Hard things (Kimberly Barber, February 2022)

This week has been full of Hard Things. There’s a war in Ukraine. The country is divided over the Emergencies Act, the so-called Freedom Convoy, COVID mandates and so much else. My kids have been struggling with various things. My ex-husband was in a serious biking accident (he’s OK). On my own personal front, I’ve been overwhelmed with my work to-do list, so much so that in a week that should involve some quiet time, I’ve felt incredibly busy. My colleagues are all strapped too, so there’s not always help forthcoming. And on top of that, I’ve been preparing this Pierrot Lunaire concert (which goes live March 3–God help us!), which–what was I thinking?!?!–is so much harder to put together than I imagined back in those warm, sunny halcyon days of summer when I agreed to do it.

Still. I am reminded this week that this is the stuff of life. And I’ve been thinking often of the work of Glennon Doyle, who said that We Can Do Hard Things. Because we can. Because we’re human, and we’re hard-wired for struggle just as much as we’re hard-wired for connection. In the struggle comes the teaching, and in that teaching comes the growth. Sometimes it’s very hard won. But nonetheless, when we get to the end of that tunnel and walk into the light, we know that we have truly achieved something, even if that moment of victory is short-lived.

To this very point, I was inspired this morning by an interview I read with actor-director Sarah Polley, whose new book Run Towards The Danger talks about her many experiences with trauma and adversity. Its title is based on advice she got from a brain specialist when recovering from a serious concussion; he told her that “a damaged brain…will tell you to avoid pain, to not challenge yourself. To heal it, you have to do the opposite.” I feel that this is the same in the development of any skill (singing being a prime example) that involves growth–our bodies, souls and hearts scream out against the pain, the humiliation of it all. But this grappling is what makes it worthwhile, and what makes us grow stronger.

Sarah Polley said it beautifully: “Progress is a constantly moving target. It’s jerky. The stops and starts are unpredictable. You have to go back over the same road again and again.” But then she says–and this is what resonated with me the most–that she wants to “be the person who charges toward new situations. I want to be grounded and on fire at the same time.” Grounded and on fire at the same time. Amen sister. Pierrot, here I come. No flame retardant needed.