“You like my ghetto city?” he says with a chuckle, looking back in the rearview mirror.
I smile, realizing I must look like a child or some goofy tourist, my face nearly pressed up against the backseat window as I take in the New York skyline.
“I haven’t been here in so long. I’d forgotten how beautiful it is at night.”
“Where you from?” he asks.
“Southern California,” I say. “Uh, Orange County,” I add, my words lilt up into a question, unsure if this specificity is of interest.
“How long you here for?”
“Just a few days. I have some meetings, then I’m headed home.”
The cabbie brakes hard and weaves left, navigating traffic and pedestrians. He’s launched into a story about how Uber is killing the taxi business in New York, which somehow dovetails into him explaining why he’s supporting Donald Trump for President (because he makes him laugh). I fix my eyes on the road ahead to avoid getting sick, unsure whether it’s his driving or the Trump talk that suddenly has me feeling queasy. I tune him out, offering the occasional “uh-huh” or “oh really” to appear polite and as if I’m listening.
We arrive at my hotel. He hands me my carryon from the trunk. I give him $80 cash and suggest he watch Kevin Hart if wants to laugh, rather than use that as his sole criteria for picking a President.
He smiles warmly, assuring me I haven’t offended him.
“Enjoy my ghetto city,” he says as he pulls away.
I check in, deposit my bag in my room, and pull on my coat. After the cross-country flight, I need to get out, stretch my legs and feel the fresh air on my face. And with the time change, I’m not ready for sleep just yet. I take the elevator down the eight floors to the lobby and step outside. Unfamiliar with the neighborhood, I make little mental notes with each block so I can find my way back later.
I pass a group of young tourists poring over a map. A homeless man, who appears to be talking to himself, sits shirtless on a blanket next to a hot dog vendor. A woman carrying groceries hurries ahead of me, her head down to guard against the night chill. Block after block, my ears tune to a stream of different languages and I try, unsuccessfully, to match the speakers with their country of origin. I’d forgotten how international New York is.
I walk and I walk and I think about how different this feels from home. About how the struggles of life smack you in the face in a city, make it impossible to look away. Even the city itself bares its grime and dirt openly, a reminder of the centuries of wear and tear and life that have happened here.
In suburbia where I live, the struggles are every bit as real, they’re just better hidden; masquerading behind gated communities and manicured lawns. Behind the dark tinted windows of that sleek SUV purchased with a home equity loan rolls a family swimming in dysfunction. Cross the “Welcome” doormats bought on clearance at Target and you’ll find broken marriages, damaged children, moms kept afloat by chardonnay, and dads trying to find their place in this “lean in” generation.
I get further and further away from the hotel, unsure of where I’m going. My meetings begin early tomorrow, but I’m not ready to turn back just yet, and I keep on walking.
Two days later, I’m on a plane headed home. I’ve been traveling more than usual lately. Not road-warrior, living-out-of-a-suitcase kind of travel, but enough that I’m learning the rules of the road. Like, I know which airline serves the best cheese plate. I know how to politely shut down conversation with a chatty seatmate. I know that when given a personal, on-demand entertainment system, the majority of Americans will binge watch hours of Keeping Up with The Kardashians. And I know that psychologists should start citing the battle for overhead bin space among those top ten lists of stressful life events right up there with death and divorce.
I settle into my seat, nod off during takeoff, and enjoy what would be, regrettably, the first of two cheese plates. I flip through the entire in-flight magazine, tap the screen in front of me, quickly rounding through all of the channels. Sports. Sports. News. News. Kardashians. News. I press the off button and pull out my phone to check the time. Four more hours still stand between home and me.
I decide to journal, grabbing the spiral notebook from my purse under the seat in front of me, along with the pen I took from the hotel nightstand that morning. What kind of a writer are you? I think. I bet Elizabeth Gilbert has a really nice pen; something one would refer to as a ‘writing instrument,’ perhaps. Not some cheap hotel pen announcing where I slept the night before. I make a mental note to buy a good pen when I get home and hide it someplace where my kids can’t find it. And lose it. Which is what they do with everything.
The cabin is dim and I start to write. A few sentences in, my handwriting changes, the words becoming more scrawling, more illegible as my hand tries to keep pace with my thoughts; thoughts that have been on a slow simmer in the background, ink adding just the right amount of fire to crank them up to a boil.
“Life,” I write, “has been serving up a steamy turd-pie of disappointment lately.”
I glance at the guy next to me to make sure he isn’t taking a peek at this lovely declaration. Engrossed in Kardashians (I kid you not), he isn’t.
