It was raining. It shouldn’t have been, but it was. She said the tube always gets crowded when it rains. She usually loved the rain. Gray days made her calm. Today, however, she felt the clouds in her throat.
It had been a few months since she took the job at that marketing company. For the first time in years, she felt back on track. Her relationship, her job, her life was all in one place. Yet she felt fragile. They’d had dinner with her boyfriend’s friends over the weekend and she felt like she always did – like she’d said too much, too loudly. She always needed at least two days to heal, for the skin to close where she’d opened up.
She didn’t feel like herself. She felt like she’d been suffering jet lag since she arrived six months ago. Why was it taking so long to feel good again? This is what she’d wanted. The white-washed houses. The dark pubs. The green rolling hills that smelled of dew in the morning. The small apartment on the cobblestone street.
When she arrived at work, wet because unlike native Londeners she didn’t think to carry an umbrella, she was on the verge of tears. When her boss called her in to say a client had complained, she took the comment, went to the bathroom and cried. Then she texted me. I can’t do this, she said. Something is wrong with me. I need to quit. I need to move home.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“Everything.” She said. “It’s too hard here.”
I didn’t tell her that she’d said the same thing before she left for London. Only that time it was the long distance was too hard. The relationship, not the job, had been hurting her. She’d been teetering on the edge for awhile. Fragile, exposed, as if the slightest wind could knock her over.
I was thinking about how Olympic gymnast coach, Irinia Viner once yelled at gold medalist, Margarita Mamun when she was faulting in her practice round and tried to blame it on the difficulty of the routine. Irina responded, “This isn’t a routine. This is your mental state. A total lack of moral preparation for fighting.”
I knew how Liz felt because I, too, was fragile. I lacked the moral preparation needed for fighting. Somewhere in the last two, three, five years, I’d lost my nerve and become weak – deterred by a difficult moment, a harsh word, the thought of pain. And unlike the twenty-two-year-old who moved to New York six years ago, I have become comfortable, my edges now soft and fragile. I have forgotten what it’s like to fight for things.
In 1974, Anne Sexton wrote a letter to her eighteen-year-old daughter, Joyce:
“You do need certain limits, rules, despite that fact that you are in many, many ways a grown woman and want to burst forth upon the world and be free, free as if you were flying your own airplane or skiing the perfect mountain, or galloping on the most beautiful autumn day on the most beautiful horse, etc., etc. I do know how you want to be FREE, and can only say like an old philosopher and sufferer that I am, that freedom, that freedom…comes from within and with it comes many responsibilities and restrictions that YOU must set for yourself.”
Maybe that’s how one builds moral preparation for fighting. The only way to become strong is to become strict…with ourselves. To give ourselves rules we cannot break. Become our own masters and trainers.
What rules are you setting for yourself? I ask myself. You get up at different times every day. You go to the gym sometimes. You work hard, sometimes. You try, sometimes. You let yourself spend hours in bed after feeling hurt or wounded. You allow yourself to breakdown when things are hard. That’s not good enough anymore.
I need better rules. Rules like, you don’t quit when you’re uncomfortable. Rules like push through when you want to break down. Rules like, if you’re going to stop, it must be after twenty minutes, not five. To only quit when you know you’ve tried. When you’ve tried twice. When you’ve tried three times.
We can burst free. That’s our right. To soar, to dream, to dance. To move to London and Paris and New York and take the jobs we know we deserve. To have the life we know we deserve. But it’s our responsibility to ourselves to impose some limitations. To stop making excuses. To keep up the goals and the steps that only we can monitor. To ask ourselves, if we could bear discomfort just a little longer, how much more would we achieve?
Photo: Julio Larraz (Cuban, b. 1944), Flash, The Queen of Hearts, 2011. Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in.