5 Reasons I signed up for a TRIATHLON

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I signed up for a sprint triathlon recently! .5 miles (.8k) swimming | 13 miles (20k) biking | 3.1 miles (5k) running.

While I consider myself a fairly athletic person, my relationship with working out ebbs and flows depending on the season, and I’ve never before done anything like a triathlon (I ran a 5k two years ago but that’s about it). I’m just your average person with a gym membership who sometimes goes and sometimes doesn’t.

I don’t dislike working out. When I’m in the zone and on a roll, I actually enjoy it. Working out does wonders for my mental health and stress levels. I love how light and strong it makes my body feel. But like many people, I struggle with self-discipline. So…

Despite my self-doubts and am-I-crazy’s, I decided to give myself the ultimate physical and mental challenge of training for and competing in my first-ever sprint triathlon… and here are my 5 reasons why:

1. To reconnect with my inner athlete

I was a competitive swimmer from ages 5 through 14. I loved to swim (still do!) and was great at it too (still am!). In addition to competing with other teams within my city, I got to travel with my team to neighboring cities to compete when we made Nationals. So it was serious business, but always so much fun.

Those years made an impact on me. And though I lost touch with the pool as I moved on through life and into adulthood, being in a pool always filled me with nostalgia. And the amazing muscle memory in my arms and legs whenever I did swim always reminded me that my inner swimmer had never left me. Athleticism… it’s in me. And I sort of miss it. I want to relive the thrill of the race, a race that involves swimming.

2. To practice turning my thoughts into actions

7dcdc6d27bfca5eba2bca65827f5b4a6In my About page, I say that I’m a thinker trying to be more of a doer and that’s exactly true. My tendency to over-think has impacted many aspects of my life and is actually one of the reasons I started my blog—I needed to turn my thinking about starting a blog into actually doing it (even if I didn’t know what I was doing).

On that same note, instead of thinking about how I can be more of a doer, I decided to fling myself into a doer arena, one that will require fierce commitment and training.

By training for this triathlon, I am practicing setting a goal—a tangible, straight-forward, challenging, but attainable goal—and seeing it through to the end. Seeing it through until it is done, instead of just thinking and daydreaming about it.

I hope this experience of doing—of practicing dedication and persistence—will inspire and teach me to spread this energy into other aspects of my life. Because let’s face it, only doers get things done. It’s work ethic—not just talent—that takes you places. Thinkers linger, and I’m tired of watching from the sidelines with all my mental notes. I need this certificate of completion to prove that a life of doing is possible for me. I have my mind set on plenty of things… I just need to practice the action part.

3. My strange phobia of indoor pools

I don’t remember how or when it started (and I certainly don’t know why), but I’ve always felt uneasy about swimming in indoor pools. Does ANYONE out there feel me?

Back in my swimming days we swam in outdoor pools. The bright yellow sun, the dry heat, it was all so perfect. I could see through the water. There was no dimness, no murky, chlorine-filled smell, no stuffy enclosed feeling. There was just light.

What makes me uneasy is the dark water: the lack of natural light, the inability to see clearly through the water, the shadowy dimness ahead of me as I’m swimming, and my insanely active imagination (think creatures of the deep coming out of the murkiness). It’s stuff of kids’ nightmares; it’s nonsense and silly, but it’s how I feel, and it can be crippling.

It’s worse when it’s just me in the pool. I feel “safer” when there are others around, when I feel presence with me in the water. Many times I’ve even cut my swimming short if I see that everyone in the pool has left. Maybe I had a traumatic experience in an indoor pool that I’ve suppressed? Maybe I should blame it all on my  dramatic imagination?

I’ve learned to tolerate swimming in indoor pools over the years, but it continues to be an issue for me. Training for a triathlon is forcing me to face this strange fear and unlikely discomfort head-on.

4. To prove to myself that I can (because I can)

Self-doubt will be the death of me if I don’t kill it first. I don’t consider 34e3dfa6d33dd57c8b182655cb94175bmyself particularly low on confidence—I have my moments like any person—but it seems that I hoard massive amounts of self-doubt whenever I face a personal challenge. Whenever I face… myself, really. And it’s debilitating. And probably connected to my tendency to over-think things.

