I tend to have a lot of these revelations, and I don’t think it’s because I’m any wiser than anyone else (or even any wiser than my past self…), only that I like to think about life things as I figure them out.
For a long time I felt like I cared too much about what people thought of me. It’s always been really important that people like me and think good things of me, regardless of whether those things were true or an accurate representation of myself. I realized recently that needing everyone to like me was actually a justification for not liking myself. It was a barometer for social success that didn’t depend on my own happiness, because I didn’t think my happiness should matter.
It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve realized that it’s better for everyone if I make my life into something that I’m proud of and that makes me happy. People are mirrors, after all, and your reaction to other people says more about you than about them. People gravitate towards others who radiate happiness, health, well-being, light.
And so to challenge myself, sometimes I do things the 15-year-old me would never do for fear of what people might think. Spend a night in a strange city alone without planning ahead, have dinner with a stranger in the park, dye my hair red. The superficial things don’t really matter, and as I’ve said many times before, as long as you’re safe and smart about it, there’s so much value in saying yes to (almost) anything. I could write for ages about the experiences I’ve had just because I silenced that little negative voice and said yes to experiencing life as it happens, randomly and creatively and beautifully as it does. I suppose this blog is the diary of some of them. Some are written in secret places for my eyes alone, and still others exist only in memory. This is the way of life, I think.
I’ve been packing for about two weeks now, slowly and methodically. I went through the things I’ve accumulated in a year. Plane tickets, train tickets, stubs for concerts and metros, name tags from conferences, birthday cards, Christmas cards, postcards and photos. The paraphernalia of life. Somehow it’s very human to use these meaningless scraps to store memories, like external hard drives that, instead of storing the data themselves, store a series of keys to unlock the memories that are stored within ourselves.
Why are keys so fascinating to us? I think it’s because we like the idea of a mystery, of a secret package that could contain anything and you would never know from the outside. It seems like a weird thing to be obsessed with, but it makes sense when you bring the humanity back into it. We all like to think of ourselves as more than we appear. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, we say. And as I’ve always been assured, good things come in small packages.
It’s certainly one kind of mystery to make yourself into a black box. But I’ve noticed that there’s another kind of mystery about the kind of people who radiate positive things. The kind of people who make you smile in a funny way, make you feel good about things no matter what the context, who give you that warm fluttery feeling when someone does something kind and unexpected for you. Where does all of that come from?
I don’t know yet, but I think that’s the ultimate challenge I will set to myself. The challenge to be that kind of person. How do you know when you are? I don’t know that either. (It’s entirely possible that it requires a good deal less introspection than I’ve indulged myself in.) But I think it’s worth something to try to reflect and radiate, and to make a conscious effort to affect people in positive ways. At the very, very least, to be aware of how everyone who has touched my life has made me a better person, even if it’s small things. And to be grateful, especially for the small things.
So in case I haven’t told you lately (yes, you!), thank you. For the chocolate, for the hug, for the help I never like to ask for. For listening to me vent after the coffee got cold (we must be so beautiful by now!), for taking care of me, for sharing pieces of your life with me. For telling me your stories, for trusting me with the things that are important to you. Thank you for keeping in touch, for the postcards and the letters, the photos, the emails, the facebook messages. It makes me smile to hear from you, every time, even when it’s just “hey.” Thank you to the jam lady at the market square, and to friendly people on trams and buses and planes everywhere. Thank you to the stranger in the park who asked me to dinner (I guess there have been a few), thank you to the sound designer who became my friend for 8 hours over the Atlantic (I still have your card, tucked into my idea notebook), to the artist who told me the personal meaning behind her work, and the little girl sharing our campfire who loved marshmallows but wasn’t afraid to say she liked them plain. Thank you to the little old Finnish ladies who talk to me at the bus stop even when my Finnish is terrible, and the little old ladies and gentlemen everywhere who encourage the hopes and dreams of young people. Thank you for listening to me ramble and for pointing out when I’m being ridiculous (you know who you are). And thank you for being you, for being smart and funny, creative, ambitious, supportive, inspiring. You are amazing for all the big reasons, and especially for all the little things.