How acceptance and love validated my truth
By Alessandra Capistrano
Photo retrieved from Unsplash by Ryan Moreno, published on June 5, 2016.
We had just received the firepit we ordered for our backyard — it was an unexpected surprise that broke up the monotony of my long days in lockdown that summer. Looking back, that firepit provided me with many wonderful memories; around it, I tried my first s'more. It also brought my family closer together. Every week, we would sit quietly in each other’s company and appreciate the beauty in doing absolutely nothing. While I look back quite fondly at those moments, there is one that will always remain a little more vivid than the rest. Because, beyond merely marking a moment in my history, this memory defined it — a milestone that truly set me free.
I looked up at the sky. It could have been pitch black if not for the scattered collection of stars lighting up the night. I thought about how wonderful it is to be alive. “Existential nihilism,” I recall once reading. The realization that one’s existence on this earth is insignificant compared to the magnitude of the universe. The stars above reminded me of this.
I drew my attention back to the crackling fire before me. It added an extra touch of comfort to the refreshing late-August breeze. It looked so alive. My dad told me he loved watching the fire because it was beautiful and free. I hadn’t felt free for a long time.
Growing up in a traditional Catholic family and going to Catholic school my entire life, expectations were never explicitly said; they were understood. For a long time, I felt lost, confused and panicked. Like many people with my circumstances, I felt alone. I spent years suppressing my feelings and convincing myself that what I was experiencing was merely a phase. But deep down inside, I knew the truth — and that terrified me.
When I finally left high school, I became a different person. I was always angry. With the world, with myself. With every inkling of intolerance or judgment I sensed, I felt personally attacked and compelled to put an end to it. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, in those moments, it wasn’t only acceptance from others that I was searching for, it was also my own.
Shortly after joining me and my dad around the fire, my mom turned in for the night. I looked back at her and noticed the expression on her face as she closed the slide door. She was smiling — the reassuring way only moms can — and gave me an inconspicuous thumbs up. I knew what she was telling me.
My heart began to race. I wanted to do this. I needed to do this. I couldn’t bear to be plagued with this feeling any longer. I turned to my dad, staring into the fire.
The silence was loud. A moment passed and I couldn’t read his expression. I felt tears begin to swell in my eyes. I don’t usually cry, but when those words were finally out there, released into the universe, it felt like a profound mental and spiritual purging.
But I knew it didn’t end there. The next words that would be said held the power to either comfort or completely ruin me.
He turned to me, content, and told me that it was okay. He told me that he loses sleep over the things that matter; he wasn’t going to lose sleep over this. Whenever I find myself in moments of doubt or sadness, I think of what he said to me next, and hold onto his words tightly.
“You’re still you, nothing has changed.”
Relief flooded my body. A weight had been removed from my soul. Years of built-up fear, loneliness and uncertainty burned away before me. I put my head on my dad’s shoulder and sat in his embrace. In that moment under the midnight starlight, with the love and acceptance of my dad, I finally felt peace.
I looked up at the stars and once again contemplated our existence. The universe is infinite and we are all such small specks in the grandeur of reality that exists. But in that moment, I decided that despite how insignificant my little existence may be, I was going to live it as fully as possible.
I still had a long way to go in terms of accepting myself — there was no doubt about that. But I remember thinking despite how uncertain life will be, somehow everything was going to turn out okay.
Like the crackling fire in front of me, I, too, deserved to burn bright and be free.
This piece was published in New Wave's Spring 2022 Issue