So I’m training for this triathlon to kill the voices of self-doubt, and to celebrate and appreciate my body, its strength, its potential, and its abilities. And the essence of Yes I can.

5. An ode to my 20s

I turned 29 recently. It’s a bittersweet number this 29. Filled with hope and excitement for a new decade on the horizon, it’s also the almost-end of a pretty intense chapter.

And so I thought, what better way to end the turbulent, exciting, eventful, thrilling, unforgettable years of my 20s than to conquer myself—mind and body—by way of a triathlon challenge? The ultimate cherry on top! first-inspirational-running-quotes-wallpaper

This triathlon will be a celebration of all the wonderful and life-changing years that have shaped me over this decade. The friendships I’ve made, the love that I’ve found, the hardships I’ve survived, and all that I’ve accomplished, learned, and seen and felt and explored throughout my 20s. Because triathlon training requires patience, commitment, sacrifice, pain, determination, will power, confidence, strength, endurance… I could go on… and all of these things I have tackled in my 20s, and will no doubt continue to.

But when I’m standing at the cusp of my 30th birthday, I would love to look back at my triathlon experience and be able to say: if I made it through a triathlon—and the roller-coaster decade of my 20s—I can make it through almost anything.


So have you ever competed in a triathlon? If you have, what were your reasons for signing up? And do you have any tips for me? I would love to know!

My triathlon date is June 14. Wish me luck. 🙂

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Review: ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath

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This book has been on my shelf for years. I’d never known what it was about, but I knew it was the only novel written by famed poet Sylvia Plath, therefore I knew I had to read it. I’m a fan of Plath’s poetry, though you don’t have to be to enjoy this book (I use the word enjoy lightly).

This book is in one word insightful. Sharp, personal, and emotionally charged— her poetry leaves an impression on you in its willingness to be vulnerable, and this book is no different. If you’re familiar with Plath, you know that her poetry strikes a raw chord because she wrote from a deep and painful place in the heart and mind. She suffered from depression for many years before ending her life at the age of 30, leaving two children, a boy and a girl, behind.

Though a work of fiction, The Bell Jar, like Plath’s poetry, is considered autobiographical because of its deeply personal perspective on life behind the veil of depression. The central themes in the novel, I found out later, parallel those in Plath’s early life. In fact, she is said to have referred to The Bell Jar as “an autobiographical apprentice work which I had to write in order to free myself from the past.” As a writer, I truly connect with the desire to purge your pain through writing, or at least, to seek to understand it.

But The Bell Jar is not outward with its purpose. It doesn’t come out and say, hey, this is what depression is about! This is what it feels like! Nor is this book explicitly about Plath herself. It doesn’t seek pity. It does, however, whether you’ve suffered from depression or not, challenge you. It most certainly makes you question— whether it’s Esther, the protagonist, her reasons for doing, thinking, and saying the things that she does— or yourself, and your own deepest, darkest human moments.

The first-person narrative, brutally honest and morbidly critical, grips you immediately. And I could see as I read why 19 year-old Esther Greenwood has been compared to The Catcher in the Rye’s 16 year-old Holden Caulfield. I won’t go into an in-depth comparison, but I will say that like Holden, Esther is not immediately likable. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her and her seemingly judgmental observations at first. She raised my eyebrow many times, especially in the beginning as I was just getting to know her, and only until I read further did I realize that her perspective was muddied by something else…

“A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

This book is about perception. About disconnectedness and alienation, with very subtle threads of hope. The tone is never melodramatic; poignant in its straight-forwardness, in its matter-of-fact attitude towards death, it drips with despair but not obviously. Written by a poet, the prose is unsurprisingly fluid and the figurative language is wonderful and plenty. Plath was a word smith indeed. The way she so easily weaved tender and difficult emotions into a needle’s eye was a pleasure to study!

The Bell Jar is a vivid, intelligent, and disturbing portrait of a determined, witty young woman whose perception of herself and the world around her is blurred by something she can’t quite place. It gives voice to an uncomfortable subject, a human experience that, especially at the time of its publication in 1963, was not widely and openly talked about— let alone from a woman’s perspective.

