When I was a little girl, the longings inside me were alive. They woke with me and walked with me. They called to me throughout the day, and whispered “there is more.” I realize now, looking back, quieting these longings was how I first learned how to conform, and how to tamp down the brave inside me. The different. The weird. I learned how to keep those things to myself.
I remember swimming as a child. I wouldn’t simply splash at the top with the other kids and jump off the diving board. I would do those things, yes, but eventually, I found myself with goggles on, creating my own world. I would dive down to the bottom of the pool and slightly rest on the bottom. Thinking, dreaming, pretending, imagining, until it was time to take the next breath.
From the time I was little I longed for meaning. For impact. For magic. I longed to be a mermaid and to fly off rooftops and to make a feather dance with my mind.
I longed for love. For deep, unmovable love, even then. To be swept away by life.
But I learned that was a little “too much.” I learned people looked at you a little funny when you talked about such big things for such a small person. I learned not everyone dove to the bottom of the pool to dream.
I’m convinced we have no idea how to pinpoint our exact longings and how to protect our untainted minds as children. I had no idea how to tell myself that mermaids were real because they were real to me, that the way they would be made real would be to write my novel about one of them.
One summer, I did write a story about a mermaid in a golden lagoon, and I remember feeling how proud my parents were, how they showed it to our family, and how my little girl insides beamed with joy and pride.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, mermaids became silly. Diving to the pool bottom became a little bizarre, and dreaming of magic became a little too fringy. It never left me, but it was smaller, quieter.
And this is how it begins.
We take our longings, and ask them ever so gently at first, to quiet. Hush now. We don’t want to stand out too much. To be too strange. Keep that one to yourself.
Did I actually want to start a mermaid fan club and sew myself a fin and try to exist underwater? No. I wanted to believe in magic. I wanted to believe in love and worlds where we stopped, just to take them in for one second longer before rushing on to the next thing. As a child.
The rub is this: The longings aren’t the only pieces of ourselves that are quieted. The longings are the most important pieces that are quieted, but they take shape in every way. The quieting spreads. The whispers to keep it to ourselves become louder, until we learn, piece by piece to rest who we really are on the pool bottom and swim to the surface, leaving the little girls behind.
And so we begin our journey to become a real girl, and to hang on tightly to the practical, the good enough, and the stamps.
The longings were never weird. The longings were gold. They were my voice, my being telling me as a child what would become important to me as a woman.
Love. Connection. Meaning. Magic. Dreaming. Slowing down. Breathing deeply. Looking for the unseen and the unknown. Writing. Imagining. Belief.
The most beautiful thing about the longings is this: they come back to you. They never really leave. When you are open and you are searching and you are ready, they will come back.
After my divorce and after my second year in the wildnerness, I was standing in the ocean with one of my best friends. We talked about my novel, and we talked about the mermaids. We spent that summer and many, many other days talking about magic and meaning and connection and real, unadulterated love. We talked about calling.
It was never about the mermaids. It was about belief in myself. Connection to the divine, and connection to myself. Writing that novel and believing in that mermaid was about acknowledging everything that made me feel alive and not another human going through the motions of topside living.
Maybe the whole of our lives is to go back to the beginning. To find the magic again. To believe in big, scary love and just how much it moves the world.
To believe richly in our own selves. To dive furiously down to the bottom and see what happens next.