As 2018 winds down, I think about the many things I’ve read, watched, considered and come back to. In this age of constant media influx, how much do we take in throughout the year? And, more importantly, how much truly stays with us?
A few weeks ago I thought about what I’d learned this year. Most of my posts are about life lessons—what personal experience reveals to me. But what about the words and wisdom of others that have moved me…changed me…this year? I decided they needed their own space.
I admittedly own a small mountain of journals—notebooks of every cover and color imaginable—all stashed around my home. They’re my drafting boards, my exploratory spaces, my confessional havens. More than pages of “brain dump,” they invite me to take apart whatever I’m experiencing in the moment—or a long-term vision I’m toying with. Oftentimes, I don’t fully grasp what I’m moving through until I write my way through the clutter, burrowing to the definitive energy beneath. That, I finally see, is what wants to be known.
Yet, I know these notebooks also comprise an ongoing record, documenting my years in continuous succession. They’re a story of me…in a sense. While daily entries capture a fine, quirky detail, the collective volumes apprehend the past through a wide aperture.
A few months following my divorce, a spiritual director asked me a question made famous by transition theorist, William Bridges: “If this time period were a chapter in the book of your life, what would the title be?”
I sat back in that oak rocking chair, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. With my elbows on the armrests, I clasped my hands together and rested my chin on two extended fingertips. “Traveling,” I shared with a quizzical smile.
As I sat pondering my unexpected answer, I acknowledged that I was still very much in no man’s land—exiled from core expectations of how my life would unfold. I spent most days feeling like I was dangling somehow, hovering over the surface of life, still unable to touch down.
With exhausted relief, I closed the back hatch. My bags were loaded, the dog situated in her usual spot. Now for the five-hour drive ahead of me…
It was Christmas Day, and I’d been fighting leaden inertia all morning. Packing clothes and food for the week took undue time and focus. Physical energy dripped from my hands. Every bag felt like a hundred pounds. I took an inordinate number of breaks to rest on the couch and come back to my body. Even the dog looked lackluster and confused.
Two days prior I’d said a heartfelt goodbye to my two daughters. They would be flying halfway across the country and not returning for over a week. This first Christmas without my girls, I would not only miss them but miss out on the chance to witness their first flight on an airplane, their first sight of the ocean. Post-divorce, this was the shape of things.
The morning of my 41st birthday, I pulled up to a small, mid-century home and turned the key for the first time.
Taking a heavy inhale, I walked through and set the first boxes on the kitchen counter. White walls and cabinetry… Like the rest of the house, it was open and blank. Gazing out the window that overlooked our new backyard, I ran my fingers over a tiny, painted Dala horse that sat on the windowsill—the only spot of color in the room.
A week earlier I’d signed the lease—just a 6-month arrangement, since the owners wanted to sell that summer. It was a strategic window of time, I thought. I’ll get the kids through the rest of the school year and by then have a clearer idea of where to settle once the divorce was final.
When I’d first explored the house, I was half-disoriented with overwhelm. The landlady’s sympathetic smile was nearly all I recalled from that visit.
Except, oddly, for the garage… Two decades collapsed the moment I stepped inside its dank, leathery smell—exactly that of my late grandparents’ garage, the place I had watched my grandfather at his work bench, the place I’d run to for mitts, balls, and Frisbees or to study the travel maps and old license plates lining the cinderblock walls. Their home, those memories, had been a childhood oasis for me. Now, for the first time in many months, ease trickled through me as I stood alone in the darkness.
Many of us grow up with the belief that life is a process of assembly. Over the years we may gather degrees, friends, partners, children, credentials, possessions, experiences, and (hopefully) insights. Together, we expect, they’ll form a composite that harmonizes with (if not fulfills) the vision we have for our lives.
For much of my life, I believed this to be the case until the story I’d been living began a great descent—first slow and insidious, eventually sharp and dizzying. Within two years’ time, life as I’d known and planned it completely unraveled. My then 3-year-old daughter received a diagnosis that put the future in question. My marriage crumbled. I spent an agonizing year taking stock and trying to figure out what could be next, breaking open to hard truths about myself and our relationship, hoping to salvage our family. When that hope collapsed, I found myself standing at the door of a new home and a new life.