In fact, Plath didn’t want the novel published in the U.S. for fear that it would cause pain to those close to her (many of the characters were apparently inspired by people in her own life). So it was published first in London (where she lived at the time) under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, and not released in the U.S. until 1972.

I think Plath intrigues us because she was a mind too heavy for herself, too deep for her own good. And the Why in her life’s off-course, tragic end, and the bleeding words she left behind, haunt us.

In a way, this book— a fleeting peek into a mind off kilter — sheds some light, though it doesn’t promise to answer any questions. What it does do, however, just as it did when it was first published, is spark conversation and foster awareness around mental health.

Have you read The Bell Jar?

Lies are Exhausting

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“Lies are exhausting,” said the heart.

“But some things mustn’t be said,” said the brain. “Sometimes the truth does more harm than good. What’s more important to you? Truth or peace?”

“Can’t the two co-exist? Doesn’t truth seek justice?”

“The truth seeks nothing but itself,” said the brain. “The truth is selfish, if you ask me. It wants the spotlight. It wants to be heard. And it has a right to be, but in reality, whether or not the truth is uttered, the truth still is, regardless.”

“But the truth must be sought, must be proven, must be shared, must be lived,” said the heart. “It mustn’t be suppressed.”

“The truth is never suppressed,” said the brain. “The truth just is. People choose their own truths and choose their own lies. People are free to choose. And each choice comes with sacrifice. That’s when one must prioritize.”

“But lies are exhausting,” said the heart. “And you yourself can’t even keep up. Each time a lie is uttered, another must be made to cover it up. Must we lie? Doesn’t the truth set you free?”

“The truth only unburdens the liar,” said the brain. “It’s impossible to appease everyone. The truth is uncomfortable and it stings. Once uttered, it merely becomes a burden to someone else.”

“But the truth is not a burden! Lies are the burden! Lies wrap me in shadows,” said the heart. “Lies choke my breath. Lies are exhausting. Lies make a fool of everyone. The truth is the truth—it simply is, as you said—and so it must be. It’s a lesson for the ears that don’t want to hear it. The truth is inevitable. It doesn’t go away.”

“The truth!” said the brain. “Don’t you see it’s all relative? One person’s truth is another person’s lie! What is the truth if everyone chooses to believe what they will, to see what they want to see?”

“Even so,” said the heart. “Lies are exhausting. They bring me no joy.”

Animals and Compassion

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Cruelty to animals is the epitome of evil to me. Cruelty to ANY being, in general, young or adult, is of course evil. But animals… they have always, since I was young, occupied a special place in my heart. (I decided against veterinarian school after I realized it involved science… and blood. Long live my liberal arts brain.)

Even after surviving a dog attack as a child, I have always loved animals. Especially dogs, funnily enough. I have always felt that animals embody the essence of innocence and of oneness with nature; they represent to me the natural balance of energy. They are untainted by vanity and ill-intention, undisturbed by ambition, pride, and desire. They just are. They only react. Their wants are tied only to survival.

Recently, I somehow came across a disgusting video of two men maliciously driving over a dog, killing him. Unfortunately, there isn’t much animal advocacy or protection of animal “rights” in the Arab world, where this happened, where animals are not often viewed through a compassionate lens. It’s not that people there hate animals or intently seek to harm them—many are working to change public perception and laws on the treatment of animals (I’ve lived in the Arab world almost all my life). It’s just that pets are not a cultural norm there, so the opportunities for people to experience animals, to interact with them, learn about them, and value and connect with them on a personal level, is close to zero. It’s lack of exposure and education around the treatment and nature of animals, not lack of heart. (Of course, like anywhere, there are bad apples… really bad apples.)

So when I read this follow-up article today on these cruel men being charged for their inhumane actions, I was surprised but elated… and filled with hope. This is a big deal for a country like Saudi Arabia, where this incident took place (and where I happened to live for many years). I’m so glad they’ve acknowledged this disturbing, ignorant behavior as evil—that they actually hunted down the culprits! I hope education around compassion for animals continues in that region and everywhere else around the world.

