Retirement Of The Superlatives
I like superlatives. I like them a lot.
Along with creating a completely skewed sense of reality, this love makes for some pretty dualistic thinking. I probably did not have the absolute worst cup of coffee in my life this morning (but I mean, seriously, what is a vegan supposed to do when it comes to half-and-half?). This is probably not the tiredest I have ever felt in my life.
[But sometimes my use of superlatives is downright accurate. Hope is actually the cutest dog to ever exist and fall is darn well the very best of the seasons.]
Sadly, love is not all you need. And the time has come for superlatives and I to go our separate ways.
* * *
“Thank you for saying that,” she says through a bashful smile.
My glasses are fogging up – this is what happens when you have a hot flash in the chilly fall air by the way. I take them off to clear them, only to replace them on my nose and experience an immediate resurgence of fog. I give up and place my glasses on the table until my face is done steaming and sweat stops dripping down my chest. I am not basically blind and fighting the urge to strip naked at her dining room table. This is, in fact, the hottest I have ever felt.
She has been sharing with me the frustrations of life lately. Frustrations that come with business transitions and finding your way into your true calling. Frustrations that come from being brave and stepping out into your truth. She had just added a quick addendum to the tale of her week – “But I am so, so grateful” – the guilt from venting about reality clear on her face.
“You know those things can co-exist, right?” I told her, channeling my trauma coach. “You are allowed to feel frustrated even though you are grateful. Its okay to feel both of those things at the same time.”
Its as if she felt she needed permission to experience both ends of this particular emotional spectrum simultaneously. I understood it. Through the last several months my own discussion of any struggle or sadness had been met by many with reminders not to forget everything I had to be grateful for. This happened so often that I started attaching my own appendix to my honest assessment of a bad day.
“I am so grateful, though,” I would tack on quickly, before my seeming lack of gratitude could be brought to my attention. “I know things could be much worse.”
We live in a world where even stage III cancer mandates an acknowledgement that the more uncomfortable emotions are not ruling the day.
* * *
I don’t think I realized that my use of superlatives brought with them an unspoken exclusivity provision - not just to the world around me, but to myself. If I was the happiest I’d ever been, there could be no room for any amount of fear, anger, grief, or sadness. If this was the worst day I had ever experienced, any good moments that snuck in there were eliminated. I created a world that had be either black or white, good or bad, right or wrong so that I could avoid the emotions that scared me. I didn’t do so well with emotional grey areas. It was one or the other. And that is that.
Or that was that.
Superlatives served as an escape mechanism much in the way that alcohol and books and unhealthy relationships had. And escaping is just no longer an option.
* * *
“You look great,” she tells me as we are catching up after a few weeks apart. The sun is setting over Innsbrook and despite the fact that I am at the end of my brain’s reserves for the day, I tell her, “I feel fantastic.” I tell her that, because it is true.
Fantastic is a new word to my vocabulary. I mean, I’ve known it. But I never really used it. Until recently. And now I seem to be using it all.the.time.
One of the tricks God worked in the last several months was teaching me how to stop thinking in such dualistic ways. How to remove the high-wattage superlative variety of a single emotion in favor of allowing myself to feel many things at one time. Contentment is swirled through with fear and gratitude and joy. There is an underlying current of anxiety and my days are punctuated with feelings of unconditional love.
And somehow, in learning to feel all these things at once, the magnitude of all of them increased exponentially.
Like - I laugh out loud for no reason other than delight in being alive multiple times a day.
Hope fears I may have lost my mind.
I guess its like trying to color a picture with just one color crayon. Sure, that purple is lovely. It might even be the purpliest purple in the crayon box. But throw in some blue and pink and maybe even a little green and suddenly every one of those colors – while appearing in smaller quantities – is brighter and more powerful than it was before.
We all may have a favorite color, but the truth is our pictures are prettier when we give ourselves the freedom to play with lots of crayons.
* * *
I’m no expert on feelings. But I’m surprised how often so many of us feel the need to temper our more down emotions – sadness or frustration or grief or anger – with an acknowledgement of how grateful we are. Its as if we don’t think we have a right to those feelings simply because we are also the recipients of so many blessings.
This is not true.
* * *
If I were forced to put a title to the place I am in right now, I think I would say I am in the conclusion drawing phase of this cancer journey. While I am sure that I will be coming to new conclusions about this whole experience for weeks, months, even years to come, they are coming fast and furious right now, and one of the big conclusions is this – ignoring the unpleasant emotions does us no favors. In fact, doing just that is probably in large part why I ended up so sick.
Yes – we should be grateful. If you are reading this, I can guarantee that you have things much better than the majority of the world’s population. But that doesn’t mean our sadness and grief doesn’t need tending to. It doesn’t mean that our frustration or anger don’t get a voice. Quite the opposite. They need tending to. They need a voice.
In a world where social medial makes us believe that every day must be an Instagram perfect smiley selfie, that can be difficult to do.
But, as my coach finally convinced me, you can be angry or sad or frustrated or grieving and still radiate love, gratitude, and faith.
They can coexist. All those things.
* * *
So go ahead. Dump all the crayons out, all over the table, and make a big, beautiful, scribbly mess with them all.
Watch the brilliance that results.
You might actually call it fantastic.