It’s been a wild and wandering year, jam-packed with days of… something. I mean, I know I was doing *something* most of the last 365 days. But mostly I feel as if I were frozen in time, while the calendar pages whizzed off the wall one at a time like they do in old black-and-white movies.
Yes, I was grieving; yes, we all hear how that sounds like standing in a thick, dark pudding, while you flail your arms about, pretending that everything’s fine. Turns out that’s true, actually. So I suppose that up to 50 percent of my time could have been simply being in the black pudding and not even realizing it. It’s been shocking to me to see how many of the echoes of loss are purely internal; once I got past the six-month mark and was through most of the crying, I realized that grief was collecting in places in my body without even knowing it. And then some trigger event would happen—the impulse to call my parents on a Sunday night, or a new wave of panic about the open-endedness of my life—and I would finally descend into the tears and drop to my knees. And after that? Always felt better.
I am not sure if I will ever be good at experiencing my bad feelings as they happen; I have a finely tuned system for shunting terror and fear to the background before they actually even touch my conscious mind, which makes me a good friend to have if we were, say, in a war together or something. But it’s not really that great for daily life. As part of my aging process, I’m trying to realize life isn’t a war, nor is it a series of battles. It’s a collection of loosely related and random experiences strung together in some haphazard, accidental way, until our consciousness descends upon it and makes up a story about ourselves, our luck, our talents, our destiny. And this time, I’m trying to let my story carry me, instead of my writing it and then grinding myself down to make destiny unfold and bend to my will.
So it’s been a year, and I’m between the one-year anniversaries of my my father and mother’s deaths—June 2 and July 8, respectively; thank you for asking—and wondering when the statute of limitations on having my life turn inside out expires. Because I feel stuck, even though I know I haven’t been in one place (the writing I’ve done, the friends I’ve seen, the canoe trips I’ve taken, the meals I’ve cooked, they all count!). It’s like I’m a Statue of Limitations, standing here still holding a torch for the years in my life when I engaged in the delicious fantasy that I had it all figured out.
But there are no limitations to this open-ended inquiry, except those I put on it. So every day, I try to reframe this floating, undefined period in my life in more concrete terms: I’m trying to stay open, let my heart seek out options, let my brain make plans in 6 or 7 directions, and try to directly face my fears so they get smaller in size (fears always do that when you stare directly at them) and therefore can’t affect my decisions. And, above, all, I’m trying to gently teach myself to feel safe even when I don’t know where I’ll be living in a year, what I’ll be doing for a living, where my son will be going to school, whether my boyfriend and I will still be together, whether I’ll start that next book, start running again, start being comfortable in this place of flux where so many more of us are living these days.
All the decisions that lay in front of me aren’t any clearer than they were a year ago, but over the last two months, my sense of purpose has slowly returned, a warm glow somewhere in my chest that reminds me that the “me” in me is always safe and present and is simply waiting for my attention. I’m trying to use that glow as my guiding light, and not the torch of certainty I used to carry. I’m not sure of much, but I’m (pretty) sure that will lead me where I’m supposed to be next.