light prevails.

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“It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.”
― John Guare

I’m sitting in a diner, the light brown wood of the tabletop familiar under the standard placemat of bright squares advertising local businesses. No overwhelming feeling of hunger has gripped me, no feeling of anticipation of my order’s arrival has slipped into the corners of my mind. I sit, contentedly, taking in the slight hustle and bustle around me.

I glance to my right, and tilt my head, confused. A familiar face I was not expecting to see meets my gaze steadily, with a smile. I smile back uncertainly.

“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I respond hesitantly. “Is it, ah, is it okay for you to be here? Can you be here right now?”
“Yeah don’t worry, I can be here. How are you?”
I relax a little. “I’m great,” I say happily. “How are you?”
“Really good, I’m doing great,” he says, a tone of sincerity backing his words.

This response fills me with joy. We fall into the happy, comfortable conversation of two people with no walls between them. I couldn’t say if it lasted for minutes or for hours. If you ask me what we talked about, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Something gently warns me our conversation is coming to an end. I look into his eyes, mine suddenly welling with tears. I’m not sure why I’ve just been so overtaken with emotion.

To my surprise, I say, “I’m so scared I won’t remember this. I’m so scared I won’t remember that I talked to you.”

“Don’t worry,” he assures me. “I’ll make sure. I’ll make sure you remember.”
His words comfort me. Everything seems a little fuzzy.

Blackness. I realize my eyes are closed, slowly become aware that I’m laying in my bed, the darkness of night still covering my side of the Earth. I roll over, confused. I realize I’m crying.

It’s been almost five years since I’ve spoken to Chris, five years since any of us have. And yet, I feel it hasn’t even been five minutes. Maybe it hasn’t.

I think about the dream and am overwhelmed with a sense of calm, of comfort. I’ve spent the last five years like my entire family has- keeping my cousin alive in my heart, in my memories. Carrying around the medal of St. Christopher as a token of love, of luck, of protection, of whatever I needed it to be.

Who can say for sure what dreams are? Imaginations run wild? Doors to another reality? Neither of those? Both of them?

I am not sure what I believe about most dreams, but I believe that Chris is doing great. I don’t know why he chose me to share that with, and I don’t know what I think happens to our souls after we leave this world. I don’t think we spend eternity in diners where we never eat, but I’ve come to believe we can meet our friends and family there and tell them how we’re doing.

And although I’m unsure where or when or how or who I’ll be after I die, I very much believe Chris will be there to greet me.

That alone makes me unafraid. That alone makes me hopeful. That alone is enough.

not now.

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“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” -Leo Tolstoy

Most of us periodically take some time to stop and look around. We reflect on how we got to where we are, and with whom. We glance in the rearview to see how far we’ve come.

To say the past year wasn’t easy for me is a laughable understatement. I have learned more than I can put into words- both light and dark aspects of life, of love, of human nature- in such a short amount of time. Oh, year-ago me: if you only knew.

There’s one lesson that helped a lot as I struggled to put two feet solidly on the ground again, one in front of the other. As I got the hang of a new normal, of life as a full-time working mom. As I got better at not wincing when people casually asked about my boyfriend, as I got more graceful at laughing it off and encouraging them to send any eligible bachelors my way. As I continue to watch my daughter develop a personality and learn and grow and blossom.

The lesson that has helped most of all is this: ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘not ever.’

It came to me one chilly February morning, tossed out at a seminar with a lot of other really great advice. At a time when I so desperately needed to be reminded of the virtue of patience, of the truth that great things take time. Wine and cheese get better with age- why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t life?

There are plenty of things I don’t have the ability to do right now. They’re expensive or time-consuming or irresponsible. When you have someone else to consider, depending on you like no one ever has before, you start to think the opportunity to do the things you had wanted or dreamed has passed, that the doors are quickly closing on you.

And then you remember: ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘not ever.’

One day, you’ll go on that trip, you’ll buy that house with the wraparound porch you’ve always wanted. You’ll drive across the states and see the Grand Canyon and drink a beer in every state in the country, just like you always thought you would.

One day, you’ll fall in love again.

And then you realize: you get to do all of this with the most wonderful little human being you have ever had the pleasure of knowing. How much sweeter will it all be with them by your side?

You’ll get to do all the ‘not nows’ you want- maybe not now, but someday. You may hit a ‘not ever’ or two; but the truth is, everyone has some ‘not evers.’

A year ago I didn’t fully understand that my life was going to take on a lot of ‘not nows.’ I didn’t really comprehend the way my life would have to shift and brake to adjust to parenthood.

But I’ve come a long way, and when I start to get frustrated or feel like I’m missing out on certain experiences I remind myself: ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘not ever.’

The really good wine and cheese won’t be ready for another few years, anyway.

extraordinary sameness.

