Monday, 16 January 2017

What An Author And A Tragedy Taught Me About My To Do List

Last summer my friend and I went to hear Emma Straub speak about her new book, Modern Lovers. She gave a lovely interview at a local library, speaking easily about her books and her life. Afterwards, I purchased a copy of Modern Lovers which she signed personally with little hearts decorating the first page. While the book sits, unfortunately still unread, on my bookshelf, there is a message from that evening that I have since carried with me.

I don't remember the question she was asked exactly, but I think it had something to do with her transition to motherhood and how she felt with this new stage of life. This was her response:

"I realized I am now fully in my life. There is no more practise. No more waiting."

She said it in a very light-hearted way, but her comment has stayed with me for months.

Emma followed with,
"The idea that we will at one point 'arrive into our lives' and everything falls into place is a myth."

These two thoughts have really struck a cord in me. As someone who loves notepads, calendars, lists, and agendas, I have always thought that if I could just finish my to do list, if I could just get X number of things done, I would finally be able to begin my life. But, as Emma so clearly says, this is a total myth. There will always be something to do and something to deal with. Some of it wonderful, which is the very best part of life, and some of it not so wonderful.

Not long ago, I attended the funeral of a family I knew. A whole family. Two of my students and their parents died in a cottage fire on Christmas Eve. Listening to the eulogies for four gentle, kind, and generous people in a row who had all died unexpectedly was profoundly heartbreaking. I am certain that there was not a single person who left the church that day unmoved. Without some sense of the preciousness of time which we have been given.

In the days that have followed, I have shed tears for this family for so many different reasons. I am so sad for this loss in not just in my life, but in the lives of so many other people I know who were close with this family, most of them children. I have been reminded just how much energy it takes to be strong for the ones we care about and how scary it feels when we fall apart. Practically, I am terrified that trauma could happen within my own family. I have asked myself what exactly brings me joy in my life and how I can make sure to fill my life as much as possible with those things. My priorities have been realigned.

Just so we're on the same page, this is not a carpe diem post. We all have days where things are hard and we'd rather close the book on the day rather than seize it. This is okay. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, "I can't even carpe fifteen minutes in a row, so a whole diem is out of the question."

We must give ourselves permission to have these hard days. But, we do need to recognize that if we're living in the mindset of simply "what's next?" we'll never stop to enjoy what is. Our to do lists will never really end, so we need to carpe the wonderful moments when they come to us. Even, and maybe especially, amidst the chaos. These moments of joy will not appear on our to do lists, and they cannot be goals attained only when "everything else" is finished. They almost always appear organically.

So I encourage you, and have tried doing this more myself, to see more of the good moments within the business of the day. Have an extra cup of coffee in the morning or glass of wine in the evening. Read your book now and not later. Stop and look at your children. Like really see them. What are they saying? Spread kindness around like confetti and make someone's day when you can. Travel. Smile. Because this is it. This is the good part. We are now fully in our lives. And even on the bad days, the heavy days, however many or few they may be, let's allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling with no guilt. And then get up the next day and try again.


PS - Anyone looking for resources to help with childhood grief and trauma can start here.

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