Monday, March 25, 2013


Life isn't really very long.

It seems that way, but it's fairly short. And goes by quickly.

I'm not really afraid of death. I'm sad about the idea of not living anymore, but I'm not afraid of death. As Mark Twain said,

"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."

It's life that's hard.

My parents have the kids this week, and it's given me time to really let the thoughts flow uninterrupted. An old friend from PNG came for a visit who I hadn't seen in 18 years. And it felt like I had forgotten what it was to breath fresh air. I wanted to trap her and not let her go. Eighteen years of life had to be summed up and sorted through and told. It was magical and amazing and so enlightening.

We only get one of these things, you know? We only get one go that we know of on this little blue dot. We get maybe 80 trips around the sun, hopefully more.

I've come to realize that I have thought of life as having a bare minimum of requirements. I have this concept that every life is given this sort of scavenger hunt list. There all the things we get to have and do and be. And we all get them. But you have to go get them. And every missed opportunity or wrong turn or illness or disaster causes us to miss out on all the items on the list. And then there's sadness. I've come to realize that I think of every event in life as either Good and an item on the list or Bad and taking away an item on the list. You fail a course in college and that means you miss out on some future financial gain. Call it my crazy way of understanding Karma or the butterfly effect. But it plagues me. I cling so tightly to what I think I should get or want or feel I deserve. I mourn lost opportunities. I often see illness and disability and storms and broken cars and forgotten appointments as being all bad and having no merit. They are BAD things that happen.

I look at my twenties as this time of great loss. I look at it as failure after failure. I carry shame with me about my choices and all that wasted time. It's like a whole section of good things got scratched off my list. Gone. Forever. Fail.

But then my niece sent me an email with a blurb from her journal when she was in fifth grade. She wrote about her long conversations with me and about how I understood what she was going through. She, as a little girl, felt heard and loved by me during a time I think of as a big waste.

And then Marco and I were telling our story to my friend, and I could see it all from her perspective. She kept remarking on how beautiful it was. She helped me see how unbelievably lucky I have been. Through all that darkness, through years of bulimia and battling my weight and depression and making bad choices, I had Marco. And I had my sister. And I had my nieces and nephews. And I had great friends. And I had a lot of fun too. Sure, I partied too much and made bad choices, but I had a lot of fun with friends as well.

It's not good and bad. It just is. Everything comes to us, terrifying and amazing and heartbreaking and joyful. I can keep telling myself that time is lost and bad and carry shame. Or I can just accept those years as part of me, building me, creating this life I have now, a life I wouldn't trade for anything. And sometimes things happen to you and sometimes you make choices. But even the bad choices can be met with shame and anger or just treated as a moment in time, a lesson learned.

Fuck having nice furniture. Fuck having nice clothes. Fuck having a stellar resume. Fuck having a Hollywood body. Fuck being perfectly organized. Fuck being all. Fuck being nothing. Fuck breastfeeding perfectly. Fuck loving being pregnant. Fuck getting perfect grades. Fuck all the things I thought had to be just so.

Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

So, my scavenger hunt list is changing. I want to hunt down moments with friends. I want to check off being honest and brave with my words. I want to know that people leave my home with a full belly and happy heart. I want my kids to remember that I hugged them and wasn't too busy pursuing perfection to stop and listen. I want Marco to look back and say, "We've had a great life, you and me."

I want my epitaph to read,

She loved greatly.
She dared authentically.
She cherished deeply.
She laughed often.

"Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that's all that's happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness - life's painful aspect - softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes becasue you feel you haven't got anything to lose - you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed and discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together."
- Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are


Sarah said...

I love this, Heather. Thank you.

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