It’s been—well, just nearly—a year since I did it. Something like 359 days ago, I packed up my four years of becoming into my car, and I drove them home to my parents’ garage. I stacked the day that my Pulitzer-prize-winning professor wrote, “This sentence is a train wreck” alongside the day he told me, “You’re going to be a great writer.” I nestled the night I decided not to go to grad school into a box with the afternoon I applied for a job at Alabama Alumni Magazine. Into my bags of shoes I threw the moment we broke up, the letters I wrote, the weekends at the lake. I packed a jar of rocks that symbolized nothing (it sits on my windowsill now) in the same bin as my notebook of James Joyce notes, which also symbolizes nothing, but which I will keep forever. I packed up plates and spatulas and I did as a different person than even the one who’d been there just the day before. The very acts themselves, the sorting-through, the packing up, the driving away, they all seemed to make one last effort to stamp me. “You’re not quite finished!” that city insisted. “One more thing before you go….” I played alt-J’s “Matilda” over and over and over, just to hear the line, “Just like Johnny Flynn said, the breath I’ve taken and the one I must to go on.” I remember how hard it was to say goodbye. (You probably do, too. I wrote about it again and again and again and yet again.) For as hard as it was, I left feeling satisfied that I’d done it properly. I left feeling sure that I’d squeezed out every ounce of rock sitting, river gazing, sunset chasing, library loving, friendship making, and becoming I could have. And I must have, because I eased onto I-20, pointed my SUV (which was carrying the contents of my entire closet) toward Birmingham, and never looked back. (Like Mary Oliver says, to live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.) But that is not to say that I didn’t bring some things with me. I have this tendency to look back, I know. I also have this tendency to reach forward. And I am constantly trying to stand in the present (like Mary Oliver says, sometimes I need only to stand where I am to be blessed.) The good part about this is that I’m pretty aware, aware of what’s changing and what’s the same, aware of how long it’s been and long it will be, aware of how perfect or imperfect this right now is. And still, I am taken aback when these dates come up. I like them, though; like telephone poles along my way, they encourage me to look up. “Take note,” they say. They ask me questions I do and don’t want to answer: Do you like who you are? Are you different than you were? Are you proud? How could you be kinder, gentler, more loving? (Perspective: It’s OK if I never learn to cook, but it’s not OK if I haven’t gotten better at loving a year from now.) I can’t answer them quite yet. But I’m looking up. And then there’s what’s happened in the past 359 days. The job, the home, the city, the friendships, the love, the coffee, the $900 tires that I’ll never get over: If I’ve learned anything—and I’ve learned this time and again, in the last year and in the year before that and in the year before that—it’s that we serve a good God. A faithful God. A loving God, a God who has the most remarkable knack for making our lives reflect his beauty, his grace, his patience, his mercy—a God who makes us look like him—and who, in his goodness, make these things really awesome for us at the same time. But anyway, when I packed up my car and drove away, I was the most peaceful I’d ever been, despite being jobless, homeless, and probably in desperate need of an eyebrow wax. What a gift it was to understand how true the peace of God is, how it supersedes the world every single time. What a gift it was to have a front-row ticket to my own life, wherein the world was seemingly rearranged to “work out” (“And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.” [Matthew 6:30]). How fist-clenchingly, wet-armpitsingly difficult it was to trust. How many of these lessons I am still learning. Like Mary Oliver says, you can have the other words—chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. And this I can say for certain: I have seen and tasted that he is good. So very good. The point of all of it was that I would just that and that I would tell the world about it. If I can get that across with my words/my life, then I’m satisfied (and just so we’re clear, I have to remind myself of that sometimes. I mean, just in case you were already monogramming my martyr hat.) And though I am different—love and $900 tires will do that to a girl—I stand in so many of the same places. I learn still to trust, to sing, to turn my hands up to the sky, to tell the world about it. There are things I learned and then forgot, things I should have right by now but fail at nonetheless, things I wonder if I’ll ever get down. There are days when you’d wonder if I ever learned any of it at all, days when I break my own heart with lackluster loving, days when I am the only thing standing in my way and still, I refuse to move. And there are days when I stand on the sidewalk and stare up, unable to move because the wonder of life and God and the sky has me drenched again. Sometimes, those days are the same days. Life is a funny little (big) thing. Best of all, perhaps, is that nothing ended (OK, except college) when I moved, and in the same way, nothing (OK, except real life) began. I felt that wonder in Tuscaloosa, and I found it in Birmingham. There, I became; here, I become. Wherever I go from here, I feel certain there will be the sky and there will be the Lord and there will be the wonder; at least, that is my prayer. Like Johnny Flynn said, the breath I’ve taken and the one I must to go on.
