By Victoria Santoro, Regular ContributorOctober 12, 2015
image via livehappy.com
Baggage. Without fail and without exception, we all collect emotional baggage as we travel on our journey through life. It’s a funny thing, baggage, because most people don’t want to have it, but it often serves to make us a better version than we were without it. Baggage is simply unwanted self-improvement.
And yet, the belief persists that those with baggage should be avoided; that you have to walk on eggshells around someone who is suffering with a particular issue or loss, that they may be fragile and emotional, that they bring too many issues to the friendship or relationship. So let’s get honest about baggage, because it has become one of the more beautiful things residing in my heart.
Two years ago, I lost a beloved sibling to suicide. No one in our family could have adequately prepared for the tsunami of trauma, grief, and isolation that washed over us.
A variety of things happened in the wake of our loss; things I simultaneously wish never happened, but am also oddly grateful for their presence in my life.
Here are some of the beautiful things you gain by having a bit of baggage.
Never in my life have there been more outward pronouncements of love and support than in the months, and now years, following the loss of our brother. Your village of loved ones gathers around, and you realize you’re richer in friendship and family than you ever imagined possible.
It is only through darkness that I was able to more deeply appreciate just how brightly each of my loved ones is able to shine.
What those first few months also brought with them was the increased ability to be forthright about my emotions. Grasping completely that you should be honest with those you care about, I now tell my friends I love them as often as I can. Coming to understand that ignoring negativity only lets it grow, I’m able to let out my frustrations (with tears or otherwise) when necessary. I feel everything with more intensity, because I recognize both the ugly and beautiful things around me.
This has led to a more sincere, more honest, more vulnerable, and an unbelievably more fulfilling existence.
Empathy is one of those things they should teach you about in grade school. Brene Brown, in her vast wisdom, has said that empathy “requires that one internalize the feelings of another.” At any given time, all of our loved ones are experiencing something they find challenging, difficult, emotionally draining, or otherwise tiring. We are all trying to learn how to deal as we work our way through our personal struggles. The scariest thing to do is to tell those around you what it is you’re struggling with. Most people choose to stay silent out of fear of the listener’s reaction.
Personally, I’ve experienced few things that have made me as fearful as admitting to being a “survivor of suicide.” But I admitted it, over and over again, to all sorts of people I know. Their reactions have, for the most part, floored me with their sensitivity and compassion.
In turn, I’ve sought to provide the same refuge to people around me who are dealing with any variety of issues. I’m able to be a better friend and a better person now that I’ve learned what empathy really looks like.
Perspective is a tricky one. When you are outrageously annoyed because someone cut you off in traffic, it’s hard to take a deep breath and realize it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned to take a broader view of perspective.
When I get home at the end of the day and am able to relax, I have a new sense that I am safe. Many things may go wrong, and they are, mostly, survivable.
What I learned from losing my brother is the meaning of the clichéd phrase that each day is a gift. We should start sweating when the prospect of having another new day is threatened, and that’s an excellent rule to apply across the board. This has let me forgive people, move on from past hurts, be open to new things, search out adventure, and love more freely than ever before.
I’ve received many gifts from my brother. He gave me 25 years worth of memories. He gave me laughter. He gave all of us an example of what it means to live vulnerably and love unreservedly. Now that he’s gone, he continues to give; we just have to be smart enough to pick up what he’s left behind.
He also gave me loads of baggage, and instead of being scared about what that means, I’ve embraced the gifts hidden inside of it. Carrying all this baggage around makes us stronger, more beautiful creatures indeed.
Are you carrying around baggage? Do you appreciate your baggage and how far you've come? Tell us below!
Victoria Santoro is a trial attorney who practices law in Boston. She is also a teacher, speaker, and writer, maintaining her personal blog The Limber Lawyer, and contributing to various legal publications. Victoria is passionate about helping young girls and women not only succeed but also find contentment and purpose. In her free time, she can often be found training or competing for half-marathons and triathlons.
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