Sunday night, as our day wound down and my husband and I were finally sitting and relaxing on our couch, I found myself feeling a little sad. I wasn’t really sure why, but I didn’t like it. I don’t like to feel sad or melancholy or contemplative. It’s so much more comfortable to feel light and easy and filled up. Especially after a weekend. I’d rather spend my Sunday nights feeling inspired, recharged and ready for my week ahead. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
As we talked, I didn’t have the words to name my feelings. I just noticed that I felt a little heart-achy-sadness. I mentioned this and it became a conversation about how our weekend went. A sort of breaking it down to see if there was, in fact, reason for my sadness. We discussed what we did and how we felt about it — did we do enough with the kids? Did we have enough fun? Did we enjoy the time that we had together as a family? Often times our recount of our weekends become more of an assessment, a sort of weighing and measuring and a taking of inventory. Did we do it right? Was it good enough? But this time was a little different and instead of getting mired in the minutia and measuring, I was struck with an understanding of what my sadness was about. It was about time. My non-nameable feelings were about time.
Truth be told, I think I felt a little weighted by that extra hour as Fall fell back and we gained that precious gift of time. Did I get the most out of my hour? Did I enjoy it enough? Did I even notice it enough to appreciate my free hour? What I wouldn’t do on a daily basis for a free hour, but this one felt like it was gone without much recognition. I didn’t feel like I had more time — I felt like I squandered it. I was disappointed and then I was sad that I felt disappointed. Go figure.
Monday morning my contemplative mood lingered. I was starting my day feeling self-refelctive … I guess you could say I felt quiet. My children’s banter bordered on being overbearingly loud and I was looking forward to some solitude when they left. My thinking being that with their departure, I’d have some time to figure things out. Look at my lists. Start getting ready for my day and preparing for the week. After they left, in the quiet I had craved, I created my own ruckus. I began cleaning up our kitchen and taking down the crock-pot to prep for our dinner. I could see myself jumping from one thing to another. Looking at my list. Finding another list. Adding stuff to a new list I’d started. Grabbing a carrot, picking up a pen, looking at the recipe, writing a note to myself, going around and around and AROUND. Half doing one thing while doing another thing. Dizzy in my multitasking efforts. And then I saw it in my flurry:
“Cultivate Herbs for Winter!!!!!”
I’m not sure if I noticed the note stuck on the corner of the cabinet or if I thought of the note as I buzzed out the door to pick the herbs for our stew. Either way, it was there. My daughter’s own important to-do list slapped right there on our cabinet. Prominent, so we wouldn’t forget it. A reminder to cultivate her herbs before winter. Honestly, I’m not even clear about what “cultivate herbs” means to her, but I DO know that whatever it is, we didn’t do it. We didn’t make time or didn’t have enough time, or both. We dropped the ball and that just left me feeling more sad.
Later, I picked my 9-year-old son up from school to take him to the doctor. He was due for his annual checkup. When he was younger, he would yell and cry and shout and be riddled with fear and worry on the way to the doctor. Now he sometimes talks about how he’s feeling or he’ll ask questions about the appointment, but more often than not, he’s quiet. As if he’s trying to hold himself tightly to keep from being overcome with worry and awash with tears. I know this about him and I’ve learned to just be quiet with him. The hardest part for him is that his annual exam always falls right smack dab in the middle of flu season so his appointments are in conjunction with getting a flu vaccine. While he doesn’t like this, he understands that being vaccinated is important for our family and our family’s health issues. We know all of this, but we remind ourselves anyway, because it’s part of this process of having to do something you don’t like. We’ve also talked about scheduling his appointments differently, but he prefers to go once. And so we do.
While driving my car, I felt as if I was holding a space for each of us immersed in our own thoughts. I’m learning that sometimes just leaving some room for whatever feelings come up is so much better than trying to chit-chat through them, or put a Band-aid over them, or pretend they aren’t there. I tried to validate his experience: “You’re quiet. Going to the doctor’s can feel scary sometimes. I’m here if you want to talk about it, but I understand if you don’t.” Once there, we sat close in the waiting room and then on the exam room chairs; taking comfort in being next to each other without needing words. As the nurse cleaned his arm, I held him tightly, he clasped my hands fiercely and I whispered in his ear, “Shots are lousy. No one likes them. I don’t like them. They’re awful. I know … I know … ” I don’t tell him it won’t hurt. Because it will. I don’t ‘t tell him to be brave, because he already is. I tell him that I love him. Because I do.
After the quick shot, the nurse leaves us and we sit together for far longer. The time together is actually precious. I can smell his hair as he sits against me trying not to cry but crying anyway — being angry at the injustice of it all. And I get it. I get every bit of it. His anger and sadness and his justified pissed-off-ness about it all. And then the time has passed. We leave. We buy him some gum and some seltzer before I take him back to school. As he leaves me, I notice how much I will miss him. This beautiful boy, having navigated his way through this uncomfortable moment and moving forward into recess and playing and learning! As I turn to go I sense a new feeling mixed with my time-sadness. I was feeling joy. Joy. Underneath the heaviness was the lightness. Was I just too … judgmental? Or critical? Or maybe just too frightened of the unnamable icky feelings to notice it before?
It was easy for me to hold my heart open for my son. I felt okay sitting with him in his uncomfortableness about his appointment. But doing that for myself Sunday night and Monday morning were so much harder. I didn’t want to feel the bittersweetness of my own emotions. How often do we let our own hangups and anxieties about our emotions get in the way of actually experiencing them? We are so afraid to feel anything but good that we often go running in the other direction when our feelings become unbearable. We push away from the uncomfortable, scary feelings instead of just sitting with them. We forget that our feelings are like all things in life — they are quick, like the shot. They are changing — like the seasons, and they will pass as time always does. Nothing is permanent. Everything is in flux. We all change. We are not the same as we were last year and we won’t be the same next year. Fall will come, Winter will take over and Spring will return once again. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Hold some space and things will shift. They always do.
Take time to cultivate your herbs. Take time to feel whatever you’re feeling. Fall is shifting to Winter, a season I always think of as being a thoughtful and reflective time of year. Let me ask you this — Do you think that sometimes joy is so tender it makes us sad? Does the mere knowing that it’s temporary leave us aching for more and afraid that we’ll never have it again?
I think time is like water cupped in our hands. If we hold it too tightly it will squeeze through our grasp and be gone. If we hold it too loosely it will slide through the cracks of our fingers and slip away. But if we cup our hands just right, soft and open, it stays. Balanced. Most things precious are like that, don’t you think? I think joy is like that. I think love is like that too. I do.