Take a deep breath. Inhale, exhale.

If the world feels heavy on your chest now, remember that your ribcage was once more cartilage than bone. Remember the soft craters on your head where the plates of your skull had yet to meet and fuse together. There was a day when all your darkness exploded into a world of light — you opened your eyes and saw everything for the first time. You, that writhing collection of cosmic debris. Little scraps of universe, eyes that rolled around in your head like glass marbles, like revolving planets, gathering evidence and studying the world in muted wonder. You were such a tiny, vulnerable thing. Your mother used to hold you in the crook of her arm and whisper, “How can I ever protect you?”

In this world of hard angles and sharp corners, it’s a miracle that you are here today. That you survived, and will continue to survive. Listen, I’m not saying you won’t suffer. I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. Not at all. Life is a bloody-knuckled fistfight, and if you don’t feel a little torn up or scraped raw by now, well. You probably haven’t lived very much. 

Expect some soreness. Some days you will be too tender and bruised to get out of bed. It will feel like such tiring work to piss and bathe and dress yourself, and remember to feed your body. Clean the flesh, change the bandages around your wounded soul. No pain comes without a lesson. Yes, you will have your heart broken over and over again, but when you think of it as a flower or a fist, you’ll begin to understand that some things are just better left open. When the world brushes up against you, you might flinch away; there is a possibility that your skin will become paper thin. These are all normal symptoms. It’s okay to recoil. You are allowed to shrink into yourself and feel everything. You are also allowed to shrink into yourself and feel nothing. To reach for numbness. You’ll crave anything with anesthetic properties. This includes alcohol, food, and the warmth of other bodies. These will only be temporary comforts. You’ll wonder how your body can possibly contain so much pain.

You will not remember that it used to fit almost entirely in the palm of your father’s hand. Don’t take for granted the tiny details about you, even the ones you can’t see. Like the fact that there’s no man-made structure in this world as perfect as the architecture of your skeleton. No better example of grace in nature. Your spine is a volume of secrets. Each vertebra has its own story, its own reason why you deserve a 2nd, 3rd, 106th chance. 

Listen to the swell and collapse of your lungs. Inhale, exhale.

A baby’s first breath is one of the most terrifying, crippling sensations a human body will ever experience. Imagine a hand reaching into your insides and setting them on fire. It’s no wonder that we all come into this world with a red-faced scream. Your first taste of air punched its way into every alveolus, one by one, until your lungs expanded and shuddered with new life. You fought for that breath and you earned it, and it jolted through you like God’s sigh uprooting trees in the mountains of heaven.

Listen, you have to stop thinking of yourself as an accident. There is nothing random about the arrangement of atoms you’re composed of. You’re not a fluke. Think of all the molecules that became cells that became tissue that became organs and muscle and flesh and bone. There are billions of chemical reactions and enzymatic process breaking down and building up your bodily material. Don’t tell me your life doesn’t matter like every one of those cells do not die and give birth, and die and give birth just to keep you alive a little longer. Don’t tell me you weren’t meant to be here as if the beating of your heart did not pulse through the air of your town that night, as if it did not blow out every radio speaker for miles announcing its arrival. You are here for a reason. It’s okay if you don’t know why yet. It’s okay if you don’t know where you’re going. Sometimes you just have to be lost. It’s the only way you’ll ever find yourself.

I know. It’s hard to hear any of this over the ringing in your ears. I know how much of a hollow shell you can be some days, how badly the wind stings whistling through you. I know. I too have felt disemboweled and vacant. And I’m telling you that you’re not as empty as you feel. You’re not a vessel for more important things to pass through. You have to believe that. You are so full, so constantly overflowing. You gorgeous mess. You breathtaking disaster. There is something beautiful about the way you are always spilling.

Look at you. Sitting there, just humming the universe. You’re so painfully real. You miracle of molecules. Yes, you are a miracle and nothing less. I won’t lie, things are going to be ugly sometimes. There’s always going to be a sucker-punch coming your way as soon as you let your guard down. It’s not about being ready, it’s about remembering to swing back. Keep swinging. Yeah. Life is a fistfight, a drunken alley brawl, but baby you are busted-lip, black-eye beautiful.