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“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” –William James

We like to think that our experience is special, that our story is singularly unique. That our experience is beautiful or horrible in a way no other story is, that it is exceptionally poignant in the scheme of the universe.

We say to each other “LOOK. THIS HAS HAPPENED TO ME” via Facebook and Instagram. We throw our experiences out into the world, hoping that by sharing them we can hold onto them, creating a backup copy just to make sure our memory doesn’t let us down.

Look, world- I have accomplished this goal. Look, friends- I have hit this milestone.

Look, everyone- I have suffered this loss, I have felt this heartbreak. It is far too much to bear alone.

And in every instance we search for others to validate the hope that our lives are worth noting, that our actions deserve a second glance, a thumbs up, a double tap. We hope that we are doing something extraordinary.

It is hard, I think, to realize that our stories are not all that special. That the tales of a broken heart, of lost love, of joy, of happily ever after- these are told time and again, in different places, with different names, including various obstacles. We are not writing new stories, we are retelling the same ones.

What a revelation, to some of us, that our experience is not new, that it is shared with countless others. That the lessons you have learned, the conclusions you have drawn, the simple truths of life that you have been forced to discover for yourself have been there, all along.

That all of the LOOK, THIS IS MY EXPERIENCE posts online are all the same, in varying forms, with different filters on photos, in different parts of the world.

But does that make them any less important, or special, or sacred?

It is humbling and mystifying to discover that someone else out there, in fact many people out there, have felt what you are feeling, have struggled and triumphed so very much like you have. It is beautiful and wonderful to know that, no, our experience is not all that unique- and because of that there is a whole world of people with which to say, ‘yes, me too.’

That is the reason we stare at paintings and cry at movies. It is the thing that whispers to us that dancing is beautiful, the invisible force that makes a crowd sway to music.

We each experience joy, love, and loss ourselves, and the feelings are special because they are our own, they are unique in the very action of feeling them.

But in our reaction to them, in the way they shape our lives, our minds, our world- they are shared. They are beautiful, special. They are what make us human, what makes this ‘the human experience.’

They are what make us the same. And that is what makes them so very important.

defending happiness

 

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“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”― Douglas Adams

The older you get, the harder it is to say “I’m going to do this just because it makes me happy.” People tend to see ‘because it’ll make me happy’ as an act of selfishness, and they look for other motivations for your actions.

We become cynical and guarded and we think ‘she must be going out with that guy to get back at her ex’ or ‘he’s only doing x to make up for y.’ We see other people’s actions only in relation to how they affect us.

‘Because it’ll make me happy’ starts to feel like a juvenile reason for doing something, and we scramble to back up our decisions with more substantive reasoning.

What a horrible way to live.

True- we shouldn’t just do whatever we want simply because we feel like it, especially when it’s harmful to other people; but why isn’t happiness reason enough to live the life you want?

This sad truth is one of the many reasons that the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young. (I’m looking at you, high school study buddies and college roommates.)

They can remind you not to take life too seriously because they’ll be sure to knock you down a peg when you start acting too mature for your own good. They can bring you back to a time when you were less inhibited by lasting effects and empowered by the sense of invincibility we only feel in our youth.

They can remind you of a different you, the person you were before life became more permanent and decisions became more difficult. The person you were when your dreams were bigger than you realized and everything was uncertain. The person you were when happiness was a good reason to do anything.

It’s true – you’re wiser now, you’ve seen more of life and learned along the way. You have more accomplishments (and more failures) under your belt. But are you using what you’ve learned?

You would think the older you get, the more you would realize that life is short and that happiness is the BEST reason to take action, one of the only reasons that matters.

People look for the meaning of life as if it’s some big mystery. Is it crazy to think we’re here to love each other, make each other happy, and improve each other’s lives? Is it insane to think it could be that simple?

You become an ‘adult’ (supposedly) and you let other things fill your mind. You stoop under the weight of responsibility, of work, of family, of expectations of others. You forget the simple truth that you innately knew when you were young – that love and happiness are the best motivations, the only reasons that really mean anything at all.

Go back, if you can. Spend time with the people who knew you before you ‘knew it all.’ Reminisce. Revisit old dreams. Laugh.

Decide to cut the toxic parts (and people) out of your life, the ones that drag you down and masquerade as necessary evils. Do what you do (WHATEVER you do) because you love it.

And next time someone asks why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, I hope your answer is ‘because it makes me happy.’

mommying

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“The only love that I really believe in is a mother’s love for her children.” ―Karl Lagerfeld

I never really thought about being a mom too much. I also never thought I’d be a young-ish mom; it wasn’t something I saw for myself for a while.

I definitely never thought I’d be a single mom, but life had other plans for me in that area too. (Hey, next potential boyfriend: I come with an adorable bundle of joy sporting some serious baby blues and an ex that I will never be able to totally ex out of my life… you’ve been warned.)

