50 Shades of Honesty.
I wonder what I will tell them.
I mean, my kids. I wonder what I will tell my kids one day about the world I grew up in. I wonder how their world will look different than my own. I wonder how connected or disconnected this world will be when their hair is long and their knees are scraped and they’ve been standing here long enough to learn that life is both a symphony and a tragic, little poem.
I hope I will have the courage to reach them from beyond the screen. I hope they will see by my own life that I didn’t hide and I didn’t avoid the hard stuff. I wonder if I will have to swallow hard and tell them, “It’s really easy to pretend.”
Because that’s the truth: It really is easy to pretend. It’s easier to hide behind a good story. It’s easier to crop things and filter things and pretend you are holding the world together all on your own. It’s easier to get validation from “likes” instead of hard conversations. We live in a world where slipping out the back door, quietly and unnoticeably, is easier than it used to be. We have more stuff to hide behind than ever before. More password-protected caves to store our identities inside of.
I guess I am afraid that I could just put up a flimsy little status and you’ll always, always think that I am doing okay.
One time I got an email from a woman who told me I wasn’t as lovely of a human being as I pretended to be. She sent it anonymously. She said in the email that she had watched me and she didn’t think I was lovely.
And honestly? Her email broke my heart. I remember what coffee shop I was sitting inside of. I remember the drink I was pursing in my hands. I remember feeling like I had let a total and complete stranger down and I wondered where she’d seen me, how she’d known me. I wondered what her agenda was in sending me that email. Her words were mean and graceless and steaming off the page.
I remember how much that email stung me. How defeated it made me feel. How much I wanted to just say through the screen, “I’m sorry if I let you down but I am trying. I can promise you that I am trying.”
That’s all I can do these days: I can show up and I can try my hardest. I can try to let you in. I can try to hold on tighter. I can try to stay in the mess of myself and finally look at the root of the pain instead of projecting it on people and places outside of me.
And more than anything? I can be honest. I can tell you that my mother once said to me, “You think you are really vulnerable and you’re not. You’re really actually guarded.”
I can tell you I have been so incredibly guarded for so long. I don’t know where the walls come from. I can tell you that I am not a cuddly human being and one night at a happy hour, a few months ago, so many people hugged me in one period that I actually started to cry. Pathetically. I cried because it felt so good to be held after a long day.
I can tell you that when I was in middle school we used to vote people out of the lunch table on a daily basis— survivor-style. I had a stint of time as a mean girl and I still cannot get over the way it is so easy to reject other people with actions. That hard truth stays on my skin like permanent marker. I still cringe over the things I did just for people to see me and want me at their table.
I can tell you that I used to have a tongue as sharp as a razor and I could use it to lash out on the people who hurt me. I could tell you that my words are my greatest strength and my greatest weakness, all in one. They can build a person up effortlessly. They can be used to tear myself down completely. I can tell you that I am really good at extending grace to other people but I struggle to even let myself have a tablespoon of that same grace. I invite other people to sit at the table now but I still struggle to even let myself have a seat.
I can tell you that I’ve always known how to hide behind letters. It’s the best way for me to say what I need to say. I can tell you I have a stack of letters I’ve never gotten the courage to send. A lot of those letters are addressed to “Timmy.” Timmy is my brother. I love him though I don’t know how to tell him that and I chose to write all the sentences about him in my book in the past tense with the hope that things might look different for us in the future.
I can tell you that I’ve always dated boys with close sibling connections. I don’t know if that makes me envious or if that makes me hopeful.
I can tell you that one time a speaking engagement in Seattle got cancelled and I still boarded the plane anyway. The three kindest souls picked me up from the airport. We played “Shake it Off” too many times to count. They bought me sunflowers and I felt like Meg Ryan over and over again on that day. And when we got to a coffee shop, and finally had steaming brews between our hands, one of the girls looked me in the eye and spoke out, “Can I ask you something I’ve wanted to ask you for a really long time?”
I obliged. I told her I am an open book.
“What is your dad like? You never write about him,” she said. Almost immediately.
I remember thinking it was the best question in the world. She was right, I never do write about my father. And I proceeded to tell those three kind souls about the greatest man I have ever had the privilege of knowing. How my father is the hardest worker I know. He worked the longest hours all throughout my childhood so that I never had to know what “wanting” felt like. I told them I got the “dirt beneath my fingernails” work ethic from him and I’ve only ever wanted to make that man proud. Turns out, he doesn’t care about if I succeed he wants me to be happy. I remember him dropping me off at the airport a few months ago and just saying as he pulled my bag from the car, “Don’t take things so seriously, Hannah.”
I remember wanting to answer back, “Can we just erase all the times I never said what I needed to say to you? Can we just spend the next few years loving each other right?”
I think that’s all it boils down to loving each other right.
It all boils down to love and honesty and humility. It doesn’t always have to come in that order. Love to fill in the spaces. Honesty to sew up the gaps. Humility to keep us coming back to one another, more human than yesterday and more flawed than tomorrow will allow.
I can tell you that I am terribly, terribly afraid of making a mistake and loving people wrong and losing people. But I am so damn tired of being so afraid.These days I am willing to be a loser if it means I at least tried to love other people right.
I can tell you that I am trying to be a lovely human being. I am really, really trying. And it has nothing to do with screens or a character count or a good website or a brand. It just begins with admitting I’ve been wrong before.
I’ve been wrong so many times before and there’s something really lovely about that.
There’s something really lovely about finally being flawed, and seen, and hopeful.