the weight of existence

I’m really not as strong or as brave as I thought I was.

I’ve been through a lot of evolution shifts over the last few years. I’m not talking about physical experiences I’ve gone through, but of deconstructing my entire view of reality. Deconstructing God and heaven and hell and the bible, considering reincarnation, testing manifestation, and peering at various conspiracy theories. Everything that was off the table in the past, too out there or expansive for my then-self, it was looked at.

This has been done almost entirely by myself, because I think that’s the nature of these things. We generally don’t have support systems for personal evolutions. We change from the person that everyone knows and loves, into someone they don’t know yet. Even if there’s lots of love, it can be hard to keep up with that and fully support.

Which is okay. People who want to evolve into a different—hopefully, better—version of themselves need to be strong enough to walk alone. To carry their burden of existence while they grow and expand.

Entrusting one’s life is not the same as opening up one’s soul, and although I love Manuela like a sister, I cannot share with her the things that constitute the tiny portion of meaning and emotion that my incongruous existence has stolen from the universe.

—Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog • (bookshop + amazon)

My first comprehension of the weight of my own existence came sometime in my childhood. I don’t know how old I was, but I remember suddenly realizing that my mom wasn’t just my mom. She didn’t solely exist for me, to fulfill my needs and desires. She was her own person with longings and daydreams and thoughts that didn’t contain me.

It was a heartbreaking, reality shattering discovery at the time. At first I felt very unsafe and almost a little panicked. I’d spent my whole life being protected and cared for and contained by her. I didn’t have to know anything about anything, because I had my mom. That’s what she was there for.

But as I grew older and started taking some weight off her and putting it on myself and others, I began to feel happy that she was completely her own person, and not just my personalized carbon caretaker.

The difficult thing about being a human and not, say, a kangaroo, is that humans have awareness. It’s not just about how to physically survive in this world, but also about handling existence itself. The human mind wonders about every facet of everything, the human mind wants to solve problems not just as they come but in a permanent fashion, the human mind wants to evolve beyond what’s already there.

That’s why when I come across cynical-type people who say we’re just here to survive and reproduce like animals, my mind goes blank. It can’t compute that kind of statement, because according to my brain’s self-aware programming, we’re here for so much more.

Sometimes I would like to be nothing more than just a little joey, observing everything from the safety of a kangaroo pouch. Sometimes the weight of my own existence is too much to handle. But as I get braver and experience the joys that accompany bravery, there’s nothing I love more than being an adult human.

By universal design you are born into a perplexing situation, bewildered, and you have one job as a human: figure this shit out.

—Will Smith, Will • (bookshop + amazon)

A realization similar to the one I had with my mom happened to me in my twenties. This one involving my adult friendships.

Whenever someone would text me asking how I was, I’d start writing a text back about my life. But I would write way too much, type “sorry this is so long” at the end of the text, and then hit “send.”

The reason I was writing so much over text was because I didn’t have a journaling habit at the time. Writing itself is very therapeutic, regardless of the medium, so I found myself opening up to myself while writing text messages, and not editing them before sending them out. Yikes.

I finally noticed the pattern I had of doing this when I felt like my friends were slowly pulling away. I was mortified to realize I was emotionally dumping on them and straining the relationships.

Same thing as with my mom: I came to understand that my friends had their own weights to carry and couldn’t bear the full brunt of me all the time.

So I bottled up.

This was a good thing and a bad thing.

Bad, because obviously there’s an unhealthy aspect to pulling away from relationships and closing off. It keeps people at arm’s length away, and there’s more of a shallowness to the friendship.

But it was also a good thing, because I was in the murky middle of my deconstruction. Personal evolution, like I said, pretty much requires solitude and a lack of support.

Partially why I closed off was because I wanted to know I could support myself, trust myself, carry the weight myself. I wanted to be as strong as possible within myself, so I could be that for the people in my life.

This is around the time I started journaling again, which I hadn’t really done since I was a teenager. Journaling helped me process new beliefs and old fears. It was the suitcase I began to use to carry myself.

Fast forward to today. I’ve gotten much better with my friendships and relationships and allowing people into parts of my life that I’ve process and healed, but I’m still mostly keeping things to myself.

I think of myself as so strong and so brave for facing the stark reality of existence all on my own. Especially proud of removing the safety net of religion and walking on the edge of the cliff, standing firm against the furious gusts of wind and not letting my knees shake as I peer down into the endless black abyss of the unknown.

I’m so good at not being fully known or understood, I tell myself. Now finally, after all these years, I am fully contained like a mysterious island. No longer putting my weight on anyone else.

Such smugness.

Until I realized that I was just parsing out tiny fragments of myself without even realizing it.

I am actually wide and spread out.

Whenever I find resonance in something—a book quote, a song lyric, an internet comment—I leave a little piece of myself with it. To me, resonating means a crumb of my soul, my existence, has found rest and peace in this world. It has found a pocket to make its home. A little shelf to rest its weight on.