Do you want to know what has been the most exciting thing lately? The return of cherry season. Cherries are my favorite food, and I dream about them all year long. Honestly, there are friends who have seen–with their own eyes, I tell you–me take down a whole bag of cherries in one sitting. Come May, I start watching for them, and then, one brilliant day, I see that they’re here. I squeal in the supermarket produce section. I send a text message to all of my close friends and also all of my not-close friends that reads something like, “DRUNK ON CHERRIES!!! TONIGHT!!!” And then I rationalize paying $6 per pound for cherries every time I go to the grocery store all summer because they’re my favorite food and they’re only here for a few months.
And I find the Return of Cherries remarkable every year, but this year particularly so. I think it’s because, in all honestly, life has been sort of–wait for it–mundane. I perplex myself (which I find somewhat exciting, since this is very Walt Whitman-esque). Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yes. I perplex myself (and probably a lot of other people, if we’re being genuine here, which we are), because I am a soul who cozies up to routines like a baby who keeps one chubby fist clenched around her stroked-till-he’s-half-bald stuffed bunny in the middle of the night, just to be sure it’s there, and I am a girl who looks up at a silver sky on a Tuesday afternoon and sighs because, well, the most exciting thing lately has been cherries, and that feels, like, totally lame.
Don’t get me wrong—life as a whole has been filled with all kinds of things that could be metaphorically worked through with visions of valleys and mountains, and you know that I’m also a girl who simply loves a good metaphor. But—and I hate to break this to you—a lot of that involves other people, and writing intimate things on the World Wide Web about other people is not something with which I’m comfortable quite yet. (Sorry. But yes, we are in love.) And anyway, a thick, juicy blog post about love is easy. What’s not easy is eloquently arranging words that illuminate what’s meaningful when it feels mundane.
See, I’m finding the same truth that many, many people do. The hours are long, and I imagine this to be true for most everybody at some point or another; life stretches and stretches, little increments at a time, and it feels like you’re sitting still. It seems to me that I have nothing to write about, because while I could morph that paragraph about cherries into a whole post, I’ve made a promise to both myself and you not to do such a thing. And I hear some voice somewhere murmur, “Nobody wants to read it anyway,” and so I go another day without writing, another day of both being fascinated by the mundane and being frustrated by it. I stare out the window, at a silver sky, and hope it doesn’t rain and wish the water down, all at the same time. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.
(I am large. I contain multitudes.)
And the truth, my friends, is that life is mundane. It’s made up of the climbs toward the sky and these plummets toward the ground, and the mundane is all those rocks and pebbles and blades of grass in between. You know, I stopped posting so many pictures of my coffee mugs to Instagram, because honestly, who wants to see another photo of that? But morning (and afternoon and evening) coffee has never stopped being remarkable to me; it has always seemed like something we were given just to make things better, if you know what I mean. And so why not? Why not share it and say, “DRUNK ON COFFEE!!!” I’m not saying we have to be inauthentic—sometimes, the days are just long, and we need to say, “Hey, that was a long day. I’m making nachos.” I’m just saying that if we don’t notice the way the sun glints off our pebbles, then we’re going to miss it, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to believe my life to be composed of the moments I stood on the summits, because those moments are far and few between. I don’t want to read those parts and wonder what happened in between and where is the story?
My point, I guess, is that sometimes it feels like I don’t have anything to say besides, “Thank you for cherries.” But sometimes, that is the best thing to say. I can write about exciting things, like being in love, sure, but the best part of that is having someone who’s going to send me a text back that says, “YES!! CHERRIES!!”
This morning, I went to the DMV to get my driver’s license renewed. I had been avoiding it for some 50 days, but I was 10 days away from legitimately rebelling against the law, and while that sounds saucy, I decided to just rise and shine and take a picture in front of the blue wall. But I’d been dreading it (for 50 days), because you hear that it’s the worst thing since olives. I drove up expecting it to be terrible, expecting to have to sit for hours with a whole bunch of unhappy people. Instead, I waited for about 45 minutes and struck up conversation with the terrific girl in front of me. And when it was my turn, the woman behind the desk—who sits there all day and repeats, “OK, now initial here…”—looked up at me and smiled and people, I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed that I had expected this to be the most mundane of chores, and here I was coming across these people who were willing to make it a perfectly good experience. And I want to be a girl who doesn’t miss that.
