A couple of weeks ago I had a routine eye appointment and got some bad news about my eyes. I have serious signs of dry, macular degeneration in both eyes. Macular degeneration . . . sucks. I am way too young for it and have none of the risk factors, but the bottom line is, it’s likely I’ll be legally blind within 10 years. There is no cure or real treatment and no way to know how fast or slow it will go, just diet adjustments and vitamins that can sometimes slow the progression.
This news was overwhelming. I had and still have moments of suffocating anxiety about losing my independence and not being able to fully take care of my children/keep them safe. I am sometimes crushed under the weight of the knowledge that a day will come when I’m not able to clearly see their faces as they grow into adults, not able to see my daughter’s art, and not able to read or knit or drive . . .
Along with those dark thoughts, I’ve also noticed that every vein on every leaf, every grit in the cement sidewalk, every facet of the frost on every blade of grass, every hair on my horses, every minute detail of my surroundings has become a tiny miracle to me. I don’t try to see every little thing, but since that appointment, I just do.
The week before last was hard. I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to cry all the time, everyone was sick, and in the midst of the bare minimum I had to do to keep everyone alive and clean and fed, I had to plow through having the future I’ve always imagined would be mine ripped away in an instant and try to wrap my mind around what’s coming instead. To stay sane, I found myself mentally putting things in categories as I moved through my day: “Things I can Still do Once I lose my Central Vision, Things I can’t Do Anymore Once I Lose my Central Vision, and Things I can Still do with Some Form of Help Once I Lose my Central Vision.” I imagined how things will need to be moved around so I can do as much as possible for as long as possible. I set a schedule of never pausing during the day (lest I not be able to get back up and continue) and breaking down at night after everyone was in bed, and quickly exhausted myself on every level.
But this past week, after forcing a few good night’s sleeps on myself and while deep breathing through a mini-panic attack about it all, the realization came that right now I’m in the early stage and my vision is still correctable to 20/20. I can still do and see all the things. No doubt, there are dark days ahead, but now is not the time to grieve, now is the time to savor.
Going with my man for his first flying lesson and watching his eyes light up with pure, unadulterated glee when he turned the key and the engine fired up, taking my little horse for some play time in the round pen, making time to get back to my (rather long) reading list, and soaking up the sight of my children in a way I don’t think I could have when I assumed my vision would always be clear: these are the things I am focusing on (literally and figuratively, lol) now.
I’m not quite to the end of my thirties yet, but I think they’ve been about learning how to live on even when the living gets tough. Not to just keep breathing and eating, but to keep living–cherishing, enjoying, hoping, and holding my heart open even when it hurts.
When I started this decade, my initial response to pain of any kind was to close off and do everything in my power to not feel that pain again. But now I’m eight years in and it’s become pretty clear that if I keep that up, I’ll end up living alone in my bedroom under the covers for the rest of my life. This past week, I feel like I’ve cracked an incredible cheat-code for life–how to choose to truly live in the moment.
I want to close this with two things:
One, living in the moment is not natural. We worry about the future because we are aware that if we don’t make good decisions in the present, our future might suck or just plain never happen. Living in the moment is a skill to be honed, not just how to get in the moment and stay there awhile, but when to live in the moment at all.
It’s important to take precious time and allow yourself to project possible futures, sift through information that might shift your course for the better, or close your eyes for a visit to the past to avoid repeating mistakes. For me, especially right now, I know that if I’m ever going to make it to acceptance of this situation, I have to stop savoring the moment sometimes and let the full weight of the fear, anger, sadness, and inevitability of it all move through me. If I don’t, they’ll steal my joy slowly but surely from the inside. Still, this isn’t something I intuitively know how to do, I’m figuring it out as I go and practicing.
Two, I’m okay. Obviously, this isn’t how I wanted life to go, but it would take so much more than this to ruin it. I have too many good people, too many good animals, too much love, too much humor, and too much to look forward to (whether I get to actually see it or not) for this to keep me down.
So here’s to 38–letting go of what was, savoring and accepting what is, and setting course for a beautiful what will be.
I’ve decided not to fall this year Not to leap forward into the unknown with an open soul as I have always done.
There’s this anger inside I’ve been shushing this fire inside I’ve been banking.
And Fall has come with her chill breezes her crisp apple snap expecting that I will rake the words she’s brought with her into piles on the page and play as I have always done.
But I’ve been watching the way the woods catch fire . . . Every leaf on every tree burning bright until there’s nothing left and they flutter away like so much ash.
