A Life To Call My Own

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.
~David Whyte

In the early pandemic days, I was all about the productivity, barreling around as if the universe had deadlines, expectations and timetables. My task list was ambitious and extensive. I didn’t understand how long we’d be hunkered down or that much of what I was furiously organizing – piles of clothes for the Salvation Army and boxes of paper for Red Dog Shred – couldn’t be dropped off anyway.

At first, my calendar filled like magic with meeting after meeting. Organizations and volunteer groups had discovered Zoom. Got a quick question? Don’t ask it over email; schedule a Zoom call. Once everyone has gathered, why have an agenda and keep the meeting to an hour? People have all day. Let’s run long. Over the next few weeks, the world staggered back into balance, partly because I started declining meeting invitations and partly because Zoom fatigue set in for most of us.

After a while, I adapted to being home, settling into days without structure and a calendar without places to be, projects to finish or deadlines to meet. What were once priorities fell away: hair color, polished nails, the gym as the only place to work out. I discovered the camera on my computer doesn’t pick up the ever-widening streak of gray in my hair or my unpainted nails. I didn’t miss the racing around, the 60-mile round trip drives to downtown Sacramento, the meetings I couldn’t or didn’t say ‘no’ to.

I discovered the pleasure of a mostly empty calendar, spending long hours reading, thinking and staring out the window. The joy of looking forward to writing group on Tuesday evening and Thursday morning. The sweetness of FaceTime calls with my essential people. The pleasure of long walks on deserted streets with Buster while listening to podcasts. The power of waiting to find the path forward with my work in a way that’s helpful to my clients instead of distracting.

As I began to see my time as precious instead of abundant, I became fiercely protective of it, unwilling to attend meaningless meetings or unnecessary gatherings. I learned how much of my prior overwhelm and dashing about is of my own making. That I say ‘yes’ to too many activities and people simply because there’s space in my schedule. That carving out time to daydream and reflect is just as productive as people say it is. That I have no trouble filling my unstructured days with writing and creating. That pausing where it hurts, sitting with my grief, writing what needs to be written is easier in Jimmy’s sunny, quiet corner room.

Black dog with an orange collar sleeping in the sunlight on a beige carpet in front of a closet and a light wood bookcase

There’s time now for conversations at odd hours and over dinner with Dan and Molly about all that’s happening in the world. Discussing, debating, disagreeing and learning from each other. Trying to understand experiences we’ve never had, actions we’d never take. Eating well, not too much. Following the lead of my body, perhaps for the first time.

I am learning what it means to live with ambiguity, accepting that the future ground is too uncertain to stand on, but trusting that the way will be shown eventually. I promised myself after Jimmy died that I would keep going, no matter what, not just because it’s what he would have wanted but because I wasn’t going to squander the journey into old age he’ll never get to make.

I am uncovering the woman I am, bit by bit as everything else falls away. Excavating by standing still. Holding my own, standing my ground, finding my voice. Tested by the universe as we all are these days. Deaths from the virus, at the hands of police or from despair demand our attention. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rapidly rising death toll, the economic devastation, the wide-spread corruption or the violence we feel powerless to stop. But this is no time to hide, avoid taking a position or turn our face away. As the cracks emerge and both sides polarize, we learn what matters most, who we want to stand with, what we believe in, who we are.

Life is choice, my mother liked to say. We make decisions every day, often without recognizing or acknowledging what we are giving up, opting not to do, refusing to make time for.

The truth was there all along. It was just easier to bury my face, avoid the hard questions and look past the pain when I was busier. The uncovering is harrowing, and the decisions about what path to walk and with whom can be agonizing. But knowing what is real and what is not is a gift. Even though it may hurt, it’s the only way back to solid ground.

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