I certainly don’t have the secret of life figured out (I mean, clearly) but what I know is that life can pass you by if you don’t live it. You don’t have to always love it—some of those rocks will cut you, mind you—but by all means, notice it. Feel it on all sides. Find the things that make life better and gather them like hillside wildflowers; acknowledge the things that make life hard and don’t waste them, for pebbles in your sneakers will teach you something, even if it’s just how to take off your shoes and dump the rocks out.
My mom used to tell me the first line of her autobiography would be, “Life isn’t always a bowl of cherries.” I think mine would be, “Life isn’t always a bowl of cherries, but lots of times, it is.” If we’re being honest, it would be the first line of a whole cherry chapter.
“You relax.” I nod, evidence I’ve heard her, but she takes my hand and shakes her head; she pulls on it, and my muscles tighten, evidence I’ve heard her but not listened. “You no relax! You relax.” Again she picks up my hand and tries to clean them up, which is what I’ve come here for. She blows out a frustrated sigh. “You relax.” I nod again, but I’m still not sure if I get it right.
Later, when I try to scoot my chair in, I bang my finger on the corner of her table. It hurts. I lay my hands back down in front of her, hoping she won’t notice, but she does. “Oh no! I cut you? You hurt?”
“No!” I say. “No, I did it.”
Even though she didn’t do it, she tsk-tsks and takes out a bottle of medicine. She clips off the slip of hanging skin, wipes away the pooled blood, drops some kind of medicine over the wound that is deeper than I thought—“It will burn, but it will be better!”—and then we get back to the nails, which is why I came here. I came here to be cleaned up, pampered. I came here to relax.
When I get home, I hold it up to show Caleb. “I got a boo boo.” He picks up my hand. “That’s a good one,” he says, and then I fold a decorated Band-Aid over it.
When I show up at Janie’s door, she takes me in. There are no Band-Aids, decorated or otherwise, but the way I fold myself into her arms lets her know what has happened: I got a boo boo. It’s good one.
“What is it?” she says, rubbing my back, and I shrug, for there was never one hit that made me bleed; rather, it was a hard week, a long week. “It was fruitful,” I say through hiccups. “But it hurt.”
We climb the stairs to her living room, and I sit down on her couch, and we don’t say much about anything, but one of the greatest reliefs of friendship like this is that there are no elephants in the room (unless they’re University of Alabama paraphernalia). Instead, we talk about the things we can; we take the boo boos, the flights and the falls, the mountain climbs and the slides into the ditches, one at a time. We will get to the hard things. But first, she reaches over to take my hand, and I see it in her face: “You relax.”
Yes, I came here to relax.
Sometimes when I’m conducting interviews, I ask people this question they hate to answer: “If you could tell a large group of people one thing, what would you tell them?” (Full disclosure: I did not make this question up.) Sometimes, the people I write about have had many interviews or maybe have made many speeches, and they get this opportunity all the time. “But what if it was your last time?” I press, and then I hold eye contact until they grow awkward enough to break the silence with an answer. Sometimes, they’re people who have never had an interview before and didn’t know they should be expecting this question. The same thing occurs—“Oh, I don’t know!”—but I hold my ground. Almost always, they articulate something eloquent and true. Almost always, I quote their answers in the stories I write about them.
Nobody’s ever asked me that question, and I’m sure I would ask to have one or two or three answers. I would give disclaimers to each one, specific circumstances where the advice should be applied. The interviewer would grow weary and his or her iPad would die. Somebody would need to get up for a third cup of coffee. (This is why I do the interviewing.)
But if I did answer, I might say find every inch of your identity in Jesus Christ, and never give it up to anything else. And I would say that you will have hard, long weeks even when you think you’re talented at finding all of the remarkable things in this life. And I would say that sometimes everything that you think should be simple suddenly becomes complicated. And sometimes you have to go to funerals on Wednesday afternoons. And sometimes your plan changes, and it does so without asking you, and right on the heels of deadline, too. And sometimes you are lonely even though you’re surrounded by people, and sometimes you slam your finger into a desk while you’re trying to get your nails painted. And sometimes everything seems cloudy and uncertain, and sometimes you’re one more hard conversation away from stopping to buy a cookie, and when the conversation comes, you stop for the cookie and they’re sold out.
And what about the wounds, the ones that are deeper than you thought? What do you do? When everything changes? When it all stays the same? What do you do with your bleeding, cookieless heart? Where do you take it?
