November 6, 2020 | 10:43 pm
I’m reading a book that’s making me think about dying (Tuesdays with Morrie.) I’ve actually thought about dying a lot, before. I’ve spent an annoying portion of my life depressed, and many seasons dipping in and out of suicidal like it’s a pool I can’t quite commit to getting my lungs and heart below the surface of. Thank god for the endless sea of empathy that exists within me to try to prevent other people from pain; this being the only stop gap measure I’ve had sometimes.
But I’ve never really thought about the dying part. I’ve wanted to die. I’ve thought about how I’d like people to respond to my being dead, what an end of life service that would be true to me would be. I’ve been afraid of terminal diagnoses; I’ve imagined some of the symptoms and stresses of that existence. But I haven’t really, truly imagined a day in my normal life as though I’d just gotten an imminent terminal diagnosis. Until today.
I happened to be sitting in my bed when I was prompted to think these thoughts. It’s the end of the day, I’m wearing my second favorite set of pajamas, and my mind is replaying the day’s events in the background as I wind down. It seems the most logical to imagine the most ordinary of days, when considering what one might do differently when they know they’re about to die.
So I thought about today. It was definitely the most ordinary of days. I woke up early because of a wriggling toddler between my husband’s body and mine, in a very squeaky queen size bed that I traded a friend my king size bed for, on a whim. I shifted my weight with expert precision and begged my creaky aging body not to snap, crackle, or pop as I tried to sneak out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the quiet of the living room just before sunrise. I read books. I highlighted pages and folded corners – something I never would have allowed myself until very recently, when I gave myself permission to begin taking up space in the world.
I did my children’s homeschool lessons with them. I played trains on the floor with my toddler. I wiped tears from each of my children’s faces in different moments today. I listened to my oldest’s worries about her identity – is she greedy? Is she enough? Is she arrogant? We sat, criss-cross apple sauce, on the floor, with our knees touching, palms up and open. I gently stroked the palms of her hands and fingers with my own as she told me her worries. I told her I understood – I had perhaps accidentally passed on some of the same identity struggles I’ve carried through my own life. Let’s try this together, “I am enough.” And she did. And she shifted. Her shoulders relaxed. She laughed again. We talked about how loving oneself doesn’t lead to arrogance – that allowing yourself to make mistakes doesn’t lead to decay; but rather the opposite. We practice not being greedy, not by focusing on NOT BEING GREEDY. But by focusing on the truth that we have enough; that we ARE enough. By practicing gratitude for what we have.
I played tag on the playground with my son. I wiped boo-boos. My daughter painted my face. My toddler drank my milk. We snuggled on the couch together. We talked about racism. We shared a movie we love with the kids. We cleaned popcorn kernels out of the couch cushions. We laughed.
I spoke to an author I respect as though she was just a friend, with familiarity and warmth, and finally sent a letter I wrote a year ago about how much she means to me. I sent a message to a friend, asking them to help me bring my dream to life. I tickled my husband. I read book after book to the toddler, and rubbed his back and belly until the rhythm of his breathing shifted beneath the ever lightening touch of my fingers.
The only moments I look back and wish I did differently today were the ones where I knew what to do in a moment but I didn’t trust my inner voice. Where I hurried. Where I shushed my children’s singing. But these are moments I reflect on daily, with a promise to improve, even if slightly, tomorrow.
The thing that came to my mind immediately in my reflection of the day in light of my imagined death sentence – before I even thought consciously about the order of my day – was that if I were really dying, I would immediately start saying out loud all the nice things I think about people. There was a mom at the park that’s an acquaintance, I’ve thought good things about her so many times; I’ve barely ever even said one word to her. THAT is the thing I’d go back and change about today. I’d tell her I see her tenderness with her children. That I adore her grey hairs and even more that she doesn’t dye them; she inspires me to grow in being myself in the world. That is the thing I’d change about countless interactions my whole life; choosing the courage to say the maybe-too-much awkward compliments I want to give.
In high school, I was sexually abused. Yes, this was devastating; but it’s big, and obvious, and it eventually called forth a lot of my attention to heal. But you know what else happened in high school that slipped right through without being caught for healing or reframing? The girl who decided she hated me because of how nice I was, how I was trying to be kind and get to know to everyone I met in my first days at the new school. How I started shifting then, hiding how much I adored the people around me; how wonderful I think they are. How I see that they have worth beyond measure right there, just at the surface, and how I’m ready to listen and tell them how marvelous I see that they are.
How did I let someone abuse that sort of goodness out of me? With one worthless, broken opinion? Now, I work and work to overcome it. I write letters of encouragement and gratitude that never get sent. I’ll be cleaning out my car and find a letter I wrote months ago that I stamped and never mailed. Just in case they might think I’m coming on too strong.
What the girl in high schooldidn’t know, what the people who don’t get my notes don’t know, is that I really mean the things. I’m not angling. I’m not asking for anything from them. I’m just wanting to hold up a little me shaped mirror that lets them see their own wonder.
The best thing about the experiment I did in my brain over the last half hour is that I didn’t just realize where I need to set myself free; I also realized that for the most part, I’ve already started living the life I want by being present with my children in theirs.