On Moments of Happiness and Hope

I drove home from Manhattan today, after a whirlwind day of visiting friends and familiar haunts in the city I once called home but in which I never truly felt at home. I sped west in my stepfather’s old Highlander along Route 78 in the bright sunshine, singing along to Ellie Goulding and Maroon 5 (as their songs are apparently the only ones currently in rotation on the radio). As I put more distance between myself and the city, the trees became denser and I breathed more deeply. Right around exit 41, everything in me paused, and I turned down the music. It was a moment when I needed to identify what I was feeling, because the sensation was so odd that it interrupted all other thoughts.

I felt happy.

And happiness was the singular emotion that existed in that moment.

Throughout most of this trip to New Jersey, I have been overwhelmed: by grief, by loss, by anger, by sadness, by dread, by unease, by shame. There were so many firsts without my sister and my dad in the course of a week that completely depleted—and often defeated—me. 

The first Easter

The first birthday (Kelly’s)

The first National Siblings Day (also my first knowledge that this day existed)

The other first birthday (my dad’s)

The dread before each occasion was almost as painful as the arrival of the actual date. My grandmother’s birthday, nestled in the middle of this crazy week, somehow felt like a relief, if only because it was not so terribly awful anymore after thirteen years.

I planned last week to drive my mom to the city yesterday, and to spend time with friends and stay overnight there. When yesterday arrived, I felt completely unprepared for anything past get out of bed, brush teeth. All of the steps beyond that were foreign, and I worried were beyond my capabilities.

How do you go back out into the world when it feels like your skin is on inside out?

I didn’t really figure that out, but I did get myself dressed and where I had committed to being. And it was hard, but nice. I was able to see places I once loved, but was also grateful to have left behind. I was able to see friends I feel safe with, and talk about my dad and Kelly without breaking down or shutting down. I was able to feel like an actual person again for the day. I never could have anticipated that simply interacting with the world would feel like an accomplishment, but such is life in this new “normal”.

I also never anticipated that feeling happy, with the absence of guilt or regret or any other accompaniment would be so alien a sensation.

There have been some wonderful moments on the inside of the sorrow of the past five months. Watching rays of sun bisect a room on a farm in Virginia; glimpsing the magical light bouncing off the water in Positano; sipping tea with koalas in Australia; the simple grace shared by friends every day; hearing and reading words of loss and comfort and love and grief from gifted writers; writing something true. And yet, also present in those special moments: guilt, and fear.

What if I’m not sad enough?

What if I deserve the sadness?

What if someone else dies? 

What if this is how it will always be?

Just last week, I drove that stretch of highway in sobs, because it is the same route that my dad always drove to bring me home from the airport, and how could I be driving on that road without him? The loss of him on that drive was as acute as it was the night he died.

There was nothing extraordinarily remarkable about the drive today. Except that within it existed a moment of such ease, such peace and such happiness that it became remarkable.

Because it allowed for hope; the hope that more of these moments might someday occur, when I least expect them and when I need them most.

*Thank you to Mom, Julie and Aidan (and the Rowlets!) for leading me to this moment today. Thank you to every person who has reached out to me at any time in the last five months. I will never forget the gestures of love and kindness that have been extended to me. 

Stillness and Sunset in Virginia

Stillness and Sunset in Virginia

Confession: I’m (Less) Stuck

I got to the office early this morning, in anticipation of a day filled with chaos and deadlines and meetings.  I wanted to ground myself before it started, so I jotted down my 5 Most Beautiful Things:   
  1. Sunshine after an overnight rainstorm
  2. My cute new sweater, with its unexpected buttons snaking up the back
  3. The smell of pine emanating from the Christmas tree in our lobby at work
  4. The angelic sound of the carolers who serenaded me while I waited for the elevator
  5. Hope
I often choose things I can see, because it’s so important that I remind myself to actively SEE the beauty around me.  I can easily forget otherwise.  I HAVE to see them.  Smells, sounds, these come naturally, with their unexpected delights.  The music in everyday sounds, like hearing my own voice echoing back at me in the amplified acoustics of my shower, or the percussive thuds of feet jumping in near unison to the front of the yoga mat.  And smells….ah, smells.  I can smell the change in the air when I cross Centinela, coming home to Santa Monica.  The hint of salt mixed with sand and sun and memories.  Of making jellyfish hospitals and bodysurfing the waves in Beach Haven, down the Jersey Shore, in 1986.  These senses of mine always heightened, able to transport me to my childhood in an instant.  It is no surprise they would be included on my beautiful things list.
What was unusual about this list today, for me, was the last beautiful thing.
I have never been able to describe myself as an optimist.  With my overly analytical, overly critical mind, I have always been quick to see the problems, the pitfalls, from miles away.  I don’t see the glass half full–I anticipate being thirsty.  I need the full glass to feel full, to be comfortable.  Always thinking one step ahead, not trusting that I won’t be thirsty at the end, not having the faith that the drink will be there when, if, I need it.  Restaurants that continually replenish my water glass, sometimes after just one sip, actually make me feel safe.  Like I will never be without.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to (consistently) focus on the positive, without questions or endless analysis?  To know that the sun always comes back out after the rain, and that it’s already on the way?  To recognize all of the good in the world without thinking that it will come to an end?  Yeah, my mind just doesn’t work that way.
And yet….HOPE.
It came out before I had a chance to second guess it.  Before I could question why it popped into my head and out through my fingers onto the keyboard.  So unlike me and still so honest.
I am hopeful.
I read all of the comments on my last post (“Confession: I Am Stuck”), and then re-read them, then again a third time.  I had written about how I was feeling stuck with writing, and that I was having the difficulty getting to the deeper core of what I wanted to write because of fear.  Same old fear that always creeps up and stops me in my tracks.  But, in those comments, came exactly what I didn’t know I both needed and craved: permission.
Permission to take my time.
Permission to give myself a break.
Permission to keep some secrets for just me.
Permission to BE me.
How beautiful that these people who cared enough to comment, most of them strangers, could release some of my stuck-ness just by giving me the permission to be stuck.  How often are we given the permission to just be exactly where we are?  To have it now, even for a few days, is enough.  Instead of dreading what comes next, I can pay attention to this moment alone.  With that, “stuck” doesn’t feel like a prison sentence anymore. It’s more of a rest stop, like those on the NJ Parkway where we stopped to get TCBY before continuing on to the shore.  Temporary, fleeting, a quick stop before we got to where we wanted to end up, toes in the sand, faces turned towards the sun.  Free.
Summers in Long Beach Island...among my best memories

Summers in Long Beach Island…among my best memories