Although I never thought about these things, here I am – so much for five-year plans, huh? But my daughter has made my life so much fuller and more amazing than I thought it would be at 23.

This happy little girl has taught me more in 6 months than I thought possible. You know when your parents used to say “someday when you’re a mom/dad, you’ll understand”? To a certain extent they just wanted you to stop whining; to an even larger extent, they were totally justified.

Being a parent is kind of weird. You have this little person totally dependent on you, expecting you to know what to do in every situation when in reality, you’re learning just as much about the world as they are.

For your entire life, you’re someone’s daughter. You’re someone’s granddaughter, niece, sister, cousin. These are the relationships that define you as you learn and grow. And then, suddenly, you’re something else entirely. You’re mommy.

You’re suddenly pulled in a million different directions, and you’re conflicted in so many different ways. You want to spend the most time possible with your little one, but you also want to have just a minute to yourself. You want to go to work and have a career but you don’t want to leave the house because you just want to watch them grow. You can’t wait to watch her walk and talk but want her to stay exactly this little forever.

The humbling and sometimes overwhelming part is, just when you get ‘the hang of it’ they’ll hit a new milestone and everything will change. With a new ability comes new dangers, new fears. And although there are a lot of wonderful things to share with them, there will be so many things you can’t protect them from.

All of those concepts made sense to me before but they have a whole new meaning now. It’s equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and I think most people muddle through by ignoring the terrifying feeling as much as possible.

I’m only 30% sure I know what I’m doing and 100% lucky to have tons of guidance and help. Despite the uncertainties that arise daily, I am so full of joy and love that I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without her.

I never really thought about being a mom, and now it’s one of the few things I think about. I think about diapers and formula and mashed carrots and cute little princess outfits- but much more often, I think about how I was incredibly and amazingly blessed with something I never thought about before.

Sometimes, when life throws you for a loop, it’s the best thing that ever happens to you. My ‘loop’ turned into the love of my life.

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an open letter to the friends who fade

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“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”  ― John Banville

To the friends who’ve faded:

Neither of us is really to blame for the fact that we lost touch. Time had something to do with it. Distance, life. Everything got in the way, despite FaceTime and iMessage. Although other friendships persisted for each of us, ours didn’t.

You pop up every once in a while on my Facebook feed, on Instagram. I see you went to London and he got a new puppy. She moved in with her boyfriend, and someone else moved farrrrr away. They got engaged, and that other couple we swore would make it crashed… hard.

I sometimes wonder if you’re happy, what your day-to-day life is like now. I used to be part of your day-to-day life. Remember that? The stupid, funny, lazy way we saw each other every day? In class, on the sidewalk, in the cafeteria… that was the norm. I wonder what we would say to each other now. Would you still let me steal your French fries?

How’re your parents? I think about them too.

I could message you or text you and say let’s get together and catch up, but we’re such different people now than we used to be. And what if reconnecting was somehow disappointing? Better to just leave the good memories where they are and avoid the risk of turning our once-friendship into an awkward encounter.

I guess what I really want you to know is that I liked having you in my life, even if you wouldn’t think so now. I’ll remember that nickname you gave me and the way you told off anyone who deserved it. I’ll remember the many cups of coffee we shared and the things we suffered through together.

We all just move forward and farther apart, whether we want to or not. The clock ticks and the time we spent together continues to fade away. Before it’s gone altogether, I just wanted you to know that I still think of you sometimes. I see old pictures of us together and I smile. I’d like you to live your life knowing that in whatever way I knew you, in whatever time, you mattered to me.

People grow, friendships fade- and they should. The friends you have in one phase of your life don’t always transfer to the next, and those friends aren’t always the best for you as you move on. But that doesn’t mean they were unimportant in shaping your life into what it is, into who you are.

I miss you, and the times we laughed together. I’ll always be grateful for those, and for how they got me here.

It truly was nice knowing you- cheers.

the blame game

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One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”  Sophocles

Don’t blame love.

Love didn’t make you cry, loss did. Being ripped apart from something that meant a lot to you without your consent. Realizing that the things you wanted for the future will not come to pass, even the things you didn’t realize you wanted. The acceptance of living without. That’s what made you cry.

Love didn’t cut you to the bone, cruelty did. Harsh words from someone you held in high regard. The act of dropping you and moving on as if you meant nothing to them. The casual manner in which they continue, pretending that they didn’t just rip through your life like a hurricane. That’s what hurt you to the core.

Love didn’t make you second-guess yourself, the belief that you’re not good enough did. The crazy thought that because you weren’t appreciated in one instance you won’t be in any other. The notion that you can’t possibly measure up to expectation. That’s what stole your confidence.