C2I’m not writing this post to draw gasps over this dog’s fate, criticize ignorance, or spark debates about going vegan. Rather, to simply draw attention to the fact that as fully capable human beings, we have the power and responsibility to be kind and gentle to all beings who cannot speak for themselves, both humans and animals alike. Compassion is what separates us from evil. It’s what makes us human.

Compassion is necessary for life, love, and goodness to thrive.

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Being Present in Everything You Do

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It’s been three months and life without a microwave surprisingly hasn’t been that bad. (This wasn’t some kind of personal experiment, I just haven’t gotten around to buying one since I moved.) The process of reheating food in such a conscientious way forces you to slow down and contemplate what you are about to eat. The effort becomes a ritual of patience, anticipation, and appreciation, as the aroma tickles your nose and entices your appetite. It reminds you to reflect on those daily mindless things we do in the bubble of instant gratification. In other words, it reminds you to turn off auto-pilot and live life intentionally. Not by dumping your microwave… but by being present in everything you do.

Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde

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I’ve been wanting to read Oscar Wilde for some time, and though he’s mostly famous for his plays, I chose to start with his only novel, published in 1891. The premise of The Picture of Dorian Gray intrigued me, especially because its Victorian audience had deemed it immoral, criticizing its decadence and allusions. It didn’t take much to offend such an audience, mind you; the Victorian era was proper in every sense of the word—concerned with ranks and high morals, and above all else, appearances.

This is a story about obsession, orchestrated by art, pleasures, and vanity. Wilde explores society’s obsession with beauty and eternal youth, exposing the ugliness that sprouts within when one is poisoned by ego and influence. A cautionary tale of sorts, it condemns those who over-think and inject meaning into things that just are—as Wilde was a big proponent of the aestheticism movement. The purpose of art is called to question and serves as the book’s main theme.

(I find it ironic that through a work of art—this book—Wilde sought to prove his philosophy that art’s only real purpose is to be beautiful. And even more ironic is that Wilde fell from his post as celebrated writer and playwright—convicted of acts of indecency— not long after this book was published… but I digress.)

“It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a Gothic, psychological thriller set in Victorian London. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?! The grand aristocratic homes, the dimly lit streets peppered with horse carriages, the rain trickling down windows as dinners are enjoyed indoors… all these elements paint the novel’s setting, and Wilde is careful with his details, focusing on the psychological state of the main character, Dorian Gray.

Although the action builds rather slowly, the third-person narrative (sometimes interrupted by the author speaking directly to us) drives the book with full force, culminating with a bold and powerful climax that I must admit, I didn’t see coming.

The pages are filled with rich philosophical debates and witty dialogue, but the moral decline of Dorian Gray, who I only sometimes pitied, remains the central focus, with each exchange and internal monologue reflecting his impressionable character. The story begins with his being a “beautiful”, innocent, oblivious young man, untainted by cynicism. Indeed, ignorance is truly bliss for Dorian Gray in the beginning. Living life in carefree luxury (with way too much time on his hands!), his growing ambitions, vanity, and curiosities gradually tumble him into “grayness” and misery, and I found it interesting that his name is always used in full throughout the book—rarely if ever is he referred to as simply Dorian, or Gray, perhaps to emphasize that his entire being is corrupt, not just his actions.

There were times I did chuckle at the dramatic undertones, especially in relation to the way the characters spoke, but their word choices and phrases only emphasized the time and place of the novel, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

As a writer, one thing I appreciated about this book was the minimal number of characters. I admired how Wilde used each supporting character very specifically to aid in Dorian Gray’s trajectory, thus plunging us head-first into the inner turmoil of his desperate protagonist. It was fun to observe because it reminded me that novels needn’t have numerous characters with long story-lines in order to be interesting, poignant, or complex. (Thanks, Mr. Wilde!) 

And the ending to me was perfect… a true, natural conclusion very much in line with the ominous tone that carries the book, so that we’re finally left with a clear “picture” of Dorian Gray.

So if you’re in the mood for a quick-read classic, pick up this book and indulge yourself. 😉 Or have you read it already? What did you think?

