What Is It Like To Be You?

Janell Burley Hofmann, December 06, 2014

In the past few months, I’ve traveled more than I ever have in the collective years of my life. It’s like getting a gift you’ve always wanted, but couldn’t openly desire or even clearly define because there was no space for it. And so, while this life path was brewing, I cleared the brush by learning to stay grounded and disciplined. Tending to the daily rounds, the things and beings right before me (under me, over me, around me) that were teaching me hard and beautiful lessons about love, life, and truth. And slowly, it shifted, then opened. Forever a student, I accepted there was more to learn and welcomed (most days) what unfolded – even if it was new or scary or uncertain. I always want to be comfortable being uncomfortable, to believe that leaning into vulnerability is leaning into growth. For me, this has always been the great challenge, duly rewarded with real and measurable results.

Though in the quiet moments – the fear moments – I ask myself if what I’m doing is right. Is traveling, building a business around teaching only what I have to offer even practical, the best use of my energy, the right thing for my family? And then I go. I sit next to someone new on a plane heading across the world and she tells me of her religion, of her family, what it all looks like to her. She speaks quietly as her daughter rests against her. I pull closer so I can hear every bit. What is it like to be you? It is the question of my life. The one that sends me seeking. I sit in a taxi with a young man and he tells me that he lost his father suddenly in an accident when he was a boy. It was then that he started to work and earn money to send his siblings to school and support his family. He says that will always be the way. There is no space for pity. I tell him he is a good son. I try hard not to hug him when his eyes smile. “Yes Madame. That is what my mother says.” We fall silent. I hold the light between us.

There are millions of these stories tucked into every piece of my being. And they are lasting and alive. They encode new DNA. New pathways. Flip what was once certain. Make everything possible. Today, in Kolkata, I reunited with a woman I met (and adored!) during my trip here five years ago. We wrapped ourselves together. She said “I didn’t think I would ever see you again.” Yes. I know. I know. In this environment, under these circumstances, it’s so easy to fall in love with people and kiss them goodbye forever. Is that what makes it special? Does that make us hold onto every word, every story, every experience? Maybe it’s mindfulness. Maybe it’s madness. But I crave this connection. It is my fuel, my sustenance, my map to humanity. It is my way home, into myself, over and over again. And with each coming and going, my throat wells and tears surface, because the questions themselves aren’t to be answered. Living is the only teacher.  

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