For as long as I can remember, there has been this odd tension in my soul, as if the space that I inhabit is neither here nor there, where I instead am perpetually floating in this moment that occurs between the already and the not yet, as if someone snapped a photo of me jumping from one rock to another and I became frozen in mid-air. Only a few times in my entire life have I ever felt as if I had both feet on solid ground, and I always feel safe and complete there, but it doesn’t last, and I’m not sure the grieving that follows the loss makes it worth the temporary contentment. That being said, the floating isn’t always unpleasant. Lately it has been less a feeling of fear and one more of a cautious hope, which is something that has been lacking in my life recently. When I felt it for the first time a couple of weeks ago I held my breath the way you might if a butterfly were to perch on your palm, afraid to breathe or move or even think too loudly for fear of seeing it fly away never to return. Now it has been almost two weeks, and still it’s here, and it has been like running into an old friend and picking up right where I left off.
I know that, realistically speaking, no matter where you go, there you are, but for some reason or another, it’s easier for me to imagine possibility when I’m not home. Not home like my house, but home like anywhere within 100 miles of the community where I live. On New Year’s Day this year, Other Half took me to The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, and I felt like I had somehow arrived at a place that sits just outside of what is and what will be, and instead of uncertainty I had peace.
I can’t describe the feeling that meets me there, sitting on this grand terrace overlooking the mountains, either in the early morning fog or in the fleeting colors of sunset. In those moments everything seems bigger than me. I am no longer the woman with the dead mother and the career in flux and the fears that my children are going to need so much therapy from all the childhood trauma they’ve survived. Instead I’m just one person out of the thousands who have sat on that terrace. I imagine what it must’ve been like for the original owners of the property to live here and what it must’ve been like hundreds of years ago to make a permanent life in these mountains. When we stay there, I get up early and go straight for the coffee shop, then the terrace with my laptop, whatever book I’m reading, journal, Bible, and fountain pen, and just write and breathe and feel and somehow the worries can’t find me.
Yesterday we went to Asheville because I wanted to visit my favorite pen store to pick out my Christmas present. It wasn’t a pen this time, it was a beautiful work of art that is anticlimactically known as a pen box to hold my fountain pens. Afterwards we went to a rooftop bar and relaxed and enjoyed the incredible views, but eventually we meandered our way to the terrace of the Grove Park.
As I sat there I thought about the past year and how much has changed. I thought about how hard it has been for me. How most days out of the past 365 I haven’t been able to breathe or think or live without some level of pain bordering on anguish and despair. How I have grieved and mourned and been uncertain and how I’ve not really lived but rather survived the past year and how I know that sounds selfish and wasteful but it is what it is.
I remembered on January 1 sitting on that very terrace with my Chuck Taylors resting on the stone wall, reading Oliver Sacks as I tried to figure out my next move because I had come to that moment when you know you have to do something because you can’t continue to live like you’ve been doing for the past years or there will be nothing left of your soul. Where I figured out that my job shouldn’t be my life and my losses in the past couldn’t be allowed to define my future and I needed to somehow take out a big machete and hack my way through the jungle until I arrived at somewhere safe enough to make camp until I could figure out where home would be.
And I looked across the table last night and saw Other Half, the one who has been dragged with me on this journey that has, more often than not, been more than either of us could bear. My phone rang with a Face Time call and it was Mary Ann, asking me if her foundation was too dark for her skin tone and making jokes about how her daddy was grounded for not supervising me better when I made the ill-advised choice to follow-up a “Mistletoe-to-toe” and charcuterie (adult lunchables) with hot chocolate just because I could, and I realized what an incredible blessing it is to be able to get a phone call from my daughter and watch her grow and learn and navigate life in a world that is less and less predictable with every passing day. I thought about Benjamin Button and the joy it has brought me to watch him stop playing video games all the time and instead show interest in basketball and yo-yos and perfecting his pick-up line game (my personal favorite is, “Are you google? Because you’re everything I’ve been searching for,” followed by a blonde haired, blue eyed wink).
I remembered how, in January, I started the Elijah Bible Study by Priscilla Shirer and she talks about how Elijah was sent to the Brook Cherith, and then to Zarephath to be taken care of by an unlikely person, a widow who could ill afford to support even herself, and then to confront the priests of Baal and his enemies Ahab and Jezebel, before ending up in the woods, hiding, saying, “Lord take my life. I can’t do it anymore.” I thought about how she described everywhere he went as “anywhere but there, Lord,” and how God didn’t get angry with him, but instead sent angels to bring him food and rest saying, “Eat, for the journey has become too much for you,” and providing Elisha as a companion and friend.
I thought about (shocker) a book I bought recently, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig. This one is truly fascinating. I am one of those people who will buy things from Facebook ads because I have terrible judgement and poor impulse control, but this one was worth. it. This guy has spent years now coming up with words to describe feelings that we all experience but somehow don’t possess the vocabulary to give voice to. The kind of words that, upon reading their definitions, make you exclaim, “That’s it! That’s exactly how I felt! I thought I was the only one!”
Anyway, there’s this word on page 17, “ozurie” which means “feeling torn between the life you want and the life you have.” It’s a combination of Oz (as in Dorothy and the Wizard), the prairie (where she came from), and “you” caught somewhere in between, he says. He goes on to describe how Dorothy sat up in her bed at the end of the movie convinced that, “There’s no place like home.” She said those words (no place like home) after she had gone from living in a place of black-and-white to a world splashed with innumerable colors, colors her life experience hadn’t even given her the words to describe and having experiences that she could never even have imagined. He says that after all of this, seeing the world in living color, meeting all these new people, seeing how life could be, she still made the choice to come back home. He talks about how we have the choice, as she did, every single day, between putting on our usual predictable black Mary Janes or the red sparkly magical shoes that we stole from the witches we conquered. He says, “If Oz is a dream that never leaves you, so is Kansas…Which will it be—Kansas or Oz? Life as it is or life as it could be? Soon enough, life will offer you an answer…Until she decides, she’ll be caught in a maddening state of tension, trying to live in two worlds at once— padding around the farmhouse as it spins inside the twister, with rubies shining in her bloodstream, her auburn hair slowly turning gray. Spare a thought for poor Dorothy, the orphan girl of Kansas who dreams in color but lives in black and white.”
This could all be so very melancholy and hopeless, but what I take away from it is the sense of wide open possibility, and the power of making a choice. In this great letting go of what has been, arms are empty and free to embrace what could be. There is this perfect moment, somewhere between the already and the not yet where anything seems possible, and nothing seems out of reach.
I still miss my old life, some days so much I can barely hold the weight of it, and I close my eyes and imagine that everything is still exactly how I wanted it. But now, as there never were before, there are moments of clarity when I am able to appreciate how far I’ve come, and instead of being terrified to hang suspended in that time between, I’m exhilarated, holding my breath and enjoying the way it feels to fly.