All weekend, I’ve been wanting to write about “otherwise.” It’s a word that holds a lot of power for me. Early in our relationship, I shared the Jane Kenyon poem with Greg by that title. It is a beautiful, simple statement of gratitude for her life. The word itself has become a kind of talisman for us; one of us will say, “It could be otherwise,” as a way of expressing our awareness at things being just right (even in the sometimes chaos). Other times, the feeling is more, “It couldn’t be otherwise,” i.e. this is all meant to be, everything has a reason.

But I feel like I’ve corrupted this word I so treasure – and I want it back. Lately, “otherwise” has become more of an admonishment than a jewel. I hear myself using it all the time, pretty much exclusively with Aviva. It’s always in relation to rushing her, being caught in that awful chop-chop, next-next-next mode that I get mired in as a parent. Sometimes I feel like I’m all threats and warnings:

“Time to get dressed; otherwise, you won’t have time for a movie…”

“One more minute before we turn off the movie; otherwise, we’ll be late to Emma’s…”

“Please stop whining and use your regular voice; otherwise we’re not going to Emma’s at all…”

I wince to read these and hesitate to post them without some self-defense.

Otherwise. It could all be otherwise. These little girls, this home. All that is as it should be in this life. Imagine some power hungry ogre hovering around you all day: “Do some writing; otherwise you’ll never express yourself. Take a shower; otherwise you will stink all day. Give your kids a hug; otherwise they will grow up not knowing how much you loved them. Have sex with your partner; otherwise, your relationship will atrophy. Eat fruit for dessert; otherwise, you will never lose that last five pounds.” UGH! This is a total distortion of the word Jane Kenyon immortalized.

I want to drop this “otherwise” in favor of remembering why we do what we do. “Time to get dressed; think of how much fun the party will be. Finish your milk so your bones will be strong and you will grow up to be taller than me.” Eat your ice-cream, girl; damn, it’s good. Take a super hot shower, appreciating your gorgeous body as you take an extra long time soaping up and rinsing off. Snuggle up with your partner, if you have one, because it is good to be held. It is good to ask for what you want. Otherwise, you could become someone you’re not.

And now I realize the truth. There’s one more step: Letting go of the otherwise altogether. Letting go of the because, the constant need to justify and explain each action, each choice and decision I make, letting go of the pressure for everything to have some corollary or consequence. Letting go of the “otherwise.”

This is it, unto itself. It could be otherwise. But it isn’t.

7 thoughts on “Otherwise

  1. bella says:

    I am speechless, awed and right now, so incredibly grateful.
    You got right to the marrow of something I have known inside but did not have words for.
    to think of having to hear myself chiding myself all day, the way I am prone to do with my son, was a a lightbulb going off.
    Today, I am letting go of the otherwise. Thank-you.


  2. lahdeedah says:


    The Jane Kenyon poem, and your essay, really speak to something I’ve been trying to do–with varying degrees of success–for years: stop editing my life and just live my life. I absolutely loved this.




  3. Jena Strong says:

    Jill, Bella & Mika: Thank you for your comments. I caught myself saying “otherwise” to Aviva yesterday, so it came out more like “utha…” Maybe that’s a good alternative?

    xo Jena


  4. Meg says:

    I very much enjoyed and related to this post. Truly a very powerful powerful word. It resonated with me very strongly. Thanks for that.
    xo Meg



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