How I’ve learned to keep going, even in the darkest tunnel.

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Photo by Mina Ivankovic on Unsplash

“We can do hard things, like be alive and love deep and lose all, because we do these hard things alongside everyone who has ever walked the Earth with her eyes, arms, and heart wide open.” -Glennon Doyle, Untamed

The weird thing about being alive during COVID is that life seems to go on anyway. Regardless of the state of the world, people are still having babies, getting married, losing jobs, gaining jobs, burying family members, creating, destroying, and celebrating life in whatever ways they know how. Even despite all this mess pressing in on us.

Life goes on.

Sometimes, the beauty of impermanence astounds me.

Today, I walked out onto my back porch to journal for the first time since before the smoke, and I realized I’d forgotten how good the air feels. I forgot how fresh and exquisite it is to feel it coat the inside of my lungs, and brush the outside of my body. I forgot how big and how vast the sky, how big and how vast our world, how big and how vast our choices.

Living inside four walls for so much time, I think, has made us all a bit short-sighted.

These last few months, whenever something goes wrong at work, I will hear my boss say, “Because nothing can go right in 2020.” Every time. An order gets mixed up and we suddenly have to rush to figure out an alternative within 24 hours. The refrigerator stops cooling. Somebody gets sick and has to call out.

“Because it’s 2020.”

Every time I hear this, my gut reaction is to empathize, and so what I say is, “I know. It’s so hard.”

A moment later, however, what I think is: “But what about all the people who have become new members over the past few months because they love what you’ve created? What about the trips you’ve gotten to take, exploring places you’ve never been before? What about the fact that we’ve been able to adapt, stay open, stay alive — even despite all the shutdowns?”

What I mean is: But… What about all the beauty?

A few weeks back, a friend shared with me an analogy that went something like this: just because you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means you’re in a longer part of the tunnel.

I took that to mean: so don’t just stop , sit yourself down, and give up because you can’t see it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that, eventually, if you keep walking, you will start to see a glimmer that will signal an end to the darkness.

That’s all any of us can do, really; what most of us are doing, in fact. We’re walking, trusting that the darkness will end if we just keep doing the Next Right Thing. Even if we can’t see beyond the next step; even if we can barely take the next breath. We walk.

Faith is believing in something we can’t see, trusting the process, despite whatever we might be feeling in the moment due to all the unknown. Whether that means having faith in a future without COVID, a book deal, a relationship, or an end to depression. When you’re in the tunnel, it will take everything you have to keep the faith, and even then, it might not feel like enough.

It’s like the darkness gives us short-term memory loss. When we’re in the heat of it, the thick of it, we forget that we’ve been here before — and that we’ve gotten out of it. All we can feel is the immediacy of our pain or loss or worry or stress, and even trying to recall the faith feels forced or fake or unfathomable.

But if ever we reach that point when it becomes impossible to keep the faith, we then must remember we have the power to create the faith.

We have to imagine for ourselves the world we wish we had, and then walk towards it with every fiber of our being until things start to feel a little bit better. Like coming back to ourselves. Like Love.

“Freedom is not being for or against an ideal, but creating your own existence from scratch.” -Glennon Doyle, Untamed

I don’t know what stage of the journey you’re in as you read this — whoever you are — you, whom I love — even if I don’t know you very well. Even if we’ve never met. The truth of that statement — you, whom I love — will never be less true. Which might sound weird coming from the other end of a computer, but if I did know you, that’s what I’d say, and so I won’t hold back now.

The truth is, I’m a storyteller, and if I know anything, it’s that our story is never over. Even in our triggers or grief or a pandemic, there are so many more stories being told.

Here, there are stories of compassion.

Stories of gratitude and resilience.

Stories of struggle and of triumph over struggle.

Stories of love.

If I’ve learned one thing from literally every person I’ve admired, it is this:

I will go no further in life than the degree to which I adhere to my own authenticity.

My mission is to write good into the world, so that’s what I’m doing. Writing good.

To me, the world feels as though it’s teetering on a precipice. There’s been an awakening, and I don’t believe (nor do I hope) that any of us are going back to sleep after all this is over — COVID notwithstanding.

The one thing I keep hearing, over and over and over again, which I’m incredibly grateful for is that despite all the hardship or struggle that this pandemic has brought on, it’s also given us an immense amount of clarity.

