Those on Facebook (maybe harder to quit than Zoloft) know what November brings. The following meme encapsulates my feelings:
The Facebook game “30 days of gratitude” strikes me as hollow. I’m grateful that I’m so awesome. Click the like button if you agree.
Still, something I read yesterday got me thinking…
A friend from way back posted a 1991 picture. A local university blew up a giant ugly dorm early one summer Sunday morning. One of the biggest implosions in history, it became quite the social event on this urban college campus. It was ten years before the traumatic barrage of collapsing 9/11 images scarred us, so it was fun to watch 520 pounds of dynamite take down a 27 story building in seven seconds.
Yep, I was there, a young pup in my early 20s, reveling in the party atmosphere and the silliness of it all. I remember that weekend well.
Recap, June 1991.
Friday night I was at a bar with some friends and we were lamenting our fading sense of adventure (!!?!). We were getting old (!?!!?!) and settled in our habitual ways. To counter that, we needed to do something big.
What could be bigger than Graceland?
An all-night drive ensued, followed by a group tour. If you’ve never been you should go. It is something to behold, but 46-year-old me might recommend a little responsible planning.
After the morning tour we came home, of course. I had just bought my first car so I insisted on doing all the driving, both ways, totaling about 1,000 miles. (!!!) I got home in time to sleep a few hours then met my housemates at the corner of Jefferson and West Corry early in the morning. We whooped it up when the building fell and we ran to hide from the cloud of debris. From there, I joined a group for a 12 mile canoe trip. I had so much fun and so little sleep that weekend that I lost my voice.
Let’s compare that to this past weekend. November, 2013.
Friday night I was a little tired after shopping at Ikea. I got this there — doesn’t it make you happy? It looks like something from Maisy.
Clarification: I got the napkin holder. I already had the turkey and the napkins and the reclaimed wood hutch.
I cleaned part of the house and went to bed pretty early, knowing I had to get up around 6:00 to make my 13-year-old daughter breakfast. She was taking the city-wide high school entrance exam at 8:30 and needed some eggs for optimal brain functioning.
Daughter and sharp #2 pencils
I dropped her off at her testing location at 8:15 and went to Target. I wanted new kitchen curtains but the project was expanding in scope. I returned to the testing location with a trunk full of rods and clips and voile and broadcloth for a meeting about how to prepare my daughter for the high school transition. I cried and texted my husband that she’s not the only one who needs preparation.
She and I finished around noon so we grabbed some Chipotle and went to her youth group service project at Hands Against Hunger.
While she made food packages for the Philippines, I took a care package to a sick friend then went home to test my multiple window covering options. My son and I met my daughter at Mass, sending her off after to see Catching Fire with friends. My son and I went home to have tacos and I returned all of the not-quite-right curtains to the store. I fell asleep before my daughter was home from the movie.
Sunday I bought the rest of the window coverings then washed, ironed, and hung said curtains. I cleaned the rest of the house, attended my son’s basketball game and made a nice roast.
Moral of the story: Twenty-two years can make quite a difference.
It’s tempting to stand on either end of this time line and point with scorn, to imagine what one version would think of the other ~ boring or reckless, settled or settling. But the truth is, I wouldn’t change either weekend even if I had that sort of power.
Sure, there are times when I miss sleeping in on Saturday, times when I miss the deep well of energy, and the easy availability of friendship. Times when I’m pulled under by a whirlpool of wistfulness for what might have been, or for those days when life existed still mostly as possibility.
Of course that’s the ridiculous nature of memory. If I’ve learned anything from the Forest-Gump-ish way some boomers memorialized JFK this month, I’ve learned how deeply I distrust nostalgia. An honest retelling of my history includes the spiritual woundings specific to me and general to the unhinged days of young adulthood. Wounds new and less new, open and unnamed, wounds that left me vulnerable to infection, to snake oil, to bad decisions both self-inflicted and perpetrated by others.
After all, the prescriptions for those crazy meds didn’t fall off the turnip truck.
In the unanswered silence of night, I easily tip in the other direction now, imagining that two decades ago I was the same person I am today – making all those rotten decisions despite knowing better. That can only lead to one conclusion – I’m an immoral sociopath, a fugitive from justice, a fraudulent wizard shaking in fear behind the curtain.
I thought about my weekend juxtaposition yesterday – pre-breakfast and pre-hectic on a standard weekday morning. I knew that bumpy ride through recrimination and self-loathing was coming.
Standing at my kitchen island, I looked up from the lunchboxes I pack, out through the well-dressed windows to see the pink-orange-gray filtered light of a fall sunrise. The bare trees, the crunchy snow on my patio table, the pines lining my back yard, the down-on-its-luck oakleaf hydrangea — and me — awash in one undiscriminating glow.
I’ve been lucky – and whatever words go miles beyond lucky – to have lived this patchwork life that has kept me out of pigeon holes, spared me from boredom, and given me such a variety of weapons for my warrior arsenal.
And it ain’t over yet.
I have been on the receiving end of mountains of love, even when I didn’t believe it or appreciate it; even when I couldn’t recognize what didn’t match my dreams.
But I’m no starry whitewasher.
There have been unforeseen and unwelcome twists. There will be more. There was cancer and roads that came to abrupt dead ends without my permission. I’ve done bad things. Bodies pile up on the side of the road, there is pain that shakes my core, and creatures so deep in the ocean that they’ll never know light. I have ugly, thick, lumpy scar tissue on my body and throughout my soul.
But I still think I’m lucky. Charmed. Blessed. Privileged. Whatever the word you choose that means huge and good and beyond rational explanation.
I laugh a lot. I mean, a lot. Loudly and inappropriately too. Sometimes I laugh so hard that I snort and cough. Sometimes I laugh so hard that I scare my children.
Young man with sore eucalyptus and giant trophy.
I laughed at Elvis’ ostentatious jungle room, at the eternal flame out back by the pool, and at the people in our group who cried when they saw it. I laughed at an exit off the Tennessee highway called Bucksnort and at returning home to that same bar 24 hours after we left, presenting gifts of Elvis shot glasses to the owner. I laughed when the ugly dorm collapsed and when that cloud of debris seemed to be coming directly for us. I don’t think that canoeing twelve miles made me laugh so much that day, but the company was good and I’m grateful to still count some of those people as friends today.
I laughed when my daughter came out of her test with one more pencil than she had when she went in and when she loudly declared it was soooo easy in the high school lobby. I laughed when her friend told me that she got to the test too early and had to sit in a room alone with a creepy Latin teacher. I laughed at my 11-year-old son’s four-foot tall basketball trophy and the way one of his teammates was unwilling to let anyone else hold it. I laughed when another parent told me my son looks taller when he wears his contacts instead of his sports goggles. I laughed hard Monday morning when my son asked me if I had any medicine for his sore “eucalyptus” then explained he was referring to that hanging down thing in the back of his throat.
Probably my best conviction came early — when you’re given that most holy and human gift of love, you don’t let go, even when hanging on is hard. We live in a universe where matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed. We should act accordingly.
I anticipate I’ll laugh in front of my organic farm-fresh turkey this Thursday and again on Friday and Saturday and Sunday when I hate the turkey and start wondering why I bought such a big damned bird in the first place.
Love, even and especially the well-disguised kind grows in spite of us. A soft fall dawn doesn’t pick and choose. It spreads beyond conventional wisdom, beyond our familiar framework of meritocracy, outside any small calculus of worthiness.
For that, and for the gift of self-aware basking, I am wildly and warmly grateful.