Sometimes we chat and sometimes space between us is filled with the sounds of the world turning. A car driving past, the crunch of golden leaves on the ground, the distant shout of friends meeting before the final bell rings.
It takes me back to my childhood.
I walked to school every day from 1st-5th grade. I knew exactly when to leave, seasons passed not in days but in moments of the earth changing. Hot air turning crisp, leaves under foot, chestnuts falling and breaking open from their spiky green shells; shiny, smooth treasures to carry like a worry stone in your pocket, wind picking up, snow falling on bare trees, carving a path with my feet that I would march on again and again until all that pressure turned to ice. Then the earth would melt and the sun would reflect with such intensity that I would shield my eyes, the earth would gradually return to green and the sun’s intensity would transform into a stiff heat that made the trudge up the hill towards home, seem unbearable.
Each morning now is a blast to my childhood, a transportation through nostalgia to my former self.
As a child we can have such a confidence in our identity. Our sense of self is so assured and obvious and then suddenly we reach a point in our lives where it isn’t. We gain awareness and with that comes questioning everything that self was built upon. We grow and change and some of that growth and change is so good and some of it is vicious.
I came that realization two weeks ago in the middle of a Hanson concert (yes, that Hanson). I was euphoric, singing and dancing and just letting myself be transported and I remembered how much I love to dance without caring what anyone thought. How I love to sing even though I tend to be a little too loud. My senses were on complete alert as I settled into memories of laughing and dancing in my room and with friends. Recollections of natural happiness that comes with a strong sense of being yourself.
After I lost James, my grief took its greatest toll out on my self-esteem. Some of my first thoughts in the aftermath were wondering what I had done that was to blame.
I thought of my missteps as a friend, the fact that when I am really excited I tend to talk over people, how my opinions are sometimes so strong I can’t imagine anything else being right, how I sometimes hurt people by not speaking or standing up for them, the many ways I fail at following Christ, how I divulge too much information without thinking, how I make things too complicated and have trouble adapting.
Months and years have passed as shame has brought to light all of my shortcomings, all my failings to humankind. In response, I slowly hid bits of myself away. The parts that were too excited, too exuberant, too loud. So much concentrated awareness had me shrinking into myself, scared to live in case I might cause hurt.
It doesn’t take grief alone to send us hiding. There are so many reasons that can trigger our response to listen to shame. However it happens though, living a life focusing on our short-comings is a half-life. It is a life where we hide the unique and special parts of ourselves, the parts that help us feel free.
The root of the word nostalgia is literally “the pain of returning home” or homesickness. I found this fascinating. If you can look beyond the memory itself, you can recognize a sense of being at home with yourself. You can remember who you are.
The Savior wants us to find ourselves and offers up this promise, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). If we focus too much on ourselves, we will always feel lost. That constant inward contemplation can be destructive because it so often consumes us with shame. But in a paradox, losing our lives for His sake will bring us home. We must lose ourselves in all that is good (“for good cometh of none save it be of me”); in simple moments with our children, in uplifting music, in inspiring books, in service, in connection with the world around us.
Let go of the grip of self-consciousness. Know and remember that you are loved simply for being you. All of those quirks, all of what feels like imperfection, that is part of your divine identity. Stand firm in the knowledge that as you grow and lose yourself in living a joy-filled life, all of those rough parts will be softened, but your uniqueness will remain.
Remember the big and small delights that bring that true sense of joy. Remember the freedom of confidence, the ease of being unguarded. In recognizing and remembering the root of ourselves, we can return home and simply be.