I woke up crying today, listening to the soft breathing of my three kids filling the hotel room and remembering that this was the last morning in a long time that I would wake in the company of us all together. Today was the day I would drop my third child off for the beginning of his college years- a day that I saw coming from years away but still cannot believe has already arrived. When we’re awoken by his musical alarm of “Kiss me” – a song that has been playing since he was a toddler, the golden weight of the past came rushing to me. Tears rolling down my face, I lay there realizing just how deeply blessed I am to be burdened with this particular grief.
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The truth is that you never see the hard times coming towards you. We are just walking through life, expecting this day to turn out kind of like yesterday and grave illnesses, accidents, and job losses all come like an unexpected blow to the head. My son is in the middle of one of those times now and I am reminded again that a mother is only as well as her least well child. Even at 18 and a head taller than me, I wake up in the night hearing his incessant cough and feeling the same dread I did when he was sick at 7. What comes clear in the fog of no sleep is how much we have to be grateful for when we are well.
Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes,
Flowers at your feet, duties in your hand,
The path is right just before you.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
I spent most of my youth after my parents’ divorce trying to make a family to replace the broken, violent home from which I came. I didn’t just want friends, I wanted sisters to stand beside me and help me learn what unconditional love feels like. I longed for a best friend. I met Sarah when I was 21. Within a week of knowing each other I was driving her daughter in her car to a language camp that I organized.
I have spent the weekend putting old photos in frames. Some of the photos are images of people I have never met, pictures that I found while cleaning out my dad’s apartment after his death. There are images of him as a baby being bathed by his mother in 1933, and as a toddler and as a young boy riding a bike. I see a resemblance to my own son as I pick and choose among the moments of his life long before he ever thought he would be a father. He looked happy and proud as a boy. He looked well-loved. There are also photos that go back another whole generation, of my beloved grandmother as a small girl with her own family. Pictures of her and her sisters as children and young women of the 1940s and great uncles who I barely knew who were soldiers in World War II. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother beginning their life so long ago and yet connected to me through features frozen on their faces that look a little like mine. This is the first time I have ever found traces of my genome in the form of old photos. I wish my father would have shared these with me, telling me how I am related to the adorable women wearing 1920s swim suits.
Even for as long as I have been studying positivity consciousness and working on maintaining a daily practice, it still surprises me that the simplest, seemingly the most basic aspects recede from view. It was upon listening to a Pema Chodron lecture on joy that I realized what was keeping me from experiencing positivity lately. When she was explaining the basic experience of joy, she shared a story of how the mood in her workshops always seem to lift when people start to understand the “workability” of their own minds.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Marie Rilke
This quote is the first thing that comes to mind these days. Living inside a question takes practice and vigilance. Dancing between the edges of the unknown and yet having the courage to take steps forward takes a lot of balance and still it is easy to feel clumsy. Yet, pushing towards some secure outcropping is usually that, pushing. You land there, try to stake a claim but it isn’t the real answer and the only way to get to it is to let go and float in the stream of uncertainty. Some days everything feels uncertain. I glance through the news and the weight of the vast changes in climate, how the governing bodies remain stuck, the persistence of the sorrow and violence surrounding us. To what do we cling? Each other of course, but even that is compromised in a culture that has confused friendship with digital connecting and intimacy with hookups.
The most effective mind-shifting, gratitude-awakening thought I have is when I ask myself to seriously consider how many more times I will have to do the thing right in front of me. I remember reading this thought somewhere where the author realistically assessed just how many more nights like this one would you see a sunset that makes your jaw drop? I can’t remember how many nights I watched my kids splashing in the tub and didn’t take the time to share the sheer joy of their playfulness. I couldn’t imagine then, that those days would disappear as they have already.
I have come to believe that a life well lived is really closely attuned to one’s facility to let go. As I age, more and more things that would have seemed so important years ago become unnoticeable- a blip on the screen. Maybe I just don’t have the adrenaline for the drama anymore. Yet, other things seem to stick to me and take advantage of every opportunity where my energy is waning to needle its way back into anxiety. As I have begun to study the things that I can’t seem to drop, I would have to say that those fall into another category of unfinished emotional ties.
I have been working on the completing the Positive Change courtyard at South Eugene High School for over 3 years now. Like the long- awaited ending of most things, the resources of time, money and people have run thin and I, like most everyone else, is ready to move on. Unexpectedly, I have had an offer from a small group of boys who have taken on building furniture for the courtyard as their senior projects. Suddenly, I am in the courtyard again every day and it is the kids who are reminding me how far we have come.