I get this feeling a lot when I journal. A guilty panic washes over me. I imagine myself dead and gone. My loved ones, lost in mourning, are going through my belongings and come across “the drawer.” In movies, the drawer contains dramatic and mysterious things—the key to an undisclosed safe deposit box, evidence of a second family or hidden identity, statements from offshore accounts. In real life, the drawer is most likely filled with porn, dildos or drugs. For me, the drawer is filled with my journals, page after page revealing, once and to all, what a horrible, loathsome bitch I really was. I make a mental note: designate trusted individual to commence burning of all journals immediately upon death.
I turn back to my notebook, continuing to unburden myself within its pages.
You see, I started this year like I do every year, buoyant and hopeful. But lately, I’ve started to wonder if the forces of life haven’t secretly banded together and formed some ‘Survivor-esque’ alliance against me. The year started with a death; the loss of someone close who was taken too soon. Then, an opportunity fizzled and faded. My trust in others got bandied about a bit, and, of course, there’s been the daily assault on humanity that is Donald Trump.
And then, my mom got sick. My beautiful, strong, vibrant mother.
The day I called the paramedics, I remember them asking, “What is your relationship?”
“She’s my mother,” I responded. But those three words don’t even begin to capture who she is to me.
She’s my best friend. She’s my confidante. She’s the person I call three, four, sometimes five times a day. We talk for hours about nothing and everything. She’s road trips and car dancing. She’s Gigi to my children, who adore her completely. She’s my reliable understudy, willing to drop everything and step in when the demands of motherhood become too much. She’s the woman who loves a dry martini and her closest friends; the same friends who helped her find herself in her middle years when her identity as she knew it—as wife and mother—shifted irreparably. She is a single woman in her 60s now, the kind society likes to push to the wings, make invisible, diminish. And yet I’m finding the grace and beauty of age make her more comfortable in her own skin than I have ever known her to be. She is my biggest cheerleader, my fiercest defender, and my most trusted advisor. Just as you couldn’t have the bloom without the seed, the fruit without the flower, the tides without the moon, there is no me without her.
“Your mother is having a cardiac event.” Words that were never a part of my vocabulary – afib, beta blockers, paddles, clear – suddenly became the only words.
I followed the ambulance to the hospital, never allowing more than a car length to come between us. It was late enough that we’d missed the evening rush hour and I could mirror the ambulance’s every move, the second and only car in our little emergency motorcade. Right turn. Left turn. Change lanes. Against the darkness, the brightly lit cab inside the ambulance made it so I could see my mother perfectly through its rear windows. And so could everyone else. I followed more closely.
I phoned my brother. It was late where he lives but I caught him just before bed. I gave him the facts of what was happening. I told him I was scared. I told him I’d call back when I knew more. I told him I loved him. I hung up and my throat tightened, and I suddenly ached for my brother who felt so far away.
“Can I help you?” the emergency room receptionist asked.
“Um, my mother,” I replied, trying to put together the words. “The paramedics just brought her in,” I said offering her name.
“I’ll buzz you in,” she said, and I heard the door next to me click. “She’s straight back on your left, room number eight.”
I made my way to room eight, passing and nodding my thanks to the paramedics who stood completing paperwork in the hall. I pushed back the curtain and there was my mother, draped in a hospital gown, two male nurses flanking her on both sides. She looked pale and faint, but met my eyes, offering a reassuring look and patting the bed with her index finger signaling that it was alright for me to enter.
I went to her, grabbing her hand in mine as she closed her eyes and rested her head on the pillow behind her.
“What is your relationship?” one of the nurses asked.
“She’s my mother,” I said, closing my hand more tightly around hers.
“Can you tell us what happened tonight?” they asked.
“She came to my house to watch my children…she was dizzy and lightheaded…just before I called 911, the blood drained from her face…she was having trouble breathing…she takes 25 milligrams a day of…her blood pressure is freakishly low all the time…she’s usually very active and healthy….”
I spoke quickly, rattling off every detail I could remember about my mother’s health history, as if by some miracle my thorough account would make them slap their foreheads and say, “Oh, of course, that’s it. Why didn’t you say so? We’ll have her fixed up in a jiff.”
They didn’t say that. They listened closely and focused on each next task. Blood was drawn out, IV fluids pushed in, a shot of this, and x-ray of that. And then, we waited. For hours and hours, we waited.