See, I would tell all the people to find some people, just a few, who pick up your hands, kiss your boo boo, and make you feel better by saying, “Oh, that’s a good one,” or, “Let’s go get our nails done,” or even nothing.
And then someone in the audience might hold up his or her hand and I would say, “Yes, question? You in the back?”
He would probably have to yell to be heard, so he would stand up. “But isn’t it sometimes those people who hurt you? Isn’t that risky? Don’t you get hurt that way?”
And I would say, “Yes.” And that person might not say anything back, but I would see the next question on everyone’s faces.
Is it worth it? Is it worth it?
I walk up to the circle, and her eyes flood with relief at the sight of my face.
In an uncertain room, we exchange glances and everything becomes OK.
“Is she your friend?” “Yes,” I say. My sister, I think.
I hold up my hand, and he takes it. “That was a long week,” I say and he nods, but we both know that we turned a corner. And around the corner, there is sunshine again. And cookies.
Later, it’s one of them, a phone call, a text message: “I’m freaking out.” And then it’s my turn.
“What is it?”
“Let me see your boo. Oy, that’s good one.” And I wrap a decorated Band-Aid around the boo boos, and we hold hands anyway.”Don’t worry,” I say. “This will heal right up.”
And every time, it’s worth it.
I want my mom. I wish my mom was here.
That’s what I wrote in my first-ever journal, when I was in the eighth grade and learning that the best way for me sort through my feelings was to stretch adjectives and verbs and punctuation around them until I could breathe again. I found the journal, shoved in a forgotten drawer with some YA books, a while back. I traced my finger over the words. I wish my mom was here, I’d written.
Losing a parent is hard, I’ve heard; losing my mother was impossible. For all of her shadows, she was sunshine, and even her shadows were what I knew. She was home base, even when she was unreliable, even when she was sick. And even when she was unreliable, even when she was sick, she was like me. We were, figuratively and literally, made of the same stuff. And for a long time, the day I lost her marked the day my life catapulted into an After that seemed, well, impossible. Time and again I lay in bed, which had the tendency to change locations, learning how to cry silently, always rehearsing the same words, over and over, like a mantra: I wish my mom was here.
Two years after her death, when I moved in with my brother and his wife, I was unaccustomed to normalcy. I’d spent the past two years learning how to draw lines and build brick walls and cry silently; I had no interest, really, in being told what time to go to bed or being told that I couldn’t go somewhere or, frankly, in being a part of a family. What had been lost, I believed, could not be recovered.
It’s been 10 years since they asked me if I wanted, maybe, to stay for good; I have no idea whether they or anyone else thought that I would. What has happened to us has been part grace and part hard work, part sticking it out, and part never, ever wanting to leave. What has happened is something that completely supersedes DNA and age and the figurative life lemon of loss; what has happened is that we’ve became a family.
This didn’t happen immediately, or even kind of immediately. It didn’t happen within the first year or even the first five years. My missing-mother ache settled down after awhile, but it didn’t disappear completely, and I decided that what I had—a family, after all—was good enough that I shouldn’t push it. But time and grace both have a way about them, and as I walked through the shady paths of forgiveness and release, the ones that took me into the clearings of joy and acceptance, I often found that it was my mom who walked with me.
At first, it was more about structure and reliability and trust; she never forgot my orthodontist appointment or to pick me up from school. Because I had been hurt and because this was her first experience at mothering a hurt, angsty teenager, it took us a long time to figure out how to speak each other’s languages, but the thing she never failed to give me was her presence. She never delivered emotional monologues to me, but when I got my wisdom teeth out and was bleeding more than I should have been, she paced by my bed on the phone with the doctor. When it was time for me to go to college, she took me shopping for cleaning products and dorm linens. The night before I graduated from college, she slept in the bed with me because I wasn’t quite ready to be completely grown-up. The more she showed up, the more I began to believe she would show up. I didn’t realize this for a long time, but she was the first person to teach me the foundational truths of perfect love: It never gives up; it always shows up.
After awhile, I began to believe that, and I began to understand that perhaps this is how it was meant to be. Though there’s still an ache when I think about the things my biological mother missed and will miss, there’s no longer that biting throb of withoutness that accompanied her loss for so long. And while I am still taken aback by the remarkableness of the whole thing, of a God who sees and hears and fills us, sometimes I forget that this isn’t just how it is, that the two of us aren’t just a normal mother and daughter who do life together and love each other a whole lot and occasionally disagree about how much floral is too much floral.
