14 January, 2014

No Woe Here. It's a Happy New Year.

I drove past the building where my husband and I went to those prenatal classes. The ones we went to when I was pregnant with Jake, and a sob lifted up through my gut and caught me by surprise by gasping out so sharply it was like a gunshot in the distance.

I wasn’t sad, exactly, or happy, or nostalgic, just jolted by how very much I have learned since those classes finished; what a different woman I am.

We were late for every single one of them, every single class. We thought we were too good for them, I remember that now. I thought we knew more, and were smarter than every other couple in that class, before we even walked in the door. The nonchalant arrogance of youth and privilege, health and prosperity, kept my feet several inches off the floor, even as we were good kids who held doors open for others, and made plans to take our future children on world tours, so they could truly understand how blessed we are. I was not ungrateful or unkind, just unwearied, and undereducated by life. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.

I remember that I liked that we were joining a new club. With the addition of  “parent” to college graduate, married, and employed, we were bound to just add to our parents’ pride in us. We bought a home and stripped the heinous paper off the bathroom walls. We had so much. We were almost done setting up everything to play out the perfect life.

But I wish I could talk to that younger me, take her to coffee and let her know just a few of the things that would be ahead. Our pastor quoted Dante at our wedding “Abandon hope all ye who enter here…” and, well actually, that’s what I would give her, like a talisman: Hope.

I would let her know that hope is not neurotic anticipation. Hope and hard work will be the foundation of every day from that day forward, and without one, the other will be useless, so have them both.

I would tell her that no amount of childhood can prepare you to be a proper adult, and our parents can’t be blamed or praised for everything, because every day is a new chance to be better, or to make bad choices all on our own. Who I am today is a result of my foundations, but more a result of all of the choices I’ve made since my parents stopped telling me what to do. So depending on the topic, I have been free to make my own choices about some things since I was five, and others I have just learned to manage on my own.

I’d remind her that there is no guide better than her own moral compass, so don’t get caught using someone else’s directions. And when hearing the words of others, I’d tell her to try to translate them to their best possible meaning, because most people don’t mean harm, even when their words are sharp, and most of the vitriol she will hear won’t really be aimed at her directly anyway. I’d tell her to remember the kind words that people say to her, because replaying only the mean things will break her heart. And when things finally blow over, whatever they are, she should let go of being sad, because people who do mean to hurt you rarely come back to check on you.

I would tell her to sleep easier, and tell that voice in her head to go ahead and think it through, and make a path, but not to lie awake each night branching out every plan until tomorrow is so, so far in the past you are regretting your future before today has even played out.  I would encourage her to enjoy each bite of life, and when there is a pause, remind her to recall what it was like just before that biggest problem you have ever faced, appeared before you, because that is life too, the sweet parts in between the hardships. And the truth is, there is more sweet in life than we think. 

I pulled the car over to breathe properly,  because I remembered the lightness, and remembered what I thought was hard then, before I had ever experienced all of the amazing twists of humanity I have seen since. And I realized that driving past the building thirteen years later is one of my sweet moments before something else comes to our door, so I wanted to remember the feeling. I know more than those people in that room now for sure, more than my younger self, but I know now how much more there is to learn.

As this New Year begins to unfold, I find myself grateful and humbled.  I am aiming to live joyously and without apathy. I want to hear each person’s best intentions, and help people hear the good in each other’s words too. I am full of hope, or I am trying to be full of hope. I really want to start each day with a full cup, and if most of it spills out, then I will try again tomorrow, but at least I’m going to try. 

because of course a Happy New Year post should include a giant quote about Hell.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).  The Divine Comedy.
Canto III
I then, with horror yet encompast, cried:
“O master! what is this I hear? what race
Are these, who seem so overcome with woe?”
He thus to me: “This miserable fate
Suffer the wretched souls of those, who lived
Without or praise or blame, with that ill band
Of angels mix’d, who nor rebellious proved,
Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves
Were only. From his bounds Heaven drove them forth
Not to impair his lustre; nor the depth
Of Hell receives them, lest the accursed tribe
Should glory thence with exultation vain.”
 I then: “Master! what doth aggrieve them thus,
That they lament so loud?” He straight replied:
“That will I tell thee briefly. These of death
No hope may entertain: and their blind life
So meanly passes, that all other lots
 They envy. Fame of them the world hath none,
Nor suffers; Mercy and Justice scorn them both.
Speak not of them, but look, and pass them by.”

do not live selfishly and
don't muddle through this world indifferent to good and evil;
there is no glory in a life of apathy.
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