It was not a heart attack. That was good. But no one could say for sure what was causing her heart to be so out of rhythm. I don’t know why but in my mind I always imagined something like this going very differently. Like, I expected the Orange County version of Hugh Laurie or Noah Wiley to stride in with a diagnosis, plain and clear, one that would include a simple, definitive treatment plan resulting in a cure. But the very un-TV-like, real life practice of medicine is much more trial and error. Push this lever, pull that string, add a little of this, try a little of that. And wait to see what works.
Eventually, this little game did work. One intervention, or maybe it was a combination of all of them, made my mom was stable enough to be discharged. In the wee hours of the morning, I drove her home with strict orders to call her cardiologist in the morning.
That night, I fell into my own bed, exhausted and knowing that in just a few hours my children would wake and need me in a myriad of ways. Lunches would need to be packed, homework signed. Brady needed money for his field trip. Lauren needed to be reminded to pack her library book and recorder for school. There would be arguments to settle over who got to watch his or her TV show, complaints about our limited breakfast options, and whining about my insistence on the practice of basic personal hygiene. I had a full day of meetings and calls ahead of me, and sleep could not come soon enough.
The pilot’s voice comes over the PA system, asking the flight attendants to ready the cabin for landing. I shut my notebook, now filled with pages of indecipherable scrawl, and let my head fall back on the headrest behind me.
I know what this is, I think, this stage of life. The media has been predicting this future for me for quite some time. I’m on the cusp of what they like to call the “sandwich generation,” when one (me, in this case) is the squishy jelly smushed between one piece of bread—my growing children—and another—my aging parents. This should not be news to me. The coordinates that landed me in this very spot were programmed long ago. So why do I feel so blindsided by it, so utterly gob smacked to be here, and so unsure of whether I can hold it all together?
My children are fast asleep when I get home, which is just as well. After a full day of meetings and travel, I’m not really ready for the “Full Monty” of parenting just yet. I hug my husband who has waited up and tiptoe down the darkened hall, stopping first at my daughter’s door. The scent of her shampoo fills the room and as I get closer, I can see that her hair is still damp. She clutches her pink blanket, the one she’s had since she was a baby, holding it close to her parted lips. I stand for a moment, taking her in and then kissing her forehead gently before quietly backing out of the room so as not to wake her.
I move on to my son’s room. He’s sprawled sideways across his bed, legs akimbo, wearing only underwear and not a shred of bed covers atop him. I find him like this most nights and wouldn’t expect anything different. Ever since he was born, he’s been doing life his own way, so, of course, even in sleep, he rejects the traditional headboard to footboard orientation. He also sleeps incredibly hard. I could bang two pots together and he might stir, but he won’t wake. Knowing this, I bend down, kiss the top of his head and linger there for a moment, pressing my nose against his scalp, drinking in his smell. My shoulders relax, falling away from my ears where I guess I’d been holding them all day, and I let out a big exhale, my body finally unwinding and slowing down.
Back in the hallway, I take one more look at each of my sleeping babies, who aren’t babies anymore. Tomorrow, when they wake full of demands and wants, this feeling of adoration will be harder to summon. I know that. But right now, in the quiet stillness of home, love is simple, pure, uncomplicated.
I’m brewing coffee when I hear my daughter’s slippers shuffling across the floor the next morning.
“Mama, you’re back,” she says wrapping her arms around my waist and resting her cheek against my chest. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, sweet girl. Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I did,” she says, loosening her arms and looking up at me. “Can I have your phone?”
Lately, some of her friends have been given cell phones and I’ve been holding out, standing firm in my “No phone until 12” policy. If I’m being honest with myself, though, it’s really just a silly charade; policy in theory rather than practice. Every chance she gets, she swipes my phone, sneaks back to her bedroom and disappears for ages before I even notice it’s gone. In effect, she has a phone. It’s just that it’s my phone.
“Really, sweetie, I just got home. Don’t you want to hang out? Catch me up on the last few days?”
“Mom, please! I haven’t been able to check my Musical.ly account in three days. Just let me look and I’ll give it right back.”
I hand it over and she quickly vanishes to the living room, unlocking the screen as she goes. I pour a cup of coffee and join her on the sofa.
My son emerges from his room, still wearing only underwear, his blankie draped over his shoulders like a cape.
“Mama,” he says, as he cuddles up next to me on the sofa. I set my coffee down and wrap my arms around him.
“I missed you,” I say inhaling that delicious head of his.
“I missed you too,” he says.
“Oh, hey butt cheek,” he says to my daughter, a greeting that immediately sends her into a rage.
