For the last thirteen years we've lived, more or less, near the ocean.
In Maine we didn't live on the coast, but compared to landlocked states we lived near the water. Four years ago, when we left Maine to move back to Canada, we lived with my parents in Nova Scotia for about six months. They were minutes from the ocean. Most of our time on the Gaspe peninsula has been near or in the mountains. But for the last nine months the view from our front yard has been the ocean.
At some point in these last thirteen years we started a sea glass collection. A few of our best finds have been from Plage Henderson, the local beach, a ten minute walk from this house on the hill. I don't think I've come home once from that beach without a piece of smooth glass in my pocket.
The sea glass goes in a jar. Over the years the kids have crafted lovely jewelry with a few of the most beautiful pieces we've found.
When you find sea glass on the beach, it always feels like discovering treasure, but not all the glass we've collected is worth keeping. Before I packed up the jar to move it to Montreal we went through the collection, choosing our favorites, discarding the rest. (The discard is easy. They just go back to the beach.)
At the time of the sea glass sort, I was experiencing a particularly intense wave of transition anxiety so arranging the pieces, touching their smooth surfaces, and noting the subtle differences in a color, all felt like a meditative practice.
My situation remained the same, I was still surrounded by the general disorder and chaos of moving. But for a few moments there was beauty and calm.
I shared an instagram to remember that moment. Then I picked up the sides of the paper and funneled the "chosen ones" back into their jar.
Later in the day I checked my instagram and noticed a comment on that post in which someone tagged two of their instagram "followers? friends?" people to check out the collection.
The first thing that came to my mind, and which I added to the comments was, "I didn't even know this was special."
Last month I published the following in my Kitchen Table essay.
Looking through some of those photos I could see how precious each stage of our family life has been. How blessed we have been to have our family culture enriched and shaped by our unique experience of living in a variety of situations. I see strong relationships in those photos forged through happy times, and not-so-happy times.
My children are nearly grown and I'm six months out from my fortieth birthday. Looking at those photos, it hit me hard. I don’t want to spend the first few years of Montreal asking if we've done the right thing and wishing for the past. A past that, in retrospect, was happier, more secure, and contented than I actually felt in the living of those days.
I don't want to appreciate what I have only as it slips out of my grasp: health, time with my children, ordinary days, food on our table, friendships, the opportunities to make art, love, and music.
I want to experience life while living it, not just pine for a (false) halcyon past, or place unrealistic hopes in my expectations for the future.
In other words, I don't want to get to the end of life, my kids' graduations, next year, or next month, and say about right now, "but, I didn't even know that was special".
I've had so many experiences that, at the time, I didn't fully appreciate and recognize how special they were. Because so much else was going on, all those distractions and stresses of life.
There are some moments, days and seasons that are simply hard to appreciate.
I've told you I'm having a mid-life crisis.
It has not come out of nowhere. It comes from four years of nearly constant transitions and upheaval that has undermined my overall sense of security and self-confidence. It comes from being the forty year old mother to three teenaged children, two significant life phases converging on each other. It comes from the Big Things we learned about ourselves, and our marriage, on our thru-hike.
It has come because it is time to deal, head-on, with some things in my life (me) that I have previously avoided facing, choosing instead to (try to) control, manage and manipulate my environment.
This has been painful. And in experiencing that pain I have doubt and regret. Where did I go wrong to bring this upon myself? How did I get myself in this pickle?
If I had known this pain was coming I would have tried to avoid it but I wonder then, what else would have been avoided in doing so? What relationships would have never formed? What wonderful moments and memories, that I now cherish, would have never existed? What personal growth would have been stunted?
Moving is hard on me for many reasons. It brings disorder and chaos into my life. There is a huge loss of efficiency which I beat myself up for. My management systems are stressed and strained. It can feel like things are out of control. It's just hard.
Life is hard, for everyone, and this is just one of my "hard" realities. It's something I hate doing and for my mental health we intend to not move again for a while. (There is a very good reason why most people try to avoid moving too often.) But this situation I do not like has enabled me to have some amazing experiences, to live in unique and wonderful places, and taught me a great deal about myself and about life.
This spring I was reading John Gottman's book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I wasn't able to finish it before I had to return it to the library, but one of the things I wrote down that really encouraged me was this: "couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well.” This statement is based on his extensive research on marital stability.
I have very positive memories about our past, all parts of it - the places we've lived, the relationships we've had, our family story, our history as a couple. I have to dig to remember the painful stuff. And although Damien remembers our past positively also, when I start moaning for the good ol' days he's the one to remind me of some of the struggles we faced, and conquered together, in our past.
These positive memories give me hope, because I realize that I will remember this time fondly also, mid-life crisis and all. I am going to cherish these memories, because they're ours, they're mine.
Experience teaches me this, and just knowing that challenges me to look at the present through that lens - one day this will be a cherished memory. Remembering that someday I will look back on this time as the good 'ol days encourages me to grab the camera and take a photo, encourages me to watch Netflix with my kids and pack hasty picnics for the beach, encourages me to slow down when I can and to work hard when hard work is what is called for.
This is a difficult lesson for me to learn. I wonder how long it will take me to "get it".
Cherishing our lives is something a lot of us struggle with. And I think we struggle with it because it's something worth struggling for. When life is easy, cherishing is cheap. But when things are hard (and they are for all of us, in different ways and at different times) that is the time we must develop the discipline of appreciating and noticing.
PS. These lilacs make me so happy. There is a lilac hedge between the guesthouse and the main house and the air is heady with their fragrance, which right now is wafting through the open window of the guesthouse bedroom, where I sit writing.
I had been anxiously awaiting their bloom, a bit peeved at how late they blossomed. I was frustrated with the peninsula's almost non-existent spring season. Talk about an exercise in futility.
The lilacs bloomed during the in-between time of our move, something I could not have planned or orchestrated. I will always cherish this timing and in future years, as the lilacs come into bloom wherever I am living, they will remind me of this period of our lives; this house, our friendships, sunset trips to the beach, the age of my children at this time, our move. They will remind me of now.