Working, Sleeping, Writing: A Writer’s Rant

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Here’s my problem, and I’ve been analyzing it for some time: I write best at night.

It’s 1:01 am right now and here I am writing. It may not be very good writing, but I’m writing and that’s what matters.

I need to write.

That’s why I’ve been cranky. That’s why I’ve been feeling hopeless. That’s why my blog’s been dry. I haven’t been writing on a regular schedule because I write best at night.

So write at night! What’s the issue?

The issue is that I can’t afford to be an insomniac writer anymore. I used to stay up into deep hours, my brain on fire for as long as my fingers and eyes could keep up, sometimes until dawn.

But jarring adulthood has thrust me into the arena of full-time employment—the arena of bus and car and train commutes, where every morning I’m surrounded by fellow worker bees clutching their coffee cups with drowsy faces, eyes still puffy from sleep that hasn’t worn off yet.

I am now the rush hour traffic.

And when I come home at night, I’m tired of the computer screen. I’m tired of the sitting. I’m tired of the to-do list that won’t detach from my hip. I’m just tired and I want to unwrap my brain from its knots, and I don’t feel like writing just yet.

I walk my dog. Make my dinner. Eat my dinner. Do the chores.  (Wow, imagine if I had kids. Hats off to all the mom writers out there.) And by the time I recenter myself and open up my laptop, it’s 10 pm and my bed starts whispering… tick tock… the time for sleep is near… and I don’t want to sleep—not yet—so I rebel: I type away, I type and I type till I look up and see the time and it laughs in my face and says something like don’t you have to wake up in four hours?

So when am I supposed to write if I write best at night?

As an insomniac, I hated the night. It was lonely, maddening, a time of hallucination, but also—and I didn’t realize it then—a peak time for my creativity. At night I can zoom into my words, my world, my brain, uninterrupted, because I need silence when I write. The night is my writing cocoon.

But my lifestyle doesn’t allow for this nocturnal love story anymore.

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And I’ve tried to be an “early bird”, and you know, mornings aren’t so bad; they’re pleasant, actually. They too have their element of peace and quiet. I love coffee. I love tea. I love breakfast and brunch. I love sunlight—I love windows flooded with sunlight.

But mornings are just not me. Mornings make me want to be outside and breathe the air and get active—not sit down to confinement.

Writing is discipline. Half the work is just getting yourself in the chair—holding yourself hostage to the task. The other half is to not hate yourself as you write so you can keep on writing. Suppress that voice of the oppressor, as Anne Lamott said—the perfectionist in your ear that snickers at your ugly first draft.

So that’s my problem, fellow bloggers. And this is not an excuse to not write regularly. I need to reprogram myself somehow.

How do you do it? How do you harness that discipline and hold yourself accountable to a writing schedule? It’s not that I have to force myself to write—I’m just struggling to find a time frame that works for me.

What kind of writer are you?

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An insomniac writer?

A morning writer?

A between-house-chores writer?

A stay-home-on-the-weekends to write writer?

A writer by full-time employment?

A writer who types away secretly at work and minimizes the document when someone walks by?

A writer with multiples jobs who still manages to write, thereby shrinking me to a sorry, whiny bucket of excuses?

Under what conditions do you write best and how do you set yourself up for success?

What struggles do you face when it comes to carving out your writing time?

And do you have any advice for me?

I need to get some sleep.

Masks

imagesCA9D5L4MEveryday we wake up, get ready and dressed, maybe eat some breakfast, and before we head out the door, we pick up our masks and our keys and we go.

We step out of our homes, shielded, and sometimes, armed with coffee, and sometimes, clinging to old pains or grudges. But we feel prepared. Our cell phones are charged and we have our plans for the day.

The world is jagged, demanding, and unpredictable. Anything can come flying our way at any moment. Birds poop recklessly from the sky. Umbrella edges threaten to poke our eyes out. No city is too small for coincidence. And then of course, there’s the weather, and small talk, and gossip, and bullies.

Masks are for protection, sometimes for survival. Shards of words bounce off our masks as we go about our day, and the ones that stick we clean off later with a sponge—when no one’s looking.