Psalm 68:5 says that God is a father to the fatherless, and for a long time, this made me shrug: What about the motherless? But what I found was that they seemed to be one and the same; either way, there’s a void that puts the Grand Canyon to shame. Here I am to say, though, that the love of our God is more powerful than the most impossible sadness.
My mom and I are still learning each other, but every day, she chooses to be my mother, teaching me by the hour that love is a choice—the choice. I believe this was His plan all along, as he worked in both of us. Because of her, I know more about His goodness and His grace and His redemption. And because of her, “motherless” is not a thing I am anymore.
The truth is, those familiar words still come up all the time. If I’m having a particularly rough day, if something exciting has just happened, if I need someone to tell me the floral pattern is a bad idea, they resurface. If I’m dreaming or if I’m breaking or if I’m standing on the sidewalk on a perfectly normal day but suddenly, I feel alone, I hear them again: I want my mom. I wish my mom was here. Except now, she’s only a phone call away.
Despite the normalcy of our relationship now, I still notice it. I know what it’s like to be reminded again and again of the thing you’re without, and so when those moments pass without the pang, I notice it. She would roll her eyes at the cheesiness of this truth, but it’s the tiny, baby mama moments that slay me; it’s when I have someone to call to ask where the chicken broth is in the grocery store or does she think it’s probably just allergies. It’s, “You’re never going to believe this,” and “And then he said…” and, “I’m coming home this weekend.” It’s saying it–Mom–every single day.
And sometimes, it does escape me, because something’s wrong and I need to hear her voice. I forget that this isn’t how it’s always been and I tell Siri, “Call Mom” without giving it a second thought. When she answers, I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Mom? It’s me. I miss you. I wish you were here.”
“Hey,” she says. “Everything is going to be just fine.” And I believe her, because she and I? We’re made of the same stuff.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. Thank you for choosing to be mine.
When I got to college, everyone seemed very concerned about whether or not we babies knew how to do things. They offered us classes on study skills and stress management. They set us up with advisers who made sure we didn’t screw up our schedules or take too many study skills classes. We had options to be paired up with older kids, who could show us the ropes or we could attend meet-and-greets so we could make friends, or, or, or…
One thing that surprised me about leaving college was just how freely they let us fly. There were no classes on how to say goodbye, but then, if there were, that would be kind of cheesy. I’m sure there were seminars on how to write a resume, but my resume wasn’t landing me a job (and I had a great resume, if I do say so myself.) I remember wandering around in those last days of April, trying to figure out how I was supposed to soak it all up when I already felt so full. I remember slogging through job application after job application, learning on the fly how to decipher what was legitimate and what wasn’t. I remember finding, through trial and error, the different ways to put a face on my resume without actually, well, putting a face on my resume. I remember never wanting it to end and being so excited to everything else to begin.
But for the life of me, I never did learn how to properly say goodbye.
As we do, I figured it out (or am figuring it out). And because the figuring it out has been consuming my thoughts, I was taken aback when I realized the one-year anniversary of my graduation was this weekend. I don’t know why this is such a big deal except that it is. I sat at my desk and stared blankly at my planner, and the words of the other people in the office started doing that swirling thing where they moved around me but didn’t land on me. “What? What did you say? Oh, yeah, no, I can help…”
I did help, but I kept thinking about how it’s been (almost) 365 days since the one when I walked from one side of the stage to other, finding when I got there that everything was the same and everything was different. The thing I’d been working for was in my hands (or, honestly, in my mailbox a month later), and I had no idea where to go (well, I knew I had to get off the stage). In the days since then, I have learned what’s like to break, to hope, to believe, to lose, to win. With every single standard of safety evaporated, I stood in a brand-new city with a dream and on some days, I gave up, and on some days, I didn’t. (My advice is to find people who still believe for you on the days you give up.)
The truth is that if you would have told me, “Here’s what you should know” on the day I graduated, I probably wouldn’t have known to listen. There’s no way to learn the kinds of things I’ve learned except to wake up on the days that require things you don’t have and summon up your gumption. So maybe you telling me wouldn’t have made any difference, but just in case it does, here’s what I wish I’d known.
I wish I’d known that “it” would be harder than I thought. Maybe this is my fault, but while I knew (and told my parents) that there weren’t that many jobs dangling around for us writer folk, I was genuinely surprised when I applied for a posting on LinkedIn that had been posted for half an hour and already had 87 other applicants. It was a job at a farming co-op. I didn’t even want to work at a farming co-op! I didn’t even know what a farming co-op was! I had to reassess my efforts quickly and write a really banging cover letter. Practically speaking (especially for you creative types), write a personal cover letter; it’s your first way to make yourself a person instead of a piece of paper. And always try to find an email address so that you can make yourself a witty email-composer instead of a piece of paper. And don’t limit yourself to job postings—email everyone in your field and ask to set up a meeting, because then you really are a person. People like people. People throw paper away.
