Posted October 18, 2010 by
This is a confession of sorts. The gist of it? I'm not that good at living a normal life.
This is something I learned about myself a long time ago, but it's something I seem to forget from time to time. In thinking about my good enough project, and the hows and whys and the kinds of changes I want to make to my life in order to improve it, I remembered this thing about myself. And I wondered if perhaps it's part of the problem.
When I say I'm not good at regular life, I mean I'm not good at normalcy. I'm not good at status quo. I'm not good at content. I'm not good at things being…well, as they should.
When I was fourteen both of my parents found out they had cancer. Their diagnoses came within months of each other. Our lives were instantly thrown into utter turmoil.
I was young and there was a lot I didn't understand about what was going on, but I did understand was that I was getting pulled out seventh grade (my most hated year of school) a lot. I understood that life had a new urgency to it, that things like math homework and the fight I was in with my best friend suddenly didn't matter anymore.
In fact, lots of things didn't matter anymore. Things that I didn't care about in the first place. Like going to bed on time, or putting away laundry. Like routines and sensible dinners. Like making long-term plans or planning for the future.
My parent's illnesses threw all of that out the window. Life became immediate, to be lived in the here and now, to be lived the way we wanted.
As terrible as the reason for it all was, I suddenly felt liberated. I felt free. Free from the mundane tasks that make up day-to-day living, free from schedules and social drama, free from trying to figure out who I was. It turned out to be quite exhilarating. We all drove faster, stopped harder, slept later, ate worse and stared up at the stars longer than we might any other night.
Over the next ten years my life became a roller coaster of these kinds of periods. Ups and downs. Normal and not normal. Life would always return to its even keel for a while. I would resume regular school, my parents would pay bills and make dinner and scold me for talking on the phone late at night. But then suddenly I would be sitting in a class at school and some administrator would come in and beckon to me from the doorway. The rest of the class would watch as I packed up my things, and off I would go to the hospital or home, wherever it was where things had just taken a turn for the worse.
When these things happened life suddenly became brighter, faster, more exciting. In an awful way, of course. And it really was awful. There was never one minute of my parent's illnesses that was fun or enjoyable. It was always heartbreaking and always terrifying.
But there was also a small part of me that began to live for these burst of freedom, these moments in which I was propelled up and out of my life, bound on a streaming ship for places I hadn't even conceived of yet. I discovered that the boundaries to my day-to-day life were as breakable as dry spaghetti, and that snapping them in half was just as satisfying.
My mother died when I was eighteen, and that became the biggest moment of them all. NOTHING mattered anymore. Absolutely nothing. And through my grief that was the one thing I clung to. The freedom of it all.
I wasn't afraid of anything anymore. The very worst had happened. There wasn't anything that could ever happen that would hurt more. I went on a spree. I got a tattoo. I drank too much. I drove too fast. I traveled to far away places by myself. I dropped out of college for a while. I moved to New York City at 19. I wasn't afraid of any of it.
The icy, black freedom that came with her death lasted for years. And each time life threatened to become a little too normal again, something else would happen. My aunt died. One of my best friends died. And eventually, my father died.
For years and years, I lived on this edge. I lived as if there were no tomorow. Because there wasn't. It kept getting ripped out from underneath me. I stopped believing in tomorrow. It just didn't matter. School loans and parties, trips to Asia, and career changes? Car wrecks and broken relationships? Those things just made life seem all the more real. What was living if you weren't teetering over a giant, black abyss?
I didn't know anymore.
But then a couple of years went by. And then a couple more. And nothing happened. Life started to smooth out. I started buying paper towels in bulk and chipping away at my student loans. I started thinking months, and then years, down the road. Life became kind of normal, for the first time in a long time.
Granted the last three years have been filled with big changes — cross country moves and getting married, pregnancy and my first child — but all of those things have been good ones. None of them have made me want to throw myself carelessly at the world, like I used to.
Just the opposite, in fact.
For the last three years I've felt more cautious than ever with my life. I've felt more careful and appreciative of it. I've worked harder than ever to preserve what I have, and I've (as painful as it has been sometimes) relearned how to acknowledge the future, to live beyond today.
But that's where this confession comes in. There is still a part of me that longs for that terrible thrill of freedom. I still crave the wild strength that comes with loss and heartbreak. I miss getting to forget about bills and student loans, to stop caring about going to work every day or about how the car needs an oil change. I sometimes long for the fierceness of life, for the immediacy of it.
This is where my good enough problem comes into play. I think that when life gets too normal I get bored. It doesn't seem interesting enough to put my full effort into. Good enough becomes good enough.
Therefore, one of my new goals this fall is to practice mindfulness. I'm going to urge myself to be more present to even the most mundane of daily living. I took a long bath last night (part of my project that has been really effective so far) and as I sat there in the warm water I directed all my thoughts to appreciating everything about my present existence. I thought about my daughter asleep in the next room, and my husband at work in the living room, about the cats and the houseplants, and our little home that I love so much, about how everything was exactly as it should be, and how good that felt.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Victor Frankl