Exhale

Taylor and Cate, August 13, 2013

My two girls returned to school yesterday. Taylor boarded the bus at 7:20AM.  That was a first for us both and I know she was nervous, though she tried not to let on. She timidly smiled and gave me a small wave as she stepped up on the stairs and disappeared from my view. My heart caught in my throat.

I thought, “Don’t lose it now.”

Exhale.

Where did the time go? How did she get so tall, so capable, so independent and strong?  My baby was heading for sixth grade, and inside her sister was casually eating cereal and watching Sponge Bob eagerly waiting for her first day of first grade. Whoa. How did this happen?

Taylor, 2002

Then it was Cate’s turn.  She chatted non-stop on the walk to the school about nothing in particular, clutching my hand – though not tightly, more out of habit; she wasn’t nervous. When we found her teacher, she marched right up and gave her a high five. Turning to me as I crouched down, she wrapped her arms around my neck, squeezed tightly, and trapped me in her little grasp. She kissed my cheek. She didn’t hold me tight because she was afraid of letting go, she was holding me tight because that’s what she does when she’s excited. She was ready. She let me go, her twinkling eyes meeting mine and then she turned. I watched her walk confidently to the end of the line with a big smile on her face. And in this noisy, crowded courtyard, I locked eyes with her one more time, my beautiful and courageous Cate, and fought the sting of tears with a smile.

Now I thought, “Don’t lose it here.”

Exhale.

Cate, 2007

When I got back to the safety of my car, I couldn’t keep tears from flowing. And they weren’t exactly sad tears… they were tears of a woman overwhelmed with awareness. Sometimes the “real-ness” of life, the beauty, the pain, the love, the gravity of what we have, what we lose, and what we face catches up and taps us on the shoulder.  And there in front of us are all the things that we are left to carry.  It’s not one window, but all our windows blowing open.  Each part of our lives, our memories, our experiences, and our future is completely present, woven throughout our parts and they can’t be cut out or released. They can’t be unknown… they are ours and they are staring us in the face.

In those moments… it just gets heavy.

It doesn’t mean that we are broken, even when it feels like we are. It’s actually realizing the sum of our parts, the realization that we are whole – more whole than we want to recognize in the day-to-day. It’s finding out in these flashes that “whole” doesn’t mean perfect or happy either. Whole carries pain, regret, and loss. Whole is not what we are seeking, it’s what we already are.

We aren’t categorically any one thing, or any list of things either. As a whole person we begin to realize that we generally exist on sliding scales of opposite realities. We’re both the lover and the fighter, the brave and the terrified, the generous and the selfish, the quitter and the one that never gives up. It’s a matter of where we exist on that scale at any given moment. Where we tend to stay.  But we can be one loss away from being on our knees; or one joy, one smile, one touch away from near perfection.  Here lies the delicate balance that we dance on every day of our lives; this line between the absolute miracle of our life, the incredulity of actually being alive and the finality and inevitability of our death.

It’s that awe of a fully, whole human existence, when the scale is heavy on both sides that is overwhelming. It was that particular brand of overwhelming I was feeling now. I was both frantically resistant to the knowledge that my girls were growing so fast and immensely proud of their progress.  I was both astonished by the passage of time and grateful for all that we’ve been able to share as a family.  I was both debilitated by fear and  filled with an all-consuming hope for what this day and the days ahead would hold.  I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was strongest… it was just everything at once.

I sat in my car and my heart pounded painfully but so fully in my chest, the tears ran freely, and my mind raced through everything… all the emotions coursed through me like lightning.  It was only a minute or two and then, with that same deep sigh escaping my lips, I relaxed.

Exhale.

The frenzy was over.  But for a few desperate moments I was feeling the heavy whole of both sides of my sliding scales… I was so unavoidably, completely, and inescapably aware of myself; my human existence – the gift and burden that represents. These moments are not constant, maybe not even that frequent for most of us, and it isn’t a flaw in our design. It’s a painful gift. A rare opportunity to feel everything that makes up the whole of you. It’s not a feeling that washes over you because it doesn’t come from the outside either, it exists on the inside, always has, and not all bubbling under the surface.  Some of it lives deep, is rarely acknowledged, or is not even known to have been there at all. These moments are a much-needed reminder of all that we are and what we have… even when it is overwhelming.  And it’s worth it… even when it gets heavy.  Especially when it gets heavy.

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