“Sometimes I get the feeling that we're just a bunch of habits. The gestures we repeat over and over, they're just our need to be recognized. Without them, we'd be unidentifiable. We have to reinvent ourselves every minute.” - Nicole Krauss
It starts small - this business of reinvention. It starts, though of course not for everyone, but at least for me, with two hands full of teeny tiny fingernails. People asked if it was painful, the biting to the quick, and yes, it absolutely was, but in a way that was simultaneously physical and emotional, recognizable and well ignored - biting one's nails for almost 30 years makes the practice one of pain, comfort, ease, frustration, and habit. It's a habit so ingrained in daily process that I would venture to say that most of the time, I didn't realize I was doing it until it was too late and my fingers burned and face glowed, the shame of an adult with her hand stuck in her mouth.
And so, when I decided to stop biting my nails this time, because yes, yes, there have been so many prior attempts, I thought beyond the act of sneaking fingers to my mouth with squirrely fidgets and nibbles. I think it's hard to think of comfort when you see a hand ravaged by nail biting, but comfort it is. Nervous or anxious? Hand in the mouth. Trying not to say unkind words? Hand in the mouth. Fearful of failure when you speak? Hand in the mouth. Like a pacifier to a baby, my fingers allowed me moments of silent escape from whatever it was that needed me to more present than I felt I could be.
Now 28 days in, I've only fought the urge to bite once. I want to have a good reason for you about why this time was different, why this habit of not biting came about with so much more ease then the times before, but I'm afraid it was a confluence of sorts. This time, unlike the others, I threw it all out there and asked for support; I showed off my progress and admitted my past defeats. This time, unlike the others, I let it be what I needed it to be - a big "win". Because although the fact that I've stopped biting my nails is so minor in the grand scheme of life, and so trivial that even as I type this I am slightly embarrassed by the voice I've given it, this habit is much, much more than a nail long enough to don paint (A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find, specifically). This habit is an act of courage, something I fear I lack. This habit, in its very small way, is a reminder that it is never too late to make decision and make a change. It is never too late to be courageous, and it's the small, seemingly insignificant acts of courage that remind me more is possible, and not only is it possible, it's worth it.
I've got my sights set on more habits and more change, more courage and less fear, more celebration of what's working and less time spent fretting on what isn't, but for now I have Flannery O'Connor themed nails that are just bright enough to keep me mindful of reaching for the life I want instead of the life I can manage.