One Good Person

I don’t think I’m understating things when I say the world seems to be full of shitty people. I am an introvert, and I live in a large metropolitan area. It makes me wonder if I notice more of the general crappiness of humanity because there is so darn much of it here. Maybe the whole introvert thing makes me more sensitive than I would like. Or, maybe it’s a combination of both of those things. I’m not sure, and I don’t think I care enough to puzzle through my feelings at this moment.

The point is this: The place where I live grates on me. There are so many people here, and every single one of them is out for Number One. There is always someone protesting … or tailgating in heavy traffic … or honking at you if you don’t move quickly enough … or taking up their space out of the middle of life, just because it’s most convenient for them … or yelling their opinion in your face, whether you want to hear it or not … or telling you what a horrible person you are if you don’t agree with them … or judging you for the way you look, or talk, or dress.

Online isn’t much better. If anything, it’s more of a jungle. The Left hates the Right. The Right hates the Left. Both sides wish everyone from the other side would die a horrible and painful death, and they don’t mind saying so — loudly and with prejudice — at every turn. Oh, and those opinions? Yeah. They are everywhere on the internet. Even here, in this blog. Yeah … I recognize I’m being slightly hypocritical here. I am sitting here, typing away about my own opinions on life and other things. Although, in my defense, I’m not trying to force anyone to agree with me. And I’m not yelling at them (literally or figuratively) for having a different opinion from mine.

It can be easy to fall prey to the gloom and sadness and overwhelming ICK of it all. Life feels like a slog. It’s easy to feel isolated and just … well, sad. Sometimes, I stop and wonder if I’m the last sane person in a jungle full of Crazy and Angry. If you knew me at all, you would realize how ridiculous it is to think of me being the last sane person in any sort of jungle … or forest … or slightly overgrown meadow, for that matter. Sometimes, I find myself wondering whether there are any Good People out there, hidden somewhere amongst the insults and anger and hate and yelling.

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Last week, my daughter and I were on the way to her school. We had to drop off a form, and we were running late, as usual. Traffic was horrible, as usual. Traffic is always horrible around here. To get to her school, we have to travel down a busy road. It’s one of the most-used streets in our area, and is four lanes at some points and six at others. This road is always packed with traffic and with angry, speeding, honking, road-raging drivers. Always. And this particular day was no exception.

As we approached the intersection of our street with another busy, six-lane street, I realized traffic was crawling at a near standstill. And, as we got closer, it was easy to see the cause. A blind man had, somehow, wandered out into the street. He was two lanes away from the sidewalk, tapping the street with his cane, and weaving a path among the cars, all of which had (of course) come to a stop for him. I have no idea why or how he ended up there. Maybe he was unfamiliar with the area and became disoriented, thinking he was on the sidewalk but ending up on the street, instead. It was shocking and terrifying.

I felt my heart go out to this man in that instant. I felt so afraid for him, watching him weave in and out of traffic. His taps of the cane against the street seemed rather frantic, and I’m sure it was terrifying for him to hear the noises around him and to smell the smoke and exhaust from the cars. Maybe I’m putting too much of my own emotion into the incident. But, I know that’s how I would feel. I wanted to do something to help him, but I was in the far lane of traffic, which was still moving (at a pace slower than a snail’s crawl) past the spot. There was nowhere for me to pull over, and I couldn’t leave my daughter sitting in a car in traffic.

I decided I would turn around, find a place to pull over, and return to help. But would I be able to get back there in time? As I glanced into my rear view mirror to check on the blind man’s progress, I saw someone from a nearby business run out into the street. I could only spare a moment’s glance, but I saw this second man make his way into traffic, gently touch the blind man’s shoulder, and lead him back toward the sidewalk. It was small and simple and, yet, so incredibly heroic. And it reminded me that I’m not alone. There are a lot of Good People out there. Maybe they are hard to find sometimes, in amongst the shouting and anger and angst. But they are out there, being kind and quietly heroic.

