I think I’ve lived a good deal of my life with my senses on high alert. When the boys were babies and I was a single mom, I remember sleeping with one ear measuring the rhythm of their breaths, the other attuned to the sounds of the house – I had to be ready, just in case. I have always been neurotic at work – my silly view that as technology allowed 24/7 availability, I was supposed to be available in every time zone (for we had 33 office around the world). This made me a very valuable employee in the environment known as ‘Big Law’ – where the bizarre ‘play hurt’ philosophy still drives the billable hour and the head-shaking awe and respect of others. I’m the person you want in a crisis – no tears, very collected, logical – I’m ready. Divorce? Death? Employment issue? Performance problem? Marital angst? Sick child? I’m your woman. I can make it through Whole Foods in fifteen minutes and fill the cart with the proper items. I don’t love anyone or anything in a half-assed way, and as such I will give it everything I’ve got – no questions asked. I have run head long into life – but for the times when I’ve crashed into a wall.
I crashed into a wall when I was diagnosed with this stupid autoimmune disease that makes my joints swell inexplicably, the tendons twisting and rioting without provocation. When I realized that after too many surgeries I was going to have to figure out the music that accompanies chronic pain so I could understand the rhythm I’d be dancing too (I hate being off the beat, though I am clearly off-beat). I didn’t see the wall on Sunday. We were having brunch with our friends who asked about the Jewish ritual of sitting shiva – a seven-day mourning period after the death of an immediate family member. After seven days in the house, one is supposed to go outside and walk back into life. I remembered my sister and I doing this after the shiva period for both of our parents. I couldn’t speak, for the pain of missing my parents was so visceral in that moment. And I swear to you, for a moment I thought my heart stopped. Walking back into life. Walking back into life a person changed forever.
So it was when I retired last year. No need to re-visit the early days of dissonance, when no notes came together to form a lovely sound. Suffice it to say, I was opening the door and walking outside, completely unfamiliar with my space in the world. At first, I walked with purpose – almost defiantly. At some point I slowed, realizing that I had the chance just to breathe. I wasn’t driven by urgent need – or my perception of urgent need. I didn’t need to walk back into life for any reason other than it was my due. It has taken me months to figure out this new rhythm, embrace the richness of this music and accept that just being me is reason enough to walk into life. I need not be raising and protecting my delicious boys, I don’t have to be grieving, I don’t have to be on call for anyone who may need me for reasons which they consider critical (but in retrospect were often pretty self-serving).
The beauty of stopping before you open the door lies in the anticipation of what you will find. Each day, I now pause. I close my eyes and open them just to be surprised at what may appear before me. Goofy? Perhaps. A reminder that this is the only moment? Definitely.