14 Aug 2012, Posted by elizabeth in Blog, 13 Comments.
The past few weeks have been beset by a pervasive sense of endings, coupled in equal measure with new beginnings dawning clearly on the horizon. Usually in life, endings and beginnings aren’t so clearly delineated; doors close softly behind us without us noticing, while we walk through others unannounced. This period I am entering feels rare and ripe. I might even go so far as to say it feels divine, as if cards are being laid on the table in a configuration that is better than any I could have devised on my own. The Universe seems to be conspiring in my favor, such that all I need to do is step out of the shadows and into the light.
Abra is starting preschool this week, a milestone I’ve been looking forward to since placing her on the wait list a year and a half ago. I clearly remember taking her to visit the school on a blustery spring day when she was just six months old, a tiny thing strapped to my chest. We stood outside the two-year-old classroom for a few long minutes, watching the children inside at play, and I remember thinking how old they seemed, these giants who could run and talk. Although it’s the oldest cliché in the book, I remember thinking, Abra will never be this old, as if she would somehow defy the developmental odds and be the pre-verbal anomaly, slumped in the corner amongst a jumble of Megabloks, while the other children danced circles around her. (I felt this way at the end of my pregnancy, too; as 40 weeks stretched into 41, I convinced myself that I was never going to give birth. While others scoffed at this biological impossibility, I firmly placed my faith in being the outlier.)
I’ve had the past 18 months to collude and dream about how I’d spend those 12 extra hours a week when Abra is at preschool. I’ve drafted schedules in my head, my precious hours divided into neat parcels of time. I’ve painted vivid portraits of myself sitting in coffee shops, even going so far as to map out which days I’d spend at which cafes (I was devastated when I learned that my Monday coffee shop recently closed, causing me to revise my carefully crafted mental picture). This would be the time to finally start my memoir, or get going on a list of essays I’ve been drafting in my head for years, or up the ante on my blog. It didn’t really matter what I did: swimming in possibility was as much fun as living the reality.
I don’t think I realized how attached I’d grown to this meticulously wrought vision until, out of the blue, a professional opportunity beyond my wildest imaginings came knocking on my door. The timing was simultaneously perfect (I am about to have more extra hours a week to devote to new pursuits than I have had in two years) and a disaster (the picture-perfect scenario I had painstakingly created would be whitewashed in an instant). I actively wrestled with the decision, in both my waking and my dream life, for a solid week. The shadow side of finding yourself in this sweet spot in life where nothing can seem to go wrong is listening to a nagging voice that constantly whispers, Don’t screw this up. And so I found myself moving uncharacteristically slowly in an effort to listen carefully to my heart and my voice, to pay attention to every message the world seemed to be sending to me, as if performing mental tai chi.
Last week, in the midst of my emotional acrobatics, I attended a food writing and photography workshop. It was a beautiful event that left me feeling energized and excited about something I love. The women who led the workshop, chefs who had created a niche business, a food design studio, talked about how their success had bloomed out of creating their own path. “When we told people we were going to self-publish our own quarterly cookbooks, they thought we were crazy,” one of the women said. At lunch I serendipitously found myself seated next to a local chef of an acclaimed restaurant who told me the story of how she had made her way to New Mexico and the restaurant business (both by pure happenstance and a major leap of faith). And there was the couple who never could have dreamed a year ago that they’d be magazine publishers, circumstances that aligned just so by following their curiosities.
The night before the workshop I had a vivid dream. I was pushing Abra through a casino in her stroller; it was so dark that I could barely make out where I was walking. As I stood at the mouth of the casino for a moment, catching my bearings, trying to figure out which way to go, a security guard told me that I needed to keep moving and hurry along. “I’m just letting my eyes adjust to the dark,” I said. Every opportunity we do – or don’t – take is a gamble, a risk, a walk in the dark. These past few weeks, I now realize, have been about letting myself get used to the idea that things might not unfold as I’ve planned them, regardless of what comes to pass. Joseph Campbell famously said, “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” Being in the shadows is different than being in the dark. The shadows are where we hide; the darkness is where we reveal ourselves. Stepping onto our path in the darkest part of the forest is like stepping into the light. At first you can’t make out the forest for the trees, but slowly, as you tenderly grope your way down the path, the contours of this new world reveal themselves, and even in the dark the world becomes illuminated.
Every day, in our own way, each of us is letting ourselves adjust to the dark, releasing the expectations and hopes of tomorrow in favor of the light of today. Last Friday I awoke with a sudden urge to make waffles, which I never do on a weekday, which we won’t do again until next summer. Abra, perched on her step stool in a crooked diaper, stirred the batter. I ladled copious amounts of syrup and sprinkled blueberries atop the finished product. Later in the afternoon, when the sun dipped behind the house, leaving the courtyard bathed in shade, I dragged out the little pink wading pool and filled it with cool water and bath toys. Abra splashed happily around for almost two hours while I let my feet trail in the water. We sang Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and carried on primitive conversations. When a helicopter made loud, lazy circles in the sky overhead, Abra did something she doesn’t do very often. She rested her head on my thigh, pressing her ear into my flesh to shield the sound, waiting for it to pass. I breathed in the moment. Even though it’s imminent, I’m not sure what the next chapter will bring. Right now, it feels like enough to simply let my eyes adjust to the dark, to trust that I’m on a path, even if it’s still obscured; to place one foot in front of the other, to attend to what’s placed before me, to know that this, too, is part of the journey.
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