Emptiness is Next to Openness

Deep down, I’ve always known I should be a writer. My heart knew this, and the universe provided all kinds of reassurance over the years–comments from teachers and professors, encouragement from friends and family–but it wasn’t until recently (and I am now 36) that writing became any sort of focus in my life. I see now what I lacked, what stopped me from pursuing what is one of my greatest life’s passions, was openness.

closeup of red wine pouringI’m going to make the assertion that the opposite of openness is not actually ‘closed-ness’ but rather ‘fullness’. Think of a wineglass being open or empty versus one that is full of liquid. My life from a very early age was always very ‘full.’ This was not bad thing. My life was busy with siblings, friends, school, soul-searching, and later travel, hobbies, careers, husbands, homes, and kids. There was no room in my metaphorical wineglass for writing. Then life dealt me a chronic illness.

And that chronic illness, the best way I can think to describe it, emptied me. In one fell swoop, it emptied me of time, lifelong hobbies, the ability to work full-time, the wherewithal to parent as I desired, the energy I needed to run our busy household, and even the headspace to nurture relationships with my husband and friends. I survived in this state of empty-ness for the better part of three years. I grieved, I denied, I was bitter until one particularly ordinary day when I cried a lot and had an exhaustive conversation with my husband and a dear friend during which I repeated these words over and over again…I give up. I give up. I don’t even know what I give up on, I just give up.

Of course it’s easy to see these things for what they are in retrospect, but I see now that what I gave up that day was ’empty-ness’–an emptiness that by the grace of God, call it what you like, was replaced by ‘openness.’ There’s a number of expressions that describe my transformation at that time–“When the lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window” or “There’s  a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” come to mind–but the words that hit the closest to home for me are these: Emptiness is next to openness.

From that point on in my life, things–little things–began began to change. On the surface, my wineglass still looked pretty empty. My symptoms ebbed and flowed but ultimately didn’t disappear, and I accepted that my life would never look the way it used to or the way I’d hoped. Accepting this was big deal, and ever so slowly and very consciously I began to let go of all the ‘I can’t’ talk that had plagued my life with illness. I can’t exercise, I can’t go out, I can’t play with the kids,  gave way to I can take Tai Chi, I can love my children better than anyone, and, blessedly, I can write.

Drop by drop I began filling my cup, most notably with writing. Over the next three years, I grew my craft as a writer first as a blog and later into a career I find as exciting and satisfying as any I have ever had. My life has regained a feeling of fullness, different than what I was used to, but a fullness nonetheless. I remember a few years ago a friend asked me if I would trade my life with a chronic illness for a life without one. I’m sure, at the time, I looked at her like she had three heads and replied quite strongly, “Of course I would.” But now, I’m not so sure.

I am thankful to be in this new place of fullness, a place I can quite confidently say I wouldn’t be had my glass not been emptied. I love my job, I can still make room for the most important things, I’ve found new hobbies and even new people to love, but this is just my story. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been empty in our own ways at some point on our journey. Emptiness doesn’t feel good, we can all probably agree on that, but for better or for worse, it is worth acknowledging that it has a way of opening us up for the next chapter in our lives.

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