1. Mentors. I've been lucky to have met a few wonderful mentors over the years. These are people (family and friends) who care deeply about me personally, and for whom I care deeply. They aren't just smart, experienced, and wise, but they know me and want me to be happy. They are better than mirrors because they help me understand not just who I am now but who I should be becoming, where I should be going in life. We all need people in our lives who do that for us.
I can't tell you how many times their wise advice and deep understanding has saved me.
If you're able to find a mentor, someone who sees the best possibilities in you and cares about your success, you have a great gift. Show appreciation -- pay mentoring forward and mentor others. It matters a LOT that we get and give help.
2. A small white stone. My wife Darci and I once attended a "trauma night" at a church in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. I should tell you that it's an African-American church, and my wife knew the organizer of the event. We all sat in a church basement as church-members got up and talked about the worst moments of their lives. These were things I have neither experienced nor could ever imagine. The death of a child. Late-stage cancer. Substance abuse that ruined health and careers and loving relationships. Terrible physical and psychological abuse that traumatized for decades. Each person got up and spoke of their trauma in intimate, vivid detail.
It was hard for me not to jump up from my chair and run out of the room. These were strangers who'd suffered unimaginable pain and loss, and were sharing it with me, who'd never even met them before. I can't express the emotional intimacy of that night. Although it was among the toughest things I've done, I stayed for the entire event and prayed to myself the whole time, crying much of the time. That night changed the way I viewed the world: the way I understand need, pain, and resilience, not to mention community and compassion.
A few of the speakers walked up to me afterwards, and thanked me for praying, for being with them to bear witness to the trauma they'd described. Every one of them graciously invited me to come back, to join the church on Sundays. I was amazed by how welcoming they were to someone they'd never met. One person was particularly kind, and handed me a small white stone as a remembrance of the evening. I keep this white stone on the dresser near my bed. It reminds me of all the pain and loss that's inherent in this world, which I share with others just as they share it with me. It also reminds me to pray and fight for people in pain, including myself. I've never gone back to that church basement, but I remember what happened there every single day when I see the small white stone. During tough times, I carry that stone in my pocket, as an aid to prayer and reflection.
3. My black "North Face" cap. Just as I need to maintain a connection to people, to build community around me in order to thrive, I also need to keep connected to the outdoors. I wear my black "North Face" cap to remind me to live outside, to get out of the house, to walk in the sun, to listen to birdsong, to stop when I notice a Northern red cardinal or see white lilacs blooming in a neighbor's yard.
Being outdoors isn't really optional for me. Much like building connections with others, I view being outdoors as a mental health imperative. Nature and connections are medicines I need doses of every day in order to be happy.
4. Savin Hill bridge. I've slowly walked across Savin Hill bridge several times since 2000. We all have moments in life when we weren't sure we wanted to be here, when the pain of living was so strong that it nearly overwhelmed our faith, our optimism, our sanity. I faced one such moment in March of 2000, a troubled time when I felt my life had no meaning other than bringing me pain. It's never just one thing, of course. Our jobs can be painful; our relationships can fracture; our health can abandon us without our knowing it. We can lose hope, even if temporarily. All of this happened to me then.
In these moments, only one thought will save us, and it's a thought I had in 2000 and that I reflect upon every time I go back to Savin Hill bridge: that when everything is breaking or seemingly broken, life can still get better. You just have to give it a chance. Things can change, and for the better (and so can you). We can have an impact on that -- we can be afraid and desperate and yet decide to keep on going. It's funny how the burdens we carry can build muscle, making us stronger. You can call this resilience or faith or optimism or hope -- it doesn't matter what you call it, but it pushes us forward. And it can save your life, as it has saved mine.
Savin Hill bridge reminds me to: (1) accept that you're not in complete control -- pain is part of being human (this is not a religious impulse, but a highly-pragmatic one); (2) understand that others care for you, have sacrificed for you, and have fought for you (and you should be returning those favors); and (3) you never know how things will turn out, but that it's possible that things will turn out alright and that you need to give yourself and others a chance.
There is pain, but there can be joy and community and moments of beauty and compassion and redemption. All religions have sacred places, where hope and belief are restored. We all need places, people, and things like this in our lives to keep us going. Going to Savin Hill bridge is an act of prayer for me . . .
Do you have objects, people, or places that you turn to in moments of uncertainty or pain? Go ahead and share (and thanks for reading) . . .