My daughter has been doing a lot of sighing lately. And by a lot, I mean if she were wearing a tank of some kind I’d be worried that it was leaking. I want to pull her aside and tell her the cold hard truth – that it’s going to harder from here on out. That she hasn’t even begun to face all the hard things that are ahead. It’s not to belittle whatever stress she’s experiencing. Nor, is it to say that her life is going to be hard all the time. But, how many times, as we get older, do we look back and think “If I only would have known”? I have a feeling that someday down the road my daughter’s going to realize how simple her life was during her “sighing” period.
It’s like the time I got everything just perfect. Yes, just the once. Netflix was set to my favorite show. I had a nest of blankets waiting for me on the couch. And beside it, an icy, tall glass of milk. All that was left was the pièce de résistance, my hidden stash of Oreo’s. Yes, I have a hidden stash, don’t you?? The only problem was, when I unearthed them from their clever hiding spot, I knew immediately that I was no longer the only keeper of their secret location. The package felt very light and I knew as I heard the tiny crumbs make their way down the little ridges in the package and hit the bottom that the package was completely empty. Ugh! If only I would have known! I wouldn’t have been so excited for the perfect experience I thought I had created. I could have planned accordingly.
Life really has a funny way of not letting us in on its secrets. Sure we can laugh when we look back at that god awful haircut we had in 6th grade or the matching jazzercize suit we wore faithfully to aerobics class. But sometimes our inability to see into the future just seems cruel. Like when we realize, after so many years, that we married the wrong person. It can feel so damn unfair. If I only would have known.
And here’s the thing – life will always be this way. We don’t get a magic mirror or a time machine. There’s no wild-haired mad scientist telling us we simply must go “back to the future.” Apparently only Michael J. Fox is so lucky. We just get this one choice, to either live regretting the past and fearing the future. Or choose to live in the moment. Which can be scary. It means embracing it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This past summer my kids and I drove to California for a visit. It’s not the first time we’ve done it, but this trip was markedly different. I made a conscious effort to be in the moment as much as possible. If you know me, you know how hard this is for me. I’m a planner and a worrier. I want to anticipate everything that might happen.
Instead, I decided to just let the trip be in control. I decided to get out from behind a camera lens and just experience everything first hand. I took very few pictures, and tried to just capture everything internally. There was this one moment that was so poignant it still makes me tear up. We were driving this long stretch and suddenly Lake Shasta was right there. And it was so magnificent. It was so clear, and the sun was blazing down creating all this magic on the water. I turned around to make sure the kids were seeing it. And they were all asleep! So, I just had this private moment with the lake and the sun and all the beauty and tucked it into my heart. It was so beautiful. And I don’t have a single picture to prove it.
Cheryl Strayed tells of how her mother told her repeatedly as she grew up to “put herself in the way of beauty”. Life can be so hard. And it’s just made up of moments. We don’t know what the next moment is going to bring. I’m so glad I put myself in the way of beauty this summer. It was so worth it.
I lost a friend to cancer this summer too. There aren’t words. It was so hard, on so many different levels.Watching someone slowly waste away is horrible. I was wracked with guilt. “If I only would have known” ran constantly through my head. If I knew she had such limited time, I would gone to see her more. I should have cleaned her house more. I should have brought her meals. If I only would have known.
I can choose to live there, or I can move forward. I can do my best to honor her memory by living as boldly as she did. I can remember how much we laughed, even when things were so hard for her. I can remember how much she embraced the moments she had.
We don’t get to see ahead in time. We never will. We just have right now. And we get to choose what to do with each moment. In the words of Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”