Sometimes, the smallest gesture can make a huge difference. For the blind man, the second person’s gesture was, of course, huge. It was life-saving. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. But the second man’s gesture saved my life, too, in a smaller way. Even though I was just a passing observer, it touched me in a way I find hard to explain. Two strangers touched my life that day. The first reminded me how important it is for me to continue to look past myself and my own wants and needs, which can be hard in the face of the world in which we live. And the second … the second one restored my faith. It doesn’t get much bigger than that, either.

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Learning to Let Go

I had a learning opportunity this past week. Not a course or certification or something like that, but a life lesson in the fine art of learning how to let go. Let me say this, right up front: It was not easy. It was so “not easy”, in fact, that I have diddled around and avoided writing this post all week, just because I didn’t want to think about it or face up to my feelings on the matter.

Life isn’t static, no matter how much I want it to be. I’m an adult. I’ve had “adult status” for quite a while now. And so, I know this. People I love have gotten older. People I love have died. I’ve lost beloved pets. I’ve lost friendships. I’ve lost my optimistic, sunny outlook on life. I’ve lost faith in myself. I’ve lost my way. The point is this: I have let go. My life has been a series of times when I have had to say good-bye and let go of things I have loved. You would think I would be a pro at it by now. You would think I would be all, “Oh. It’s happening again. That whole Life Is Changing, Gotta Let Go thing. I’ve got this covered. I can do this.”

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It doesn’t work that way. No matter how many times I have to let go or say good-bye or figure out how to cope with the way my life shifts and changes and flows along, it just never works that way for me. I’m not a letting go person. I am a clinging to the things I love with all my might and wishing for nothing to change kind of person. That’s a mouthful. It’s not any easier to live than it is to type.

So … my lesson for this week.

My Child Unit is a freshman in high school this year. She just turned 14. She is a great kid. She is funny and smart. She is creative and weirdly wacky, which I love. She has purple hair and loves elephants and cats. And she still enjoys doing stuff with her mom. I love this, most of all. But, you know, she’s growing up. This is not easy for me. I feel like I’m totally okay with it, and then … BAM! It all just hits me, hard, right out of the blue. And I mean hard. It takes my breath away and makes me want to cry.

Child Unit is in marching band this year, and they have practice several times a week. On Tuesdays, they practice from 6pm-8:30pm. School gets out at 2:55pm, and Child Unit texted me this past Tuesday to ask if she could stay through after school until band practice. She was going to hang out with her friends, and they had plans to walk to a convenience store for snacks. Even to an old fart like me, it sounded like fun. And I could tell she was excited about it — a first, tiny taste of freedom and independence. I can still remember the heady, exhilarating feeling of that first outing with my friends, independent of my parents. It’s normal and healthy. It’s a rite of passage.

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Of course, I said yes. She was very up front about their plans. She told me where they were going. She agreed to the street restrictions I proposed (as in: please don’t cross the insanely busy highway because people are idiots and don’t watch where they are going). She promised to text me as soon as they got back to the band hall so that I would know she was safe. She is a good kid. She is a responsible kid. And she deserves this. She deserves to stretch her wings. She deserves to learn how to be okay without her parents hovering around. She deserves to feel that sweet, terrifying, exciting freedom of being her own person.

The rational part of me knows all of these things. Because it’s logical. She has to live in the world. I won’t be around for forever, and it’s better for her to learn how to do this sooner rather than later. The rational part of me is glad she wants to do things on her own, with her friends.

But … the completely bat-shit crazy, irrational person who lives deep in my heart wants to scream NOOOOOOO! There is a crazy lady inside of me who wants to stop time, hold on tight, and make sure my sweet daughter never grows up. Because my crazy lady … Well, she’s crazy. It’s not that I want my daughter to stay static and be a little kid forever. Even Crazy Lady doesn’t want that. To have her grow up, become independent, and live a happy life is the goal. It’s what I’ve been working toward, from the moment she entered the world. Just … I kind of want her to do all these things in plain view of me, so I always know where she is and what she is doing. That’s not a bad thing, right? I mean … totally rational. And sensible.

Not! I know that. And Crazy Lady knows it, too. We both hate it. Rational me hates it a little. Crazy Lady hates it a lot.

