pensive impulse

"Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
-Viktor E. Frankl

Commentary by Heather Bibby

Shed Something - Part 1

Insects fascinate me. They didn't always. There is one college professor I have to thank for this. 

Do you like bugs? 

In all the ways their complexities captivate, it is their exoskeleton that intrigues me the most. For us as humans, our dead man is the foundation, the protection for our life. Blood, muscle and organ overlay bone and time, dust to dust. For some season, in awareness of self, we puppet the bodies our souls inhabit to explore this amazing realm. 

This rock is a pretty big place. And diverse. 

Banding our labyrinthine spirit to our skeleton is our earthly dance. To discover who we are and to let our freak flag fly. No prob, right!? As my eight-year-old, now third-grader (ah, in four days a third-grader!), parrots his kindergarten teacher, he says, "easy peasy lemon squeezy."

From the moment we're born, we follow expected, charted stars. How to behave. How to grow up to "be" something. For some of us, not all, as we learn to dance, our steps stop keeping time with the music we hear. Rites of passage can celebrate though bottleneck, and before we know it - we're grown, responsible and hardly know ourselves. 

It was December of last year when I started to hear the faintest of sounds, like wind picking up through a willow. There was something so familiar about it.  

The insect, with its squish and goo, instinctively pushes the confines of chitin, aging into the next threshold of perpetual purpose. All that means is in order to grow, they must shed something. 

When an insect first molts - think of those cicada shells confettied about tree trunks, picnic tables and playgrounds - and even when first hatched, it is soft, perhaps translucent or whitish. Vulnerable to predators and the elements. Ranging from hours to several days, its shell eventually hardens into whatever magnificent coloring or camouflage or winged state its slightly bigger or completely transformed version of its old self will be. Nymph cockroach to Adult. Larvae caterpillar to Butterfly. 

Instar. Metamorphosis. Words that delineate how it'll grow up.

That is, if it doesn't get eaten. 

My four-year-old calls any person she sees a 'humans.' I feel like that's gotta be from some movie she's seen. "Momma, let's get the humans dressed." Barbies. "The humans at school played with me." Children. "The humans'sss brought the pizza!" Delivery Dude. "Ahh, I just dropped my humans." More Barbies. She's right of course, but hearing 'humans' instead of 'correct noun' is a slight speed bump (no more than most four-year-speak), but still, a note slightly flat. 

I write a lot about fear. Fear is something we all are intimately acquainted with. We all get fear. Maybe your mind goes to what's bump-in-the-night. Or to the shivery, goose-bump inducing words such as snakes, cockroaches, heights, the dark, spiders, ghosts, elevators, germs, needles. Or some different list. Or how about giving a speech? In college I found out about a speech class for just such a fear. The first speech is given in the dark. It's a real thing and folks, I took it!

As someone who grew up trying to muffle and mask her struggles with anxiety through haphazard attempts at hurtling towards her fears, I know how our fear compels us. Occupies us. Influences us. How fear props ego but ego is the organ seen.

Too often, we ourselves become our own blindspot to the ways our fears are dictating our lives, to the ways we are reacting to deal. It can't be us, so in defensive measure, we jerk hand from flame towards what will distract us from what we don't want to face. We alphabet soothe: autopilot, avoidance, enterprise, deflection, projection, rejection, self-protection. 

Whether fleeing others or hiding from ourselves, in our efforts to pacify, pressure builds. As burst valves of fear steams-and-spins us, we flail for control. Or that's just me. But I'm totally guessing not. 

Crafted across one of the bulletin boards I maintained for the 70 third-floor freshman girls of Duhme, one of five dorms in Windsor Halls, as their barely twenty-something Resident Advisor (RA), I glitter-glued one question:

What are you afraid of?

I'm enamored with, just blown away by our capacities, our humanity. Mr. Hemingway told us, "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." My absolute soul-cry, my truest sentence that I could ever write, Old Man, is this:  I cherish our humans-ness.

Thanks, Sam. Or some movie. 

And it's humans that scare me the most. I inch and scooch closer to more of them as I start to say Yes. We're beautiful, messy and tragic. We're lessons. We're life. We're contamination. We're organic and not always captured in selfies or status updates. We're eyes upon each other, making the kinds of connections words can't even begin to. We're spontaneous of heart and giving. We're tenacity and fight. We're sorrow and wilt. We're weird. But we're notes never flat. We collect personal data points of failures and successes, using them to inform us of our worth. And we look around, gauging the worth of others based on more data points. We're relational. We're needs. We're wants. We contract and expand in pursuit of validation. Not a one of us is exempt.

