Today is the birthday of the woman who taught me to be brave.
That’s not to say she’s not FEARFUL. No, Rachel Elizabeth’s fears include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Old ladies with long hair
- Black dogs with red eyes
- Angelina Jolie
- The Slide at Blizzard Beach
- ChaCha the Celebrity
- Skeletal models (because she believes they come to life when no one is looking. “If no one is looking…what does it matter?” I guess she’s got a slight prejudice against their unknown intentions. Maybe she thinks they want our skin. I haven’t really probed too deeply on this one).
And so on. I believe 75% of Rachel’s soul is constantly doing an interpretive, yogi dance to James Taylor’s “Shower the People” in an incense-filled room while 25% of her crouches like a tiny gargoyle, perched on some high lookout yelling things like “Jesus, Rachel! Watch the carpet! You’ll roll your ankle! Who put that carpet there, anyway? Lotta creeps in this world, I tell ya!”
She’s this perfect blend of her parents: all the diagnostic intellect, sharp wit and humanist pragmatism of brilliant Dr. Schur and the grace, agility, flexibility and spiritual intuition of dancer Jody (whom I whole-heartedly believe is a time-space synesthete. No joke). Most people can see life and dissect it but can’t feel it and vice versa. Rachel has had the dizzying, empowering sensation of both since birth.
This makes fear an inevitable side effect of living. She can’t neatly compartmentalize because she FEELS it. She can’t emotionally binge because she intellectually understands all the facets and complexities comprising a monumental “big picture”. From what I've seen, this means Rachel sees no choice but to face her fears. Head on. For as long as it takes, even when it's messy and uncomfortable. If it is only in fully facing that which we fear that we encounter true bravery, it should come as no surprise that Rachel is not only brave, she’s the best at bravery. She doesn't even know she's doing it. She masters it covertly. Strong but flexible, calculating but free-spirited. Unlike most of us, who find a way to solve feelings OR facts and then to cope without full resolution, a fear faced is a fear debased for Rachel. She operates on a level most people can’t wrap their brains or hearts around.
Somehow, without all of the evidence intact, I sensed this innately four and a half years ago. I’m sitting in an eerily silent police station. My phone is vibrating continuously. I can’t feel it because every inch of me is quaking and tensing spastically because I can’t face this. I can’t comprehend it, can’t dissect it and I am flogging myself because I can’t feel it. By the end of the hour, I had over sixty inbound phone calls but in that moment, I walked outside and made my first phone call to Rachel.
It was cowardly. She didn’t ask for it. She didn’t deserve it. We didn’t have a decade of friendship lending itself to the requirement of support. I had thousands of people I knew would want to be there and inexplicably, selfishly, my heart recognized her as the bravest person I knew and flung itself, chose her to be family whether she liked it or not. As I stumbled through shock and sputtered that someone had killed my mom and brother, I knew she felt what I couldn’t immediately. She cried. Then I cried. Finally. The shaking stopped and I sobbed with her. I had a brief break of daylight in the darkest day of my life because Rachel was crying with me and because she loved me. She was crying FOR me because she could see and feel what I was facing. I think subconsciously, it was my hope that I could rebuild with someone like her on my side. I was strong, I was optimistic but not inherently brave. She could teach me that.
And she has. For six years, she’s shown courage over and over again by taking my hand and making me her family. Every day she shows me the best, the worst and the funniest things about this world and all the hidden layers of meaning. She shows me nobody's brave without being afraid and saying "I'm scared. Now what?" Most importantly, she’s showed me that people aren’t born brave: it is an art form to be mastered like dance.
She taught me how to focus on small, repeatable, measurable goals like workouts, hot yoga, B vitamins, diet, the search for the perfect tea/dress silhouette and self-care.
She pushed me to stretch myself by finding new adventures, whether it was a small, unheard of yogurt shop in Georgetown or shifting my entire career goals in pursuit of fulfillment. Even a change in hair color is the sort of small stretch that can spark a whole life makeover. Just stretch and see what you can suddenly reach.
She taught me to check in with my spiritual, physical and emotional body. She shows me all the time that we contain the answers within ourselves. She knows that when we don’t check in and barrel forward, we’re setting ourselves up for injury. She’s not afraid to look at me and say “It’s okay not to be happy right now”. That self-awareness and acceptance is a liberating gift.
Dancers know how to make the best of what they truly are. They know how to BE where they are and maximize their strengths. You can’t be a tall dancer if you’re short and Rachel has taught me to ask “Well, why would you WANT to? That means you’re great at…” Some people wish they were sopranos, tiny and brunette even if that sounds dreadfully boring to me. Embrace it, love it and see what others see. On that note…
She knows there’s enough room for everyone’s form, strengths and spirit. She builds up everyone around her because she genuinely sees their gifts as necessary to build a better connected, stronger and beautiful world. She’s the least jealous person I have ever encountered and simultaneously the most humble. If you’re not close to Rachel, it’s enough to make you want to throw things at her.
Most importantly, she knows when to celebrate and how to do it RIGHT. “There’s this great place…” usually starts most of my best afternoons when she’s in town. She cultivates and collects the really great stuff. It’s a weird sense of accomplishment if I lead her to something worth passing on. Like “Ha HA! It passed the Rachel Test!” Regardless of my contribution, it’s always these little meandering walks with her that spark the catalyst for all my moves in the right direction. I don’t know how she always does it but it’s foolproof.
There’s still a lot of fear for me to face in this world. Every time my stomach turns over on itself, every time my heart feels the jolt of too much perspective or my soul is beleaguered by vague uncertainty, I pick up the phone and call Rachel. I mysteriously find myself on facebook, excited when there’s a green dot next to her name. I know she’ll tell me it’s okay to feel it and remind me how to face it. Maybe she’ll casually throw me the tools I need and somehow make it seem like I’m doing HER a favor (it’s a magical gift she possesses).
So here’s to Rachel Schur: the bravest lady I know and the one most worth celebrating. I love you sky big. Every time I look around at my blessings, the life I’ve built and how far I’ve come, I see the little sparkle of your touch reflected back at me. Make no mistake, I am constantly grateful and truly blessed to have you in my life. No hashtags, just the truth.