Known

I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve. Well, maybe not tendency. It’s the only way I know I how to be. Sometimes I struggle with it, especially in public forums like this blog. And while I’ve tried to keep my cards close to the chest, it seems inevitable that within 15 minutes of meeting someone, they’ve slipped out, spilt all over the floor, and here I am again, showing the world, or the stranger I’m locked in conversation with, my big and broken heart.

As I get older, I am learning how to deal with that better. I have cried more times at work than is probably professionally recommended; I rarely have an interview that doesn’t end with us both clasping hands, declaring our love and newfound eternal friendship. This isn’t rare. But it is special. Every. Single. Time. I fall in love with life and people and things an average of seven times a day.

Last night, a local shop keeper who, on my first visit to his store ended up showing me his daughter’s photos and telling me half his life story, taught me how to use a singing bowl, a source of much Nepali pride. I could feel my heart and soul rising as I ran the padded mallet gently around the rim, angel voices released into the universe as song. I tried uselessly to reign my emotions back in, while my face did that ridiculous thing it does when I’m in pure bliss. Grinning like a manic 4-year-old child, I am reminded of the time a monkey took a banana from my hand on a family trip to Costa Rica and my face hurt from being so physically happy. I fell 100 percent in love with this bowl. It was almost the same feeling in my heart when I first met my now ex-husband. It was pure and utter magic.

Having my heart in such a state of constant vulnerability and so openly sharing my life can be challenging. But it has also been one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced too. In many ways, having a blog in which to share “this is who I unapologetically am, flawed and flailing,” has been a lot like therapy. It has allowed me to process, and survive, some of the most difficult times of my life.

I remember one of the first times my dear friend and fellow Red Crosser Susan and I chatted. We were talking about some work thing or another and she told me, you know it’s unfair. I looked at her, confused. I know so much about you, from reading your blog. Your innermost thoughts. And you know nothing about me. My response, of course, was well we have to remedy that then, and we went out, drank too many bourbons, and have been thick as thieves since. This past weekend we even hiked 14 miles in the foothills of the Himalayans together.

I’ve always felt if I had to name one of the things I appreciate most about myself, it would be that people tell me things, incredibly personal, authentic things. I am blessed to be the keeper of these stories and it’s probably why I do what I do. But as I’ve gotten older, I realize that the reason that is, that people tell me their most intimate stories, is because I share mine with them.

Being open and sharing who you are, no-holds-bar, doesn’t always end up in a Susan. But if you learn—as I am slowly doing—to share your heart with the right people, it can be such a powerful thing. For me, it’s the reason why we are here on Earth. My sweet colleague Rosemarie said it best. I want to be known.

So many of us aren’t, or just known partially, and to me that is probably our greatest tragedy. Mother Teresa spoke frequently about the poverty of loneliness. The greatest disease in the West today, she famously said, is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. Being unknown.

Most of the time when I’ve written in my blog, I’ve written more about experiences. But since I’ve been in Nepal, I’ve gotten a couple of emails that made me want to share something more. So much so that I woke up this morning desperate to write, although it is the only day of the week I can even slightly sleep in, no 8 am meetings waiting for my groggy attendance.

It’s the power of the heart. The power of your mind. The power of forgiveness. And how incredibly essential to the future existence of mankind that we share these most precious commodities with the people that we love. And especially the people that we don’t.

I remember one day in the midst of treatment, I went into my oncologist’s office appointment and told her with much trepidation that I didn’t think the chemo was working. That I was scared that after all of this, the incredible burden and stress this disease had placed on my family, my job, my marriage, I was going to walk out of this and the cancer would still be there. Because every time I went to the infusion suite, I met someone who was suffering incredibly. Who was being pumped with some sort of something because they couldn’t hold down liquids, hadn’t eaten in days. I was feeling okay. Good, even, most days, just tired. Treatment, for me, wasn’t as bad as I pictured and I was quite enjoying the amazing support of love and kindness, renewed friendships. My nurse smiled at me. She reached out and rubbed my bald head.

Niki, she said, the medicine is working. But I have a secret to tell you, one that from the short time I have known you, I am guessing you already know. I could give you every medicine under the sun to kill your cancer. But having a positive attitude, really knowing in your heart that it’s going to be okay, is more powerful that any drug I could ever prescribe you. The mind is an incredible thing.

And it’s true. Do I think I didn’t have as hard of a time as others because I tried to be upbeat most of the time? Hell no. It didn’t make sense then and it still doesn’t now. But it made me really appreciate the fact that while I would never be able to control all of the factors that make up my external experience, I could learn to control my reaction to them. The mind is an incredible thing. The heart is an incredible thing. How I reacted to these crappy factors surrounding me was completely up to me. How so many things that I was so strongly struggling with, crushing me in their weight, I was lugging around completely and totally voluntarily.

One of my favorite little secrets about working in the humanitarian field is that for me, it’s a completely selfish endeavor. I get so much more out of meeting the absolutely stunning, kick ass, broken but risen human beings that live in our world, then they ever will get out of me writing a story about them. By leaps and bounds and bounds and leaps. Getting to know someone else’s life, a snippet of their story, even if it’s in a passing ten-minute conversation, is one of the greatest possible honors we can ever receive, even if it’s one most of us never even realize.

I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this past year is probably one of the simplest. Be open, be kind. Forgive others, even the ones that won’t ever ask you for it. Forgive yourself. Give until you have nothing left to give. I guarantee that when you turn around, you’ll find your supply has been more than overfilled. But most of all, share your heart with others, share your life. Don’t allow the poverty of loneliness to continue. There are so many beautiful and gorgeous people with their own story to tell, waiting to share their hearts, their lives. Be known. And in the process of doing so, someone else will feel known too. And that what it’s all about in the end, anyway. At least from what I know.

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