“Oh my gosh, mom! Do you hear him? Do you see what I’ve been dealing with? You need to do something about HIM! He is the worst brother ever!”
“Brady, apologize to your sister.”
“Sorry butt cheek,” he says.
“Ugh! You’re so annoying!” She storms out of the room, taking my phone with her.
AND, we’re back.
“Brady, that wasn’t nice. You’re going to have to apologize to her once she cools down. A real apology, this time, you hear me?”
“Hey, what’s all the racket?” my husband asks coming out of our bedroom. “Jeez, they never acted like this for me while you were gone,” he teases.
I didn’t know it when I married him, but his good humor in the face of life’s stresses is one of the things I love most about him now.
“So, what’s on tap today?” he asks, joining us on the sofa.
“You know, it’s actually a pretty quiet Saturday,” I say. “No sports, no birthday parties. I don’t know, I thought maybe I’d go for a run this morning.”
“That’s cool,” he says, “I want to go for a bike ride later this afternoon, so go for it.”
This kind of give and take around time plays out often in our relationship. Our children aren’t old enough to stay home alone yet, so any form of “me time” must be coordinated and agreed upon in advance. Time is the limited resources between us, something to be haggled over and won, and while we usually achieve some deal civilly, the subtext goes something like, “I’ll see your Tuesday night yoga class, and raise you one dawn-patrol surf session on Saturday.”
I take my son back to his sister’s room to offer up a real apology, which she reluctantly accepts, and then head to my room. I pull on a pair of black running shorts and a tank top, lace up my fuchsia trail running shoes and head to the kitchen to fill my Camelbak with water. I give my husband my planned route. He bikes the same trails often and knows the path well.
As I’m heading out the door, he says, “Hey, have fun out there but be careful. There’s a high-wind advisory in effect.”
“I’ll be fine,” I say waving off his concern, my mind suddenly remembering the howling wind the night before. “See you guys in a bit.”
I don’t say it, but the truth is, regardless of any wind, I need this run. As much as I loved being in New York, immersed in its smells, its people, its energy, right now I need the wide-open space of the trail.
I head out to where the paved road stops and make my way under an overpass before turning left to reach the gate of the trailhead. It’s spring and there’s a sign on the gate warning of bees in the area given all of the wildflowers in bloom. I proceed through the gate and, even though subdivisions of tract homes are not far off, immediately feel transported, remote, swallowed up by this place.
It’s funny, Orange County is known for many things; its conservative politics, its mega-churches, its outsized share of the breast enhancement market. As a flat chested liberal whose relationship status with organized religion would most likely read, “it’s complicated,” I don’t always feel like I fit here. But, Orange County is also home to some of the most beautiful hiking trails, and it’s out here on the trail that I often feel most like me.
It’s still early and the trail is quiet. Small birds rustle in the leaves nearby and, with every step, my shoes shuffle and crunch against the dirt. Two times, the trail forks and each time I stay to the left. When I first started running here I was afraid of getting lost, or eaten by a mountain lion, but now, I navigate this terrain almost reflexively, without thinking, and I’ve since given up my fear of death by mauling.
The first mile of the trail is gentle with just the slightest incline allowing me to ease in and slowly warm up my legs and lungs. Oak trees line each side of the trail offering a canopy of shade and protection from the elements, namely the wind, which I’m now noticing is blowing really hard. After the first mile, the thick forest abruptly stops and the trail suddenly becomes steep, winding up a hillside that is blanketed in mustard colored wildflowers.
No longer guarded by trees, the sun bears down, warming the top of my head and shoulders. A powerful gust of wind hits me straight on, and my body automatically stiffens to resist its force. The wind recedes for a moment and I suddenly find myself picking up my pace.
My arms swing at my sides and I charge up the hill. The higher I climb the more exposed I become. Again and again, the wind gathers force and smacks into me hard. Each time, I lean in, brace myself and push back against its energy. My heart pumps against my chest and my quads burn. The hill grows steeper forcing me to slow up and as I do my mind begins to call up all the grief and heartache of the last few months. Death, loss, disappointment, betrayal, my mom…
I reach a ridge that is completely open on both sides. It is narrow and elevated and as I run, wind whips through the pass pelting my shins, thighs and cheeks with little grains of sand and tiny pebbles. I run my tongue across my front teeth, lick away a thin layer of dirt that covers them, and spit it out onto the ground.
