In Denver, Rory ran up to me at the end of a long day of outreach with the homeless during the Just Say Hello Tour, exhilarated. “Mom, I think I broke my shyness!” she exclaimed. And, for that moment anyway, she certainly had. Emboldened by having a friend there, an older teenage girl that she could look up to, she had been handing out waters all day, giving people food, running around checking to see if we had more socks, more donations. She was actually talking to people, not just saying hello but having entire conversations. She was so lit up, excited and happy and engaged. It was what I had hoped the entire trip would be like on our Just Say Hello Tour, and I was so relieved because it was only our third official stop doing outreach, and YES, we had broke her shyness! This was totally going to work out after all.
This, of course, did not last. The shyness crept back, and the fear of saying hello came with it once the euphoria wore off and we were onto the next stop. I was disappointed that what I saw in Denver wasn’t easy to replicate as we continued the trip. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. This is how personal growth works… it’s an ebb and a flow, an up and then a down, an expansion and then a contraction.
So often we are tempted to think that life happens in this linear fashion. We struggle with an issue, we conquer the issue, done. If by chance that issue shows back up, there’s an inclination to equate that with failure, like maybe we didn’t really conquer it last time. I must have just been fooling myself, because here it is again, right? Somehow we twist the fact that we have conquered it in the past into proof that we can’t conquer it again. It makes no logical sense, but it’s what we do anyway. It’s a side effect of this linear thinking, this start to finish ideology that says that a challenge coming back up must mean that we are moving backwards.
But, we are not moving backwards. We are simply moving our way through life, and the way that life works is that things move in a circular fashion, not a linear one. Sometimes I forget this. I’m particularly harsh on myself. “Why is this same shit coming up again?!” I think, when I know that a month ago, or two months, or a year ago, I took the time to do my work around it, and move past it. Why the same patterns, the same defenses, the same mistakes? And the answer is always, “Because that’s your journey. You still have progress to make, and it’s OKAY. You’ve battled this before. You’ve got proof you can do this. Take a breath… You can do it again.” I remind myself what one of my favorite authors says on this topic, that life is not a beginning and end, but an endless spiral staircase where we just face our same demons again and again and again, climbing higher and getting stronger with each pass by them. I climb the stairs and do the work, again, and I remind myself that I’ll be stronger next time because of it.
I never did see another moment on the trip where Rory was able to achieve that level of comfort, security, and courage again. That stunningly beautiful moment ended up being a bit of a fluke, rather than a sign of some major change. I could be sad about that, but instead I’m just so grateful that we both got to experience that day. I know that we learned from it, that she grows stronger as she climbs her own staircase, and that we will work together to find another moment where she turns a corner, climbing upward, and surprises herself with her own ability to break through her barriers. And when that happens, I’ll celebrate with her. And when it passes, as all moments do, I will remind her that the point of it all is to find the beauty in the breakthrough and the lessons in the struggle, and to know that the fact that she conquered her fears once means that she now has proof that she can do it again.