You can't be all the things.
I want to be all the things.
If I am given a space to simply breathe and be completely honest then that’s the truth I choose to share: I want to be all the things.
I want to be a friend. I want to be a good friend. I want to be a best friend to every little human I encounter. I want to be a sister. A daughter. A girlfriend. A wife.
I want to be the person who gets called at two in the morning. I want to be the one who shows up at the door with coffee and a heart that is just ready and amped for whatever truth you want to let sit square in the middle of the kitchen table. I want to take people as they are. I want to hold people as they come.
I want to be the mysterious one— the girl in the corner of the coffee shop with the bright red hat. I want to be the rebel. I want to be the one who doesn’t care about the rips in her tights. I want to be a writer. I want to be a poem. I want to be the one you can’t stop thinking about. I want to be the one you never let go of, the girl who managed to maneuver herself away like a magic trick. A great Houdini act that left the whole world asking, "Where'd she go? Did anyone get her name?"
I want to be the one who feeds the homeless. I want to dress the orphans. I want to remember to pray when I say I will pray for you. I want to be the reliable one. The simple one. The one who needs no excess in her life— she gets it and she knows what is really important. I want to be the secret keeper. The girl who you always know is going to cook the meanest, baddest appetizer for that dinner party. I want to be the one who dances at weddings. I want to be the life of the party. Yes, I want to be the life of the party.
I want to be the one who remembers to look up. I want to be the organized one— the one who has ridiculous control over the content of my inbox. I want to be the one with systems and rules. I want to be the adventurer. The wild one. The cool girl. I want to be the one who never lets a single soul down.
I want to be all the things.
“I can’t be all the things,” I said into the phone yesterday.
I stopped in the middle of the road as I said it, surrounded by all these trees that are begging— straight begging— to keep holding tight to the pretty yellow leaves that are ready to fall right off their fingertips and leave them forever. The girl on the other side of the phone was driving to me. She’d packed a bag and she was driving to Georgia for a few days. She was stopping in Atlanta for dinner to see me.
But here’s the thing: we are no small talkers. If you get us on the phone to talk about an estimated time of arrival, we will end up picking apart the shreds of our existence and holding them up to the light for each other to see.
“You can’t be all the things,” she answered. “We all want to be all the things and we just cannot be.”
“But I am seeing something even bigger than that,” I told her. There was something at the root of wanting to be all the things. Something I didn’t see until now: When you make promises to yourself that you can be everything to everyone, you are really just announcing to everything outside your orbit, "I don’t need you. I am everything I need to be, and I am everything to everyone, so I don’t need you."
I don’t need you to show up. I don’t need you to come here. I don’t need you to answer my prayers. I don’t need you to tell me that you miss me.
And let’s me be honest: not needing people, and not knowing how to need people, is the saddest thing in the world. It’s sad and it’s empty and it will leave you hollow and begging for the “more” you don’t know how to swallow your pride and ask for.
Not needing people is fueled by a lie, not by a truth: the lie that if you really needed people then they wouldn’t come. They would not show up. They would not knock at your door. No one wants to be abandoned and so we all just try to be the ones who jump ship first and swim off in the distance to save the rest of the world. We tell ourselves that feels less lonely. We tell ourselves that feels better than being left. Unchosen.
I can’t be all the things.
I wear that truth like a sweater these days— a chunky maroon sweater that comforts me and makes me claustrophobic, all at the same time.
That’s the hardest and grittiest truth I’ve been forced to swallow since I turned 26. It’s like 26 showed up with a hammer and nails and got all gangster in my face, saying, “Girl, hop off. You can’t be all the things. Just hop off that reality you created for yourself.”
That’s where I am in this present moment: figuring out what it looks like to not be all the things— to not be everything to everyone. To just be something to a few. To remember to call that few. And cheer that few on. And finally resolve the debate in my mind that has always told me that, to be valuable, you must sink your teeth into quantity.
Quantity will make you known. Quantity will make you well-liked. But quantity has nothing over quality. They were right to burn that into our brains in the 5th grade. Quantity will leave you going wide, and wide, and wide, but Quality is a beggar that needs your whole being. Quality is the one who takes you into its arms and strokes your hair as it says, “This won’t be the easy route. It’s not gonna be easy to go deeper with just a few. But aren’t you ready for the layers to come off you? Aren’t you ready for someone to know you for who you really are? If you keep skimming the surface— if you keep a constant dance with Quantity happening— you are never going to feel known. And darling, feeling known is the best feeling in the world.”
When you are trying to be all the things, you are layered.
You are bundled. You are like one the wooden Russian nesting dolls that keeps itself hiding beneath all the other layers. And there are a few extra layers that are heavier than the others— wanting to be there for everyone. Wanting to save everyone. Wanting to stack the world upon your bony shoulders and turn away anyone who tries to tell you they are here to help.
“I don’t need the help,” I want to say, holding up my hand. And really, if you chipped away at all the pride inside of me, you’d get down to the truth: It’s not that I don’t need the help, I just don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t know how to say— even in the smallest of small voices— please help me. Because I am too proud. And I am too fixed on saving things. And I am too busy thinking that I must be God— I must be God— to ever ask for the help of someone or something that is evidently bigger than me.
That’s a real way to slap God and people in the face—wham, wham— at the very same time: when you find a way to say with your actions and your words, “What you are trying to give me is not enough. I already think I can do better than you.”
She scouts out all the random and weird and delightful coffee shops hidden in the limbs of Atlanta and she is one of my best friends here. She gets me. She gets my love for classic literature. She gets my ache for a good cup of joe. And she and I can just sit at a table for hours and talk about Life like it is the third person sitting beside us and we are doing our best to analyze its stony personality and unpredictable ways.
Hodge Podge. This time her recommendation was Hodge Podge. It’s a half-mile from my house though I never ventured in that direction. I think I should probably explore.
“They have paleo brownies,” she told me. That sealed the deal. I was on a paleo kick at the time.
We sat in the middle of that coffee shop, inside of a room that is giant and filled with tables that look like they belong in an art classroom. I shimmied the brownie out of the cellophane. We picked at it as we talked.
“What do you need from me?” she asked.
I wasn’t expecting the question. She asked it again. Rephrasing it this time.
“As a friend, what is it that you actually need of me?”
I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.
And I don’t know if she and I have figured out what we actually need from one another yet. I still don’t even know if we know how to ask. But it started slow and simple and fixed and I want to think I’ve gotten better at asking her for the things I need:
Someone to talk to when the world feels like it is going haywire and you all you want to do is rant or cry or shake your fists in the air because it is November and Atlanta is having a field day with the 70 degree weather.
Someone to venture out of the city with and try to pitch a tent and camp in the wilderness.
Someone who has a great laugh that seems to fuel you.
Someone who is just as wide-eyed and just as unsure but they are on a quest to find beauty, just like you. They are searching for something— maybe just about to scratch the surface— on something they haven’t quite touched yet, just like you.
Maybe that’s what we all need on any given day: a person who just stands besides us and nods their head when we finally get the breath to say, “I don’t understand. I just don’t understand. And I try. And I lose. And I win. And I had it really, really good this one time and I keep trying to fumble my way back to something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s probably better than it was in that moment but I just don’t know how to see it right now.
And I am trying to pray. And I am trying to be an adult. And I am trying to pay bills. And I am trying to figure out the names I want to go by, the titles I want live inside of. I am trying to figure to figure out how to just be a good human being— and that is hard enough on any given day.
This whole “I have you then I don’t have you,” “I need you but I don’t know how to keep you,” “I want you but you aren’t for me” thing is hard enough.
Please just stay. I guess I just need to not be left alone right now.”