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You’ll be happy to know Child Unit, Rational Me, and Crazy Lady all survived. I took a lot of deep breaths and said a lot of prayers. Child Unit had a good time with her friends, remained safe on her outing, and texted me as soon as she got back to the band hall at school — just like she promised. Overall, it was a huge success. It made me happy to see how excited she was when I picked her up that night after practice was over. She told me all about where they went and what they did. I loved hearing those stories.

And yet, there was a touch of bittersweet sadness underneath it all. From the moment she entered this world, she has been growing and changing. First steps … first day of Kindergarten … first day of Middle School … first sleep-over … first field trip … and so many more that I can’t even think to list right now. All of these things have been carrying her away from me, little by little. It didn’t seem possible when she was two or seven or even twelve. The idea that she would, one day, walk away for real seemed foggy and far away. Now, though, it isn’t. It is coming. I look at my daughter and see a woman growing out of the giggly, silly little girl. A beautiful, amazing woman, who is strong and sweet and confident. A beautiful woman, who is walking away from me and into the future that lies ahead.

And that’s okay. Because I will always be back here, cheering her on — no matter how hard it is, and no matter how many times I have to learn to let go.

Everything You Want

What if you could have Everything you wanted? It seems like it would be great, doesn’t it? Or fabulous or perfect or whatever it is that comes beyond all those words that lurk in our minds alongside “great”. It lives in your mind, that “Everything”. It lives there like a dream. You can close your eyes and feel it there, taking shape somewhere inside your soul. You can see the edges of it. You can smell the smells and taste the flavors that make up your dream — that make up your “Everything”, whatever that may be.

It’s beautiful and bittersweet. You just know, if you could only get your “Everything”, your life would be all fixed. It would be perfect and happy. There would be no more worries and no more arguments and no more fear of what might happen and no more stress over possibly making a wrong choice. Because, of course, this is your “Everything”. Everything You Ever Wanted. How could it be wrong? It couldn’t. That’s what your mind tells you. That’s what the dream tells you. And the dream is right: it is perfect and beautiful and happy. And, above all, it is safe. Because it’s just a dream, and you can’t conceive of it ever truly happening in your life. No matter how much you shape it to your will or taste its sweet flavors or feel the roughness of its edges, “Everything” remains insubstantial and out of reach. That’s the bittersweet part. You can feel it. You can taste it. You can see it. But you can’t touch it — not really.

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I have an “Everything”. I have lots of them, actually. But one, in particular, deals with being able to live in a certain place. For years now, the place where we currently live has worn on me. It makes me feel ragged and rubbed raw in the places where my mind and soul meet. For a while now, I’ve found myself thinking in an “if only” sort of way: if only we didn’t live here, things would be better … if only we could go home, back to the place where my heart longs to be, things would be better. I would be better. The rough spots in my soul and psyche would magically smooth themselves over. The birds would sing and fairies would dance outside my window and there would be nothing but rainbows and unicorns. In short, it would be Pretty Damn Good. What? This is my “Everything”. I can have rainbows and unicorns, if I want. The point is this: life looks way better to me on the other side of the fence than it does on this side, where I can see every bit of flotsam and all the blades of grass that have turned brown over the years.

This morning, my husband mentioned something that could make my much longed-for “Everything” a reality. It’s only a slim chance. Really, at this point, it’s not even accurate to call it a chance. It’s a wisp of a whisper of the slimmest possibility. But it’s way more than I’ve had in the last fifteen years of what I think of as my exile. It’s a hint of maybe and, as such, it feels so very concrete. In some realm of the imagination, this could happen. It almost makes me want to cry, just thinking of this teeny-tiny maybe.

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But then, I stopped to think. And the heaviness of reality (even a whisper of a maybe of a reality has a heaviness to it, when we’re talking about something as fanciful as a dream) swooped in and cloaked the edges of my “Everything”. Because the place I left is much-loved in my mind. It is home, and it will always be home. And, as such, it will always be beloved. But it’s not perfect. There are drawbacks and worries and potential pit-falls. Even if it could happen, it might not be the right thing for my family. Or for me. Maybe it just seems like the right thing in my mind because it’s been a dream for such a long time. Because it’s my “Everything”. And because dreams are always perfect and right. They can’t help it. They don’t know how to be anything else.

