Sometimes the best way to process is to put pencil to paper and just let it flow.
She couldn’t breathe. A concerning symptom of the disease that had menaced the world. Her instinct was to run outside not unlike the time she found herself running out the front door directed by her body’s impulse to escape as she choked on a piece of chicken. But these days outside was considered the enemy.
And this time she wasn’t choking on food as much as a feeling. A feeling she needed to escape; of being trapped inside, being taunted by the threat of illness, being tormented by isolation. Her body gasped for relief and didn’t care anymore if the reward wasn’t worth the risk.
She burst through the front door and tried to take that cleansing breath, but it didn’t come. Her throat squeezed tighter with the choke hold of panic that rises up like a passenger at the airport who forgot their passport. Trapped, and not able to move on. Desperate, she braved on walking further behind the enemy lines to keep searching for the release. With all senses heightened, as fear can do, she stopped hearing the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears and began to hear the melodies of all the birds flying free in the clean air. She heard the impending wind flow across the tops of the tall pines before her skin felt the kiss of the air on her skin. The ground firm under her feet, providing the first element of strength outside of her own conviction in days. With each moment, her lungs pulled at the breath to dig a little deeper.
Each breath felt like a defiance of all the safety she built up over the past few weeks within the walls of her home, but also a demand to regain authority over her life. Freedoms she took for granted were now screaming her in ears to be heard. With each step out in the open air, she took a step closer to regaining control. She bathed in the accosting pollen that in previous years would cause her to shut the windows to her world. She laughed at the squirrels digging holes across the yard internalizing their preparations for the pending seasons ahead. Blossoms on the trees redefining what life looks like on the other side of dormancy. And her breaths became deeper and deeper.
The world was telling her a story of hope and resilience. She kept walking and opening her heart to the lessons all around. Her senses still heightened with awareness, however this time not from fear but awe and appreciation. Growing sideways out of a fallen tree, she never valued the strength of the lilac that continued to thrive within a challenging environment. Smelling the sweet perfume of the blossoms, it was no longer lost on her that the way in which the tree grew did not minimize its ability to share its beauty.
With her face up towards the sky, she let the sun’s warmth envelope her temporarily replacing the lost embraces of her friends and family. The birds chatter created the missed soothing ambience of former co workers gabbing in the background. The leaves rustling overhead replaced the constant distant hum of traffic. With the connections from these familiarities, she stepped out of her own challenged mind and took the deep cleansing breaths she searched for. Her story was just a small piece of the world around her; a world that was proving it had not stopped turning like she feared, but continued to turn each day to provide all that she thought was lost. Listening to the sweet message from the lilac, she was reminded that she has the strength to grow in this challenging time and continue to share her beauty. And with her heart open to the world, she could breathe.
She was born in suburbia where clear, expectant boundaries dressed up in pretty white fences. The path forward was a sturdy, wide sidewalk safe from the dangers of the adjacent road, flanked with mighty oak trees that created canopy from the rain and shielded her from the heat of the sun. But she was the dancer, spinning and picking flowers in the middle of a soccer field while the others played the game, following the rules.
Traffic flowed like a heart attack on the crowded highways as everyone around her traveled in the same direction. They traveled from conditioned space to conditioned space demanding the same atmosphere in every area of their life. Weather was always managed and snow was an inconvenience to progress, but to her it was a beautiful, blank canvas creating a world of possibility and dreams.
From an early age, she took the paths that suited her. Instead of climbing the bus to school, she boarded a train to the city where she met other dreamers. In small dark theaters, they tried on new lives together each time they acted out a new role. They created the stories that others would sit on their couches at scheduled times to watch from a distance that required a remote to control, that distance allowing them to disconnect the dream from their own reality.
Once she was old enough to drive, windows down and the wind blowing around her, she drove anywhere and everywhere. Her eyes were open to the endless possibilities that just crossing a bridge would offer. Her only rule, she didn’t eat at chain restaurants, but at the local diners to wrap herself in the fabric that makes up the true foundations in her world. She drove roads that didn’t dress like ones, bouncing among the dirt and leaving a cloud in her path. Her church was built out of pine forests. Her school, the deep conversations with locals.
Surrounded by vast beauty of mountain peaks, pastures that touch the sky and endless oceans, she breathed in the bounty of possibilities that her world had to offer. Her world was colorful, fluid and textured. She danced on Bourbon Street with jazz wafting through the air. Bathed in the spotlight as the stars were bright enough to shine down on her somewhere in Montana. Marveled at the chickens that free ranged among all the other animals in Maine, at times defying their safety to find the better worm. Created bouquets of wildflowers from off the side of the road in Kentucky. She picked her life like she was picking flowers in the middle of that soccer field.
Her America has no borders, no boundaries, but the freedoms to build a life of her choosing.
I woke up suddenly to a loud, incessant banging on my front door. I quickly ran downstairs and when I opened the door my daughter stared back at me with the same incessant eyes that bore through me when she was an infant screaming for attention at the same 3 am hour. This time she was 24 years old, but the same incredulous look of “what took you so long” said everything I needed to hear to answer my confused and half asleep brain.
“You’ve got to help me,” she implored. “I’m not going to make it.”
I looked past her to try and grab my bearings, any clues for why this capable adult was on my doorstop at this ungodly hour groveling for help from her mother who in every other moment of her life seems to have no clue about anything when advice is involved.
“I’ve tried everything. I did everything I was supposed to do. I researched, I read and none of it is working,” she explained as if that was enough information to bring this groggy head into focus. The rest of my body was now catching up to my feet that woke up several minutes before to respond to the rude awakening.
“Come inside,” I directed. “ You know I am useless without my tea.”
I put the kettle on and pulled two cups out. In this hour of darkness, I just grabbed whichever ones were closest. Usually, I like to wake up and choose a mug that matches my mood of the day. I had to laugh as I placed the tea bags in each cup. Chamomile for her in a mug that when you add hot water displays a shark swimming below and an earl grey for me placed into a cup that said, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email”.
Many years of conditioning has proven effective as this simple task of making tea quieted my daughter’s energy to now meet the hour of the night. “How I wish that would have worked when she was little”, my heart sighed as it was still haunted by her demanding cries throughout her infancy. The exhaustion of those days flooding back married with the exhaustion now returning from my disrupted sleep, I was rescued by the whistle of the kettle singing that support was on its way. Just like I had learned as a child never to bother my mother when her soaps were on, my girls knew never to try talking to me before I had my first sip of tea in the morning.
I took the sip and the imploring began again. “It’s nothing like I thought it would be. I thought I was doing everything right. I tried everything.” Before I could ask for clarification, she continued. “Is it supposed to be this hard? Do they ever learn? Do they ever listen? I feel like a complete failure.” With just the one sip of caffeine to restart my memory I finally came into focus and realized why she was here. As I watched her take her tea and slump onto the couch, I brought her over a blanket and walked out to the car that she drove here in the thick of night to retrieve the pouncing pup from the back seat that she adopted just a few days before. “Thank you”, I said as I snuggled into the newest member of our clan. “Just wait ‘til she has kids” my heart smiled.