Before we had horses at home, and I was a single girl, I had season tickets to the Buffalo Bills.
This was in the days before my time was consumed with horse-keeping, riding stupidly far and sometimes stupidly fast, shoveling horse poop, running my own business, building a barn and a house and caring for what has amounted to a silly number of animals, and did I mention shoveling horse poop?
Marv Levy was and is one of my heroes. A man who could lead, a man with priorities and a certain dignity under pressure even when he was being frank. Even when we were losing.
One of the quotes for which he is most famous is one of my favorites:
“Where else would you rather be than right here right now?”
He said it in the moment before his team stepped out on the field for their first Super Bowl.
It was an occasion full of hope and a sense of tremendous accomplishment, for having even made it to The Big Show.
It was a pivotal moment for the team. Imagine the sense of anticipation and vulnerability, the moment a culmination of a million moments destined to lead to it.
Life has been a vulnerable place for me recently.
I cannot count on one hand, or even two, the number of close friends and family who are suffering, ill or grieving or going through some other loss. I am at a crossroads in my life with my business, having stood up for what I felt was right, a decision with no regrets — I am not by nature a regretful sort — but which may have life-changing consequences. It is not Facebook fodder. None of it is. These are the sorts of things which one contemplates quietly, gray matter spinning like a CD which cannot seem to catch, in the wee hours of the morning.
I burst into tears on a frequent basis, the big gut-heaving sort, I’m a “go big or go home” sort of girl when it comes to crying. What is so wrong in the world? Is it just a matter of having reached a certain age? My closest friend and I meet and regale each other with tales of woe, body parts not working right, or discouragement with the state of the planet. Or politics. Or drivers. Or the checkout clerk at Wegmans. Or matters much more serious of course, darting in only briefly to speak of life and death matters, a brief check in. Which leaves us to bitch about the simple and stupid things as an excuse to vent and laugh. Always laugh. And always, it seems, we acknowledge that it is only downhill from here.
I always find myself hoping that we are wrong.
There have been moments, in my darkest times, where I contemplate the benefits of isolation, shrinking my world a bit, as though a mathematical calculation of energy out versus energy in has anything to do with the profundity of balance and joy that those close to me bring. These connections are everything to me; they define me.
Over the last few weeks, it all seems to have been unraveling, bad news coming within seconds, literally, of other bad news, with me unable to process the first bit before the next comes along, a burdensome sort of pile-on.
I cling to my bumper-sticker mantras.
One day at a time.
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
Chop wood, haul water.
This too shall pass.
Everything is better with cheesecake. (Okay, this one I just made up right now, but it’s true, no?)
I’m a girl full of bumper stickers.
[A silly aside. I was doing consulting work for a client last week, a company for whom I’ve done training for years. I’ve trained hundreds, no, thousands of the employees, I am sure. An employee was introduced to me, and snapped his fingers while studying my face, “I know you, I know I know you.”
The other employee with us chimed in. “She did safety training for us up on the hill!”
The first employee’s face lit up in sudden recognition, a big grin spreading across it.
“If it’s wet and sticky and not yours, don’t touch it!” he declared. (Bumper sticker for avoiding exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens.)
The second employee caught the spirit.
“Dilution is not the solution to pollution.” (Bumper sticker for avoiding prosecution for illegal hazardous waste treatment.)
I threw my hands in the air. I laughed.
“All these years of training you guys, and this is what stuck?!”
I was secretly pleased they remember anything I’ve taught them at all. No one sleeps through my safety training if I can help it.]
If only it were so simple as Living By Bumper Sticker.
Last week, I had a four-day class to teach, a demanding and technical one. The class got expanded by four employees at the last minute, some perplexing personality types kept me on my toes, the discussions were lively, but it was year-end too. I’d occasionally scan the audience and count the number of people frantically thumbing away at their electronic devices, entirely unengaged. I suggested, casually, that after the next break when we returned to class, I’d collect everyone’s phones and give them back in time for the next break. “You’re on my time now.” I didn’t, but I was sharper-tongued and less forgiving than I would typically be.
And so it was. Little cracks were starting to appear on my usually unflappable professional cheerfulness.
My life had been divided between “things to do to get through the week” and “everything else.” I just needed to get through the week.
I cocooned myself in my hotel room each night. I was grateful not to speak, not to entertain, not to need to be the least bit witty or politically correct. I polished off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and I don’t even really like ice cream very much. (AmeriCone however, highly recommended, even for those not inclined to down high fat, high sugar treats from the carton in front of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.)
These are ordinarily times I self-flagellate.
Not engaging enough.
Not understanding enough.
Not expert enough.
Not disciplined enough to hit the treadmill in the hotel workout room.
But in my vulnerability, I also realized I was me.
And somehow that was Enough.
I got through the class. They applauded at the end. Told me how valuable it was. A few apologized for being distracted. I apologized for being sarcastic at times. Four days in a conference room is enough time to have your soft underbelly get exposed during discussion, and the end of these classes always feels like graduation from some safety training boot camp. We’d all made it, with some hiccups along the way.
And then I was free.
I set about putting my four Me Weeks into clear order. Urgent and important. Important but not urgent. Not important but urgent. Not important, not urgent.
The “Important But Not Urgent” quadrant is full of what sustains me.
Family time. Silly time with the nieces and Richard and Echo (the remaining dog) cutting down the Charlie Brown-iest of Christmas trees on our farm, decorating with them (which in reality means watching THEM decorate), baking Alex her favorite kind of cookies. Time with our creatures. Time doing what I can do for those in my life who are struggling; holding space for those not ready. Figuring out how we might foster a dog if we have to, because that is something we can do, and it is something I’d want someone to do for me. Time with the friends who make me laugh so hard that I snort; making plans with them to drink ourselves foolish and then, as always, stopping with a cocktail or two, sated. Sleeping when I am tired. Reading about new things, exciting things, ventures that may catch me if I fall. Trusting people my Spidey Senses tell me to trust. Believing myself when those senses tell me not to trust.
Realizing in a quiet moment that a friend’s serious illness was hitting me like a brick to the forehead because with a change of hair color, she is so very much like my deceased Mom — somehow laidback and sharp at the same time, funny, profoundly kind and perhaps overly generous — and that it is okay to be breath-catchingly despondent that I could lose that special person in my life.
It took five heavy wheelbarrows of horse poop to clear the boys’ paddock this morning. Enough chore time to get just tired and just sore enough to burn off some edge. Enough time to listen to my horses munch on hay, move each other from one pile of alfalfa mix to another, as they do. Enough time to lean on a rake and watch Echo watching me, just like Truly used to do. Seamlessly filling a gap.
They know, and it is so magically simple. No questioning of why, or anxiety over their place in all of it.
They need no bumper stickers to keep them on track.
Life is not always simple. It is heart-wrenchingly difficult at times. It is messy.
But we all have our place, doing what it is that we do, as best we can in the moment. It is not everything, it is not perfect, it is not as we had somehow envisioned it. It is enough. And so are we.
There is nowhere I’d rather be than right here right now.