People being people-y

For two months this spring, I threw up nearly every day. Using my energy to grow a new human, I used the rest of my limited oomph to love my family, show up at my job, and write occasionally. Beyond that, I became a nap-taking hermit who took weeks to return phone calls.

My neighbor did not know this. And so when she texted and didn’t hear back, she texted again the next week:

I’m sorry if I upset you somehow. Did I do something wrong?

Of course not.

But she had encountered silence and filled it with a story that she was the center of.

We all do this at times. We interpret the awkward moment or the gap in communication as proof that we are rejected or unwanted or passive aggressively snubbed. Sometimes we are (and it’s good to take a hint). But often, if we can’t see a good reason to be turned away, the people on the other end are more likely overcommitted or moving or out of town or distracted by a health issue—or nauseous from growing a new baby.

They are not telling themselves a terrible story about you.

To steal a recent phrase from a friend: They’re just people being people-y.

And we’re all a little people-y sometimes.

Late bloomer

The phrase late bloomer says you’ve taken too long, gone beyond the time when everyone else has already blossomed. As if all flowers are meant to bloom at the same time.

But any good gardener could tell you that not all plants flower on the same day, nor can they, nor should they. They each have their season and they bloom when they’re meant to.

Your next first day

Because today marked the first day of school, we went outside and took a picture when most any other morning, we wouldn’t bother.

First days are memorable, full of possibilities. They make us sit up straighter, walk with intention and awareness. Because they perk up our attention, first days can keep us nimble, alert, and open to learn.

When we are young, our first days are handed to us by nature of just being new in the world. But as we grow older, living out more middle days, we experience fewer firsts unless we seek them out.

Tomorrow is the first day I’ve ever _______. You get to fill it in.

X months to live

What would you do if you knew you had X months to live?

This mental exercise yields varied answers that often follow a similar theme: Quit my job and travel the world. I’ve probably given some version of that answer myself.

But as some of my family members have recently landed in the hospital with heart trouble, liver problems, and a rare cancer, the theoretical has become more concrete—and feels more complicated.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m recognizing that for me, the stereotypical answer (quit everything and see the world) is less about a bucket list and more about a desire to experience the wonder and appreciation that life is always calling for.

Though I do love travel, I can have that wonder anywhere, everywhere.

I can sit on a metal bench and marvel at my small daughter who’s determined to master the backstroke during her swim lesson, though she’s terrified of water splashing in her eyes. I can hear my husband say the two syllables of my name and feel all our history in them. I can sit down at my desk and recognize the miracle people I work with who make things together. I can look a stranger in the eye and see the clues of a story I’ll never fully hear. I can stretch right now and pay attention to the pull of my muscles and bones.

I have X months, X years, however many they may be.

And today (though this may sound cliché) is my only day available for living them.

Today, whether I visit the Taj Mahal or the office supply store to pick up my daughter’s school supplies, I get to choose whether I walk around glassy-eyed and absent or full of present delight at being alive.

In the face of endlessly tragic news

On a trip that took me away from phone and internet service all last week, I went to a glassblowing class.

Our group was made of six white-haired ladies, myself, and a mom with her eleven-year-old son named Eli.

Eli had seen a glassblowing demonstration a few months back and ever since, he’d wanted to grow up to pull glowing, molten glass out of a bright furnace. This was his first hands-on opportunity. As each woman stepped up to choose the color of her glass orb and be guided through the process, he watched, riveted.

Eli’s turn. He chose red and white. Someone said, Christmas colors, but his mom quietly said to me, No, the color of his aunt’s favorite sports team. The aunt’s dog had died recently and Eli thought that giving his first glass project to his aunt might cheer her up.

*

When I landed at the end of the week—back in range of phone and internet and radio—the first news I heard was a terrorist attack in France. A truck plowing into a crowded celebration. This, on the heels of bombs in airports and shopping centers, shootings in places like nightclubs and schools and traffic stops. People dead. People aching. People on edge.

My heart slumped. Not another one. Part of me reached for the buttons that would turn off everything and unplug me again. Another part of me said no, the answer is not to cover our ears; there is value in witnessing others’ pain, mourning with mourners.

So what do we do? I hesitate to think that anything I say or do even makes a difference.

I think of Eli. His small generosity. Unable to reverse something gone wrong, he moved forward with an urge to fill a sad space with beauty and love. Such a quiet gesture, so earnest that it even seems childish.

But that gesture (and no doubt millions of others like it) happened on the same planet, in the very same week that an angry, misguided man careened into a crowd.

I think it is a mistake to believe that we are caught in an inescapable spiral of violence.

A new generation is always arriving on the planet, wide open to possibilities, eager to care. Some of them have been here eleven years already; others are showing up tomorrow. If we want to break the world of its violences, I can’t help but think it can start with honoring our children’s impulse to love.

Show your work*

Sharing what you’ve made can yield instant, gut-level insight.

In my writing group, we read our work to each other out loud. The sentences that make me cringe and wish to skip to the next page are often the lines that need cutting. The passages my voice moves through comfortably are often the truthful portions that need to stay. The act of sharing itself sometimes helps me as much as the feedback from the group.

Whatever you made isn’t perfect—your song, your painting, your website. But there’s a moment when it’s ready enough, even if just for a small group of trusted eyes to start.

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*(Trying to take my own advice. I finished writing a book that doesn’t feel right to publish. Wrestling with the idea of spending that much time on pages I keep to myself.)