Love didn’t make you gain weight, or lose weight, or cut your hair or binge-drink, uncertainty did. The feeling that your whole world was rocked because something you thought was so sure turned out to be anything but. The idea that the foundation you stood on is capable of crumbling. That’s what put you in a spiral.

Love didn’t let you down. Love didn’t punch you in the stomach. Love didn’t hurt you, or betray you.

Love made you laugh. It made you feel invincible and safe. It made you feel at home. It lifted you up.

Love is all of the best parts of your life. It’s family and friends and the reassurance that someone else out there knows what you’re going through. It’s inside jokes and glasses of wine and funny voicemails and stupid text messages.

If you never loved anything, you might never truly feel the pain of loss. But don’t blame love for your heartbreak- whether it came by way of breakup, death, rejection or fate. Love didn’t hurt you on purpose. Someone or something may have, but it wasn’t love.

When you give up on love you give up on life. You give up the possibility of everything that is worth having, feeling and doing.

So- love without regret or shame. Realize that when your world is turned upside-down, it’s never love’s fault. When you’re happy, recognize all of the love in your life.

Know that whatever else happens, love is what makes it all worth it.

how to lose them

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“I felt wise and cynical as all hell.” -Sylvia Plath

This is how you lose them:

The same way you fall in love: not all at once, but piece by piece.

You don’t lose him the day you break up, but in the days and weeks before. You don’t lose her with what you’ve done, but with what you haven’t.

You lose her when you make a casual remark that cuts her down and you don’t notice in the slightest. You lose him when you start to assume he’ll always be there. When you stop telling her about the little things in your day that make you happy, angry, sad.

You lose him when you start to send those ‘good morning’ texts less and less. You lose her when you stop calling her by that nickname you came up with two years ago.

Suddenly, you’re taking her for granted. You’re showing him slowly but surely, through cancelled plans and unanswered messages, that he’s no longer the priority.

One day you’re listening to the radio and a heartbreak song hits a little too close to home. You finally understand the lyric that never really made sense before. You’re losing her.

One day you’re with him and you realize that he’s no longer excited to be talking to and spending time with you. Another piece falls away.

You’ve lost her when things start to seem forced, when she becomes an obligation. You’ve lost him when you realize you’re sleeping in the same bed but further apart than ever.

You lose her when you fail to tell her what you want, what you need. Where you want to be. You lose him when you stop asking.

You lose them when you don’t try any more, because every relationship, every friendship requires some effort, some maintenance. You lose them when you don’t care enough to make them feel wanted.

Yes, you lose them the exact same way you fell in love with them- you do it day by day, week by week, until you wake up and suddenly wonder when it all started and how you got here.

This is how you keep them:

You say “I love you” every day, and mean it.

survival of the strongest

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“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  ― Albert Camus

They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I used to subscribe to that notion, but now I’m not so sure.

I know plenty of people who have gone through difficult times in their lives. Some have handled those trials brilliantly, showing more resilience and strength of character than I thought possible. With others, I watched carefully constructed façades begin to crack and crumble.

The people that I know who suffered a blow but stood tall, that refused to break in the face of sorrow, of loss, of pain- these people did not just become strong because they were dealt a crappy hand.

They didn’t simply bluff their way through the rough times. They did not blame the dealer for their problems. The strong ones refuse to fold because they choose to hold out hope that things will get better. They have an impossibly persistent fire in their soul, a wonderfully gritty determination to continue, to persevere.

You do not magically, mystically gain strength because you are faced with a challenge. You are either made of the resilient stuff, or you’re not.

If you get in a car accident and walk away from the wreckage, that doesn’t make you any less breakable the next time you get behind the wheel. A broken heart, the worst one you’ve ever had, does not make the next one hurt less. Losing a loved one, no matter how devastating it is, does not diminish the grief you feel at the next funeral you attend.

The things that don’t kill you do not make you stronger- they show you what you’re already made of.

That car accident might make you more careful in the driver’s seat. That broken heart may teach you how to forgive and forget and try again. That loss may show you that no matter how painful absence can be, life goes on.

But these things do not suddenly imbue us with strength, and to say that they do is almost insulting. We do not get the strength to continue from our tragedies. We turn inward, we dig deep, we search desperately for the tiny spark within us that refuses to quit. We either find it and rise from the depths or we let the flame extinguish and never quite recover.

I know some incredibly strong people who are still burning brightly, and some who have let the light go out. The ones who have persevered have done so time and time again. The ones who have given up have done the same.

Don’t listen when you are told that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You are not persisting because of your hardships; you are persisting in spite of them. What doesn’t kill you hurts, and stings, and chews you up and spits you back out to see if you have what it takes just to keep breathing.

But somewhere deep down in there, you have the strength to continue. And if you’re made of the right stuff, you always will.