Masks remind us that some things are better left unsaid. That nothing at all is what it seems. Masks reassure us that there’s a time and a place for everything.

Masks are filters; not all people will recognize our true value or appreciate what we have to offer, so we only show what we want to show, depending on who is worthy.

But sometimes, masks shield us from what we need. Shield us from those who are worthy. They can shut people out, render us fearful or paranoid, and relationships that were or could have been disintegrate… because we become too attached, too dependent on our masks. We come to prefer them until we forget why we wear them, and who we are without them.

We sometimes forget to take them off at night.

Until our masks dissolve into our skins, slowly, night after night, day after day, infusing into our fibers, discoloring our cells, disfiguring our memories, so that one morning when we wake up, our faces are fixed into the shape that the world wants us to be, and we become nothing but diluted versions of ourselves, fooled into thinking we are safer this way, more attractive, more likeable.

All I want to do is write

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I’m on a mountain top,
wrapped up in a down coat,
huddled in a tent or igloo,
silence all about me,
the sky open and translucent,
stars burning holes in it;
my thoughts swirl in the
wind, making patterns against
the clouds, and not a life nor
a thing, no calls whatsoever,
save for the echoes of ice
dribbling down
the slopes,
is around to
interrupt
me.

Trials are like fertilizer

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Hello, wonderful readers and bloggers. I have been absent from my blog for pretty much this entire month, which makes me sad, but I am still here, I assure you. I have not fallen off the blogging stratosphere, at least not yet. Blogging isn’t easy, as I’m sure you know. It’s a commitment, like a relationship, one that must be nurtured and constantly fed, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of holding myself accountable to keeping this blog of mine, ‘the little blog that could’, alive and worthy of your time.

The truth is, and though this is a sappy excuse (I hate excuses), I’ve been battling some personal trials and tribulations these past few weeks (non life-threatening) that have completely taken over my mental, physical, and emotional energy. I will spare you the details because my blog is not a diary or journal; it is meant to be a place of inspiration and thought (at least that’s my hope and intention).

Trials.

As much as they cause pain and discomfort, sadness, confusion, or anger, they are very necessary. We need trials, we need moments of failure, we need our bubbles to burst sometimes. Trials push our mental, spiritual, and emotional development. Without trials, we would remain stagnant, floating on a plateau of ignorance and self-absorption. Trials force us to look inside ourselves, to reexamine what is important to us, what is worth fighting for.

Trials help us recognize the blessings we might have taken for granted were it not for the knife that stabbed the force fields of our comfort zones. Trials test our courage; they make us face our fears. Trials soften our hearts so that we can be more compassionate and empathetic towards others.

We need trials.

Trials are like fertilizer. Though repulsive and unpleasant, they help beautiful things to grow. A tiny, helpless seed must push its way out of darkness, through the thick, heavy soil, in order to reach the sunlight, in order to thrive and transform into a new being with a new purpose.

Every trial has its purpose.

Right now, I am in the thick of it. I am soaked in fertilizer. But the important thing to keep in check as we endure our trials and tribulations… is perspective. No trial lasts forever because nothing lasts forever. Without trials there can be no sigh of relief. Without trials there can be no shaping of character and strength and perspective and inspiration. There would be no tales of heroism—no inspirational autobiographies. No lessons learned.

Yes, I have moments of weakness where I’m in no mood to be positive, to try to trace the silver lining. Sometimes you just need someone to sit with you, hold your hand, listen, and tell you, “yeah, that is pretty bad.” Those moments are okay—they make us human and keep us human.

But after a good night’s rest, after a long, tight hug with someone you love who loves you, after a good cry or punching bag session, after silent reflection, after all the volatile emotions diffuse… it becomes a little easier to invite perspective back into your heart. To realize that, like all the centuries that have gone before you, this too shall pass, this too you shall overcome.

It may seem like the end of your world when you’re in the thick of your trial, but it really isn’t. Life moves on and life moves fast. Our bodies may be destructible but our spirits were built to endure. No matter how big and powerful the storm, sunshine always prevails.

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