to be a love-leech collecting falsehoods. Love, love, love ME! I demanded. Love me through validation. Love me through listening. Love me through answering back how I expect and want you to respond. Outcomes became my life. Hope became my misery. I latched onto the yellow brick road of illusion. I thought, if I was just good enough, and right enough, and had all the answers I would WIN! I would be LOVED! This is what I was taught. This is what was walloped into me. This is what I ATE because nothing else was offered.
Until the pain of emptiness became so great that I knew I was wrong. I knew that life was not meant to be like this. I knew somewhere inside my little girl protecting the light was dying to come out.
For me this has been my greatest gift: my affliction.
My very agonizing pain was what set me free. The very discomfort that kept shouting within of the falsehood was my greatest joy. I was given a lantern since birth. And I walked four-decades pretending I was not, in hopes of gaining false love.
And now, as I step back, very much the little girl I was, with my lantern bright, I see I kept this light hidden for a purpose. I suffered for a reason. I suffered because everyone else was suffering. I didn’t retreat because I was so different after all. I just retreated a bit later along my path. I just retreated knowing I was retreating. There wasn’t anything different about me, except I was born awake. I was born with the affliction that is both my teacher and my cross to bear. I was gifted the wisdom at a young age, and through this affliction I was formed and made, through this affliction my lantern was fueled. I see this clearly, more clearly each moment I am here.
I see that we each have these lanterns, and that for some of us it hurts more to hide them. But we all have them. For some of us we know we are hiding them: this is the affliction.
I see now that I am struggling to turn up the lanterns of all, when all I need do is turn on my own.
In so many ways, in every way, I am that little girl, with her joy, with her lantern strong, standing on the hillside and beckoning my friends onward. Only this time I can see. I can truly see. I know now my once perceived greatest weakness is my greatest comforter. I know my need to be love, my need to shine, my need to be free is the only need I ever choose. I know that in my affliction I am made whole. I know that in my wholeness I honor each and every soul. For in the embracing of what has always been and shall ever be, I have embraced the world. I have embraced the light.
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