Nick and I were out in our new yard last night, grilling steak after the kids had gone to bed (which is to say that he was grilling and I was looking at the sky and drinking wine) and we were talking about all the stacks and stacks of things that need doing in our new house. It’s always this way when you move: all the light-switch plates need to go back on, the garage needs sorting, we need dressers and nightstands and oh thousands of things, and we need more back-to-school shoes for the kiddos and the office is still a pile of boxes, not to mention all the normal work we’ve just not done the past two weeks…and I was starting to feel a bit deflated by it all. Our friends who moved into one of the move-in-ready homes in Savannah didn’t have this problem as everything was ready upon our arrival.
But then he said, “Babe. Look at everything we’ve made happen this year.”
My to-do list just keeps getting longer. It doesn’t feel like much of ANYthing is getting done right now.
But pull back and look with a wider lens.
Just a year ago, yesterday, we got married in a field.
We blended our kids and homes and lives in a new country, we set up a new household and family together, we applied for visas and wrote things and launched programs, Nick transitioned into living fully and publicly as the amazing man he is, I staggered through the Alberta winter, we celebrated birthdays and Halloween and Christmas with aplomb, and we made it through ER visits and potty training and a million stacks of laundry. We took our kids on a road trip and camping adventure and saw them through a full school year and they can all READ now which is something of a miracle all on its own, and now here we are, in this brand new home with more breathing room for all of us, starting a new chapter.
When you put it like that, it is kind of a lot.
I took another sip of my Cabernet Sauvignon. My eyes filled with tears. “Baby, we are so lucky,” I said.
He knew I meant it literally. We aren’t taking this life for granted right now.
I flashed to a WWII novel I read a while back, All The Light We Cannot See, and how during wartime the ordinary joys of life became impossible luxuries. A bath. A dress. A safe bed. A candle.
And here I am, living right in the thick of all those luxuries.
I think about this a lot right now.
In case you’ve been busy with your summer, let me catch you up on what’s been happening here the past month.
We rented a new house. Started packing up our current one. Nick planted 8 trees and a yard.
Then, because we are crazy, we drove 17 hours, camped for 3 days and frolicked with friends and river sprites, taught the kids to pee outdoors, and then drove 17 hours back.
Next day we got the keys to the new house.
More packing at our old house.
Painted, painted, painted, painted, watered.
Painted, painted, painted, cleaned.
Watched the garage (ohmygodwehaveagarage) magically fill itself with stuff.
In the meantime the world saw a display of racism so blatant, so 1940s-Germany-reminiscent, that even people who have been on the sidelines of our political nightmare jumped in to wring their hands. This is either hopeful or infuriating, depending on whether you focus on the fact that we NEED those people in order to effect change in the United States— or the fact that African Americans have been getting killed for years by racism, both systemic and personal—and why the hell does it take a dead white girl to get peoples’ attention?
I didn’t even know anything had happened for a few days because I was deep in paintlandia, myopic behind my piles of boxes.
I felt intense fear because while hatred has always been there in the veins of our country, now it has permission from the current leadership to come on out and work its poison right out in the open with impunity, and this seems like a terrible development.
Except then I remembered that in general, I think we are only as sick as our secrets, and we should bring our worst parts out into the light.
Then I understood, again, that I do not have the answers to the questions that matter most to me.
Then I unpacked some more boxes, because they needed unpacking.
We are watching The Man In the High Castle right now, and it’s as good a glimpse as any on what fascism looks like (the premise is what the US would look like if it had lost World War II). I haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale yet because I am a nerdy lit major and insist on re-reading the book first, but obviously it explores similar themes.
I am full of gratitude for our artists, our writers and directors and producers, who give us stories that help us understand who we want to be.
I want to be one of the ones who stands up. Who makes a difference. Who says no to the higher authority when they know that a cruel order is never a good order. Who doesn’t turn her eyes away because at least it’s not my kids being beaten— at least not today.
Then I unpack a box and panic because I’m not even sure how to do that right now, this week.
We must cultivate a higher authority within ourselves, I think. We must become our own moral compasses, when we live in such morally bankrupt times. We must point clarion true as we can even if that puts us in danger. And we must teach our children to do the same, much earlier than even I thought. That’s something I can help with, I think.
Then I put away dish towels and berate myself for not being out on the street protesting, for god’s sake.
Then I put books on a shelf and marvel that we are all even still functioning after this crazy year and admit that I don’t really know what else we could actually be doing on top of LIFE right now.
This is how it is for me.
I toggle between grand intentions and desires and the humdrum reality of keeping our lives going.
I bet this is how it is for you too.
It’s okay to live in this place.
It’s a little humbling. I can’t go to any protests right now, for a combination of geographical and parenting reasons. I can’t stand up and do something heroic. I don’t even know what that would be.
But what I can do is be brave in all the small ways I can, building my courage muscles, so that when the big moment comes, I’ll be ready to be brave where it really matters.
We can do it together.
We can be vocal and clear about where we stand and give others permission to do the same, taking our place in society as active participants, helping to shape it into kinder shapes with our presence, our actions, our words. We can do what we think is right even at the risk of being embarrassed or shamed or targeted.
We can do this on the playground, at PTA meetings, board meetings, and the gas station. This is where life happens, so that is where we will practice our courage muscles.
It turns out that showing up in the place where you already live is a pretty helpful thing to do.
Which is good, because there are a lot of things that need doing in this place where I live.
I’m not letting myself off the hook for what’s happening and my role in it as a white woman. I’m going to keep sending money to the ACLU, and I’m going to keep talking to my kids about the confounding fact that a bunch of grownups knowingly elected a big bully. I’m going to keep pushing my clients to step up into being the fierce, loving leaders of tomorrow, and stand up to be an ally every time I possibly can.
And I’m also going to unpack my office, and go on a date with my husband, and feed my dog, and post Instagram stories of my toddlers dancing.
When it’s time to fight, we must fight. And while it’s time to live, we must live as well as we know how.
If the haters do gain the upper hand for a while, we might look back at these moments of utter luxury that we call ordinary life and wish we could go back and tell ourselves, “Pay attention! Soak it up! Be grateful!! Revel in it! Share it!!” —which is also basically what most art and spirituality are also telling us too.
We can look at the world and be horrified and vow to make it better.
We can look and the world and be grateful beyond words for what is.
We need both kinds of vision.
We need to stay outraged. We need to pay attention to the larger world and become freedom fighters before the fight is at our own door and it’s too late. We need to stand up for each other.
And we also need to kneel down and kiss the sweet earth of our own lives.
I don’t know how to hold these two truths together, but I know that we can and we must and we already are.
And if anyone can do it with fire and love, I know it is you.
You’ve got this.
And I’ve got your back.
Want to be on the right side of history, even though you’re ridiculously busy?
I’ve got a free interview series to help with that: