I sat down to write about gratitude and stared at a blank page. I stared out the window. I stared at the cat. I thought of all the ways this year has been hard for me personally and on a global scale. Certainly, there is a lot in between the microcosm of my life and the macrocosm of the pandemic. There has been deaths, unemployment, division, divorce, disease, and depression. And, while those things exist regardless of COVID-19, adding a heaping of quarantines, isolation, mask-wearing, and closures on top of life’s inevitable loss has sometimes felt like an overflow of despair.
So, the words don’t come easy. The spiral of sobering hardships has been like a forced global detox that has stripped life’s glitter leaving exposed the vulnerability and value of life. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s something to feel thankful for. Life feels raw and uncertain but also miraculous and precious. And most days, the sobriety of it all scares me. I miss the glitter of distraction that let me think that I was in control; that a long life was promised to me; and that happy times were the hallmark of a good life.
While I would not have chosen the trials of this year, I feel strangely grateful for what they have revealed. Underneath the glitter this is what I found:
- Control is contrived. Much of life is outside of our control. That’s not defeatist; it’s liberating. This year has been one of the most difficult and the most freeing. My health issues felt so outside of my control that for my sanity I had to surrender them. Surrendering the big things made it easier to surrender the small things. It’s a relief to know I can let things go. I may have more real problems but by giving them over to God, I don’t have near as many worries. We can either rely on ourselves and build a teetering house of cards, or we can rely on God and live secure in the foundation of our faith.
Fully embracing the mundanity of my middle-aged life, I watched a documentary about an octopus. I won’t get into the details because you too may be interested in octopi documentaries so I don’t want to spoil anything. Yet one of the most interesting things I learned is that after an octopus lays her eggs, she quits eating and wastes away. By the time the eggs hatch, she dies. It’s like a Disney movie where the mom always dies and there’s an orphan having a coming of age adventure with lots of catchy songs that get stuck in your head.
For days, I kept thinking of the octopus laying there protecting her clutch of eggs while succumbing to starvation. I don’t know the biological reason for this. I just know that parenting in the later years feels like a separation comparable to death. And I apologize if that feels too dramatic for either a documentary or a Disney movie, but parenting during these years of increasing independence requires me to let go of all the details I have spent almost 20 years shaping. Having the privilege of being a mother has been the great honor of my life. As any mother knows, it requires stretching in ways that at times felt impossible. My role now is not so much to stretch but to contract, to loosen the grip on one of my greatest treasures so that the lull of life’s tide can carry him in a new direction. It feels counter to every instinct in my body. Yet, I understand that this has been my job all along – to give everything I could for him not because he is mine but so that the world can someday be his. Read more
I was in the grocery store carefully picking through packs of organic chicken legs. They were buy one get one free which made buying chicken that day a little like playing a card game such as Go Fish or Memory. It’s important to find a price match or it isn’t really a win. Wilson Phillips was singing Hold On (For One More Day) somewhere in the background completely oblivious to poultry-buying strategy. My brain was maxed out from using math and matching skills simultaneously, so I wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics of their song.
Then I heard the line, “Or are you comfortable with the pain?” I froze much like the shrink-wrapped chicken I was cataloging. I looked around trying to understand why this moment suddenly felt less mundane. Why a line from a song I have heard countless times stood out as significant.
Had I, the girl who carries a small pharmacy in my purse, somehow become comfortable with pain? It seemed like such a ridiculous notion amidst the Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, and pain analgesics that I carry in bulk like a Red Cross volunteer ready for war. Of course, everyone experiences physical and emotional pain on occasion but accepting it as the norm seems as defeatist as throwing your hand in Go Fish or not taking the free chicken in the buy one get one deal. Who does that? Read more