“Just wait. You’ll look back on these days with so much nostalgia. Just blink. Your kids will be off to college before you know it. Savor every moment…”
You know how said people tend to say such things on the day when you were late leaving the house, and the dog still needed to be walked and your six-year-old was holed up in her room, protesting something egregious you did, something horrid like asking her to finish her milk, and your two-year-old was screaming bloody murder because she wanted to hear Ella Jenkins sing “Miss Mary Mack” ONE MORE TIME, and your husband left for work an hour earlier, and you were regretting that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you ate the night before while watching four back-to-back episodes of Lost?
Today, I was walking towards Greg’s office on College Street, carrying a double latte (to chase the coffee I’d already had at home) in one hand, Bobo’s leash in the other. My bag – which was weighed down by the clunky laptop that contains pretty much everything I’ve written in the past, oh, five years – kept slipping off my shoulder. After a crazy-late morning, I was feeling frazzled. I wound up yelling at Bobo. “Bobo! STOP PULLING!” (Bobo, our perro playero, far too often bears the brunt of my frustration and impatience. Sorry, pup.)
Just as I raised my voice on the open street, I caught a glimpse of Martha Whitney. Martha is a yoga teacher here in town, an absolutely lovely human being. We are not close, but I am always happy when I bump into her. This time, though, I just felt embarrassed, caught in the act of impatience. And slightly goofy, even, as in: Ha! So much for yoga! I looked back at her – she was on the other side of the street – and saw her looking back at me. I smiled, and she smiled. And I remembered to breath in and out.
I spent the next hour or so after that paying bills, feeling like a minor miracle had occurred when I got through most of them and still had a little money in the bank. Some of you may know that we have been in “start-up” mode for… quite some time now. It has become so much a way of life, that I tend to think I’ve moved beyond fear about it – lest I dissolve in a puddle of panic and anxiety. Greg and I are giving the “Trust the Universe” approach to life a workout. And on days when I seriously start wondering how this is all gonna go, how we’re going to survive, I look around – at our home, our kids, our friends, our families, our healthy bodies, and so much gratitude washes over me that feeling panicky seems almost blasphemous.
Around ten o’clock, Greg and the Spring Hill team showed up for a staff meeting, something we try to do at least monthly. We spent two hours deep in the details, the numbers, the pipeline, the projects and proposals and prospects. After the meeting, I took a moment to smash my face up against Greg’s face. “What are you feeling?” he asked me. “Precarious, strong, tenacious, tired,” I answered. “Me too,” he said.
Now I’m home, wondering if these are “those days” we’ll look back on so fondly, the ones when we struggled. (Are we struggling? You would assume this. Certainly our financial situation has been less than… stable, you could say, for years now. On the flip side, we didn’t freak out when the stock market essentially crashed. “Thank God we haven’t started saving for college yet,” we half-joked. Nothing to lose when there’s nothing to lose.) But if anything, the struggle isn’t to change our reality but to be in it, receptive and open at a time when we could be undone, done in, destroyed by fear, by the unknown. Having stripped away at least one illusion of certainty and permanence (aka, paychecks), we are exposed, vulnerable you could say, and forced to believe in ourselves and our benevolent posse of angels all the more so.
These are those days, I think. The ones we should be greedy for, the ones so packed with purpose. These are those times when, though cramped and crowded, our bed brims with knees and elbows, small people growing like flowers, like bamboo taking off for the sky, bending towards the light. These are those years, the ones when we didn’t have much but had everything beyond measure, when we managed to keep the lights on and pay the gas bill and feed our growing girls every ounce of nourishment we can muster. These are those times, the only ones we get, exhausting, thrilling, draining, filling, full.
I remember chatting with the father of a friend at a wedding some time back, a doctor who had achieved material and financial “success” beyond any we will likely know. He has homes on both coasts, was able to send his kids to college and grad school, and is well-respected in his field. What he recalls as the happiest days of his life? The years he and his wife lived with their new baby in a tiny apartment in Washington Heights when he was a medical resident. The years when they ate dinner together at a card table in the kitchen and listened to the news on the radio. The years when his salary, though meager, was enough to dream on.
The meaning of life isn’t all about more, or bigger, better, different. It’s not all about aspiring and achieving, striving and succeeding. It’s about being here, being greedy for these years, these very ones that demand so much of us, of me. It’s about, as Greg likes to say, “sucking the marrow out of the day.” If I’m struggling these days, it’s largely with myself, my rushing, frustrated, frazzled, impatient, get-it-over-with-move-on-to-the-next-thing self. Time flies, whether I fly with it or not. May I remember to take that deep breath, to smile, and to dream on.