And that said, I wish I’d known that “it” would be more than a job. Some days, I was sure that as soon as I landed a job, all my anxiety would melt away, but I can tell you that life is forever handing you the opportunity to be anxious. I recommend putting on your big-girl panties and being brave. I recommend doing things you don’t want to do; on the other side of being brave are the moments you’re brave for, but being brave comes first. So bravely move forward, whatever that means. For me, it was meeting with editors over coffee; it was my first day of work; it was a first date; it was meeting the family and it was going skydiving and it was having a hard interview and it was writing something that made me vulnerable. And it was worth it, every time.
I wish I’d known that “it” would take time. My life felt so strange for much longer than I thought it would; I felt called to this city, and yet, we had to be together for a while before it felt like home. Turning this life into something comfortable was conscious and it wasn’t, but I’ll tell you one thing—it took time. It’s not even that I missed college; I didn’t, really. I just felt out of place for a while there, like I didn’t belong anywhere. Until one morning when I woke up and I did belong here.
I wish I’d known I really had no idea what “it” was. Over the months, my it would change and shift; the it I was chasing then and the it I’ve found are two very different things. I’m glad what I’ve found is what was waiting for me, because this is far better than I imagined it could be.
And I wish I’d known that some things are transcendent: Everything changes, except for the things that don’t. I worried that I was losing everything, that before long, I’d be sending my best friends Christmas cards and I’d be a sad, old woman who grumbles about times past at the ripe age of 24. And I would charge you to sow into those relationships you care about, but relationships in general take a lot of work. Life, in general, takes a lot of work, something for which college prepares you if you’re taking the right classes. In any case, sometimes things like friendship and coffee addiction stretch over distance and time in a way that make feel more sure of the world than you thought possible.
I learned how to pray like my life depended on it and I believed, perhaps for the first time, that it did. I learned how to hope for things unseen; how to trust in the promises of a good God. I learned how to worship when I could barely whisper and how to tell my story when I was afraid no one wanted to hear. You learn; you step in the puddles and you cry in the shower and you lean your head back and stare at the blue, blue sky. There are a lot of “Should I?”s and “Can I?”s and “Wills I?”s, and the answers are sometimes, yes, and maybe. There’s no class to teach you any of this, but God and the universe and the blue, blue sky will teach you if you let them.
A year out, I feel about as grown up as I did in the fifth grade. But there’s evidence to the contrary, I suppose; maybe the thing I’ve learned, more than anything else, is that you never really feel like you’ve made it. You just do what you do and you wander along, figuring it out as you go. Don’t be scared of this—life is either an adventure or something else. Choose adventure.
A few years ago, I came across this line in a book that many of you have probably read: “I fell in love like you fall asleep,” my memory of the quote says (I’m paraphrasing, I think). “Slowly at first, and then all of a sudden.” At that point, I had never fallen in love, but I had fallen asleep—many times, even—and the idea of that process, of things happening slowly and then quickly and then slowly again, made sense to me. I memorized that line without even trying, for it had put something words around something elusive in a way that made sense, and I—well, I notice when that happens.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how life happens this way. This idea is a little bit different than what the writer meant, unless you think about how all through the night, you wake and fall asleep again, and those moments are punctuated by the moments when you know you’re awake.
I write it in a letter: “Don’t be surprised,” I say, “that life happens slowly and all of a sudden at the same time.” In the night-night dark, I say it out loud, for the life I’m living is lived in night-night moments and in the sunshine; it is pebbles of things we say and boulders that I climb onto. In any case, it is in the big and in the small, in the thimblefuls and in the days that feel like rushing rivers they’re so darn much.
But I am surprised by this. I am confused by the way the days go by outside my window while I sit at my desk; I spend my minutes changing words and I search the Internet for sandals and I go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I come back and only three minutes have passed and I look out the window and wonder how many cups of tea until 5 o’clock; or I come back and spill some tea on my stacks of papers and get red marks on my fingers and day by day, we work toward making something. And then all of a sudden, our book arrives, and every month, it feels the same: Happy. I stack the magazines by my desk, and at home, I leave one on the couch, which I later toss off because I want to lay down, as if I’ve forgotten that my hours, my slow, slow hours and my gone-by hours, my hours helped stitch it together, but all of a sudden, it’s on my floor. And I’m thinking about the next one.
