The first time I read this passage from John O'Donohue's incomparable essay "The Lantern Holds The Question" I cried. I stood there in the golden afternoon light of San Francisco -- the light my friend Sonja aptly calls Kerouac Light -- listening to pacific coast waves crash over huge, black rocks, and I cried.
If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here. And the ironic thing is that story is not a story, it is true. It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed.
I owe the discovery of these words to my girl Holly. She emailed them to me just as Sonja and I exited our Uber at Sutro Baths. It was May 2014 and I was still in a daily fight to stay sober, to accept it, to want it. As we walked over to an overlook, ironically called Land's End, I checked my phone and these words came through. I must have read them seven times in a row. They've passed through my mind often -- almost daily -- since. And lately they're ringing loud. Not because life is so sparkly and magical with glee, but because it's just so...there. The bigness of it all: the shapes, colors, hues, edges are right up in my face, up close and personal. The part of the passage I love most is this:
The most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed.
Awaken to who you are can sound woo-woo esoteric, but it's not. Where you have landed can sound like a metaphor for "really bad news". And sometimes, it surely is. I thought waking up to my feelings in my marriage was a shit card, being overly-sensitive was a shit card, the turbulence of my family was a shit card, and being tagged with the big "A" - alcoholism, addiction, whatever label we'd like to use - was definitely the biggest shittiest card of all. I thought it X-ed me out of so much; that I'd never be myself again; that I'd forever be relegated to a "B" version of life nobody wanted. And I most definitely believed everyone who said they were "grateful for their sobriety" was delusional and clearly only trying to convince themselves; why else would they need to say it all the time?
I'm not here to say, Look! I was so wrong and EVERYTHING IS AMAZING. But I am here to say, Look, I was so wrong and everything is...different. Just so much different than I could have imagined or expected.
I'm here to say that maybe, just maybe, the thing you've been dealt? The thing you hate so much you could spit, and simply can't possibly ever accept? Maybe - probably - that thing is your big invitation. Maybe, just maybe, there's a supremely intelligent, compassionate organizing mechanism out there who knows better, and maybe if you're willing to accept the invitation, you'll be really fucking surprised. Like I am.
It's likely the journey will be hellish upheaval.Certainly there will be some heavy mud to wade through. If you're like me and most other humans, you'll fight and wail and burn to the ground more than once. And without a doubt, it will take far longer than you'd hope or expect to come through.
Consider this. Consider these words:
If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here.
Doesn't it seem like the person who wrote that might have born those words from experience? Like, real, true life walked-through-the-fire experience? I believe it does. Doesn't it feel like something you'd really like to know, deep in your bones, yourself? Maybe?
When I stood at Land's End last summer and read those words, 99% of me raged against reality, while 1% of me defiantly hummed the baseline chord of truth. That 1% was just enough to keep going, to begin to accept my own personal invitation, to begin to walk my way into the incredible story of being here.