As I near the top of the hill, a huge gust blows me back. Only this time, for some reason, I don’t brace myself. I let my arms fall slack at my sides, tilt my head back, turning my face toward the sun, and let everything in my body go loose. For a moment, I just let go, let the wind completely overtake me, knock me back with its full force. The wind won’t relent, and suddenly I find myself thinking, Fuck you, wind! Is that the best you’ve got? The best you can do? You think you’re going to send me back down this mountain? Make me give up? Not today.
I grab the brim of my visor, put my head down and run hard the final distance to the top. I reach the very highest point and don’t stop, not to take in the view or to talk to the other hikers and mountain bikers gathered around the trail map. Instead, I round the turn and sprint over the rock-strewn path, keeping my feet light and quick. The trail begins to descend and I open up my stride until I’m flying down the hill, running harder and faster, the earth moving quickly beneath me. I see the trees up ahead and as I close the distance between them and me, the trail begins to level off, flattening out in front of me.
A few more yards and I’m back under the safety of the trees, shielded once again from the wind. When I reach the gate a half-mile later, the swirl of endorphins and adrenaline pumping through my body have done their job, effectively clearing away some of the melancholy I’ve been carrying around lately, and I feel lighter.
A hiker holding a walking stick and wearing a floppy hat approaches.
“Pretty windy up there today, huh?” he asks as we pass through the gate at the same time.
“It’s not that bad,” I reply. “You can handle it.”
I slow to a walk and as I do, it hits me. See, that’s the thing; I can handle wind on a run any day; spit in its face and find the strength to push through. But I am getting older, and there are winds off in the distance gathering force. My parents are aging. My children will, rightfully, someday leave me. And even though I have weathered much in my 40 years, there are some gusts I fear I cannot withstand.
When my mom got sick, the leaves began to rustle, not in a way that left me running for shelter, but just enough that I could feel the seasons changing.
A few weeks and many tests later, the diagnosis finally comes back: Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. The treatment—destroy the thyroid with radioactive iodine—is painless, but for a few days, my mom must keep her distance, a precaution to ensure she doesn’t expose any of us to radiation.
We call each other often those days. We joke about her being “radiant,” and somehow answering the phone while singing the lyrics from “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons never fails to amuse us. She feels good. She’s hydrating like crazy, and she’s cleared to come to my son’s Little League game on Saturday.
My brother, who is visiting Southern California for work, will be there, and my dad and his wife are planning to come as well.
“Oh, that’ll be nice,” she says.
And she means it; it will be nice. That wasn’t always the case.
My parents divorced during my senior year of high school, and my dad remarried a few years later. In that first decade following the dissolution of our family as we knew it, there were at least a half a dozen major life events—graduations, weddings (both mine and my brothers), and the like—in which participation by all members of our former unit was compulsory.
Surrounded by extended family and friends, my parents always felt like well-mannered strangers back then, donning fancy clothes and their very best behavior. It wasn’t hostile or acrimonious; neither of them likes conflict enough for that. It was just awkward and stiff and formal.
Miraculously, unexpectedly, time and grandchildren have helped chip away at this façade. Children have little patience for formality. They demand authenticity and delight in the most basic of things—birthday cake, armpit farts, a good push on the swing. Little by little, they helped unwind some of the tension, and love for them was something everyone could get behind.
The morning of my son’s game, the sky is a perfect blue and, even though it’s still early, the sun is already warm. I grab my straw hat on the way out the door, and my daughter and I drive the five minutes to the baseball fields near our house. My son and husband are warming up with the rest of the team when we arrive, and we quickly find a spot for our folding chairs along the fence just beyond first base.
I wave to my son at shortstop. He’s sporting his green Oregon Ducks jersey and in between throws, quickly waves back before sweeping his hand across his forehead to tuck his hair under his cap. He fields the next ball that comes his way and tosses it to first, moving effortlessly, naturally. I smile thinking about how his body, so bouncy and charged with energy, often gets him into trouble at school. But out here, for the next two hours, it will be an asset, the thing that makes him “good,” not “bad.”
I turn and look back toward the snack bar, and as I do, I spot my mom and brother making their way toward me. I signal to them, waving my hand high above my head, to which they nod in recognition.
“Wenners,” my brother says when he gets to me, wrapping me in his arms.
“Jager,” I say holding on to him tightly, wondering when his shoulders got so broad and whether he was always this tall. I find myself not wanting to let go of him, this man who has known me my whole life, who was my first real friend. I cling to him and want to tell him how much I miss him, how much I need him, now more than ever. But he lets me go and reaches for my daughter who has been patiently waiting for her chance to hug her uncle.