Yet the tree is not dead.
I don’t want to die or become someone or something else.
I just . . . don’t want to think anymore. Or plan or rest or try or ponder or wish. I’m tired of insecurity and this pervading sense of uncertainty. I’m tired of hoping despite disappointment tired of working through it as I have always done.
Of everything and everyone especially myself. Nothing helps. I’ve tried it all. Except letting go. Which I have maybe never done.
So, this time I’ll take the words in burning hands no tidy piles no time for play I’ll take the fire from the tree and let it fly through me instead of watering it down I’m going to feed it these feelings And watch them burn Until it all flutters away like so much ash . . .
Most of last year, I thought I was watching myself figuratively die and be reborn as someone new. Turns out, I was actually just writing the end of one of the most beautiful and beloved chapters of my life so far. It was excruciating to go through, but I am relieved to find myself still me now that I’ve turned that last page.
I thought it was being surrounded by all that is deeply familiar that was such a relief out West, but now that I’m back, I see it was actually being surrounded by all that are deeply familiar with me that felt so good.
I go back there for courage and find it every time, but when I get back, I open my hands and it’s all slipped away. Is it even courage? I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually comfort . . .
What if? What if? What if? I’m always asking myself–losing battle after battle in my mind. But it’s not a war, it’s life, and there’s nothing to lose but people you don’t have either way.
Sitting with my best friend over wine and pasta filled every crack in my heart.
The stars are brighter here than anywhere I went this summer and the air is sweeter, too.
We’re home now and as the weather cools and the leaves begin to change, my mind is slowly shifting focus away from the water and toward the words.
As my soul commands each fall, I have purchased fresh pens and a few, empty notebooks so that whatever comes up through the dark and chilly seasons will have a place to go and a way to get there.
It might have been the incessant rain or the murder of crows gathering in the dead oak outside my window. It might have been the dying flowers in their pretty vase or even the candles—flickering their last at the ends of their wicks. Whatever it was, I found myself at the gate. Unlike Heaven, there’s no keeper. This gate is unlocked and you can come whenever you please, though it pleases no one to come here.
I tuck my heart close, lest I lose it, and set my shield down; having been here before, I know there will be no protecting myself from what I find. Next, I tuck my shoes and soul beneath it’s weight, comforted that they’ll have some shelter from the elements while I’m away. Whatever else you do, never bring your soul here—this is no place for the divine.
When all is as it should be, I step through and begin my descent. Down, down over eons of rot that squelch between my toes. Down, down through hallways of bones and teeth where I somehow know which belong to those I’ve loved. Down, down where moonlight can’t go. Down, down where the rain is full of salt and never stops. Down, down until the path levels out and turns to the broken dreams of the living. Only then do I know I have arrived in the Underworld.
It isn’t Hell, if such a place exists. Hell is for souls and there are no souls here. Just the end. The end of whoever it was you were in the middle of loving. The end of yourself as you were when they lived. The end of all you knew and all you didn’t. The end–where all that holds physical form loses it to water and worms.
Now that I’m here, I crinkle my brow the same way I do when I’ve just entered a room and already forgotten why. After all, I already gathered up the remains of my loves and left them here months ago. I stand at the exact place I stopped then and try to remember to no avail. Finally turning with a shrug to retrace my steps to the gate which leads right back to my life as I left it . . . it’s only then I realize my mistake.
I left the wrong way last time–returning to life as I left it—surrounded by empty spaces where love used to be. I let go of their bodies but held on tight to the emptiness they left behind. Turning back toward the dark unknown, I shudder. I want to go back to the gate: back to my shoes and my soul and my shield, back to familiar, if empty, spaces.
But I don’t.
I know I came for this—the sixth stage of grief. The one that comes after you find your way through your worst nightmares to acceptance. It took me a while. Acceptance cost me and I had to gather up fresh courage for this:
There’s new love, new adventure, new wisdom that await on the other side of all you go through when you grieve. More than enough to fill the empty spaces to overflowing. But if you want it, you can’t go back the way you know.
To reach the sixth stage is to set down your shield. It’s all heart. It’s running barefoot through the Underworld, soaked in the tears of everyone ever, in a darkness too deep for moonlight. It’s feeling the sickening squelch of eons of rot between your toes and pushing forward, knowing that if you keep going, you’ll love again and get hurt again . . . and again and again until your teeth and bones join the others here.
And it’s worth it.
It’s worth it.
So I run. Heart wide open through all I’ve loved and lost before. I run barefoot through darkness as deep black as a crow’s feather with nothing but hope to guide me forward. Until I’m falling down, down into a deep, slow river. Cool, fresh water rinses the tears of everyone ever from my hair and washes the rot of eons from my feet. I close my eyes and float on my back, not warm or cold, not happy or sad, and not marking the moment moonlight creeps in–slowly turning blackest black into gray and gray into silver, until the sun rises–shifting silver into the pale gold of a new day.
Usually when I write, it’s because there’s an idea that’s come to the surface. Something bothering me, like the grain of sand in the oyster and when I think there’s enough layers for a pearl, I try to write it out. But this morning I’m just following my fingertips.
I am itching to start a book club on You Were Born for This and laughing with myself over my abiding joy in them. I love them so much, I basically went to college for book clubbing.
It was lovely being back in the arms of my Southern sisters–an instant grounding in who I am and the fact that fitting in is for the birds; belonging is where it’s at.
Not working did not work out the way I thought it would . . . nonetheless, it is beginning to work out.
I’ve been sad for years and now I’m ready to fall in love with life again. The minute I had the thought, I blinked and the world looked different.
I love the weather here–it’s always doing something beautiful or disturbing and my senses enjoy the exercise.
This is me. It’s how I think and how I talk. I often unintentionally make it weird, especially with people who don’t know me well, by saying too much or going too deep too fast in conversation. But I’ve thought it over carefully this past year and, while there are several things I’m changing, I don’t want to change this part of myself–it’s how all my best and closest friends have been made.
And I would love some help figuring out what it is, if you don’t mind. : )
I was bringing Daisy in off the pasture today and it struck me that none of the words on my list cover the feeling I get when I’m with horses. It’s something like reverence or awe, with beautiful and happy and fulfilled mixed in; it’s demanding of me and exhilarating, yet it fills me with peace, and there’s never been anything else in my life that makes me feel this way.
I took these pics in the moment this afternoon and I know if I could just name whatever is in my eyes, my list would be complete.
I’m tired of feeling sad. I’m also tired of waiting for the next boot to drop. If you’ve been reading awhile or know me personally, you know the past four years have been some of the hardest of my life. But what I’m noticing now is that a lot good things are happening to and around me and instead of feeling happy or excited I just feel afraid of what’s going to happen next to take it all away. To be fair, when a lot of extremely terrible things happen, these feelings make sense. But when nothing terrible is happening, these feelings become a choice.
A few months ago, I made the decision to stop and promptly failed a lot of times. My most recent effort, was writing out a bucket list of things that would make me feel good to do. But when I was finished and read it over, I didn’t feel good, I just felt tired and anxious. Thankfully, sometimes the first, second, twelfth, or even twentieth failure leads us into the next possibility. And the possibility born out of that, most recent, failure is . . . well, it’s working.
Instead of a list of things to do, I made a list of things I want to feel. I edited it until every word hit right and when I was finished, I had a feeling I was onto something.
My Bucket List with a Twist:
Silly Awestruck Proud Satisfied Helpful Beautiful Determined Connected Strong Known Loved Intrepid Happy Rested Content Butterflies Successful The Good Kind of Tired Optimistic Fun
So much of life we have no control over. Things happen to us and feelings rise up that have to be felt. But just about every day there’s some point when we get to choose. We can say yes or no to being around certain people, we can say yes or no to doing that thing, eating that food, how much sleep we’re going to get, or what to do that day, and we know before we do it how it’s likely to make us feel. This bucket list is about those moments and consciously choosing people and things that make me feel good.
Right after I got my list written, I made a trip to one of the most important places (because it holds some of the most important people) in my life. And for the first time in a long time, I let myself completely enjoy and give over to each moment without a thought to the future, without getting hung up in the past, and without anxiety over whether or not I’d be accepted/acceptable, or how it could all go wrong. Instead, I focused on each opportunity to feel good, then took it, and savored it.
Ladies and gentlemen, the initial results are in and . . .
. . . yeah, I’m definitely on to something. : )
So, I’m going to keep heading down this path awhile and see what shakes out. Sometimes, I’ll do a full post, sometimes just pictures tagged with words from my list and #bucketlistwithatwist. If you want to make your own list and join me, I would love that! If not, that’s cool too. This one is really just about me shifting myself back toward the relentless optimist I’ve been most of my life. : )