Sometimes, I think the only thing worse than not having your “Everything” is facing a moment when “Everything” might come true. What if “Everything” is just what I always expected it would be? What if it’s not? Which one of these things is worse? Either way, I will lose the dream I’ve nurtured in my heart of hearts for all these years. If it comes true, it becomes reality and starts to fade and shred around the edges, colored with my all-too-human disappointment in life and in myself. If it doesn’t come true, I have to face the idea that it will likely never happen and, thus, let go. Either one is painful. And I am left feeling human and small and vulnerable in the face of my internal struggle.

 

A Lazy Sunday

Is there anything more lovely than a lazy Sunday? Saturdays, if they are lazy, are wonderful, too. But my Saturdays tend to be more frenzied. There are always errands to run or things to get done or activities in which to participate or friends to see. All of these things are pleasant, and they make Saturdays fun. But I’ve never thought of Saturday as a lazy day. Sundays, though … Sundays seem perfectly made for laziness.

In my growing up years, I hated Sundays. I may have written about this before; I have the distinct and sinking feeling that I’m repeating myself. But there are times when I suspect I don’t have any more original ideas inside my head. And so, off I go: repeating and repeating and repeating. Maybe. Possibly. Or, possibly not. Not that it matters. We are here now, and I want to talk about lazy Sundays. And that’s that.

As I was saying, I disliked Sundays in my growing up years. There was always an early roll call in order to attend Sunday School and church services. I tended to be a bit of a night owl on Saturday nights, often falling asleep around 1 or 2 AM. Being rousted out of a sound sleep at 7 did not make for a happy camper. We had to drive about 30 to 45 minutes (depending on weather and the deer population) to get to church. That drive seemed to take forever and a day. To this day, I swear time died in that car. I thought we would never reach our destination. It should have been a nice time to grab some extra sleep on the way to church, but this wasn’t usually allowed. Nor was sleeping during the hour-plus service. After church, there would be a short time of visiting and then another eternity of a drive home to prepare lunch. Once lunch and clean-up were done, the rest of the day spread out before me like a whole lot of nothing. There were chores to do, of course: dishes to do, horses, dogs, and cats to feed, sometimes some work in my little tack shed or a quick round of cleaning up the horse’s pen. Mostly, though, the heavier chores were done on Saturday.

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Childhood Sundays closed in around me like a blanket, muffling the realities of life. I grew up in the country, so it was quiet. Often, my dad was away for work. But, when he was home, my parents would do their own Sunday things, like reading, writing to friends, work on the car, or small household tasks. We never had the TV on during the day. That was reserved for evenings. I remember the small, background sounds of daily life: the hum of conversation in the other room, the clink of dishes in the sink, the snort and stomp of my horses, my dog barking at something outside my window. At the time, I thought Sunday would never end. It was so mind-numbingly BORING. I couldn’t wait for Monday to come so that I could set off into a new week with new adventures, and so I would be able to see my friends at school. Sunday felt like a never-ending span of nothing stretching out before me, into the far reaches of time.

I’ve lived a lot of years since those childhood days. I’ve been to different places, both as a visitor and as a resident. I’ve lived a different type of life. I’ve had excitement and tragedy and happiness and sadness. I’ve found things and lost things, and I’ve left bits and pieces of myself here and there along the way. There have been adventures, and noise, and just … lots of stuff.

And this is what I have discovered: I miss those quiet, lazy Sundays of my youth. There is a restlessness inside of me, but it’s not a restlessness to move forward. On the contrary, I very much wish I could move backward. Not necessarily backward in time, although there are some things I would love to recapture from my youth — in particular, dearly loved ones who have gone and are terribly missed. I would love to go back to a time when my parents weren’t old, and to when my life felt secure and safe. But, no. That time is gone, and it can’t be recaptured. I know that. But those lazy Sundays of my youth stand for a simpler life. A quiet life. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and now, it seems like something that is forever eluding my grasp. I can feel it, just at the tips of my fingers, but it slips away every single time I reach for it.

