Here is What I Don't Know
I’ll be honest – I haven’t quite yet figured out what the point of this blog will be.
I know – this is basically the worst way to start off an essay that you actually hope people will read. But here I am, on the verge of 47, sitting deeply with the realization that while I have a husband and kids and a dog, a house and a 401K and a solid health insurance plan (phew!), the only thing I know for sure is that I’m pretty unsure of everything.
This is ironic to me, because there was a time in my life where I thought I knew it all. Teenaged me? I was absolutely certain that if I just had my freedom, I could take on the world. Twentysomething me? If I did all the right things – graduated college, worked hard, was a good person, all the good things would flow to me.
Then my 30s hit, and the waters stirred. There was the first house that we lost money on. There was the big move back to New York City, which was a lot more expensive than we realized. There was that day when I had a newborn crying on my shoulder, a toddler sobbing on my lap, and I could think of nothing else to do than to let the tears flow along with them.
There was the struggle to build a freelance writing business that got knocked down again and again as the economy sagged and people’s expectation that news should be free became as ingrained as the first amendment that journalism means to protect. And of course there was Hurricane Sandy, which despite all my prayers and wishes still barreled 4 feet of water into our home, upending our lives for years.
Which brings me to my 40s, which started with trying to figure out how to rebuild a house with nearly zero dollars in the bank, and continued with trying to maintain my freelance business while pay rates kept falling, along with expectations and need for quality. The internet is a glutton for content, and when anyone with a laptop can be a creator, the purpose-driven life of a writer-journalist is hard to sustain. And very hard to monetize.
My kids got older. I learned to start letting them go – from leaving them home for a couple of minutes while I ran to the grocery store, racing to the checkout so I could get back before someone fell on his head or accidentally burned down the house. (Neither happened.) Then there was letting a 12-year-old navigate the New York City subway system, which nearly put me into a catatonic state.
And then there was the last year or so – my husband out of work for a year, and my having to figure out how to support us while also developing an in-your-face understanding of the burdens of a healthcare system that is tied to employer-based coverage. After all, when you learn your husband had a stent placed to open an 80 percent blockage in his widowmaker artery, you first thank God for a proactive cardiologist, and next pledge to never, ever go without health coverage.
Tired yet? I didn’t even get to the treacherous, exhausting and unbearably sad journey of my father-in-law’s last months of life, when we thought all he needed was a knee replacement and three months later were sitting in a hospital meeting room with doctors explaining what “hospice” means.
Which all brings me to now. Like you I’m sure, I’ve spent the last two months hunkered down with my family, holding my breath any time I had to come within less than 6 feet of anyone. I’ve worried about my son’s seemingly nonstop screentime. I’ve worried about my seemingly expanding waistline as cooking and baking became the one event to look forward to each day. I’ve worried about my husband’s job. I’ve been so very sad about how many experiences the kids are missing out on—from playing soccer with his friends to hanging out at Starbucks with friends after school. I’ve stared at the ceiling at night wondering if we’ll all make it through unscathed.
Life is just full of unknowable answers. Which gets back to my premise – despite being firmly middle-aged, I feel I know less, not more, about what to expect from this life.
I have learned that things do not get easier. The more you learn, the more you are roughened up in preparation for the next challenge. And there is always the next one. I live in fear of what will come next. It can be heartbreak, which makes getting through the day feel like swimming through tar. But there’s also the exhaustion that accompanies life’s darkest hours. Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion, in that order.
I don’t want to get exceedingly negative. I don’t want to dwell on the fear of what comes next, the anxiety that stops me from feeling joy. Which goes to the reason why I named this blog “Finding Joy.” What is joy? More importantly, what is joy to me? And do I have the courage to feel it? Do I have the spirit to embrace it?
Because life is joy. Isn’t it? What’s the point otherwise. Joy is the random hug I get from my daughter. The kiss goodnight from my son. The sunshine on my face. Music. Dancing. Rolling over at night and snuggling up to my husband, breathing beside me. There’s writing. I realized that writing for myself gives me tremendous joy, and I have not done enough of it.
So here I am. Writing. And if feels good. Thanks if you made it this far. Thanks for holding part of my story, because that is a gift we can give each other. More on that later, I think, because that idea just filled me with joy.