“You can stop.”
That’s what I said to her. That’s what broke the wall.
I had spent the past few years helping create overnight camping events for women, taking them into open fields and treelines, giving them room for adventure and rest. Creating events like that meant paying attention to hundreds and hundreds of women’s voices—their exhausted tears, heavy confessions, run-dry dreams. Not everyone came empty, but so many of us did that it became clear what we were making was more like a filling station. Because sometimes confessions leave you feeling even emptier still, so you have to pay attention. You have to take care of each other’s hearts and pour in restoration any chance you get.
It was hard work for all of us.
One night, I sat under a white tent we called the “prayer tent”—just a bunch of hay bales grouped together and women ready to listen and care for others—because sometimes we just can’t seem to get perspective on our own. We need a place to lean against someone and know they’ll hold our weight. And so we’d get a line of women winding all the way down the hill as they waited for the next open hay bale in that prayer tent. The line would start in the morning and stretch past dark. So beautiful and aching you could barely see straight.
We all went to the line, even if we were there as leaders.
“It’s like I can’t stop running,” a tall woman said to me, her dark eyes down. “Even the thought of slowing down makes me panic.”
She shifted on the hay bale, pulled back.
I nodded. “I think I know what you mean. It can feel really good to run.” She looked up and met my eyes as I added, “Running feels easier somehow. Maybe even safer.”
“What do you think would happen if you stopped?”
“What do you think would happen if you stopped?” I asked.
“I think I’d basically die if I stopped,” she laughed, and then her voice sank. “I think I’d find out, maybe, I’m wasting my time?” she added. “Like the stuff I’m doing with my life… maybe all of it doesn’t really amount to much. I don’t know if I could handle facing that.”
I looked around and figured a lot of us were running. A whole lot of us who’d gotten really good at the “flight” portion in the fight-or-flight. Flight as a way to avoid the reality of the life we’re living. Flight as a way to reject before we get rejected. Flight as a way to protect our hearts when commitment seems too high a cost. It’s strange how running can feel like freedom even when it isn’t.
I looked back at her.
“But right now… this feels like stopping, doesn’t it? It seems like you’re not running while we sit here and you’re saying these things. And… it seems like you’re doing okay so far?”
She lifted an eyebrow and smiled. “I guess so.”
“So maybe stopping and facing what’s in front of you, and who you are and aren’t, isn’t going to be as impossible as you think.”
“Maybe you could start getting the hang of it.”
“But I guess it could be hard or uncomfortable. You might decide you need to change some things in your life.”
“Then at least I’d know. At least I could see around me a little better, instead of flying past it.”
In the distance, someone was ringing the bell for dinner. It was an old bell hanging off an old tree that must have been there for decades, calling people toward each other. Under the dinner tent, volunteers were lighting candles one by one across every table, setting out name cards, filling drinks. A few musicians tested their microphones, first off-key, then finding the notes. Groups of women carried in their plates and bottles of wine to the long tables, and above it all was this bubbling spirit of promise. Like a pop-up fairyland in the middle of fields and honeysuckle.
It’s okay to land here. Stay in place.
Stop and look at things directly. You’ll be okay.
I looked back at the tall woman on the hay bale. I had already said it, but something in me said to repeat it. To offer her some kind of permission.
“You can stop. You can stop now.”
Then I reached out for her hand.
Because I have needed people to say this to me, too. I needed beloved friends who knew my ins and outs, who knew my tendency to chuck things out the window or run like the wind when I didn’t know how else to handle my fear. I needed people to reach out, steady me, and say it’s okay to land here. Stay in place. Stop and look at things directly. You’ll be okay.
Then I couldn’t help myself.
“Want to race to dinner?” I shrugged dramatically, hoping she’d get the joke.
She leaned back and laughed.
We were okay.