What I Did Right

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.

About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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33 Responses to What I Did Right

  1. Lindsey says:

    Tears in my eyes as I read. The unbidden, startling tears as you watch the school buses. The question mark in the middle of you. The power of those enormous, grand aspects of nature that preceded us and will go on after us. Yes, yes, and yes. Thank God for you. xox

    • stacy says:

      Yes, startling. They were. And then I realized they were good tears. I feel so, so lucky to know that sensation, the sensation of being grabbed by life and having it say, “Right now, THIS VERY MOMENT, this is life.”

  2. Kim says:

    This is just beautiful. I especially appreciate your description of how you’ve been trying to “right your ship.” Sounds like you are in a good place. All the best.

  3. Love it! Take a deep breath. Enjoy these realizations.

    (I always love how I feel like I’m right there with you when I read your posts. You have a gift in setting a scene.)

  4. alexandra says:

    I’ve been feeling at peace, too. So happy you have found it.

    I thought a few months ago, about what was causing this agitation for me. I knew the answer, it wasn’t something I wanted to let go, but I did. As soon as I did, I felt the good stuff flood over me. Peace. We can fill in our blanks… but we have to talk to ourselves and do sometimes, the opposite of what we thought we wanted. xo See you in San Jose!!

    • stacy says:

      It is so hard to listen to what’s true deep inside. That fascinates me. That’s why we should all have so much grace and love for each other — every single one of us has to live down our ego to be the person we’re meant to be. And I found so much of that through women like you, writing your heart out. Can’t wait to hug you in San Jose. And please, can we really sneak away for twenty minutes with just ourselves?? So hard to do, but I really want to!!

  5. Vikki says:

    Beautiful and so happy you are finding your way.

  6. al bacon says:

    I became aware of you, Stacy, when I found your book Falling apart, in a dollar store and since then have followed your story to see how you progressed, at least from time to time, and the thought occurs that we need a new mantra perhaps, It doesn’t end here. We can have happy moments which do not last long enough and sad moments which last too long but those moments are just that, moments which pass, and then we must realize, It doesn’t end here. We can take my brother’s advice and Breathe, ask ourselves what we learned to get to where we are, what we didn’t learn, and move on. We might ask What next but that can be words of desperation rather than hope while It doesn’t end here can remind us that we are at a point in our journey and it is not the final destination and there is more to come.

  7. Deb Rox says:

    So lyrically beautiful and wise. Sometimes when I am very present in an everyday moment like you described in the school parking lot it catches me off guard because of the juxtaposition to how the flurry of life responsibilities has created necessary, functional numbness of my emotions. When being present feels like waking up it is disarming and so tender. You describe the ache, the delayed reflection and the ebbing awareness so very well. “Walk ourselves home.” I’m going to think about that. Beautiful.

  8. Sherri says:

    Oh, Stacy… this is beautiful. A perfect start to a Friday, and I am so happy for you that you are finding your way in the world.

  9. Kim Wells says:

    I just so love you. That is all.

  10. Susan says:

    beautiful – both the writing and the deeper meaning, in a world where we all want the quick fix. Thank you for this, this morning.

  11. This is some beautiful writing, and clearly some hard-earned wisdom behind these words. (I’d say more but this is the first of your writing I’ve read, and no I have to go catch up….)

    • stacy says:

      Hi, Brian. Welcome, and thanks for commenting. We all have hard-earned wisdom. The real challenge is to stop focusing on the hard, though. And WHAT A CHALLENGE THAT IS. 🙂

  12. It’s little victories that help us get through times of seemingly insurmountable failures. I’d say the rescued lunch makes you win.

  13. MARK says:

    Thank you for expressing so clearly what so many have sometimes felt… I ve been there, and I go there sometimes when I know better to do so —- to give that self doubt a life bigger than it should have. In the end, it is always helpful for me to do what you described… make a gratitude list of all the wonderful people in my life, the marvelous things the world has to offer… embracing the thankfulness I should be embracing ……thanks for touching my heart and reminding me of the important things in life. My favorite quote from the Wizard of Oz is : “A heart is not measured by how much you love but how much you are loved by others.” … THough I dont know you well, I suspect this very much applies to you.

    • stacy says:

      Mark, so thoughtful and true. I hope that quote is true for me, but I do know that I at least believe I’m doing the best I can. And that simply has to be enough, eh? xo

  14. Sarah Piazza says:

    I felt a quiet recognition and pride, too, as I read this. As if I knew you and your journey and had watched you come full circle. I am happy for you and hope to feel this way myself, soonish.

  15. Christine says:

    There are no words for how much I love this post. I’m so happy for you that you’ve pressed on and that you’ve found this place. Yes, you are enough.

  16. Pingback: The Give and Take | Filling In The Blanks

  17. Suebob says:

    Oh, Stacy, this is beautiful, beautiful writing. This especially resonated with me: “(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.)” So wise.

    I’m taking a class at my awesome church where we are considering the idea of worthiness. I’m going to share this post with them.

    • stacy says:

      Suebob, thank you so much. Means the world to me that you like it enough to take it to your group. I wish I had an awesome church! I need to find one. I want to be surrounded by people who are trying to be grateful, who are helping their friends and neighbors with their struggles. Anyway, that’s what I’d want from church. See you soon! xo

  18. kim says:

    your writing and raw honesty bring me joy and push me to a point of trying to find that inner peace. thank-you for sharing your realness of life and allowing me and others to strive for more authenitic lives.

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