I frequently remark about time; it’s not that I lose track of it—I am eerily in tune to the passing of time—but that I can do nothing to stop it. If some days ooze by like thick molasses, as the saying goes, then some nights (some nights!) whiz by like dangerous motorcycle men on the Interstate, and I trail after them, yelling, “Slow down! You’ll hurt yourself!” But they don’t, probably because the whizzing is so loud—at least it is to me. “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT’S ALMOST MAY?” I yell over the wind. “Yes. No. What? Why are you yelling?”
“I don’t know,” though I do. I’m trying to slow it down, or speed it up, or find some way, somehow, to be in control of it.
So the days go by. And still, we gather pebbles. All of us, we bring them to each other, in our pockets and in our shoes and in Ziploc baggies in our purses. Tiny, tiny pebbles that wouldn’t even cause the princess to suspect a pea—that’s what they are sometimes: “Hey, just wanted to say that I miss you.” and “Can you chat at 5? For 10 minutes? OK.” and “This reminded me of you…” But sometimes they’re bigger: “I wrote you a letter.” or “Can I come see you?” or nothing, just us in each other’s arms, all of a sudden-like. I collect all of these and line them up around my house and somewhere in the middle of doing that, I remark on how long it’s been. Six months, a year, nearly. It’s a baby who’s almost a toddler, newlyweds who aren’t anymore, the comfort of being together that didn’t used to be. It’s yelling at me, all of the remarkable and ordinary, piled up like pebbled along a river: “NOTICE ME.” So I do.
Nothing about my life is more unusual than most people’s lives, I think. I snooze my alarm in the morning. I drink half a cup of coffee and pour another to take with me to the office. I work, which sometimes feels like work but often doesn’t (and still, sometimes it’s a long time until 5 p.m.) Then, I fight traffic home or I go on a run and take pictures of flowers. I send a text to my mom and I spend entirely too much time looking up sandals online and life happens slowly, in tiny measures, all day long.
But sometimes—sometimes—it happens all of a sudden. Sometimes the pebbles turn into the boulders that I can’t carry home, and instead, I write my name on the side of them. Sometimes the moments are so big that no one can argue that they see them, but what do you do with that? You breathe it in, quietly. You look at each other with half-smiles, sure, steady, feeling the bigness. Spinning, falling, aware of the bigness. “Help me roll this,” you say, motioning to the boulder. Some famous writer (I can’t remember who) once declared that nobody should ever use the word suddenly in his or her writing, but I can’t help it, for suddenly, suddenly, suddenly a boulder of a moment changes everything. Suddenly, life is different, and it happens just that way, in the midst of the slowly. All of a sudden.
Everything is different—almost everything—than it was a year ago, even six months ago. And it happened just the way you fall in love: Slowly, and all of a sudden.
I would know.
It’s been three months since I’ve written here—three months! I think that’s the longest this space has ever gone between words. Thank you for giving me time to breathe, and for the messages letting me know you missed me (it’s nice to be missed!) And thanks for welcoming me back.
One day, about a month ago, I jumped out of a plane. It was ridiculous how simple it was, really. I scooted my booty over the to open door of the plane, which was rumbling 11,000 feet above the ground. I hung my legs over the edge, letting them dangle like doll legs perched on the edge of a little girl’s shelf—it should not be this easy!—and then, my tandem partner counted to three. Just before he jumped, he lifted my chin toward the sky (keep your chin up!). And then I fell.
And fell and fell and fell. Except it didn’t feel like falling; it felt like flying, like we were birds with feathers, or maybe we were still humans, but we were the only humans who had ever mastered the art of flying. I even understood how Icarus got too high, because I wanted to go higher and higher, though I also understood that was a bad idea (melty brownies are good; melty wings are deadly.) And once I landed (more gracefully than I generally am), I came alive with insistence, pointing the people on the ground upward. All I wanted to do was go back up, and I wanted them to come with me. “It felt like flying! No, it really did, you must do it, you must! You’ve got to try it, so that you’ll know what it feels like to fly. You got to fly…”
// Flying // I’ve been taking time to process (whatever that means) and the messages say, “You haven’t been writing! Where are you?” Sometimes, I’m tempted to tell them I’ve been flying. See, sometimes I come into the office on Saturday afternoon in the spirit of Making it Happen, and while this sounds (perhaps) regrettable, it is not. I let myself in and in the afternoon sun, my desk is aglow in a mesmerizing light. I sit down and let my skin grow warm in the sunlight, combing through the project, making it happen, deliberating over the way it’s put together. And this sense of ownership is transformative—it makes quiet, gentle Saturday afternoons at my desk a privilege—and it also means that when I see the magazine for the first time, my eyes get wet and my eyelashes dance in the stream, and I try to blink it away, but I cannot, because I am on this. There, that comma—I deliberated for two and a half minutes over whether it should stay or go, and in the end, I let it be. And while I know deep down that comma mattered more to me than anyone else, it still feels like it matters, shiny and bound up each month. Seeing it that way, knowing I’ve been a part of making it happen, watching my mom page through it and get the bright glaze of pride in her eyes—this feels like flying.