I turn to my mother and, after days of no contact thanks to the radiation, finally get to hug her.
“I love you, mama,” I whisper, resting my chin over her shoulder.
“I love you too, sweetie,” she says. And I know she does.
“Gigi! Gigi!” My son calls to my mom. “I bat second, OK?”
“OK,” she says, giving him a thumb’s up.
“Oh, hi Uncle J,” he adds, waving to my brother before disappearing into the dugout.
My dad, his wife, and their dog Rosie arrive just after the game begins. Again, hugs are shared all around. My husband, who’s coaching first base, leaves his post for a minute and walks over to the fence to shake hands with my dad. My daughter kneels to pet the dog and I put my arm around my dad’s waist. He’s wearing a red Hawaiian pullover, the kind he’s worn my whole life, and his wavy silver hair is longer than I’ve seen it in a long time.
“Did we miss anything?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “Brady’s just about to bat.”
My son walks to the plate, aware that we’re all watching him but never looking our way. He takes a few practice swings, taps the plate with his bat, and hoists it over his right shoulder. The pitching machine spits out a ball. He swings, drives the ball into left field, and runs hard through first base.
“Yeah B! That’s it!”
“Good job, Brady!”
We’re all yelling at once, celebrating his single like it’s a grand slam at the World Series. My husband gives him a fist pump, and the next batter takes the plate.
“Man, did you see that swing?” my dad asks, and we all nod, beaming with pride and shared love for this boy.
The game is close and, as far as Little League goes, exciting. Inning after inning, we hoot and holler, cheering on my son and his teammates. There are not enough chairs for all of us and the dog occasionally gets restless, so we take turns, each of us moving and rotating and shifting our positions as the game wears on.
My daughter offers me a handful of sunflower seeds and I stand at the fence popping them in my mouth one at a time, and I think how years ago, I could’ve never imagined a scene like this, all of us together, so comfortable and easy. For a long time, being together was just too painful; a reminder that the family we once were no longer existed. That family was broken and shattered and none of us could figure out how to fit the pieces back together again.
And yet, today, the sun is shining, it appears my boy’s team is about to win, and my family, which includes some new members—both two- and four-legged—finally fits together again, maybe better than it ever did before. Our lives are still full of ups and downs, but out of the ashes of our old family, I’m starting to think we just might have built a new one that is stronger, healthier and more real.
I can’t figure out how or when that happened; how the wounds of the past closed up and how we got from there to here. Maybe it was the ability of love to endure and outlast the pain. Maybe it was time. Maybe it was grandkids. I don’t know. All I know is that we did endure, and we’re all ok.
At school, my children practice for disaster. Fire drills, earthquake drills, lockdown drills. Exercises designed to ward off panic, control chaos, and establish order when the worst happens. In my mind, I always try to imagine what I’ll do if something happens to my mother, as if I can map out a response where I end up OK. My plans never get very far. The idea of losing her paralyzes me, and I find little comfort in tired platitudes, like “Appreciate the time you still have,” or “Feel grateful for the memories shared.” None of these quiet the voice that whispers, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be OK again.”
As much as I write about it, I don’t understand the basic premise of life, the gist of which always seems to boil down to: Come here. Love deeply while you’re here. The people you love will leave you here, either by choice or by death. And then, when it’s all said and done, you will leave the ones still left. End scene.
If I’m doing it right—this whole life thing—it appears my heart will be broken again and again. In return for my devotion, at various points along the journey, loss will surely plunge me into great sadness. Is it not a given that the deeper I love, the deeper my grief? Frankly, it seems a terribly flawed design, one I don’t understand.
But then again, I don’t understand how in the most unlikely of moments, just like that, you turn around at a Little League game and realize your family is everything you could’ve ever hoped it would be; imperfect and all yours. I don’t understand why, one day, alone on the trail, strength just shows up and reminds you what you’re made of.
Van Morrison sang, “Let go into the mystery of life.” During our brief time here, I think that’s what we’re called to do, over and over again. To let go, allow life in all its mystery to unfold, and to have faith. Not the kind of faith that only lives in the walls of a church or a chapel or a synagogue. Not the kind of faith that only belongs to people who worship on Saturdays and Sundays. But rather, faith and trust that life will deliver us through great pain. Faith that even after great loss, though we cannot see how or when, we will come to know joy again.
“Let go into the mystery of life,
Let go into the mystery,
Let go into the mystery,
Let yourself go.”