Even the most hardened, off-putting ass is a humans under layers of humans-need. Though, if they're that big a jerk, they probably wouldn't admit it. And I love us for it all. Because I know my own struggles and I know they have them too. This rock exposses us to predators and the elements. As we are all vulnerable, we are guaranteed to struggle. We are supposed to need each other. 

Before my journey began with chronic pain, I was always afraid but acting like I wasn't. I tested the planks for what could construct my identity. Dirt and pine, the sweetest perfume. I built sturdy walls I could roam, lots of rooms to run and hide if I sensed a threat. How many molts ago was that? I drove my motorcycle. Hunted. Hiked. Everything I did was tethered to my then-assembled-sense of self. My student days were ecosystems, animals skulls and diameter tape. In my yellow college apartment kitchen, I seasoned stew and dried jerky from my previous year's kill. My life's dream, nay - obsession, was to Thru-Hike the AT, The Appalachian Trail. My bookshelf full of instruction how. In school clubs, I shot rifles, trap and skeet. The bow at home on holiday. A tomboy and I wore the flannel and overalls of my Instar-of-Youth Identity with pride. I wasn't sissy. I wasn't city. I was country.

Unlike Tom Petty, I did grow up in an Indiana town, my home bordered by farm field and wood. My earthen haven, I can never loose myself from my Hoosier roots. Nor would I ever want to. In a deciduous slough of cells, our skin regenerates in total every single month. And though it's been ten years now living in the Lone Star, my every new cell is embedded, sustained by essence of the Heartland. (There's getting to be some Texas!) 

Essence I can rub in my fingers when I close my eyes: The shale-bottom creek veining from greater Clifty, dividing my wood. The edge giving way for raspberries to pop though the ray-hole from the canopy. In winter, I walk the ice snake to my friends farm, two miles away. Though my ten acre slice of Hope now belongs to another, sold some years back, she is imprinted on my soul. Her soil and earth, rooting my Spirit Tree. Hills roll with hard and softwood. Mother Sycamore, trunk thick with guardian arms, her charge in her bosom. The mute forest, walled in thick snow, a new world to discover every time. The smell of the chill, her nip red on my checks, burning down my throat. Under a summer heat in the valley, under cypress and mulberry, laying in the grass, listening to the running brook of which no Clear Lake spa fountain can compare. Mr. Red-winged Blackbird sings for love.

Identity runs deep. Sometimes we get hung up on how much it defines us, and we struggle to adapt, adjust. Our clothes rip and snag on dam and debris as time moves us along the river of life. As our stories grow us, we may encounter seasons where it's difficult to 'go with the flow.'

What do we, as humans, do when we feel our spirit compress under some constraint? What is our response?

How do we molt? 

Maybe it's self-inflicted restraint, like negative self-talk, our nasty inner critic, that we sorely resent. It might be something beyond our ability to outwardly change, only endure, such as illness or a chronic condition. We might feel the squeeze from outside forces. Maybe it's family who doesn't get us. Friends we need to talk to. Our jobs we're frustrated with. Our responsibilities that overwhelm. Name it whatever, it always comes back to the same thing every single time. 


Fear to express. Fear to confront. Fear to risk. Fear to say no. Fear to change. And the especially monstrous fear, "What will they think?" (Cause we all don't care, right?)

Fear of losing our identity.

Born of tried and true acceptance or created through trial and trauma, we spend our lives in considerable hyper-focus developing our identities. Seeking our identities. Trying on various identities. Finding the one that fits just right. The one we will keep. The one that will define us. The one we grow to "be." 

I was afraid of jellyfish, bears and spiders. But I was terrified of people and public speaking. Those 70 girls terrified me. Something to do with being seen. And heard. Somewhere in my reading during college, Eleanor Roosevelt implored "Do one thing every day that scares you." Almost twenty years later, I still wake with that mission. 

What are you afraid of? Don't try to fix it right now. Just think about one thing you scares you, one thing that is getting in the way of something you wish could be different. Maybe what you first think is only the surface of something that goes much deeper?

Now comes the really hard part, admitting that fear to yourself. 

Duhme Hall of Windsor Halls, Purdue University 


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