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Consider the following: I'm a COVID-19-vaccinated adult within a circle of equally vaccinated family and friends. I live in the United States where the vaccine rate is plugging along and restrictions are loosening. Summer, my beloved season of youthful freedom, is here, inviting me to play and frolic with renewed vigor.
And yet: I am pregnant, less than a month away from giving birth to an unvaccinated infant who will join my household's unvaccinated toddler, continuing to limit our options in the reopening world. I know firsthand that even the calmest, most healthy, least stressful maternity leave is still an exhausting and isolating time. And summer, the aforementioned favorite season, is also hot as balls, which can lead to air-conditioned cabin fever.
The result: a confusing, paralyzing mix of FOMO (fear of missing out), JOMO (joy of missing out), and YOLO (you only live once) where I find myself hopeful, disappointed, and anxious in equal measure about making "real" plans, whatever "real" means right now amid the shifting sands of concrete medical guidance and personal comfort levels.
Indeed, as this liminal season unfolds, I feel I'm embodying a cage match between physical, emotional, and psychological health when I prefer there be no competition at all. Why? Because I've learned that life in the "before times" wasn't as sustainable as I once believed it to be, and I don't want to resume that previous life (or a refraction of it) without considering what alternative paths I might follow.
In this respect, my upcoming maternity leave is well timed because it will be everything but business as usual. Even without pandemic (somewhat) in the rear view mirror, I would be stepping away from the hamster wheel for a spell and recalibrating life as I know it. And with pandemic, my mindset has already shifted to more reliably asking, "What do I need most right now? What do I want? Where do the answers intersect?"
At first blush I feel selfish asking these questions. But at their root lies a newly ignited desire not only to maintain the presence I've discovered during pandemic, but to practice incorporating it into my present life. Not my college-bound teen life, mind you, or my young professional 20s, or my newly married early 30s, but this life as a late-30-something parent of two in the midst of a personal and societal paradigm shift.
A life where safely attending church again as a family of four sounds more restorative than schlepping downtown for a 9 p.m. improv show.
A life where where working remotely/not commuting most of the week seems like a humane way to reclaim precious weekend hours from mundane chores and instead use them to play, nap, and enjoy rather than resent my small children.
A life where I permit some time to be unscheduled and purposeless—perhaps for Type A me the most radical and terrifying change of all.
So how can I do this without guilt, without fear of judgement (from others or myself), and without starving or losing some essential part of who I am? In this instance, presence is both the goal and the yardstick. It's about asking myself seriously and answering honestly:
- What will [insert activity/action] deliver unto me right now?
- Will it create joy, rest, catharsis, and/or growth?
- Will it help me feel most like me?
- Will it keep me physically safe and healthy?
- Will it ground me in this moment in time?
Ultimately, I have to trust that using presence as my guide will lead to fruitful surprise, because to exit this profound period of transition unchanged would be to waste the unique opportunity it presents for reinvention. Let me then claim my alternate path as NOMO. No more knee-jerk yeses. No more hasty commitments. No more over-extension of limited time and energy. No more unconsidered habits or patterns.
I will "miss out" in order to identify what's missing in the here and now. Wish me luck.
Prayer #367: The Assurance of Leaves
I have taken to perceiving inspiration as fresh leaves drifting by in a stream, some lazily, some rapidly, all transient. And every time one crosses my field of vision, I wonder: Should I stare at it? Scoop it? Lunge after it in a wild, frantic splash?
I only wonder, though. I don't act on any of these options because I'm too weary to flounder and too heavy to float. Sure, I'd love a good jolt from the bracing water, the thrill of fascination, but re-encountering once-routine actions is jolt enough right now, and I prefer not to drown.
One day, I'm certain, these sensations will stabilize and I'll engage again. What will my perception and participation look like then? Perhaps I will regard the floating leaf, enjoy its buoyant possibility, and release it (in gaze or palm) without remorse because I have finally grown to trust the river's steady movement, the currents' reliability, and my own tested faith, borne of the assurance that leaves will always fall. Drift. Appear.