The last month or so have been tough for me, for a variety of reasons. My job is a constant challenge. Sometimes a welcome challenge, when it involves fighting for a kid’s success, in school or in life, but almost always exhausting. Life balance gets complicated, and frankly, I’m just not very good at balancing life to begin with. My own things at home go undone or incomplete, an itch for this list-maker. Laundry and dishes pile up. Animal pens need cleaned. Dogs need attention. And so on. We’ve had ongoing renovation projects, too, which ate up precious weekend time. (Many of those projects are nearing completion and feel worth every eaten weekend or evening minute, but there were moments… Oh, were there moments.) An issue with my former partner came up, the resolution of which promises only loss for me. Another cat, a fickle biter of a cat, moved in and simultaneously developed a horrible abscess the size of a nickel. That hole in his neck sucked up money like a vacuum, via the vet bills. It wasn’t one thing, it was everything. In short – Life. Just. Felt. Hard.
And then, a few weeks ago, I realized something. When I stopped to listen to friends, near and far, really listen, without filter, it was clear that my shit, while shitty, was but a couple of rabbit turds against their jumbo, steaming piles of cow shit. Really, really, shitty stuff. People I love were (and are still, in some cases,) facing situations that both frightened and humbled me. A very dear friend, one of the few people I know who can keep my feet on the ground, my head in the stars and my heart overflowing with love – my safe harbor – lives 5 or 6 states away to the far north, in Maine. She is now facing a rough surgery because of some pre-cancerous cells. Another, a special man who was brought into my life through the oddest of circumstances at the time I needed it most, lives a couple of states to the south of me. He was waiting for similar test results recently. They have since come back with good news, but not before robbing him of sleep and, temporarily, his sense of peace. An amazing co-worker, who is one of the strongest women I know and so incredibly important to me professionally and, more importantly, personally, as a true to-the-moon-and-back friend, is fighting a staggering battle as the mom of a chronically ill teenage daughter. And there was more. Is more. Always more. Financial problems. Divorce. Illness. Family struggles. Loss. Grief. Pain. Real honest-to-goodness shittiness of the highest order. And I was struck with the questions… What to say? What to do? What to feel?
I remember driving down a back road in mid-September and noticing the first brushstrokes of fall on the roadside, poison ivy, probably, or maybe sumac. Both just scream in early autumn, a jolt of improbable color in a sea of fading green, seemingly appearing overnight. My eyes are usually waiting for them around that time, a startling preview of things to come. Once I find a patch, my eyes usually find it again and again, each time I pass by, looking for that promise of change, that omen of the artistry of October, my fix for the day. I don’t remember that happening this year. My eyes forgot to see. I stopped noticing. One day I saw that the maple tree in front of the church across the street was losing leaves by the bucketful in the wind of the day and I remember thinking, “I never noticed those leaves changing color.” Those particular leaves were mostly browned at that point. I’m sure they changed color between green and brown, in this wet year, but I hadn’t noticed. I forgot to see.
On a recent Sunday, Jeremy and I stole some precious weekend minutes and took our respective parents to breakfast and then to Peters Orchards, a beautiful trip across rolling hills through their hypnotic acres of fruit trees. I was in search of my favorite heirloom apple for baking, the not-so-common-anymore Northern Spy. We had a wonderful morning together, with a great, hearty diner breakfast, belly laughs, and beautiful weather. We spent time, purposefully with no purpose other than to spend it, an extravagance worth every minute.
When we got back to the house, I walked into the dining room and stopped short. I saw movement in the living room that was far too small to be explained by dog or cat, who were certainly romping about at that point. This movement was hoppy and flighty, and when it paused, I saw what it was: a wren. In the living room.
One part of our living room/front porch project involved the stripping of the front door. That part was done and the door was in place, but the metal letter slot hardware had been removed for soaking and stripping, leaving an open slot in the door that apparently looked inviting to this wren. Wrens are small, inquisitive, bossy birds, but this one had apparently exerted a lot of energy trying to figure out how to get the hell out of Dodge, most likely pursued by dogs and a furry butterball of a cat. I can’t imagine the wren had much peace while in the house. By all appearances, this bird was pretty stressed. Pretty worried. Having a pretty shitty day.
Jeremy is a big man. He stands 6’2″. I used to call him my lumberjack. I don’t so much anymore because I don’t think he appreciates it, although I can’t imagine why. When I announced that there was a bird in the living room, I don’t think he believed me at first, although I had never “cried bird” before. When he saw it, though, he immediately went into action. This big man, known for his larger than life talents, became his soft soul. After a couple of tries, Jeremy had this tiny bird enclosed in his big hands without a feather misplaced. He carried it outside, away from the house and dogs, opened his hands, and the bird was gone, so very gently, and we believed the saga of the wayward wren was over.
This week, we actually managed to finish the living room to the point that we could assemble it into some sense of order. This involved moving a piece of furniture, a hall rack, upstairs to a new home. When we lifted it to move, Jeremy noticed something, a whitish streak, dried as it ran down from the top. Upon closer examination, it’s origin was clear. It was bird shit, a parting gift from our recently released visitor who was clearly having a shittier day than we realized.
There has been a recurrence on Facebook, in the last month or so, of a quote that reads, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” The attribution of this quote is pretty unclear, but the sentiment is not.
Life isn’t good or bad. Life is, simply, life. Sometimes it offers us glimpses of beauty, if we are present to notice. Sometimes it challenges us to understand its pain. Sometimes it offers us peace. Sometimes it dumps us into its mud. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is shitty. Sometimes it is both, in the same moment. It isn’t our job to understand, or to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s simply our job to acknowledge the beautiful and the ugly, to feel it all, to witness and share the beauty and the burden alike, to celebrate the surprise gift of poison ivy in September, the unstoppable crocus in April, the first October frost that blackens the greens of summer. To notice, shit and all, and to to remember to be kind, gentle, and thankful.