Present and Accounted For

If you’ve been out there in cyberspace calling my name over the past 10 days, I’m finally raising my hand and saying “Present!”

At least partly.

If you’ve been reading this space very often this winter, you know I’ve been struggling a bit.  Part of me feels guilty for sharing that struggle here in the open, but then this is my place to talk about life in general and my own in particular.  Lately, I’m working to find the meaning in either one.

Last night I attended a dinner concert and was seated at the table with a couple whose children were members of the high school choir I accompanied years ago.  The mother, a woman in her mid to late 40’s, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer about three years ago.  She’s been fighting valiantly to save her own life – she’s a hospice nurse, of all the ironies, and has no misconceptions about her chances of longevity.  However, she still has a 13 year old daughter at home, and is doing her best to give that girl a mother for as long as possible.

She speaks frankly and comfortably about death. “If I’m still here next year” she commented matter of factly, referring to her younger daughter’s entrance into high school.  I overheard her talking about writing cards and letters to all her children, to be opened at specific times of their lives – weddings, graduations, childbirth.  “At those times when they would need to have their mother around,”  she says.

Looking at her – and she looks perfectly healthy and well, by the way – I was struck dumb by her courage.  I wanted to feel inspired by it, but all I could feel was demoralized.  Because in her place, I felt as if I’d never have that gumption or determination to live.   I just don’t think I want it bad enough to fight that hard.

Probably I’m wrong – probably if the doctor told me tomorrow that I’d  be dead within the year, I’d start Googling medical trials all over the world, sign up for the most intensive course of therapy offered, barter my soul for the privilege of staying alive just one more day.  God knows, I have at least half a dozen friends and acquaintances doing that very thing as we speak.

But there’s something about my life in particular these days that doesn’t seem worth the effort.  In the great roll call of life, I may be accounted for, but I don’t feel as if I’m present.

Where am I, then?

Living in a small cottage somewhere on the Atlantic coast, walking the beach every day with my dogs, eating fresh clams for dinner, spending my days writing, reading, listening to the waves lap against the shore.

Driving a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway, meeting friends for coffee by the bay, playing music, having drinks on the terrace as the sun sets.

Sitting on the front porch of my house in Small Town, USA, drinking iced tea, talking to friends and neighbors as they meander past on their way to the market.

But I’m so far from any of these places, from any of the dreams I once had for my life, that it actually hurts sometimes to be present in this one.

I opened a new book earlier today, and the frontispiece had this line from a Mary Oliver poem as an epigraph~

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

How do I go forward into the next phase of life, the one I’m so very fortunate to have an opportunity to plan?  This time  it has to be what I need – not because someone expects it of me, someone needs me, someone wants me to do it.  I have never in my life made a choice that wasn’t largely based on the needs or expectations of someone else.  Perhaps that’s why I’m not present in my own life – because it isn’t mine. It’s my parents, my husbands, my sons – even my friends and my boss’.

It’s not mine.

At some point in my wild and precious future, when my name is called  I want to jump out of my seat and shout “Here!”

I don’t know how to make that happen.  But I hope I don’t have to die trying.


22 thoughts on “Present and Accounted For

  1. I think you’re going to find the sense of presence at you’re looking for sooner than you think. And your words are a timely reminder for me, at least, if not all your readers. Thank you for being so candid.

  2. As the days get longer and brighter, as the trees start to turn fuzzy with new leaves, as the first jonquils start to pop out of the ground, you will feel differently. I thinks it’s largely the winter blues you’re experiencing. No one ever really lives the life they think they want. How can you? Life is what it is largely based on the decisions and choices we make as we age. And we either accept the life we’ve made and look for the happy bits and focus on those time or we long for things that can never be, and continually make ourselves unhappy. Or, we change what we have the power to change. Unless we live in a cave and never interact with people, other beings will always have an effect on what decisions we must make in our lives and how we will live our lives. Many people love you, and in the end that’s the most important thing.

    • I know this to be true: “We either accept the life we’ve made and look for the happy bits and focus on those time or we long for things that can never be, and continually make ourselves unhappy. Or, we change what we have the power to change.”

      Usually, I’m pretty good at doing that. Right now, for whatever reason, I’m having a harder time.

      Thanks for your wise words, and your caring 🙂

  3. Becca,
    I think we all go through times like this. Call it what you will, winter blues, mid-life crisis, depression. It is a part of the human condition. But I think you’ve got a handle on where you want to go and it sounds like “authenticity.” Yes, we are influenced by many in our lives and as women we all too often play along. Then one day, it hits us …. who’s life is this anyway?? We want to be seen and heard as who we really are. If we stay in our cave and ignore the invitation what will happen? If we dare go forth and claim ourselves, what will happen? These are the questions we must all ask ourselves. It seems to me no coincidence that you are feeling like this when the world is in such utter chaos. I hope you will find peace and your path very soon.

    Special love to you, Joan

    • I do feel that need to be “seen and heard as I really am.” And I’m struggling to answer those big questions. How will I feel if my life remains the same? What would happen if I made some of the drastic changes I desire in my deepest heart? Is there a comfortable middle ground somewhere?

      Thank you for sharing your perspective and wisdom with me 🙂

  4. There’s a lot of talk here of “working” to find meaning, of things “having to be” this or that, of “making things happen”. I almost get the sense that your goal is to move beyond others being in control of your life so that you can be in control.

    But what if it isn’t necessary to be in control all the time? What if the gifts life has for us are piled up on the shelf, waiting until a day when we stop planning, controlling, fixing and achieving long enough to receive them? What if, in the end, we don’t have to try so hard?

