Honest and kind. Honest and kind.
Pema Chodron's newsletter arrived in my inbox at the precise moment I was struggling with writer's block. Her shared wisdom was to be honest and kind.
I wondered, what can I write that is honest and kind? Nothing came to me. I thought, maybe this week there is no blog post. Maybe this week there is no newsletter.
But I'm not one to give up that easy. My tenacity is one of my favorite personality traits.
I thought about readiness. And change. And spring.
As part of my master's degree coursework, I've spent the past year studying change theory in great depth. I wanted to know more about why some people like change more than others. There are many theories from people who have been studying how, when and why change happens. Some of the coolest change cats are Edgar Schien, Kurt Lewin and Albert Bandura.
They all determined something that may seem obvious: change happens, whether or not people are always ready for it.
Naturally, it begs the question, what makes people ready?
Sometimes people have no choice but to be ready because change happens whether they like it or not. External shifts in our lives force us to adapt, like when I was let go from a job I held years ago or when my family cut off communication with me a few years before I came out as transgender.
Sometimes people prepare to be ready by planning ahead. They anticipate a change like moving across the country or taking a vacation. Or planning a major identity transformation.
Some quick and agile people are able to adapt easily to change. They may not be ready but when it happens, they just go with the flow.
And sometimes, people just aren't ready. Change may be knocking at the door but they sit, frozen solid with fear, dread or just a lack of capacity.
I thought about this recently when spring finally arrived in Boston. It didn't come on time. It didn't come and stay. It's been timid and hesitant and ambivalent.
For many of us living here, it holds us in a balance--with us holding our breath and asking, "is it safe to take the plastic off the windows, do you think"? We endured an incredibly difficult winter--the likes of which my words can do no real justice. It snowed. It was freezing. It was grey. It was LONG.
While we know we should be excited and celebrating and dancing in the pollen-lined streets, many of us simply aren't ready to embrace spring, now that it is here. We haven't quite gotten over the trauma, and I don't use that term lightly, of the winter we just endured. We are still processing the days spent navigating treacherous sidewalks to wait for busses and trains that never arrived. We are healing from record-high heating bills and days and nights spent huddling and shivering, even with the heat on. We are still feeling the effects of something incredibly painful that lasted for a long time.
I feel the same way when someone posts another video or news story on my Facebook wall about another white transgender child. The story is the same: the child declares his/her true self triumphantly and the loving parents say, "we are just happy he/she is healthy and happy".
I feel the same way when I reflect on my memories of the past four years of my life, from the start of my gender transition. I think of the joy I anticipated feeling and how it became buried, suffocated even, under days and weeks and months of trauma, pain and grief. The intense courage required to declare my "true self" was tempered with many experiences of being rejected, abandoned, criticized and neglected by the person I called a partner as well as countless friends---and my own family of origin.
Like many, if not most, transgender people, my "birth" wasn't the story you see in those heart-warming viral videos. I know I should be happy for those people who are surrounded by tons of love and support. On my good days, I am INCREDIBLY HAPPY for them because I, too, have tons of love and support. But the transition has definitely been bittersweet--filled with both beautiful and terrible moments. When I chose to change, I hadn't prepared for those terrible moments--the words and actions and events that happened as I exposed myself, vulnerably, to the world.
There's a part of me that wants to embrace my new life and all that is available to me. There's a part of me that sees it, hanging out, waiting for me to step up and in and bask in it.
But, sometimes, we just aren't ready. We aren't ready because the wound isn't quite healed.
This is different from the fearful resistance and avoidance of change that I described earlier. What I'm talking about isn't fear. It is about readiness and mindfulness and intentional limits. It is about intentionally allowing the process of grief and healing, and all that's involved. It can be hard to allow for that time we need, because it can feel like it may never happen--that wound might never heal. Having spent a lot of time studying change, in particular how to move through it, I know that it can and does eventually happen--but we have to allow the whole process of it.
I've written a lot about what people do instead, in part because I was striving so hard NOT to do those things. I know avoiding the depth of our wounds only prolongs our ability to truly heal them. Spending time in the deep, dark places doesn't mean they will become permanent. If we want to heal to ever be ready, we must learn to be with it all. Even when we think it might consume us--like a dark, cold winter.
When we know this, viscerally, and don't just "think" about it, we become more ready. Good things take time, after all.
But until then, it's ok if you're not ready. As long as you remember that some day, you will be.