It’s been a hard week. I am in the midst of grading final exams, and I have so much catching up to do. April was a fun month, but I was distracted with a thousand tiny things, and now I’m making up for it, I guess.
The body never lies, does it? I’ve become really good at telling myself that I am fine and it’s not that stressful and I can handle anything. But then sometimes I hit a wall, so to speak, and my anxieties manifest themselves in the body when I haven’t been listening to anything else. The tightness in my center, the exhaustion. It forces me to slow down when I’ve been ignoring stress and pushing my limits. I’ve learned to be grateful for those signals.
I was talking to a friend last night about how I’ve been in reacting mode for the past couple of years of my life – checking all the things off the list and putting out fires in front of me one-by-one. First there was signing documents and changing my name and selling and buying a house and moving and the never-ending list of tasks that comes with two kids at two different schools and a full-time job for me.
But here I am now. I’m looking ahead at a summer break that begins in two weeks, and I have no burning needs shouting to be met. No fires to put out. I’ve chipped away at that first layer of simply reacting, and I’m pressing my ear to my own center to see what I can hear stirring. It’s a vast open space, and truthfully, I’m terrified.
I feel like I’m free-falling. And it’s a moment I didn’t expect given that I’m grounded in ways I haven’t been in quite some time. The routines and budgets and tasks are ironed out. The anniversaries are all behind me. But now it’s just me. Here. With anything I want in front of me and unexplored territory inside of me. I know myself so much better than I ever have, but there is an enormous piece of my identity that depends on no one now. And after a decade of being consumed by all of these roles – daughter, teacher, friend, wife, mother – it’s hard to remember sometimes that there is someone in there who doesn’t owe anyone anything.
I’m not even sure where to begin.
I encountered this a little last summer when I had so many hours away from my kids, and I wrote about how difficult that was. Now I’m ready, in some ways, to encounter that time again. I know what to expect and what it feels like. But I also have fewer burning needs to fulfill for others this summer, and the urgency of my transition is over. Now it’s truly just me in solitude. I’m looking forward to experiences and adventures with my kids, but I know that solitude is where the surprises happen. I’ve seen firsthand how beneficial it can be but also how uncomfortable it is when you are so used to fulfilling roles for everyone else. So few people get the time and space to delve in in the way I do in this season of my life. I am grateful for that. But it’s also uncomfortable.
In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez explains, “human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” I look back at this journal from my past few years, and I feel that I have given birth so many times to myself over and over. And here we are again. I feel a new one coming as the reacting is done and now it is all up to me. It’s like labor pains in those hours before birth. I feel my spirit and my body preparing for what is next. It’s both terrifying and thrilling. And it’s exhausting. I think the truth is that it hurts to be born again and again. Becoming is work.
This past few weeks, I’ve been craving home and comfort and belonging. I’m sure that is the natural result of this free-falling feeling. When we don’t know where to begin, home is always the answer. Sometimes your literal home and sometimes just that space inside yourself where you can hear the familiar quiet of your own being.
I brought a friend dinner last night as she’s housebound recovering from surgery. We’ve known each other for something like 20 years, and conversation is always comfortable. Never stilted. Before I drove over, she sent me a warning text that her room was messy and I responded my whole life is messy – don’t even worry about it. We shared pasta and wine and talked about the personal and the political and all things in between. I drove the winding roads on the way home after dark listening to Joni Mitchell sing a song I’ve heard countless times: Something is lost and something is gained in living everyday.
The losing, the gaining. The ending, the beginning. The new terrain, the coming home. Again and again. Rebirth is work.