Happy New Year! We’re almost a full month into 2020 and I am still trying to find my bearings. I feel like I hit the new year running and didn’t stop until I ran smack dab into MLK weekend and caught something that knocked me out for a good week.
Lying in bed for three days doing nothing but try to get through each hour with the least amount of pain does have a way of clearing your mind.
When I emerged from the fog, I felt an odd contentment about everything in my life.
Odd, because this rarely happens.
I’m always stressing out about the next thing. There are always goals to achieve. To do lists for to do lists. I’ve been a rat caught in a wheel since the beginning of my existence.
But something about not being able to get out of bed to do the most mundane things in my house– dishes, laundry, bathe my children– it changes the meaning of everything. The more you can’t do them, the more you want to do them. The more you realize how *lucky* you were to have been able to do them.
And when the only thing you really want in life is to go to the grocery store and make dinner for your kids, you realize your life’s happiness can be boiled down to just a few simple things, and there is something very liberating about that.
I must say it was really good for my mental health. I’m grateful for the reminder and reality check.
Things have been rapidly changing by the day. I ended the most tumultuous decade of my life. The decade I became a mother– 3x. A decade of a lot of gain: selling our first house and buying our second, new friends, lots of travel, experiences and knowledge, personal growth. Also a decade of significant loss: my husband, good friends and mentors, family members, and yes, often my sanity.
I went to a funeral the first day of my 104 degree fever. Death has hardened me, but in other ways softened the core of my being.
That is perhaps my biggest change in the past decade.
I live more intentionally. I make more of an effort to choose happiness. My days are savored. I am more empathetic and sensitive to other people’s suffering. I think I’m more understanding. I live with less expectations and assumptions.
Time continues to change me. Something about this new year and new decade has shifted my perspective.
I don’t know if it was the funeral or the fever or lying in bed for days on end doing nothing but contemplate the ceiling in my bedroom, but I felt kind of like Forest Gump in that scene where he ran and ran and ran for three years, and then one day he just stopped and decided he was tired. It was time to go home.
After Kenneth died, I stayed busy on top of busy on top of busy to numb myself. That was how I coped. Just keep going.
I don’t feel like I need to do that anymore. I’m tired of that stage in my life– the grief, the loss, the holes to fill.
Time to go home, back to myself.
I want to scale back. Simplify. Be still in the moment. Eliminate the unnecessary. Focus on what I really want to do with my limited days.
This month we lost Maddy–Kenneth’s former student– who was our babysitter/redheaded daughter I never had with him. She has started a new chapter in her life, and in her place came Avery, equally kind and nice and competent with my children. The kids already love her, and it amazes me how easily and openly they are ready to love and begin new chapters too. Maddy came into our lives in the tenderest of days after Kenneth passed away, and for 3 full years she was an important part of our family. She still will be, but in the way relationships change and evolve. Time marches on; our lives shift, change, morph into new normals.
Softball and baseball seasons have started. My son’s coach has an older son who used to be in my husband’s class. My husband was so loving to that student, and now my son is being cared for by this father and other kind members of the community. It seems too perfect to be true, like a pay it forward in love.
“Your dad was very kind to people,” I told Ethan. “He really cared about his students.”
Ethan nodded, sure that what I was saying was true. He hears the stories frequently from the former students we bump into at restaurants or the post office or in line at Target– the ones who tell us about how Kenneth used to spend his lunch time teaching them how to write better. So much love has continued beyond the reaches of Kenneth’s mortal life. It hasn’t gotten lost. It’s still here. Right here.
Our caterpillars have turned into cocoons– one of them did not make it.
My three children gathered around the limp, furry body of the dead caterpillar with somber expressions. They wondered aloud about why this one and not the others.
Sometimes we don’t have any answers, I explained. It just is.
Kobe Bryant died and I can’t help but wonder how many of us are actually thinking about our own mortality, maybe feeling like we lost a piece of ourselves. It is a loss of innocence, a reminder that our worst nightmares can indeed come true when we least expect it. I think about his babies who will never remember him. Babies like my babies, who also don’t remember their father.
I visited a school where I worked 16 years ago. I saw someone who I flirted with as a new teacher, and he has changed so much with his dad bod and grey hair. My mind still thinks she is a few years out of high school herself, but there is no mistaking the decades that have passed when I see these people I once knew.
I passed by my colleagues’s classroom the other day. It is the same classroom where my husband used to teach– next door to mine. I no longer see my husband in that room. It’s just a room. I caught a glimpse of a bookcase that used to be in my first classroom at another school, gifted from a mentor who is no longer here. I carried that bookcase from school to school until it landed in my husband’s classroom when I no longer needed it, and there it stayed. My colleague does not know that I see my first classroom in that bookcase. I see the guy with the dad bod and grey hair when he was much younger and came to visit my classroom. I see past students. I see my friend who brought me into this career. I see the storage unit I kept it in after my second year teaching– in between jobs– until finally it came with me to where I am now. It’s not my bookcase anymore, but I thank it for the times we had together.
The kids’ passports expired and I took them to the library, up the stairs, where we waited and filled out paperwork just like I remembered doing six years ago with my husband before our trip to Paris. This time I pass his death certificate across the table to be mailed to the U.S. government, letting them know that I am the only parent now. A lot can happen in six years.
It doesn’t feel happy or sad. It just is.
But we are going somewhere! I am proud of us. We got back up. We kept living and enjoying and soaking up whatever life was gonna offer us. I feel like I can maybe overcome anything now because of it.
Today, I feel content.
Tomorrow, I may be distraught.
Today, I tuck my babies into bed and know where all of my loved ones are.
Tomorrow, there are no guarantees about who will still be with us.
And that’s just the way all of this works.
Life feels like a sandcastle. Beautiful and regal in one moment, washed away and unrecognizable in the next. The wonderful thing is that there is always sand, and we can keep playing and building. We can build better things. We can become better people. Waves come and go. The sun rises and sets. None of it lasts forever. It’s all about what we do with what we have.
For me, 2020 is about being grateful for right now. Living the life I want to live. Making intentional choices. Slowing down.
I feel like it may be my best year yet. But if it isn’t, I know I will learn a lot.
I hope your year is a happy one. I hope you get to learn a lot too. What a gift to be able to be here and watch time unfold.
I am super grateful.