Today my son left his lunch on the kitchen counter, sad little sandwich and peanut butter crackers sitting there, waiting to be remembered. I grabbed a paper bag, wrote his name and his teacher’s name on it in black metallic pen, and rolled it over just so, then headed out to the car to drive the 1.6 miles to his school.
His sandwich was going to get there before he did, on the bus, after it made its lazy loop along Avery Road, down to the train station, and then back up to 9D and taking its wide turn into the school, one of six buses that collect students, and are greeted every morning by the principal and the school superintendent.
I parked the car in the back lot, and began walking toward the school’s office. Buses had yet to start arriving, teachers were still pulling into the lot. One teacher saw my bag and said, “Someone forgot his lunch, huh?” And we chatted amiably about the weird chaos of mornings, of no matter how early you get up, you still run late, forget things, end up in two minutes of panic before the bus hits the end of your driveway.
It’s all nothing, this chatter, this familiarity, this sense of sameness to days and weeks and years. That kids will keep forgetting their lunches; that moms will still drive them to school. And outside, summer is blooming, calling us to the rolling mountains and the wide river that embrace and define our neighborhood.
My task complete, I climbed the steps to the parking lot, and the first bus pulled into the school’s long driveway, the principal in place. And I started to cry. A second bus, then the third, their colored flags denoting their routes on their sides, the bus drivers in sunglasses, sitting behind a dashboard decorated with stuffed animals or sports team flags. My son is in one of those buses, having been ferried safely toward a school where everyone knows his name, where he made friends, where the teacher truly understands him and pushes him hard, through his challenges. Where the principal is charmed by his precocity, where he was a minor celebrity for going to the White House to meet Michelle Obama. Where his poetry was recognized and is being filmed for a Hudson Valley Arts project. Where he made friends. Where he feels at home.
And me, too, I feel at home. And at a certain kind of peace. But more than anything right now I feel awe and gratitude. In those four years where I was so lost, and trying to stay afloat in all the hurt and grief, and trying to right my ship while water poured in and threatened to pull me under, I listened. I did the hardest thing of all: I pushed away the fear, the fear, the fear and wrote on this blog and kept pointing myself toward my instincts and away from my habits.
I filled in the blanks.
And I filled them with silence, not noise. With peace not adrenalin. Life is still stressful and chaotic, this is a much harder thing to change. But what has changed for me changed from within.
I am fine. I am fine. I am safe. I am well. I am good. Learning to be gentle with myself will take years more, but I did make all these tremendous changes from a loving place, not from a place of iron will and force, the way I did so many other things in my life.
It is so strange and marvelous to feel myself move into a place of becoming more sure of who I am. I have always known, have had more self-awareness than most people, I know, so that statement must seem crazy. But the fact is there’s always been a big giant question mark in the middle of me: Really? Really? Am I really smart and good and nice and worthy? Am I generous or am I selfish? Am I too full of ego? Am I deluded? Do I not have the ability to see who I really am, in the same way my mother could not, would not, see herself?
And the biggest question: Will I ever, ever, ever have enough love to silence those questions?
It’s an old trope that we have to “love ourselves” before we can receive good love. I always rankled at that simple statement because it misses the point, as so many tropes do. It misses the hidden question marks, it brushes over these gaping holes with decorative wallpaper. (And don’t even get me started on the new passion to tell teenaged girls that they are “awesome” and “beautiful” no matter what, instead of arming them with the knowledge that insecurity and shifting alliances are the stuff of life and that they’d best learn how to manage those issues instead of be told that they are gorgeous no matter what.)
I have always “loved myself.” I have always thought I was brilliant and interesting. (I know, lucky me, and nice proof that my parents, despite their many failures, did a lot right.) But for years, decades, I couldn’t even see the aching need in the center of my being.
And it didn’t take me loving myself to get to that ache. It took years of careful introspection, years of failures and successes, years of catching myself in irrational reactions and carefully walking the thread backwards until I could see what core fear, anxiety or grief it was attached to.
We poor humans. We spend so much time chasing our butts, spinning in circles trying to know what will make us happy. But what I needed to do was shift gears, and get focused on how to feed and soothe my soul. Then the rest takes care of itself.
The mountains and the river to me mean everything: They are permanent and grand and silent, lording over our brief human existences with majestic grandeur. They aren’t dispassionate, the earth and the water; they are merely what they must be, as are we. We get one very long, slowly unfolding chance to walk ourselves home in this life. And I feel so wildly grateful to have done that for myself, and for my son.
I am good. We are good. The world is good. I always wanted these things to be true, and now I have a life where they are.
And I can feel the rightness of the universe in something as small as a sandwich left on my kitchen counter. It’s just another day. Another magical, worthwhile, soul-affirming day.