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Today we had a lazy Sunday at my parents’ house. My daughter and I attended church last night, as is our routine. So I was able to sleep in a little today, and then I kept my mom company while she made lunch and we waited for my dad to come home from their church. We ate together, then all went our separate ways: me to finish reading a novel and take a nap, my dad to watch TV with his headphones on, and my mom to nap in her recliner. My daughter is holed up in her room, playing a game on her DS and writing.

And, as I sit here in my mom’s quiet kitchen, the small house sounds close in on me: the hum of the refrigerator and dishwasher, the click of the tea kettle on the stove as it cools, the sound of ice dropping into the freezer’s bin, the melodic music of the wind chimes outside the back door, and the gentle, electric hum of a house alive with happiness and memories. It has clouded over outside. The wind is picking up, and I hear the distant rumble of thunder. But I have a glass of iced tea on the table next to me. I have the comfort of these computer keys clicking under my fingers. I feel safe — peaceful and content — locked in the world of the lazy Sunday.

I asked my daughter earlier if she was bored. She gave me a funny look and said, “Of course not.” It seems she has learned to appreciate the small and simple pleasures of a lazy, quiet day at an early age. She’s definitely smarter than her Mama!

Going Home

“You can’t go home again.”

People have told me this my whole life. I hear it all over the place. I suspect pretty much everyone has said this to someone else or to themselves at some point or another. I’ve said it to myself many times, over the years. It’s one of those sayings that seems to fit a lot of different circumstances. It sounds like wisdom. It has the ring of truth to it. And so, it’s easy for people to trot it out when they don’t have anything better to say. Or when they don’t know what to say.

But I don’t think the enormity of this saying — the heavy and real truth behind it — ever hit me until this summer’s trip to Texas. This summer, though, I have found myself thinking about this more than ever. And I have felt the weight of the truth behind what seems to be such a simple statement. You can’t go home again. Because “home” — that place that lives in your childhood memories — isn’t there any longer. Things change. People change. People die. You change. If I’m not the person I was when I was 9 or 10 or 16, how can I expect “home” to be static and unchanging? Funny how I never thought about it that way until this year. Actually, I guess I never thought much about it at all.

We went to visit my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house in Victoria. This was my first time visiting their house since my Aunt Pat’s death. I knew it was important to my mom for us to go. And it was important to my Uncle Ray, too. And to my sweet cousin, who was so excited for us to come. But … I really didn’t want to go. It’s probably selfish of me, but I didn’t want to face that house without my aunt in it.  I didn’t want to face my feelings and my grief. I didn’t want to feel the reality of her being gone from our lives — from my life. My Aunt Pat was creative and talented, and she poured so much love and energy into her house. Everything in that house is a reflection of her. Everything is just the same as it was when I was a kid and we would visit. Everything … except my sweet and beautiful aunt isn’t there. Her presence is everywhere, but she is not. And so, the house is completely the same but completely different, all at the same time.

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I have many happy memories from her house. My parents moved away from my childhood home when I was in college, so, in a way, my aunt and uncle’s house stands in that place in my mind. Because it’s still there. Because it’s still the same home. Because every stick of furniture and every painting on the walls is the same, even if it feels a little bit empty and hollow now.

I found myself standing in the back room of the house, which had been my Aunt Pat’s sewing room. I have so many memories of just that room. She used to sew all my clothes, and I remember looking over patterns and materials and endless sessions of trying things on and being told not to wiggle so I didn’t get stuck with a pin. Well, they seemed endless back then. I would give almost anything now to have Aunt Pat fuss at me for being too wiggly. I spent hours in that room as a child and teenager when we visited. She had shelves and shelves and shelves of books, including a whole shelf that had books I could read. My favorite was Beautiful Joe. I must have read that book a hundred times over the years. I read it pretty much every time we visited them. It lives with me now, a sweet and incredibly sentimental gift from my cousin. My Aunt Pat had a beautiful wooden cabinet, which she had painted with different types of mushrooms. Inside this cabinet were many treasures, including a set of 6 miniature ceramic horses. I was fascinated with those little horses. I loved them, and I spent hours as a child sitting in front of that cabinet, dreaming up different stories in my head — always with a herd of white horses thundering through the plot line. The cabinet lives with my cousin now, but the little white horses live with me: one of the last gifts my Aunt Pat sent to me, the year before she died. On my daughter’s first Christmas, I fed her in that back room, sitting in the comfortable chair she had covered with sunny yellow fabric.

