I passed him walking away from the classroom The Kid and I, with Little Brother in tow, were walking toward. For the first day after a break, he looked like I felt: not quite up for it. “Back at it,” I said as we passed him, the dad of one of TK’s classmates, and we both smiled upon re-entry into the routine established now over half a school year, the chaotic mornings and often-emotional drop-offs, the lunches made and belongings lost, the rushing and tension. An old shoe that fits but takes some struggling to get into.
I was swimming in the South Pacific two weeks ago.
You wouldn’t know it, though, in these moments of non-holiday real life, when it’s so easy to forget and painful to remember the lazy days and long sunsets of vacation. And here, with year-round school and more frequent breaks, there is ample opportunity to revisit the difference between monotony and its opposite, to separate and come back.
When we reached the classroom, that classmate held out a batch of stickers she had told her mum she wanted to get for TK because they were cars. And he loves cars. And his people here, our people now, know this. She shyly handed them over and I tried to take a mental picture, to make note of this moment to add it to the list: all the ways we’ve been cared for. Being back isn’t so bad, sometimes.
“Reality is an ally of God,” says Richard Rohr, and sometimes I think if they’re friends then maybe I don’t want to play with either of them. Reality can be so…real. Like the weekend days that should be sunshine and ease, and I end them in a puddle of regret, ingratitude and frustration marking my movements and making it easier to believe the hiss in my ear, that maybe I’m the poison of negativity in this family? Maybe I’m bringing the rest of them down? It’s gotten to where people are checking on me, after all, and rather than the gift this is–that I am known–it makes me wonder just how thin the line is between anxious and calm, insanity and sanity, and if I’m about to fall off it.
Then friends tell me that they, too, have imagined other lives. Guiltily, or alongside jokes, or flippantly, the real voices I hear, they are struggling ones. And triumphant ones. And defeated ones. They know all the descriptors, all the words, because they live them in between each sunset.
I had never been fully submerged in the Pacific Ocean before. I had wanted it to be a sort of baptism, a washing clean of the old me. I’d return to our regularly scheduled life with greater patience, more clarity, a more durable fuse. That lasted about half the shuttle ride to the airport.
But there was this: that the three of them were waiting on the shore for me. That they never seem to leave, and funny how that can feel like both a threat and a promise. Like a life raft, to be known. I emerged from that water the same person. I emerged from that water, and I walked toward my family. I seem to keep doing that, too.
I don’t know, maybe it’s my ovaries. They might see forty approaching and be frantically pumping out hormones, trying to remain relevant. Maybe it’s an anxiety/depression dip. Or maybe it’s just hard, being one of those people who inconveniently feels and thinks about all the stuff. All of it. No matter how many times I take a break, it always comes back, this whole thing of being…myself.
But there is this: TK was without his usual therapist these first two weeks back, and wouldn’t you know that that was exactly when the student teaching crew started, and he took to one of them as much as she did to him, and now…he’s covered. He always was, wasn’t he? I just didn’t know yet. There is his teacher, who celebrates every achievement, who brought his handwriting book out today just to show me all that he’s done, how he’s growing. There are the regular Friday nights with a friend, naughty laughter and rosé champagne. There are the photos TK used to avoid that he now yells “Cheese!” for.
Author Pema Chödön writes, “If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”
Nowhere to escape? Sounds familiar.
She goes on: “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing…they come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen, room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Falling apart? I know me some that. I do it…well, every day, it seems. This endless process of falling apart and coming back together that I think will end and am now understanding is just life. I won’t improve past it. I can only make room for it. And I think about what a dear friend said before we left: “Give yourself space.” I’m beginning to understand what she meant. Space for all of it: for the crazy and sane, for the meltdowns and triumphs, for the sad and happy. There is space enough for all of it, for all of me, spread out as it is–as I am–over Sydney, and New York, and Atlanta, with even pieces of me scattered about the South Pacific now. There is room for all of it, within a grace that names me, that knows me, whether I am underwater on holiday or struggling to take deep breaths on land, its steady waves always promising that each shore is home.