This week, our island has been mourning the untimely loss of a beloved partner, father, and community member. Tonight, Nantucket joined together to honor him; though I did not really know him or his family and did not attend, I have thought of him often since hearing the news Monday.
Tonight, Nora and I visited Chris at the Brotherhood and ate a quiet dinner in the nearly empty restaurant before heading home. The night was warm, but windy. Salty gusts blew over and between gray-shingled buildings, and up vacant off-season streets. I pushed Nora in her stroller down Center Street and across Main without passing another person or car, lost in thought, both of us quieted by the night. As we neared the Unitarian Church, familiar chords poured from the windows along with light shining golden in the darkness, and I stopped at the steps to listen. 525,600 minutes, the words were on the tip of my tongue before they even reached my ears. 525,600 moments so dear. Nora was awake, but just as transfixed as was I at the voices from the church. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in the life?
I stood there on the sidewalk, alone but for my precious little girl, listening to the beauty of music carried by Nantucket wind from grieving and loving hearts out to the sea. For the full three minutes of the song, we were motionless and silent, honoring the person we never knew and all of those who loved him. Before love rang out, an ocean began to pool behind my closed eyes and slowly slip down my cheeks. At the end of the song, I started walking again, pushing the stroller down empty streets toward home. I cried the whole way.
So many people might ask why about this death, question how it came to be, how any emotion could go so far. Hearing the news pained me so much — not just because of the great loss, but also because I don’t question it. Because I understand it so very well. Too well.
I was reminded of this understanding at La Leche League conference this past weekend. I attended a session on raising resilient children, which I very much wanted to learn about since I, myself, was anything but a resilient child. During the session, the speaker asked us each to draw a line symbolizing our life from birth to present day and to add marks, up (positive) or down (negative), for our major life events. My graph looked like this:With the exception of one thing in 1997 (that I really had to think about), every major event in my memory from childhood is negative in whole or in part. Yes, I have plenty of happy memories, but mostly there was a lot of unhappiness, particularly regarding significant events. I knew this, but I didn’t fully realize or remember until I saw it on paper. Until I graduated from high school, my life was punctuated with sadness, anger, and negative events largely beyond my control, all of which culminated in taking handfuls of pills one night in an attempt to make everything I was feeling stop. That night and the days that followed (during which I was hospitalized and watched constantly) were the lowest point of my life. Everything was painful and wrapped in darkness.
But this chart of my life doesn’t only tell that story. It also tells the story of the years that followed, when I moved out on my own, left behind unhealthy relationships, met Chris, got married, and, of course, the best day of my life: Nora’s birth. This chart reminds me of how sorry I am for myself as a child, but also how incredibly joyful I am now. It is — I am — living proof that no matter how dismal life seems, it will get better. It gets better. It. Gets. Better.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that. I wish I could tell everyone who is now struggling that. I hope beyond hope that Nora will not have the childhood that I had, but if she does have moments of deep dispair I will tell her everyday that, it gets better.
I know how hard it is to feel lost in your own life. But, I also know now what it feels like to finally be happy. Everything has a season and despite our best efforts, we sometimes have to go through seasons of darkness before we can find the love.
But it always gets better. Always.