    Not a single one of the best things in my life was “planned for” – moving to Liberia, starting my own business, beginning to write. All of them just happened, because circumstances seemed to converge in an interesting way and I said “Well, why not?”

    Over the years I’ve found my life becoming more truly my own not because I became a better planning,but because I became more attentive: to the world, to possibilities, and to my own intuitive sense of where I should go next. I’ve learned to trust what I now call “intuitive planning”, and it’s serving me well.

    • Ah, Linda, you have hit one of the big nails on the head. Control. It’s true – many of the best things in my life happened when I wasn’t looking, that is, when I wasn’t planning, fussing, or attempting to arrange and re-arrange them.

      Not having to try so hard would be a big relief. Learning to listen to my intuitive self – that’s something to think about.

  5. What a blessing it is to come to this space and find empathetic words of wisdom and support. One of the biggest reasons I write is that words help me make sense of life in general. It’s been a huge bonus to find such a devoted group of friends willing to share their own experiences and feelings. I appreciate it more than you know 🙂

  6. isn’t it an illusion to want to own our own lives? Aren’t we always lived partially by our parents, neighbours, family, colleagues, …? None of us lives on an isolated island so the lives & events of others always impact of what we can do, what choices we have or do no longer have. That’s simply the way it is and we can curse at it and or embrace it. Maybe if we could start to accept that as a starting point, wouldn’t we find much more peace? And in that peace we might just find ourselves again

    • So much of our lives is, of necessity, based on the needs of others. That’s inescapable, for sure. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve never made a decision on my own without the shadow of other perspectives whispering in my ear. Maybe no one does.

  7. Oh, Becca, I hear you! It’s that tiny (for some of us LOUD) David Copperfield voice–“whether or not I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life” or however it goes. We do not all need to be heroes like your friend or do something, be something larger than we are. All of that is ego & it is very tough to let go of it because our culture in particular bombards us with those ideas every day. We have to learn to let go, to breathe (oh yeah, i need to get back to yoga)…

    And when you do, as I know you will, will you tell me how you did it so that I can try better, too?

    • I think my life is stalled right now, and I need to make some good, positive changes. There’s a difference between accepting what’s necessary to be and do, and just becoming resigned to whatever is. I’d like to find a balance point somewhere in the middle!

  8. I suppose it is different for everyone, the way that things happen or how we approach them or what all clunks us on our unsuspecting heads. But I think the first obstacle to overcome is to want “it.” And you might not know what “it” is — but you know you don’t have it. This makes you open to experiences or encounters that may bring “it” your way. Doesn’t mean you can orchestrate them, because you can’t always. But it’s being open to saying “yes” when someone suggests something new or if you happen to “see” something in a different way. Sometimes you discover “it” by knowing what it’s not. I’m hearing you need time and space for you. That’s a start and a good one.

    I have no doubt you will find it and you may even be closer than you think — you never know. I remember when I was doing “The Artist’s Way” and making my “artist dates” (which didn’t always have to do with art). But they had everything to do with me. And when I was doing them, they made me conscious of what I loved. It centered me. I know you’ll center, too. It’s just the waiting for “it” that’s so darned frustrating.

    • Ah yes, the mysterious “it” factor. Something is missing, but you don’t quite know what “it” is. I think I’m beginning to know what “it’s” NOT…that’s a first step too 🙂

  9. I wonder if, in some ways, you are grieving? I’m speaking from my own perspective and experience, so I don’t presume to know. I’m very interested in how life continues to change, how it pulls the rug out from under us and we are forced to reinvent ourselves, or center our identity around new things. I’ve said it before, but I don’t think life prepares us for that, and I wonder if it ever gets easier? What I always appreciate is when a feeling of peace, contentment, happiness–whatever you want to call it– sneaks up on you and catches you off guard. You never know when it will arrive, but it’s always a welcome surprise.

    • You’re really insightful for someone so young 🙂 I think you could be right about the grieving process. There have been many losses in the past couple of years, including some big ones I have not ever mentioned here. Plus, I keep anticipating losses yet to come, and dwelling on those rather than looking forward to the future.

      That surprising feeling of peace you write about – yes, thank you for reminding me that it does come ’round.

  10. “I don’t know how to make that happen…”
    I think you know more than you think you do 🙂
    I think the best start in making your life ‘happen’ is with what you’ve been doing right on these pages; telling the truth. Being authentic. Showing up and asking for what you want. Engaging where you can and starting where you are.
    Becca, even in this sadness, you write so beautifully and that in itself is the act of creation. I’ve read that true creation comes out of suffering, whether it’s suffering from joy and needing to express it out of ourselves in whatever way possible or whether it is suffering from pain; physical, spiritual, mental or emotional.
    Keep creating because through these acts, you are creating your life, word by word, sentence by sentence…and it’s beautiful.
    Virtual hugs,

    • Colleen, you are a sweet friend. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

      And yes, it is through creating and writing that I’m able to sift through all the garbage that floats around in my head and decipher what’s worth keeping and building on. It’s such a gift to have people like you who listen and understand.

  11. Becca,
    You’ve accomplished something I’ve rarely seen in the blogosphere. You’ve written a post that generated comments as thought-provoking, insightful and heartfelt as your post. Your words are inspiring, Becca. You have a gift and it isn’t just your writing. You have a way of striking the chords that resonate with others. You’ve engaged so many people through your writing. I know you’ll find what you’re looking for.

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