I’ve been researching a family trip to Disney World in the not-so-distant future because I think the kids are at the age when they would really love it. Poppy is still enchanted by princesses, Charlie could get lost in LEGOLAND, and Mary Hazel would be happy just to be there. As for me, I want to ride a roller coaster. The biggest, scariest, fastest roller coaster they have. I want a good adrenaline-inducing thrill and know I can get off the ride safely two minutes later. I think it’s fairly accurate to say that I’ve lived my life that way so far. Maybe I acquired this tendency, or perhaps I was born with it, but I’ve always felt like, deep down, everything will be OK. Of course, this is because everything always has been.
I do not think of myself as a crisis-oriented person, but some might say that drama follows me around like a stray cat. Ruptured appendix at 10, lightning shock at 12, surgery on Christmas Eve to remove a necrotized ovary (while 12-weeks pregnant), three months of strict bed rest with twins, a husband with more medical burdens that anyone deserves, an infant with cancer…you get the picture. None of it was, um, easy, but everything has turned out as well as it possibly could. And though I’m grateful for all my good fortune, sometimes I get a little nervous. The law of averages says that my luck will eventually run out.
Sometimes I visualize myself kissing an imaginary lucky coin, closing my eyes, and tossing it high into the air. I cross my fingers and hope it lands on the happy ending. So far, so good. But, as I get older and realize more and more how fragile this life really is, the confidence of my youth is not as unshakeable as it used to be. If I toss that fickle coin enough times, I’m bound to see the flip side. It definitely makes me think twice about the proverbial roller coaster that is my life. I’m starting to feel more vulnerable on this crazy ride. My faith in the safety harness isn’t quite as strong. I am not as eager to sit in the front car with my arms flying wildly over my head trusting that physics, gravity, and technology will keep me safe. I feel like each time I step over the threshold and buckle in, I’m using up one more of my lucky coin flips. This new feeling of unsteadiness and doubt has been creeping up on me slowly since this summer. The apprehension I feel has been accelerated over the last few weeks. It seems like everywhere I look, someone is facing a daunting challenge. My “little sister” from college was handed a thyroid cancer diagnosis. One of my oldest and dearest childhood friends learned this week that she has breast cancer. Some of the sweetest and most innocent children I’ve ever met are sitting in the cancer clinic right now recovering from the latest rounds of chemo. My husband will most likely face another surgery to repair a lurking aneurysm in the very near future. (He is still recovering from spinal surgery that presents him with daily challenges related to balance, paralysis, and pain.) I feel like the small hole in the leaky dam that I have been able to plug with my finger is growing at a rate that I can no longer easily manage.
I remember when I was a little girl encountering a new word for the very first time. I had gone my whole short life never having heard this particular word before, but, suddenly, once I became aware that the new word existed, I noticed that everyone was using it. On the TV, in the grocery store, at the dinner table….the word was everywhere! How did I never notice it before? Was it a coincidence that everyone was suddenly saying the new word I just learned or had I just been deaf to it until it became part of my own personal experience? Are there indeed more dark shadows in my little world or am I just becoming more aware of them? I feel like perhaps I’ve reached a new place in my life where I am carefully straddling the crack between the hopefulness of my past and the precariousness of my future. Ah, the human condition. Is that my mortality I see peeking around the corner, waving to me and getting my attention? I understand that life only has value and meaning if there is a beginning and an end. The bookends of birth and death provide each of us a precious space in which to tell our story. Still, when faced with sadness and adversity, it seems only natural to fight against it, to cling to the happy chapters even more tightly. That whole sucking the marrow out of life thing? I still want to do that. Perhaps it will be even easier to do so now that I more easily recognize the good days in the midst of the challenging ones. Even though my mind quite often wanders into “What’s the meaning of life?” territory, I won’t even attempt to delve that deeply within the scope of this humble and scattered post. I’m just feeling a little more vulnerable than usual and this is new for me.
When I learned this morning about my friend, the one who was just diagnosed with breast cancer, I cried long and hard in the shower as I let the hot water burn my skin. Strangely, I cried more deeply and with more raw emotion than I did during some of the darkest days of Mary Hazel’s cancer fog. I didn’t have to be brave today and my guard was down. I let myself be vulnerable and actually connected with some of the feelings I keep most well insulated. Once I unexpectedly opened this Pandora’s Box of emotion, I could not close it as easily as I thought. I started recalling events from my childhood that instantly transformed from mere facts to beautiful memories. There was a certain sadness to the flood of emotion that washed over me, but it was also kind of beautiful. A catharsis. An understanding. An acceptance?
“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”
I was 25 when American Beauty came out. I didn’t understand the plastic bag explanation until very recently. “So much beauty…I feel like my heart’s going to cave in.” I get it. I feel it. Life is precarious, frightening, and beautiful all at once.
So, like I was saying, I want to go to Disney World. I’m going to ride Space Mountain with my eyes closed and scream a lot. And then I’m going to get off (with shaky knees) and hug my kids extra hard. And it’s all going to be very, very OK.