Saturday, December 28, 2013

Exhaling before another deep breath

A moment of quiet in the bustle of a crazier-than-usual holiday season.  It is Katherine's weekend with Bryan, and I woke up to a quiet house.  It is 11:22am and I am still in my PJs.

I am enjoying the quiet more than I can tell you.  I had planned to do a ten mile run this morning, but I am so weary that the very idea is ludicrous.  I'm so tired that I haven't turned on music in the house, because though I usually enjoy singing along or simply letting it warm the space around me, today I'm so tired that all I crave is quiet.

And, lucky me, I get the quiet.  This moment, here while I write to you, is my exhale.  I've been holding my breath for so long, swimming in the waves, trying to not only get to shore but also to keep afloat, that sometimes I forget to breathe.

Life is like this; life is always like this.  There are moments of calm, but there are moments of storms.  The storm never lasts forever, but the calm never lasts forever, either.  I don't know why such a simple principle is so difficult for me to grasp, but I feel like perhaps I'm understanding it now for the first time.  I have been desperate to find calm, to seize it, to hold it close so that it will never get away again - but I might as well wish to swallow the moon, so foolish is that wish.

Instead of filling me with anxiety - what do you mean life is ALWAYS crazy?! wait! no! stop! I want calm! ohdearGod how can I survive another 60 years with this kind of crazy?! -I feel deeply peaceful about it.

Maybe I'm not wrong, messed up, and missing the point of everything after all.  Maybe life is just, well, life.  Maybe crazy is part of the system, and maybe the storms are part of the loveliness, because it is only in the storms that we get the anticipation of the sunshine.  The moment when the sun breaks through the clouds, the day when you wake up (after weeks of gray) to a glorious blue sky, the surprise of the rainbow - none of those are possible without the storm.

Several of my friends have marriages in deep trouble, and they're asking themselves the hard questions about what they can and cannot tolerate.  Several of my friends have elderly parents with major health issues, and they are facing their parents' declines.  One of my friends lost an elderly family member this holiday.  My sister-in-law is in the hospital with pregnancy and delivery complications, and my niece was born six weeks early and spends the beginning of her life in the NICU, so my rambunctious nephews are living at my parents' house (chaos for my parents, and a hard time for my nephews, who just want their lives to go back to normal).  I know people struggling with depression, people struggling with unemployment (oh, hello, that's me), people struggling with money (uh, yes, that's me too - unemployment and money appear to go hand in hand).

In the face of a list like that - which, let's face it, could be much longer - it would be easy to go all Eeyore and decide that life is miserable and glum and that there was no point in any of it.

But I won't.  Because I don't believe it.  I think that life is glorious and beautiful and I absolutely refuse to let the sad facts get in the way of the rest of it.

Watching my life, and the lives of those around me, during the holidays in particular is fascinating.  There are those who believe that the holidays are a giant hassle, and there are those who believe that the holidays are pure magic.  Life does not stop for the holidays, so the usual mix of great events - babies born, families coming together, happy songs - and sad ones - losing a parent, illness, loneliness - continues in the grand cycle that is utterly unstoppable, no matter how much we try to control it.  It is how people respond to all of it that interests me - and how *I* respond to it that interests me most of all.

Life is always chaotic, and life is always blissful, and fighting that idea is what makes us miserable, I think.  If we're always grasping at the calm, afraid that it will get away from us forever, then we miss the whole point.  Life just IS, but it's how we respond to it that matters.

So here I am, the first moment of calm after a crazy holiday, and as I reflect on the holiday, I'm deciding that it's all bliss, because I made it to the exhale, because I have faith in my future, because life is going on as life ought to go on.

My family did not behave well - and they never (rarely, anyway) do.  The nephews ran about unsupervised and creating havoc, there were the usual bristling comments and sharp jabs, the usual obliviousness to others' needs.  My family was content to come in, sit down, and have me wait on them hand and foot (no potluck, as they asked me to do it ALL, and no help with cooking, serving, or cleaning).  My ex showed up late and left early, spending only a minimal amount of time with his daughter.  I spent the last day in the hospital and taking care of my nephews, who were not (shall we say) entirely appreciative.