My Uncle Ray found me standing in the room, looking around at all the things that were the same and the things that had changed. I was lost in my memories. “It’s a bit different, isn’t it?” he asked me. I nodded, because I couldn’t trust my voice. How can it be that a room is the same, the memories are the same, but none of it seems alive any longer? I don’t know, but my Aunt Pat was the life and spirit of that room. It doesn’t feel the same any longer.

It was a hard visit. But it was also good, in a way. It was good to hug my Uncle Ray and my cousin. It was good to visit and tell stories and laugh. Above all, my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house always seemed to me like a house full of joy, love, laughter, and good memories. And that part is the same. Maybe, in a small way, you can go home again. Even when everything has changed.

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Sneaky Feet

Do you remember that poem, “Fog” by Carl Sandburg? “The fog comes on little cat feet …”  For some reason, that poem has stuck with me throughout my life. I think I only read or studied it once, years ago in elementary or middle school. Maybe high school. But even high school was 30 years ago, now. Anyhow, I love that poem. It paints the most wonderful mental picture. Even that one line running through my mind can cause me to see the fog swirling and twirling in lazy patterns, like a giant cat. It’s simple. But also beautiful.

I was thinking about that line from Mr. Sandburg’s poem today. Because I think life can be like this, too. It sneaks up on you with quiet little feet. And, sometimes, you don’t even realize anything has changed until you turn around and see that EVERYTHING has changed. It’s … disorienting, to say the least.

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I feel bushwhacked by life. I thought I had everything all figured out, and that things were running along smoothly. I thought I knew what I was doing and where I was going, both mentally and physically. I think, maybe, I was happy. I had more days when I felt content than days when I felt uneasy and dissatisfied. “I’ve got this all figured out,” I thought to myself. I might not have loved everything about my life, but I could do it. That was the point. I felt like I could hum along quite happily with my life the way it was. Because I understood it, and it understood me.

But then, you know … Shit happened. It didn’t all happen at once. That’s not the way of the universe, I guess. One thing happened, and I mentally adjusted. Then another thing happened, and I adjusted again. But then, there was another thing and another and another. And, suddenly, I realized I couldn’t adjust any longer. I would like to say I refused to adjust, that I refused to give in to the “ick” that had slithered into my formerly happy and (mostly) well-adjusted life. Saying I refused to give in makes it all sound so brave and noble. But the truth is I can’t adjust any longer because I can’t figure out how to do it. There’s nothing brave or noble about it. I am a person who is backed into the tightest corner I can find, and I can’t figure out which way to turn or what to do.

It shows up in little ways. I’ve become forgetful. I forget to pay bills. I forget to pass along phone messages. I forget stuff at the store, or things I was supposed to take with me to the store. I still manage to feed the dogs, but that’s no great accomplishment. They are smart dogs, and they always let me know when it’s meal time. I drop my phone all the time. Like, ALL THE TIME. Pretty much any time I get into or out of the car, I end up dropping my phone. I know this doesn’t sound like such a big deal. People drop their phones all the time. That’s true. But I wasn’t one of those people. Before my husband’s heart attack and surgery, I could count on one hand the number of times I had dropped my phone. Since the surgery … Well, there’s really too many incidents to keep track of. I even managed to break the lens on my phone camera, and my husband has started to joke that he is going to buy the Otter Box case for me because I’ve become such a fumble-fingers. I avoid stuff. Like, I couldn’t make myself look at my daughter’s end of the year grades or progress reports online. Not because I thought she had done badly (she didn’t, by the way), but because I just couldn’t face one more thing. It has become almost an instinctive avoidance. I find I can’t really focus on things, and I don’t want to make plans. It’s not that I’m unable to keep plans. It’s more that I just can’t find the energy to think about what I want to do or when or why. I can’t find the energy to think of much of anything, really. I cry a lot. But only when no one can see me. I try really hard not to cry, because I feel like I might not stop once I start. It sneaks up on me sometimes, though. I’ve gotten really bad about crying during church. My thoughts are scattered. I can’t write. It’s as if every creative impulse in me has shriveled up and blown away into dust. I have ideas, which is an improvement over a few months ago, but I can’t seem to do anything with them. I had lost quite a bit of weight, but I’ve gained a lot of it back. My hair is falling out.

