I have always been certain of a lot of things… Exactly what time to leave the house in order to arrive at the office exactly at 8:45am. How I know I’m feeling anxious when I find it hard to catch my breath. That I inadvertently play with my hair when I feel uncomfortable. How visiting my parents every Sunday acts as a certain therapy that I won’t find anywhere else. That morning will always be my favorite, most productive time of day. How I find it hard to answer the phone for anyone other than a few select people. The route to take on my daily, mid-morning run, promising that I pass the same girl with fire red hair out for her walk on Leavitt Street. An unspoken camaraderie that has grown between us over the past few months and now shared with a subtle wave and smile with each passing. I wonder if she wonders about me too.
It has been almost a year since the World has turned upside down. Most days I don’t know how to wrap my head around the horror of what’s happening. Millions of people dead, jobs lost- mine included, the horrific fires that continue to engulf the West coast, homes lost, children jailed from vital childhood experiences and education, restaurants and shops forced to close, violence- around the World and right outside my door, hatred and riots destroying my beloved City, systemic injustices on full display… the list continues to grow everyday and to put it simply and honestly, it’s been tough. Things seem to go wrong everyday and it’s as though the most beautiful people are forced to deal with the brutality that this year has served us on a silver platter. Inexplicable irritability, sadness and anxiety often arrive unannounced, leaving me feeling a bit too vulnerable for this world.
I have always had something to fall back on-- my job providing me with a sense of self-worth, a routine to keep me in check, weekend plans to look forward to. My certainty and hope about life that I carried around each and every day is no longer viable in keeping me level headed-- my head now on a swivel instead of looking forward.
What is there to look forward to if each day is the same? Where do I go from here? What’s next? What if, what if, what if? The uncertainty is sometimes overwhelming. I say this with understanding that many people have it worse than I do- way worse- and gratitude for that is something I practice everyday.
But hardship isn’t a contest.
Life is tough right now. That’s just how it feels. This restless, uncomfortable, terrifying feeling greets me every day. Some days are worse than others. I can’t explain it-- all I know is that life doesn’t feel right.
I share this because I am absolutely certain I am not alone. I need you to know you’re not alone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the daunting task of holding all of that in one hand and holding joy and gratitude in the other. I don’t necessarily think that we should feel an obligation to find beauty and goodness in a time of mass suffering. For so many people around the world, it is an ugly and dark time. No silver lining. But I do think we have an obligation to try our best. I can still hold tight to that hope and light inside of me while facing a future I don’t know.
With the loss of the stable feeling I once had, I remember and acknowledge the things that will never go away-- community, the colors of fall, chasing that runner’s high everyday, love, the comfort of home, my family, my thoughts, the rain. I grasp for joy, anything small and acknowledge it. The crinkling eyes from a stranger, replacing a smile hidden under a mask, Oreo’s for breakfast, a book that manages to keep my attention, time to savor breakfast in the morning, coffee- well into the afternoon, simply being gifted the essence of taking my damn time, and the somewhat comforting reminder that this too- like everything else I’ve learned- is temporary. The trees will bloom again, it’ll just take time. This in-between, this season- as heavy as it is, can’t be rushed, it’s enough just to live through it.
I don’t know what is going to happen when I’m 40, or in the next year, or next month. None of us do. But I believe we have been given an opportunity to find little delights in today, and tomorrow, and this weekend. To start planning little joy by little joy, small celebration by small celebration, blank calendar square by blank calendar square. It’s going to be okay. Not perfect, but okay. I may not be able to understand all that is happening, but I will move forward anyway. Notice every little thing that reminds me I’m alive. Read as many books as I can, have as many conversations as I can. Get outside. Do whatever I can to remind myself that I can still find peace even when I can’t seem to get into the rhythm of things.
This year is a good lesson about what can happen when you let go of expectation. When you throw out your idea of how something is supposed to go and be devoted to life in its current form- no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Last week I read a quote that stopped me in my tracks while mindlessly scrolling through my phone-- “Future joy often exceeds our imaginations.” I don’t know why, but those words have stuck with me and is something I think is worth repeating. There are Holidays and Birthdays still to come that hold blessings and pure happiness that we cannot yet imagine and the best way to get to them is to change how we think about this year. To find that silver lining the best way we can. To be as present as we can each and every day knowing and believing in that promise of future joy.
There is no way to predict the future. Life is cool and weird and somehow deeply worthy of every struggle and every fight, every heartache and every small victory. As we anxiously await this dumpster fire of a year to come to an end, I am trying to be deliberate in closing one chapter and starting the next with my arms and eyes wide open. But for right now, for this strange, quiet, in-between time, I have a comforting cup of warm coffee next to me, an abundance of opportunity ahead of me and the daily task of letting the past be exactly that.
Here’s to what’s next.