Just a little test to see if my remote publishing works. And also, a picture of the Africatown bridge
Last year, I told myself I’d write more. I didn’t. Well…I did, but what I wrote was lists of things I need at the store, reminders to schedule the girls’ appointments, dates and phone numbers and random words that didn’t make sense when I found the scrap of paper weeks later. I wrote lines and lines and lines of code. I wrote in the margins of the great books I read – so.many.great.books. I wrote snippets of ideas for blog posts, essays, short stories, novels. I wrote witty (at least in my mind) Instagram posts. Sometimes, I even wrote so much there that my words spilled over into the comments section. Still, nothing I wrote anywhere last year feels meaningful or substantial or worthy.
It’s not that I have nothing to say. It is, in fact, the opposite. I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to start. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do know how to start. Just do it, I tell myself just like Nike tells us all to do. But, just doing it seems both too difficult and too easy.
Lately, I feel the weight of this world settling on me and I want, need to put a voice to the things I’m feeling, the things I’m thinking. But, I don’t want to just add more noise to the constant magpie cacophony that is the internet today. I want to say thoughtful things that help me process the chaos around me. At the same time, though, I find myself wanting to write about silly nonsensical things. Can I do both? Thoughtful nonsense. Is that a thing?
So, here I am, promising myself to write more in 2019. Some things don’t change. But, I am actually writing. Maybe some things do change on New Year’s Day.
For as long as I can remember, I have used Emerson’s quote as an excuse to not have any kind of routine. Who wants to be a hobgoblin? More importantly, who wants to have a little mind? Yeah, not me. So, off I’ve gone on my merry life of inconsistency, content to have a not-so-little mind completely devoid of hobgoblins.
Two things are wrong with this approach:
1. Hobgoblins are defined as mischievous, impish sprites. They actually don’t sound too bad. And, I think I have at least two living with me. They answer to the names of Gracie and Abigail (and possibly Honey and Midnight)
2. As I have done more often than I’d care to admit, I ignored one key word of the quote. That word is “foolish”. It changes everything. Emerson isn’t saying that ALL consistency is bad, just FOOLISH consistency. I’m thinking the quote could read just as easily “a foolish INCONSISTENCY is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. There are some things that I want to do consistently. And that’s not foolish. I want to start my day with a walk. Every. Day. I want to enjoy time with the girls. Every. Day. I want to nourish my body and my spirit and my mind. Every. Day. And I want to write. Every. Day. I don’t think that makes my mind little or fills my life with hobgoblins – although a hobgoblin here and there might actually make life more interesting.
I decided to try out this new approach to routine this summer. Mainly because summer around here is a little more relaxed and I don’t feel so confined by the commitments and responsibilities we have during the school year. Can I write every day of the summer? Walk every day of the summer? Play every day of the summer? Maybe; maybe not. But, it would be foolish not to try!
Abigail looks down at me from her horse. I can see nervousness pulling at her eyes and in her half-way-there smile, not her usual full-on grin that animates her whole face. It’s show day and she’s jumping – only the second time ever in competition. Last month, her first time, her horse spooked slightly on one of the first jumps and then Abigail was spooked the rest of the class. So, I put her nervousness off to that playing around in her head. I put my nervousness off to the fact that, try as hard as I can to fight against it, helicopter mom is my resting mama position.
I watch her and her horse, Dixie, enter the ring and then trot to the far fence. I can see them clearly through my telephoto lens,even though they are 50 yards or so away. They turn and take the first jump – much more smoothly than last month’s show. I start to relax, thinking she has started to relax, too. They turn and complete the second jump and I start to breathe. The third jump comes and I’m clicking away with my camera as they cross it and then I see something that doesn’t compute for a millionth of a second. Abigail is moving through space headed to the right and the horse is not. I think, incongruously that she looks like a rag doll flying through the air, her purple hair bows and short hair that I worked so hard just minutes ago to get into neat French braids blowing in the wind.
In an instant, she is flat on her back on the ground, still as she has ever been. “She fell, she fell” I mantra, as if that isn’t painfully obvious to everyone in the arena. “She fell, she fell” as if somehow saying it enough will act as some kind of incantation to undo what has just happened. As I process what I’ve seen, I think or say or scream or cry. “She’s okay. She’s okay” – she’ll get up and shoot us all a thumbs up – it wasn’t a bad fall. Was it?
A second passes and she doesn’t jump up, get up, give us a thumbs up. She lays there, completely still, a tiny figure 200 feet from me. And I’m not so sure anymore, but I’m still pretty sure. “She’s okay. She’s okay” I say as I start walking toward the other end of the ring.
Five steps, ten steps, twenty steps. “She’s okay. She’s okay.”
But she doesn’t move – not a single gloved finger. And I start to run and “she’s okay” changes to “PLEASE be okay, PLEASE be okay, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE” and I’m running and jumping the ring fence and I’m in the ring and running the last thirty feet in the sand and she still hasn’t moved and the last few steps, I force my feet to run because I don’t want to know what I’ll see. The brim of her black show helmet is obscuring her face and I don’t know if her eyes are open or closed. And I don’t know whether open or closed scares me more.
