I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. It was 6:20 when Norah woke me up, and I laid there bleary-eyed for a while, only half awake. Yesterday was just the same. And the day before. What has finally happened on our last week of summer break is that my body remembers what it’s like to relax.
But my dining room table is a mess of school supplies right now, and the errand list is long this week as we gear up for all those back-to-school tasks. (We are in full swing the first week of August here in Georgia schools.) So I am left wanting a little more rest and another stretch of slower paced mornings, but also trying to kindle the excitement for my kids about this new academic year. Fall has such a relentless pace. I don’t feel ready for what’s ahead, but I’m grateful anyway for the new season that’s coming. We have spent the past week lining up all the things we need to begin again – fresh haircuts, new shoes, unopened pencils.
College terms begin a couple weeks later than public schools, so I have an overlap period to ease me into the intensity of fall semester. I’m using the first week they’re in school to work more on my upcoming online writing workshop. (Sign up here for updates if you haven’t yet! I’m sending journaling exercises, writing inspiration, and news on enrollment information in the coming weeks.) In one of the modules, I’ve been focusing on that pulsing quality that comes with contrast and contradiction in our lives. I feel like anytime I am trying to better understand something, the understanding lies in a contradiction.
I am sad to see my kids grow older and my youngest fly from her place in the nest to climb on that school bus in a few days, but I’m grateful and even a little relieved for the new season it signals in my life and the freedom it brings for me. Both of those can be true at once – sad and relieved.
I am growing comfortable finally in this piece of my life’s history, and it feels good to sink my heels in. But I’m also feeling restless and seeing the urge to throw myself into new projects and sustain them long term, to reach beyond my comfort zone and shake things up a little. Both of those are true – comfortable but yearning for more.
I’m terrified of a lot of things right now, but also excited by them, grateful for the agency I have in the map of my own life’s decisions. All of those things are true – terrified and excited and grateful all at once.
Life lives in the contradictions. Sometimes you can’t file down the sharp edges of these opposite things to make them fit together, and instead you just have to leave them there side-by-side and look in between them to make something of it. Our feelings and realities don’t always follow some expected path or remain under our control. It’s usually both, and instead of either, or.
I’ve gained some hard-earned wisdom this past few years, but I’m realizing one thing I am still no good at is resting in the contradictions without trying to figure out some great puzzle. I have the insight to feel these contradictions, but I try so hard to make sense of them, like an answer lies there hidden if I can just find it. Maybe there are no right and wrong answers and right and wrong ways to feel. Maybe just resting in that gray area is what we are meant to do. So much of what’s around us tells us that there’s a formula to fix things for good or a product to buy or a trend to jump on that will mend it all forever. But then just look at what happens next. — We keep looking for new formulas, buying new stuff, jumping on the next train. The mystery is never really solved, is it? Maybe I will always feel just a little bit unfinished and unresolved. And maybe that’s okay.
I was revisiting Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise this week and noticed again her words on wisdom: “Wisdom of the everyday sort is about how we reckon with the surprises and mysteries that make life life as opposed to stasis. Mystery lands us as a fumbling fullness of reality we cannot sum up or pin down. Such moments change us from the inside, if we let them.” We miss those lessons when we bypass the uncertainty and mystery, don’t we?
Fumbling fullness of reality is a pretty accurate description of my life lately. It is almost never graceful when you look at the bare facts. I’m trying hard not to sum up or pin down in this moment, but that is so far against my nature as a person who wants answers and certainty. When I run into someone I don’t see that often and they inevitably say, How are things? How can I respond really? The way we always do with a reassuring smile – Good. Things are good. I’m fine. But there’s always so much more than that in the things we cannot sum up or pin down. So many contradictions lying side by side.
Perhaps they aren’t a puzzle to solve or a blank to fill in with a magic answer. Perhaps the fullness lies in the in-between.
I guess I can be lots of things at once – confidant and uncertain, brave and afraid, narrowed with experience that has sharpened my vision but also open to the unknown of whatever lies ahead. Whatever the case, I’m here, and this is my own canvas to fill in with a life that takes shape little by little in ways that I suppose we never see coming when we’re on this side of the mystery.