I’m just … floundering. Floundering my way through life. It isn’t pretty.

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But then, isn’t that the way of things? Aren’t we all basically floundering around, pecking away at the edges of life, and hoping we can “get it right” more times than not? I think, on some level or another, I have been floundering away for my whole life. Going from one thing to the next to the next without any plan or purpose. I just didn’t realize it at the time. Floundering away is all right when you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing.  But, when life gives you more than a healthy dose of self-awareness, it hurts.

It’s all such a delicate balance, isn’t it? We bumble along, day after day, blissfully unaware of how delicate things are. Just one thing out of whack can send the whole mess tumbling down around our ears. And you know what? There’s not a darn thing we can do about it, other than keep plodding forward in the hopes that we can get to the other side of whatever the universe has unexpectedly tossed in our path. Maybe this is the real business of living: this quest to get through the yuck and find better times once again. Sometimes, it feels like there aren’t any better times out there, but the optimist in me wants to believe. And so, I try to humor her.

I am tiny. I am one tiny person in the midst of a huge world. Maybe I had forgotten this, but, now … Now, I remember.

Hard Lessons

We had a bit of a hard lesson at our house over the weekend. I don’t like the hard lessons in life. Those are the ones I can’t shelter my daughter from — the ones she has to learn and suffer through on her own. The hard lessons make me feel like a failure as a parent, as if I am adrift and floundering aimlessly. I try to be an anchor for my daughter, something solid in the midst of the world’s uncertainty and storms, something she can cling to, if she chooses. Floundering doesn’t feel so great in the face of knowing this is what I want to be for my daughter.

My daughter is in eighth grade this year, and it was her first time trying out for Middle School District Band. She practiced for months. She worked hard for this. But her audition didn’t go well. There were a lot of reasons for this: she was having problems with her flute the night before the audition, so we had to switch instruments; she had to go into the warm-up area alone, and she kind of freaked out at all the people playing around her; she was sick with a virus, and not feeling her best; she got nervous and scared; she was competing against over 50 other flute players, so competition for her instrument is high and difficult. Lots of reasons for a bad audition. Considering everything, she placed well in the flute rankings, but not high enough to make the band.

It was disappointing. I know my daughter was disappointed and sad. I felt disappointed and sad. It was a difficult day, all around.

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But here’s where the “hard lesson” happens. Sometimes, life doesn’t go the way we want. I can point to so many times in my life when things didn’t go the way I wanted or hoped. Thousands and thousands of times. A whole pile of instances in which I felt like a failure … in which I felt like the biggest loser in the history of ever. Even in this instance, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t make all of this right for my daughter. I couldn’t take away her hurt. I tried. I hugged her close and told her how much I loved her. I told her how proud of her I was.

I hope, when she looks back on that day, she will remember those things, instead of the feeling that she failed at something she so wanted to do. Not succeeding isn’t the same thing as failing. Not succeeding means you went in there; you faced down your demons and your fears; you were brave; you tried your best; and, for whatever reason, things didn’t work out this time. If you don’t try at all … To me, that is failure. As long as you try, you have already succeeded.

I know this was cold comfort to my daughter in that moment. But I hope she will take these thoughts away with her, that she will file them away somewhere in her memory so she can turn them over in her mind and think on them later. I hope she will keep on trying and trying and trying, for all the things in her life that she wants. I hope she won’t let the fear of “failing” stop her. Because my daughter is amazing. And brave. And fierce. I hope she will continue being all of those things.

Because she isn’t a failure, even when she doesn’t succeed. And neither am I. I guess we both need to keep learning those hard lessons.