When I was eight years old, my dad and I stood in line for Space Mountain, at Disney World, for THREE HOURS. I remember the waiting area vividly. All the stars, all the people… We got up to the very point of getting on the ride and I said no. He tried to get me to go, but I was adamant and stood up to my father. I was petrified. So, we walked right out the door and outside.
Thirty years later, I was back at Disney World with the family. This was my “relaxing vacation”, a time to unwind after a bunch of wrenches thrown at me simultaneously. A new furnace, sewer backup and descaling of pipes, new car, new loans, new job, pivoting my business and loads of new responsibilities and to dos that won’t quit and keep getting larger and more frightening… I tried to see this trip as a blessing, to see the world like a kid again, like my nephews and my niece, the magic and all that. I am not a Disney World kind of vacationer, even though I’ve come to love roller coasters. Too people-y. I also do not deal well with other adults’ anxiety. Then I feel bad because I know I don’t deal well with their anxiety. Anxiety creates anxiety.
Families are funny. We may get annoyed with each other, snap sometimes, and then move on five minutes later and it’s all ok. Most of the time we can just accept the quirks that make up the people we love.
It’s so hard to see your parents getting older. Somehow they’re seventy, having trouble walking. Mom has those purple bruises on her hands like Grandma did. When did this happen? Sunrise, sunset.. (I don’t remember growing older-when did they?”) I see it in the kids too. Seems to have happened overnight.
I always remember when my irritations are high that we aren’t going to be together forever and someday I will desire to have them right here, doing whatever they’re doing that’s pissing me off (and I am well aware of my many quirks that bug the hell out of them too). This is my anxiety, my guilt. I am so scared of the thing that will eventually and undoubtedly happen. So, I pray. I pray so much for their health and protection, that we all get to stay together for as long as humanly possible. I’ve had morbid thoughts on this since I was a little kid. Thinking this may be the last time we kiss each other goodbye… It’s just my mind. Anjelah Johnson does a whole skit on this. I fully connect with it. At least someone else gets it. So, turning quirks and acceptance into gratitude is not new to me. Doing this in the middle of a herd in Disney World is another matter.
Then I looked at my phone. My friend called a few times and asked me to call. The next text shook me. A friend of ours had passed away. She didn’t want me to find out on Facebook. There I was, crying at Disney World. Just like the kid next to me crying for not getting what he wants. It’s different but the same, really.
My heart was so heavy, trapped in a swarm of sweaty irritated humans. I had to be present at the same time because my niece ran up to me at that moment all excited about her big debut on stage with Belle. In the midst of shock, heartache, and incomprehension, I knew I had to be present and just be grateful. That’s all we can do.
I knew, in a way, that was honoring her. For all the people who leave us, all we can do to truly honor them is to enjoy, be present, and be grateful.
I thought of my friend’s face. Here was a soul so beautiful, fun, lively- here yesterday and gone today. She was young. I wasn’t even that close to her, but we had JUST had an amazing time out to dinner recently, laughing and sharing stories. My heart went out to my friends, who were family with her, truthfully. Her son. I hated that I was so far away and couldn’t comfort them. I couldn’t wrap my head around this. All she had left to do, to give, to be…
Of course this made me look at my family and just want to hold them all so tightly and never let go.
A work colleague of mine recently lost her sister. She said how hard it was to not have that daily conversation, as she was used to talking with her on the phone everyday. She feels her presence still and sees the signs, the God winks. Those winks speak loudly. She said, “I just need to learn our new language.” I thought that was beautiful.
Where my head went next was all those silly fears I was worried about in my day to day tasks when I got home. All the things I had to do that I was resisting. Being more visible in the business sense. Writing. All of the things. And it all became so stupid and so small. The videos I have to do because my brand expert is making me… became really small when I pictured my friend’s face. Here one minute and gone the next.
I usually thank God for my problems. Because if I have problems, I’m still here and that’s an amazing thing. It puts it all into perspective. I’m no stranger to being slapped in the face with perspective. No one is. Life throws us unfathomable jolts, and we gain perspective. But how long do we hold onto that before we get sucked back into our own little bubble? Our own little world with the problems and narrowed vision?
These jolts tell us we are not invincible. We are not promised tomorrow. I know, I know— we all hear it, we get the quotes, people say it all the time. Yeah, it’s common knowledge. But it doesn’t hit you the same as something like this smacking you in the face.
I am well aware that I take time for granted, knowing this truth that we are not promised tomorrow, thinking somehow that we defy mortality. I think I have all the time in the world to write that book, to do this and that…
I vow to take better care of myself for her. She was so young. What am I doing? I can do better. Why am I the last priority on my list? I won’t take it for granted.
So, thirty years later, my seventy year old dad and I were trying so hard to make Space Mountain happen. It was closed for most of the day. I had no idea when I was young that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime decision. Nearing closing time, it opened up and we darted off to again stand in line and wait. Oh, that waiting room! Vivid detail locked in my memory. As we chatted, I looked at this man, knowing this was the last time he, or I, would be here. I thought of the rest of my family. I was leaving a day earlier than the rest of them, because I was shooting a wedding. The fear that everyone I loved was going to be on the same flight, apart from me, was looming in my mind. I thought of my friend, struggled with a dark scary spiral of thoughts, wanting to hold onto my family as tightly as I can, knowing it’s all out of my control. I remembered the movie Parenthood, when the grandma is talking about how some play it safe with a merry-go-round. Nothing. Boring. The ups and downs of the roller coaster is real life. That is truly living. I prayed a lot that day. I have never been one for God’s will over mine. I’m continuously learning that one and continuously struggling. Why some things work out for some people and don’t for others— I don’t think it’s our place to understand. Just trust. Faith. Let Go and Let God.
The fear and the darkness can really get to you. But, then… it was time. Just as we were stepping to that pivotal point, we had the biggest smiles on our faces, both of us little kids. This is what it’s all about. Getting on the ride and enjoying it while it lasts.
Be grateful. Let Go. Trust.