Have you ever forgotten that you’re the one holding the brush that paints the broad strokes? Do you ever become so caught up in basic day-to-day muck that you completely miss the fact your life is a canvas of your making?
I’ve done just that.
I’m not blaming myself. I hope you don’t blame yourself either. Perhaps you fielded a number of curveballs, coming at you fast and furious, over the past several years. I did and I know brushstrokes were the furthest thing from my mind.
But now, my friend. Now we both need to remember we’re made of stardust and sunshine, if author Martha Beck is to be believed.
Balancing out those ethereal substances, I need to remember I come from roots—strong roots. Truthfully, when I lost both of my parents and my marriage in the space of 18 months, it unmoored me. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t break down. I dug deep and used what shaped me. But in the aftermath of those events, a void loomed. The three people who had loved me more than anything in the world were gone.
That merits a deep breath in any life. Even just a third of that equation merits a deep breath in any life.
Recently, I found myself staying up far too late watching home movies. As the Universe so often does, it led me to just what I needed. I didn’t realize the problem and the cure until it did.
My childhood home popped up on the screen, along with my father’s voice: “Merry Christmas from our house to yours.” And suddenly, I was at the annual family holiday party I miss to this day. It was loud and wonderful and chaotic and all the things I remember it being.
A few minutes later, I was at my sister’s house–a year later–for another family Christmas Eve. I smiled from ear to ear as I saw the tiny versions of my grown nieces and nephews squeal with every present opened.
A sister. An aunt. Ah yes, I am these things still.
I saw birthday parties in the backyard and a 1970s kitchen I knew oh so well. My father’s garden. My sister bragging about the pants she found at JCPenney for “just $8.” Me in a bikini when I could rock one. My mother scolding my father to put down the camera. I’m so glad he didn’t.
I watched as my 20-something self packed up a moving van the day I officially left home to live on my own. I saw my mother dusting my bedroom furniture as it sat in the driveway waiting to be loaded into the moving truck. Did she realize she had just dusted the same dresser just minutes before? Did I mention I had never seen my mother dust before? My older self—the mother watching movies, decades removed–saw that the dusting gave her away. At the time, I thought she was cavalier about my going. Now I see how she hid her feelings in the constant motion of that day. She was torn to see me go.
A daughter. I was a daughter once.
I saw my sons as babies. A much younger version of myself scampered after them, lighting birthday candles, letting them make music with wooden spoons on my pots and pans.
A stay-at-home mom. How hard I fought for that.
My son wandered into the room as I watched and said, “Mom, you look so tired in this video.” I remembered those days of little sleep, wiping noses, cleaning vomit, worriedly taking temperatures. I saw myself praise my children, showing patience despite being bone tired. Not always, as I remember—but at least on video I was patient.
In the craziness of the past several years, I had forgotten what shaped me for so many years prior. The names I used to be called—daughter, wife, youngest child. The life and love that came with those names.
So many people today identify me only as a divorced mother. The breadwinner. Solid, stable. They never knew the party girl, the ready laugh, the free spirit. I remembered she is still a part of me, even if she had to take an extended hiatus.
In these videos, I remembered the missing pieces. What built me. Family parties, sibling bickering, a small house overflowing with people who love each other. I heard my father say my name with love. I saw how my outer bravado belied my inner terror at moving hundreds of miles from the only tribe I’d ever known—ah yes, that girl. I was her. She lies within me. I am not just the woman who survived muck five years ago.
I am so much more.
I laughed and smiled as I watched. To hear and see my parents again—what a blessing. But as my father panned out from my sister’s house—the last Christmas party he recorded—I panicked. There I was, an older observer from the outside, to a party where I was also a young attendee. Today’s me couldn’t get back into that party.
I watched as family members (including my younger self) walked to and fro in the living room, chatting and laughing. I wanted to rush the door, walk inside and hear my name called. My childhood name. I wanted to eat sauerkraut balls as I stood around the dining room table, listening to my sisters chat and chasing the little kids into their bedtime routines. I cried when the screen went dark.
My life today is far from that life. My parents no longer call to check on me. I’m not that 20-something sans responsibilities. My sisters are retired and don’t visit much.
It’s all so different. I can’t say it’s better. I just have to say it’s not the same.
But, I had all of it once. I had what so many people wish for. I had what I try so hard to create for my boys, despite society’s view of a “fractured family.”
They are loved.
They are celebrated.
They have been given roots to balance their stardust and sunshine.
As I was. As I hope you were also, no matter what has happened in your life since.
That, my friends, is goodness. Something not to be forgotten.
Consider my memory jogged.