The Loss or the Lesson


On my way home from work today, I stopped at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour.  It was a beautiful day and I had my camera with me, intent on getting a photo to accompany the post I planned to write tonight.  I walked along the sun-soaked pier, snapping photos aimlessly with no clear subject in mind, marveling at the sparkling lake that had been ice up until much too recently for my liking.  The spring was a long time coming this year, and I think many of us around these parts are greeting it with arms flung wide with adoration and enthusiasm, although not without a gentle, exasperated "Where have you been?!!!" reproach.  But you can't stay mad too long, not on a day like this.

I had stopped on the pier to admire the view, thinking for about the millionth time that I live in a tremendously beautiful city, when suddenly there seemed to appear out of nowhere a flock of birds flying in my direction, about to be perfectly positioned for a gorgeous shot as they emerged as if from the sun.  I quickly tilted my camera in their direction and pressed the shutter button, and then again and again, feverishly and futilely, as it turns out.  My camera wouldn't take the shot.  And then they were gone. 

I watched them fly off and laughed, because I immediately got the message.  My camera was set on automatic and couldn't focus.  Which exactly describes the last few years of my life.

The location of my photo shoot was deliberately chosen, although I couldn't have predicted my experience with the un-photographable flock and the moment's echo of another visit.  It's been a long few years since this other morning at the harbour when, as it happens, I managed to get a very similar shot to the one I attempted today.  It's been a long few years of trying to keep it together and figure out a new life, putting one foot in front of the other to move forward.  And, doing so, I've come a long way.  But I've also been dancing on the edge of burning out, and feeling an acute lack of focus and self-connection as I've been going through the motions, living my life on automatic.  Not unhappy, not all the time, but not truly living.

Over the last year, I've noticed a growing gut feeling that it is time to stop, a feeling that whispered quietly at first but recently it has been singing in every cell in my body, which sounds dramatic (even for me) but I have been slowly filled up by this feeling and now feel truly saturated in the knowledge that I need to flip the switch from automatic to manual and take control of my life.  I need to shake things up a bit.  I need to live.

Five weeks ago, I gave notice at my job.  Tomorrow is my last day.  I don't have another job to go to.  I was saying to a friend the other day that I haven't quite perfected my sound bite, the abstract of my decision, to offer when responding to the natural question, "What will you be doing?"  Thankfully, I came to the most beautiful and freeing realization very quickly that I don't have to fully explain this to anyone, but I have found that in my attempts to do so, I have come to a clearer understanding of it for myself.  So here's the best I've come to, for what it's worth:  I'm taking some time off to take care of three priorities: my health, my daughters, and my dreams.

I have a body that is strong and able and capable of most anything.  That might not always be the case.  My rheumatologist reminds me on a regular basis that my rheumatoid arthritis, which, to date, has been fairly manageable, could get bad at the turn of a dime.  I read a statistic once that said that 50% of those diagnosed with RA are unable to work ten years post-diagnosis.  I was diagnosed nine years ago.  Of course, there's every chance I'm in the lucky 50%, but I can't sit in front of a computer with my able body, doing a job I don't love, any longer.  There's a chance I'm going to have plenty of time to sit around all day soon enough.

I have two incredible daughters who have been through a hell of a lot in the last few years and have come through so remarkably, but even still there's a palpable, mutual longing between us for more time together, for a deeper reconnection.  This is a critical time in their lives, and I can afford to invest in more time for the three of us to be together.  I may not always be able to pick them up from school every day, I may not always be able to afford to have the whole summer with them, but I can do it now.  So I'm going to.

I have been told by others all my life that I should be a writer and, most importantly, I have agreed with the assessment.  I have a lifetime's worth of notebooks and Word files and backs-of-envelopes full of half-finished writing and ideas that, if they haven't yet in my nearly 37 years here, are never going to see the light of day unless I throw myself at them and shake off the dust.  I'm a few sentences away from completing a children's book.  I have been a few sentences away for nearly two years.  Attempting to summon creativity at 10:00 at night after a full day at work and putting two kids to bed and trying to keep my house (and myself) from collapsing into shambles...well, that's working about as well as you might expect.  I can't fit these dreams into the margins of my life.  I have to take a run at them full-throttle. (And yes, sit my able body in front of a computer from time to time to do so, but it's a different kind of sitting.  An energized sitting with intent.)

All signs have been pointing in this direction and, other than some initial nausea when I first spoke the words "I am leaving", all I've felt in these last few weeks is joy and relief.  I don't know what will happen, but I have set myself no metrics for success.  If I need to head back to a desk job six months from now, so be it.  But right now, each one of those singing cells knows this is the right decision, and each one of those cells was in the moment on that pier, with the birds flying out of shot, feeling nothing but amusement and gratitude.

Had I missed a shot like that a few years back, I would have been upset.  I would have lost sight of the beauty around me, wrapped up in my disappointment.  I would have only seen the loss, just as, on that July morning at the harbour a few years ago, I only saw the loss of the life I once knew.  But today I saw the lesson.  That's really what it seems to be about.  Choosing whether you're going to see the loss or the lesson.

So there you go.  There's the best shot I got today, above.  If we're looking for relevance to subject matter, let's say it represents my new, clear direction toward the light.  Or I suppose you could say it's the path to a drop-off into an abyss, if you want to be all Negative Nelly about it.  This is either going to be one of the best decisions of my life or one of the worst.  I expect it will be the former but I'm prepared for the latter (I've been to hell and back a few times now so I know the route).  Frankly though, I'm just ready to find out. 

There was much more I planned to say about my new-life launch - about the array of interesting reactions experienced when you tell people you're opting out of the working world for awhile, for example - but those words can wait for another day (I'm about to have a lot of time on my hands, after all).  My life didn't go to plan either, and I'd say both post and life have ended up better because of it.