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.
When I was trying to decide where to go next with the Lipstick Letters, I was torn between Memory, Perception, and Intuition. I was heavily leaning toward Memory for a long time, but even though I drafted several Memory posts in my head, none of them made it to paper.
Then, a few weeks ago, I went on a weekend alone to rest and sort it out. It was in that long, deep, lovely silence it became clear that my intuition had something to say.
I fought it. I was so sure it was going to say stuff like, “Get off your @$$ and handle your messy life.” But no. When I finally caved in, late afternoon on my first, full day alone, all I heard was, “Girl, you’re tired. Have a good sleep and we’ll talk in the morning.”
I slept from around four that afternoon until seven thirty, got up, had a snack, brushed my teeth and slept from eight until the next morning. And when I woke up, I could hear myself. I could hear myself so clearly it was impossible to deny how much I had pushed my intuition aside to survive wave after wave of grief in the midst of new motherhood.
I listened. And I learned.
My intuition is kind. Instead of being salty about being shoved down and ignored repeatedly for literal years, it was gracious and proud of me for slogging through, giving my kids everything I had to give, and making it to a place where I was strong enough again to go back and start working through that series of terrible losses.
Driving home, I promised to keep listening and act accordingly as much as possible over the following month. And I did!
I reached out when I felt like reaching out. I rested when I felt like I needed rest. And on days when my grief came knocking, I let it in and sat with it awhile instead of pretending I didn’t know it was there. I set a new boundary with my kids to ensure I get at least a couple of hours to cook or clean or lay down or fold laundry without interference each day.
I let my mind wander back through some choices I’d made over the past several years (another task I’d been avoiding) only to find that so much of what I’ve said, done, not said, and not done, was me in survival-mode. A mode I kept trying to get out of only to have another tragedy toss me back in.
Each whisper I tended to, I felt a little more of the weight of mistakes, the weight of difficult choices, the weight of loss, the weight of guilt, the weight of pressure to do and be more fall away. And even then, my intuition did not tell me to get out there and start rebuilding a new life out of the rubble of the unfinished one I’d semi-started here . . .
It told me to keep writing and sharing, to go get a hair cut, and to remove the gross, old wallpaper in the hallway. So. Yeah. Here we are. : )
I’m trying hard to avoid making these letters about advice. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenties and thirties, it’s just how much I don’t know.) But I have to say, if you’ve been shushing that inner voice out of fear of what it’ll say, then like me, you might be mistaking your thoughts for your intuition.
My thoughts can be anxious, angry, self-deprecating, and flat out cruel. My intuition is always loving, always tender, always gracious, and not just toward me, but toward everyone else as well. So much so, that nowadays when I’m confused about which is which, that’s my go-to way of telling them apart.
Bottom line? I’m beginning to trust myself and my inner knowing again. And it feels really really good.
Bare Minerals’ “Honesty” is the color I’ve chosen to start with because what better place to begin a journey than honesty? It’s a beautiful shade of pink and I will definitely be wearing a lot of it this summer. I will say that I enjoy this brand, but I won’t be reviewing the lipstick because I am no make-up artist! In fact, it’s rare that I wear make-up at all, but I love lipstick and it’s one of several things from before kids that I am bringing back into my life for the sheer joy of it. : )
Alright, let’s get honest . . .
After several years of hard-hitting losses and beautiful, exhausting additions to my life, I’ve been trying to make small changes here and there to jump-start a much bigger shift in how I’ve been thinking and feeling. Just little things like buying clothes that actually fit after years of being pregnant and nursing, making a conscious effort to shower and get ready for the day, spending more time with my horses, and working on eating less processed foods. Which, strangely at first, brings me to bread. (Bear with me, I swear this will be a Lipstick Letter by the end! lol)
I love bread. I love mixing it, kneading it, watching it rise and rise again, baking it, sharing it with people I care about, and most especially, I love eating it. Bread is my favorite and I have had exactly zero luck making good, whole grain or seed breads that I actually want to eat. So I went looking for help in book-form, eventually choosing Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. On the day it arrived, I began to read and there at the end of the first chapter, the absolute last place I would have expected, I found the words I needed:
“Though you may recognize some of the steps, this method is unlike any that you have tried before. It cannot be mastered by simply reading instructions and recipes. You will have to make adjustments for your particular flour; you will have to develop a feeling for the dough so that it, rather than the words on the page, can tell you what it needs and when to move on to the next stage. You will be required to make a commitment to the process and to the mystery itself. We have taken apart conventional bread making and put it back together in a totally new and different way . . .”
Reinhardt may be a master baker, but he’s got a poet’s soul.
Over the past five years, my world has been taken apart piece by piece and I’ve been afraid to put it back together. There’s no comprehensive recipe for our best life. We’ve all got to get a feel for it as we go and, as we go, it keeps on changing and needing new adjustments if we want it to continue being good. We’re all working with our own set of ingredients and utensils, some of which come and go when we least expect it and aren’t ready. I haven’t wanted to commit to the process and I’ve been so angry with and resentful of the mystery, particularly death, that I’ve behaved as if I’m stuck, when lately, I’ve just been refusing to move.
And honestly? I’m ready to stop that now.
To be fair to myself and to anyone reading this who isn’t quite ready to stop doing the thing that you will eventually need to stop doing, I cannot fathom writing this at any other point over the past five years. Grief is a process and I don’t think anyone wakes up one day, has a good shower, puts on some lipstick and says, “Cool, I’m not sad anymore!”
I’ve been grieving since I left Idaho. One loss just rolled into another and another until I couldn’t face them all standing. I’ve been on my knees in the dark, eyes closed, bracing for the next terrible thing to happen. And I’ve been avoiding old and new connections because the pain of loss has been ever-present in my life, my heart, and the forefront of my mind.
For all that it’s taken, the pandemic did give me one thing–time to grieve. When I would have been prepping the diaper bag for adventures, taking the kids for play dates, deep-cleaning for visitors, etc, I’ve taken that time to just feel sad–to cry, to be angry, to be scared, to contemplate my future without so many of the incredible people and animals I had hoped to have more time with, and to open my eyes to all the beauty still here, right in front of me.
So here I am.
And the hardest part of getting here was being honest with myself–there’s nothing wrong with my life, it’s the way I’ve been choosing to live it that needs to change. I had excellent reasons for not putting more energy into cultivating it sooner, but with too much time, excellent reasons tend to crumble into excuses. And, at this point, my reasons are running like sand through an hourglass.
Thank you all for coming along on my adventures. Life is wild and sometimes nearly unbearably sad, but if you stop to think about it, the nearly unbearable kind of sadness always comes from the deepest, most abiding love, which is also what brings us our greatest joy and most satisfying contentment. A lesson I first learned when I was eighteen and my Aunt Shirley (forever my favorite aunt for too many reasons to list here today) passed away far too young: One way or another, the ultimate cost of truly loving is always loss and it’s always worth it.