But it's still bliss, because none of that is about me.

Here is how I choose to view my holiday:

My house looked lovely.  The branch that I found on one of my runs, fresh fallen from a large tree, created gorgeous garlands to drape around my living room.  My tree, decorated by Katherine and I, was lovely and fragrant, covered in memory ornaments.  I feel blessed that friends and family chose to celebrate with me, trusted me to provide a space for beautiful holiday memories.  I love that my home can absorb my big, messy family - that there is a big enough table, that there is a room for the kids to go crazy and watch holiday movies together while the adults gather elsewhere, that there is a yard for my nephews to run around in as they shot their new Nerf guns at each other.  I am glad that I am an accomplished hostess and know how to set up a party, how to organize the food, how to prepare it lovingly, how to make my guests comfortable.  I'm glad that Katherine takes it all in stride, that she is old enough to help, that she felt the magic of Christmas, that I was able to provide what she needed to have a great holiday.  My holiday table was set with the wedding china and the silver and the crystal (none of which interested Bryan in the slightest), and it felt festive even before the guests arrived.  The food was delicious, and there was a lot of laughter.  Two days later, when my niece was born, I was able to be there to comfort my brother through his fears, to run errands, to care for my nephews, to be of assistance, and I am grateful for that time.

It's all in the perspective.

And today, I am grateful that there is quiet in my home, that I have a chance to catch my breath before I dive back in.  I will practice self care, and stay away from my crazy family, stay away from the hospital, stay away from the noise, enough to recharge my batteries.  Next week I will spend a great deal of time on job search activities, on home projects, on helping family....but today, I get to exhale.

Maybe all of it, the chaos and the beauty, is just as it should be.  Maybe, when I've been fighting to only have calm, I missed the whole point, that life is a mixture, and that it is my perspective which creates the chaos, and not life itself.

There are easy times, and there are hard times, but all times are easy (or easier, anyway) with perspective shifts.  I'm learning that I can't control my wacky family, but I can control my response to them.  I can't control my ex, but I can be at peace with it.  I can't force someone to hire me into my dream job, but I can do my best to find employment and then let it go (trusting in the process).

It's all a chance to learn my lessons, it's all a chance to look for joy and beauty, it's all a chance to grow as a person.  I can't control anything outside of my own reactions and responses, and I can't make the future unfold the way I wish it.  But I can choose happiness, I can choose to operate from a place of calm, I can choose to acknowledge that while it's nice to exhale (oh thank you!) there is something powerful and good in holding my breath, in kicking through the waves, as well.

When I loo back at this holiday, I will choose to remember the look on Katherine's face as she opened her gifts.  The look of my holiday table as my guests first sat down and we raised our glasses in a toast to the holidays.  The smile of my two year old nephew.  The fun of setting up the Christmas tree with my daughter.

If someone else wants to remember the bickering of relatives, the pine needles on the floor, the ridiculous amount of dirty dishes we created, the fatigue of it all....well, let them.  I can't stop them, and maybe it serves them in some way.  But me?  I'm going to remember the candle light, the carols, and my daughter's smiling hug as she said, "thank you" because that is what I choose to take with me.

I think I'll also remember this moment, in my pajamas, sitting beside a tinder-dry tree, hearing birds outside, getting a moment to think.  A moment of calm after the storm is inevitable, and this is mine.  It may last a minute, an hour, or a week, and I always hope it'll last a year, but however long it may be, I am grateful for it.  And as I dive back down into the waves, working on my life, trying to get things in order in so many ways, I will take this moment with me, and try to use it to help me to get to the next place of calm, however long that takes.

I wish you moments of calm as well, and I wish that when you're in the waves, you still feel peace because the calm will come, and because you have the joy of knowing that you're doing all that you can.  That is all any of us can ask for, I think, and that is what I wish for you and I.

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