People are finally starting to see their worth. They’re starting to fight for the more fulfilled life they know they deserve, and releasing themselves of that which no longer serves them. They’re finding purpose, even in the darkness, as they continue to take one step at a time, and slowly shed the layers of skin that are nothing but dead weight to them now.

To me, this is a comfort and an inspiration— knowing that as much as I’m trying to write good into the world, so many others are writing their own stories of goodness, too. They’re winning their battles, and being champions of their own authenticity — which is all the world truly asks of us: to be no more and no less than exactly who we are.

The world needs you — in all your authentic power — in everything you have to offer by simply being yourself. It needs what only you can do, what only you can say, what only you can share from what you’ve gone through. You don’t have to take on the whole world. You don’t even have to take on your world.

You need merely to imagine the sort of world you want to live in, and then, one step at a time, work to create it.

“If you are uncomfortable — in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused — you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s hard because you’re doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.” -Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Just as there are moments of discomfort, there are moments of joy and unimaginable enthusiasm and bliss. Just as there are great stretches of pain or doubt, there are equally as long stretches of understanding and clarity and meaning.

When you’re loving wholeheartedly, or following your passion or your curiosity or your purpose, what you’re really doing is risking it all. You’re risking losing perhaps the most valuable thing you will ever know, and in turn potentially gaining an ache that can be so deep, when you’re in it, you fear you might never come out of it.

But what I’m learning is that it’s better to have known love, to have done love, and to lose it, than it is to never participate in the experience of life that is the risking of that love.

A couple weeks back, I went to visit a friend in the midst of one of the deepest depressions I’ve been in since my divorce. I had gotten triggered in September, and it had lasted the entire rest of the month.

She, of course, had sensed something, and had invited me over for dinner. She made falafels. We drank a dry Riesling. There were stringed lights above us as we talked and ate on her back porch. I sat wrapped in a blanket, feeling warm and safe and vulnerable and incredibly sad.

It was the sort of overwhelming sadness where, when she asked, “So what’s been going on with you?” my emotions immediately came out in a volcanic eruption, and I started crying as I spoke.

Wiping fruitlessly at the streams running down my cheeks, I described to her that it felt like I had lost my innocence all over again.

“I can see my inner child and she’s bruised and scraped and she looks so sad, and I just want that innocence back,” I said. “I want again to look at the world in its infinite possibilities, and I just can’t anymore, and it sucks.”

Among the many other wonderful words of wisdom she passed onto me that night, my friend said one of the most powerful things I might have ever heard:

“You know what my aunt would tell you if she were here? She would say, Julia, you are so strong. You are so. strong. You’re stronger now even than you were in your innocence.”

You’re stronger now even than you were in your innocence.

Please, if there’s anything you ought not to forget, do not ever forget that. Do not forget that you — whoever you are — you, whom I love — are stronger now even than you were before the pain. No matter how weak you feel, or how unsure, or lost, or stressed, you are stronger now, in all that you know, than you ever were before.

You’re stronger in your awareness. You’re stronger in your knowledge. You’re stronger in your struggle, and you’re here and you’re brave and you will be stronger even later, as you continue to experience love and loss and love again.

Every battle won is a step gained towards the end of the tunnel. Towards the blue, blue sky, and all its vastness.

Sometimes, the world requires us to believe in the possibility of an outcome that, right now, seems impossible. But you must remember that, no matter what, you are never fighting alone.

The entire world is fighting with you, and all who have come before are fighting for you. You are not the first to grieve, or to be angry, or to fight for what you believe in, or to know loss, or to be afraid. Throughout every hardship, there is an infinite magnitude of people standing there with you in your pain. They know it because they’ve experienced it. They’ve experienced the struggle, the unimaginable and unbearable heartache, and they are holding your hand in everything you do.

It’s not just you out there. It is us.

You aren’t doing something wrong, you’re doing something right, and you’re doing it with all the rest of the world holding your hand in this one precious moment. This one wild and precious life.

Whether you can see nothing but shadows right now, or whether the light is shining full and bright and boundless on your face, you must walk on, holding nothing but the truth of your authenticity, and knowing that it, and you, are enough.

My name’s Julia. I’m a writer, and these are my COVID-19 weekly letters of encouragement.

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