It lightens the burden to have stories and characters and sentences and lines that feel the way I feel. They express things in ways I didn’t know how, but click right into my being like a missing puzzle piece. It makes me feel safer existing as a human.

This understanding first struck me a month ago when I was camping in the woods with my boyfriend, Ethan. We were hammocking and reading together, and I was reading The Night Circus which is one of my favorite love stories.

And I was thinking, this is it, I’m living my love story with my boyfriend, yet I’m ashamed when words fail me and all I know how to say to him is “I love you. I appreciate you.” But after reading the lines of this love story,  I felt suddenly relieved that the words already existed out there. The exact combination of words had already been said.

I felt supported by the fact of this tiny resonance, that a fragment of myself could rest on a fictional character who’s saying what I wished I could say.

Obviously this doesn’t excuse me from trying my best to express how I feel to Ethan, how incredible his existence is, but a part of me felt at peace. Like if I die before I’m able to say everything I want to say, just read the lines I’ve loved over the years, because part of me exists in them.

I am connected to eternity and I am part of everything and although I am with all of it, I am still different from anything and everything.

—Jenny Slate, Little Weirds • (bookshop + amazon)

There is love to be resonated with, and there is also pain.

It’s a specific pain and feeling to lose a sibling. And pain is so isolating an experience that we feel like the only ones who have ever or ever will experience it. Like we’re being specifically and personally punished. Even having my family to go through it with still feels isolating sometimes, because it feels like we’re being singled out to suffer as a unit.

But I feel lighter thanks to resonance. Like a random reddit commenter who said losing a sibling is like losing a limb—because that’s exactly how it feels. Everything feels wobbly and wrong moving forward in our family without Zach.

I don’t want others to experience the pain of losing a loved sibling, but somehow, the fact that other people are out there feeling this pain too, it makes the burden lighter.

I rest some of my pain on that internet stranger, freeing myself of a fraction of the burden I carry.

It’s good for me to remember that the words I put out onto the internet can also have an effect on others.

One of the most pivotal moments in my writing was when I got an email last year from a girl I knew at bible college. We’ve sort of stayed in touch, on and off, over the years. She considers me a friend, and even invited me to her wedding, but I don’t reciprocate the feeling. I would love to be friends with her, we’re very similar and I have kind of a protective, fierce love for her, but it’s almost impossible.

I’m ex-Christian and she’s very militantly Christian, with a passion for theological debate and missionary work. This in itself doesn’t bother me (although in my opinion, Christians should stay in their own countries to do missionary work and stop trying to be third world saviors).

The thing that gets in the way is that I’m very good at reading people’s energy, and although she’s subtle with it, I can tell very clearly that she will never truly consider me a friend because of our theological differences. She has never missed an opportunity to try to convert me back to Christianity, and I feel I will always remain somewhat of a charity case to her.

Never mind the fact that God is the foundation for both of our belief systems.

Because of this vibe I get from her, I have felt bitterness towards her over the last few years. Wishing we could be friends, feeling resentful when she calls me her friend while also knowing she doesn’t entirely respect me. I usually end up ghosting her to get away from the hurt.

But a year ago I got an email from her. She wrote:

“I just read your “sorrow and solitude” newsletter, and I’m going to work my way through the rest of your archive, and I just have to tell you that it was probably the most peaceful part of my day so far. I’ve cried a lot in the past 12 hours for some reason, forced myself to work out, eaten food, and nothing really helped like reading your newsletter.”

That paragraph softened me up like nothing else (although not before I thought, “HA. The words of a heathen made you feel better“).

But it made me realize that other people are out there resonating with tiny things about me. It does zero favors to hold onto bitterness or judgement towards people who have caused me pain, because it affects my writing in a negative way, making it repel rather than draw in. Making it less of a place of solace and resonance.

I want people to be able to rest their weight on my words like I have rested on the words of others.

Something I wrote resonated with her and maybe she was able to leave a tiny piece of herself on my writing and that’s an incredible feeling.

This thought puts more weight on the Ram Dass quote, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

A human may not be mentally or emotionally capable of carrying the weight of another person for their entire life. And it would be catastrophic for the person being carried, to never know what it’s like to stand on their own existence, in their own strength.

But we can all carry tiny pieces of each other, consciously and subconsciously, as we—perplexed and bewildered—figure this shit out together.

PS: I couldn’t figure out how to gracefully tie this section into the main narrative, but I would be remiss to end this essay without mentioning my sister, Elisabeth. I wouldn’t have gotten very far into my liberated identity-seeking without her steady presence. She has known me my entire life and will always know the different variations of me over the years, so it has subconsciously made it less scary to evolve and shed pieces of myself. She is the Sam to my Frodo, and “Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.” <3 Also, what a great metaphor of Frodo referring to the Ring as his burden and telling Sam he couldn’t carry it and then later Sam saying “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” *cry* <33

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