“You’re doing your best,” they say. You nod, you shrug. Okay, sure.
Inside, you sneer.
“Your best” belongs to brighter days. Not so far off, those days, but somehow also remote. Like they belong to someone else.
Best You learned things. Made decisions snap-snap. Took on the project. Invited people into your home. Best You learned a new language, the names of trees, how to roll sushi, and the most exhilarating route through Manhattan by bike.
You can still see Best You in the hazy distance, generating pageant and movement that people recall with wonder and gratitude, that people still mark as life-changing. Best You, an intimate. A maker. A leader. A force. It seems like fiction but really, it’s history. You tell yourself this. Best You, a closed book now stashed on a high shelf.
Now you can barely get through a meeting without your tongue tangling around the echoes of words you used to know. You struggle to ink a single line in your journal. The small loop of errands on your way home swells and distorts to a funhouse maze. A question comes from your child, your lover, your boss, your neighbor. Confusion over what is even being asked kneecaps you well before you reach anything resembling an answer.
“It’s okay,” they reassure you. “You’re doing your best.”
Not a chance.
You picture what Best You might be capable of, here and now. Best You surging through the meeting instead of struggling to keep pace. Best You reaching out to the neighbor going through a hard time rather than losing track and forgetting how to support and celebrate. Look, see there? Best You right with the paint and wood scraps and power tools, gathering with others to Get It Done. Not this you, sitting and drifting and uncertain what’s next.
You picture someone who looks a whole lot like you but also nothing at all like you. Best You out there, giving the chaos an appraising gaze and saying, “What will galvanize people to gather, to set things right?” You can see that Best You, somewhere both behind and ahead. A few thousand miles. A few thousand measures of song, a few thousand strokes of the brush. Best you, just a few thousand risks out from where you are right now.
Right here. You, sagging on this lip of the canyon. No, no, this is not me doing my best. This isn’t even close.
You sagging on the lip of the canyon trying to make out the contours of that phantom Best You. Trying to fit yourself into that soaring shape.
But you are, truly. You are doing your best.
So much can’t be measured in music or strokes, in wingbeats or pirouettes. Every yardstick you have found so far fails to gauge for the kind of distance you’ve covered. Just today, in fact. This you, right here. The ground looks flat because the map doesn’t capture the elevation gain or what’s grown across the path. The tar and stinging nettles. The way a small earthquake shifted the waters and washed out every known crossing.
You are moving. You have been all this time. Still now, today, right at this very moment. You are covering ground.
Inside you, a ritual, hatching, a barn-raising.
What makes it past even the most elegantly erected defenses? Lies of course. And doubt. A sultry promise of safety traded in for the small price of your light.
A dimming. A moment of ease that stretches into the sweet relief of inertia.
These things make it past your defense but they are no match for what moves in you. What reaches always for life through you.
You, here, now, learning complicated things that no one has named just yet. You, here, unfolding in ways that hurt, and resist as the creases bend loose, as sun and wind lift you back into their skyborn current.
You are giving voice to a new language here. A mother tongue, a heartsong, the one that belonged to you before the foot soldiers of credentials and coins burned their speech into your throat. This language here, the one that speaks kindness to your very own self, you are learning it. You are hearing it. You are beginning to find the shape of its call.
You are fumbling now, whispering, but soon your voice will carry out over the canyon. It will spill down, down deep into the dark, washed away places where others, displaced from the best selves, await this song. You are finding the way to your dear ones, your neighbors, your siblings in spirit and power. You are learning to sing open a flourishing. A hatching.
Best You, here now and always, singing open.
Singing towards light.