// Falling // But then, I learn, that falling can be mastered, too…I walk in six minutes late, feeling disheveled. I do not feel put together or with it or savvy like the lot of them seem to be; instead, I feel like they’re all is thisclose to discovering this whole thing I’ve got going is a rouse. I feel certain that I’m but an inch from finding the ground in a hard way. Over lunch, I tell this to my coworkers, being that I’m open about most things; being that they’re older than me (read: much wiser and better-dressed), I wait for them to tell me that soon, I’ll feel like a grown-up. I’ll feel, I’m sure, like I know what’s going on, how to handle it, get a grip, just jump. I’ll feel like the person I seem to be when I stride onto a set and begin interviewing people, instead of an imposter in a blue skirt. I’ll reach the making part that comes after faking it. I look at them expectantly, but they just smile and shrug. “Me too. I feel like that, too, sometimes.” This makes me feel better. Later, I’m sitting at my desk, and I find crumbs in my hair (from my sandwich, I think), and I feel impossibly clumsy again. But then I tell a story and everyone laughs; for a moment, I’m also impossibly clever, and I ever-so-cleverly pick out the crumbs and toss them, returning to the stack of proofs of my desk.
// Flying // We can feel the wind on our faces. I murmur this in the middle of the night. Long after the rest of the world has gone to bed, we are still up. We don’t want to go to sleep, because it feels like flying. What makes flying different from falling is noticing what you can see from up there, instead of where you are and how fast it’s changing. When we’re flying, we can see the way the light lands on all of our dreams and on each other’s faces, and we appear imagined. But I feel the hand in mine, sure and steady; there in my palm is evidence that we are not imagined at all, but real. When you’re flying, your perspective shifts so that you do not merely feel the wind on your face, but you also feel it flapping your cheeks and your bones and your very youness around. We soar on the currents, and we dip with the turbulence, and then, we catch each other’s wide eyes and gesture at the real, imagined lightbeams we are lost in. “Can you believe it?!” we ask with our eyes, and there is a whisper of a smile when we shake our heads. No. No, I cannot believe it at all.
// Falling // But then, just for a moment, I am spinning in the air, reaching for my parachute latch. I can’t catch my breath. My heart is beating too fast, and I need a glass of water. I glance down, and it becomes clear to me how far away the ground is from where we are. I can’t tell if we’re growing closer or not, but that must be the case, right? I catch his eye, and with urgency, I ask over the shrill of the wind, “Can you believe it?” No. No I cannot believe it. I begin to flail as I plummet, bracing myself for the impact of the return to earth. But it never comes. Instead, I catch my breath and steady my limbs; I look down to see if the hand is still in mine, and sure enough, it is. In a gust of realization, I understand that it doesn’t matter if you are sometimes unsure of yourself or your steps or your flight, for that matter. It doesn’t matter if you think maybe you’re not what you seem when someone is believing in you regardless. Suddenly regaining my footing seems like the last thing I want to do, for I remember what it’s like to land, how all of the me I was then ached to return to the wind. “You’ve got to fly,” I tell us both, alive with the certainty of it, and so we do.
// The Art of // Both. It’s both. “You haven’t been writing! Where are you?” Oh, but I have been writing, creating seating arrangements for words that both sing and hide all of it, that rein me in and spin me around, all at the same time. I have been flying, learning the art of soaring, which is worth writing home about. And I have been falling, letting myself catch sight of the ground below me, until, on a wisp of wind and a decision, I choose again to fly, fly, You’ve got to fly! It goes just like that: flap, flap, fall. Soar, see, squeeze the hand in mine. Look down, look up, catch sight of the light. A change in perspective, and we go on and go on and go on…
Take a deep breath (Keep your chin up!) You’ll learn the art of it.