I get to her and drop to my knees and her eyes are open and suddenly her trainer is beside me and a man I don’t know and another trainer and the mom of one of her barn mates. And her trainer says, “Abigail? First, can you talk?” And Abigail, finally shaking off the shock, says quietly and with a slight lilt as if she’s not quite sure herself,
She tries to hop up but we all convince her to stay flat and move her legs. And she does. And then her arms. And then she’s standing up and walking out of the ring with me and everyone is clapping. And I text Steve at work and type with shaking hands, “she fell. she’s okay” and two seconds later the phone rings and it’s his voice and I can’t even talk but can only choke out “yes” when he asks if she really fell.
The rest of the day passes in a blur of watching her and making sure that she truly is okay. Later that afternoon, she starts to complain of her back and head hurting and she seems more tired than she should be, so off to the ER we go. We luck out again – the doctor says her back is bruised and she probably has a mild concussion but other than that, she is unmarred. A couple of days of rest and she’ll be just fine.
But I’m not just fine. I’m playing the What If game in my head. What if? What if? What if? And yesterday afternoon, the tears I’ve managed to keep mostly in check erupt into wracking sobs as I cling to Steve in the kitchen.
I’m not sure if it’s the reality of the fall that hits me so hard or if it’s the reality of Abigail. Whenever something happens to her, I am right back at the moment of her birth where she wasn’t breathing and was whisked off to the NICU and I couldn’t see her for more than twenty-four hours. That feeling that every day we’ve had with her is a miracle and who am I to ask for more? Or, was it that the day of the fall was one year to the day of my grandmother’s death, fifteen months to the day of my mother’s death? And all that loss, loss, loss of 2015 is still floating around in my heart and what if all this time when I thought the other shoe dropping was my mom dying, my grandmother dying, my grandfather dying, all within ten months of each other, what if that other shoe is actually something happening to my little girl? And where there should be joy that she is okay, there is only fear. What if? What if? What if?
Today, she is home from school with me mostly because she’s still sore, but a little bit because I want to be able to run my fingers through her hair and hear her giggle at cartoons to remind myself that what if, what if, what if didn’t happen. Tomorrow she goes back to school and tomorrow night she goes back to riding lessons and the what ifs will start to quiet down and things will go on their merry way until the next what if. I don’t want to forget, though. I don’t want to forget to be thankful; I don’t want to forget that having her here with me every day is a gift; I don’t want to forget that being brave is sometimes nothing more than not listening to what if, what if, what if and letting that girl do what she loves.
Last week was my grandfather’s birthday. After dinner, I ask Steve to call him and convince him that the girls and I want to sing Happy Birthday. My grandfather is almost completely deaf, but a really deep loud voice can sometimes get through to him. The only person in my immediate family whose voice fits that description is Steve. Steve dials the number and yells out my grandfather’s name once, twice, three times. I raise an eyebrow thinking if we aren’t getting through after three times, we should give up and send a card. Steve shakes his head and says “No – he’s talking to someone else” and hands me the phone. I think he means that my grandfather thinks it is someone else on the phone and am prepared to try and convince him that it is me.
When I put the phone up to my ear, I realize that my grandfather is in fact talking to someone else; I believe it one of his neighbors. I listen, thinking in just a minute he’ll tell this person to hold on a second and talk to me. My grandfather is talking about where my mother went to college and I smile a bittersweet smile thinking that today must be difficult for him since he shares his birthday with his only daughter, my mother. This is his first birthday without her and the first one without either of his children. Within a minute or two, though, the conversation takes a rapid turn and my grandfather is talking about me and letting this woman (who is a stranger to me) know all about what he thinks about me. It is not pretty; it is not kind. And I, like a rubbernecker at a accident, cant’ stop listening.
And with each word he utters and each response the stranger gives back judging a person she has never met, my spirit wilts a little more. After a few minutes of basically demolishing my character, my grandfather reveals his opinions about my husband which again are not exactly flattering (trust me, he obviously thinks higher of Steve than he does of me, but Steve isn’t exactly going up to the top off his list of admired people either). I hung up before he could reveal his opinion of my daughters; I can handle his opinion of me; I can handle his opinion of Steve. I was afraid of what I might do or say if I heard mean things about my girls being said to by someone who is supposed to love them to someone who has never met them.
I’m going to be honest here: it crushed me. I know I never should have listened in on a conversation when the people talking had no idea I was “there”. I know that eavesdropping isn’t exactly polite behavior and I would have been better off if I’d just hung up the phone immediately. That is on me. I also know that my grandfather is never going to change his opinion of me and would never regret what he said; possibly, he might regret that I heard him, but just as possibly, he might think it was good for me to “hear some truth”.
So, knowing there is no benefit in dwelling in my feeling of worthlessness, I thought about what I could possibly do to make something good out of this and I think I’ve found something.
I wonder how many times I’ve said something about someone that had they overheard me, my words would have wounded them. Hear this: I never want to make someone feel like I felt the other night. Never. Never. Never. So, I am going to start choosing my words more carefully. Before I speak, I am going to think about how the person I’m talking about would feel if they could hear me accidentally over a speaker phone. I will admit that I have not always been kind when I speak of other people. It stops now. I remember a quote I heard years ago:
“Great people talk about ideas; Average people talk about things; small people talk about others”
I don’t want to be great, but I do want to be kind.
And, this, from Proverbs is going to be my new mantra:
‘The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” Proverbs 26:22
For me, this is true. I felt my grandfather’s words deep in the pit of my stomach for hours after I hung up the phone. The only delicious morsels I want to pass along are bites from some amazing recipe that I’ve cooked with love.