And don’t it feel good

Sometimes, my Facebook feed feels like a parade of dead parents. So many people I know are living through the same stage of life I am, and this is where we are: the age of our untethering.

A good friend from college recently lost her father, suddenly, and although–I guess?–none of us should be surprised, it was still surprising. I haven’t yet crossed over to the island so many of my old friends now inhabit, and I always feel at a loss for words when I see them climbing onto that terrible shore. What can I call across to them that that will be helpful and true? What do I know of where they are, or of what life now means to them? When I imagine the journey ahead of me, my own foundation collapsing and throwing me into that same sea…well, I don’t. Imagine it. Not for long, anyway.

My friend, who is also managing some other challenges typical for those our age, has been much on my mind. One dreary day this week, as I pulled into a grocery store parking lot, Katrina and the Waves’s “Walking on Sunshine” came on the radio:

What a frothy confection of a song! It transported me to 1985, the year Kim and I, a pair of coltish young women all lanky and clumsily beautiful, became friends. I remembered a particular afternoon in our sorority’s sun-filled living room, feeling good with her in a place I often felt bad, laughing at that song, at where we were, at how it felt to be everything we were on a rare warm northwest spring day. Everyone around us was blonde and light, with faces turned toward futures I couldn’t imagine as anything other than bright. Nearly 40 years later, sitting in my car in the parking lot of a dismal grocery store on a gray January day, the song made me smile, the way it always did then and always has since. It made me feel good to think of us as we once were, so many of our dramas then as silly-serious as the music, with our biggest mistakes not yet made and our deepest pains not yet felt.

Weren’t we lucky, once?

I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.

Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.

Although I will, in the face of another’s grief, always fear saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing the wrong way, I have learned that it is generally better to say something than nothing. So I sent the song to my friend with a few bumbling words, even as I worried that they might land wrong. That she might wonder what the hell I was thinking, would not understand what I was trying to offer or say. That I would make her feel even more sad than she already does.

But what she wrote back to me was, “I can’t express how much I LOVE this.”

I don’t know how she feels–how any of my friends on that shore I’m heading for truly feel–but I know that the more I lose, the more I love what I’ve had, and the more I realize what a gift it can be to have something good to feel nostalgic and heartbroken with, even if it is only a soft song that lets us forget, for a few moments, all the hard “yes, ands” we all live with, no matter our age.

What were we doing here? I have no idea. Having fun, that’s what we were doing. Probably by being snarky.

What’s making me cry this week:

13 thoughts on “And don’t it feel good

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I like that photo. You two were cute. I had a plaid blouse like that, too.

    “That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had.”

    That line resonates with me. When I was younger I believed that if I did the right thing all the time I’d be rewarded with less suffering. Didn’t work out that way, of course. I didn’t realize how much the system was rigged against me and that I was a pawn in many games. Now I do the right thing [a nebulous term at best] because I want to. Gaining wisdom isn’t always easy.

    • Rita says:

      And this resonates with me: “I didn’t realize how much the system was rigged against me and that I was a pawn in many games.” My kids’ generation seems to have a much better understanding of this, which is, perhaps, better in some ways but does not make anything easier for them.

      As for the plaid shirt, that belonged to some boy. The party theme was “boxers and button-downs,” I do remember that, and that I had to borrow a button-down shirt. I believe that I wore actual pants, however, and not boxers. I think we were pretty cute, too, not that we knew it then. I wish every young person could know how gorgeous they are, all of them.

      • Kate says:

        If this isn’t the truth: I wish every young person could know how gorgeous they are, all of them.

        My niece is 19 and we’ve spent a lot of time together this winter and seeing their self-consciousness in the face of just how beautiful and glossy they are in youth makes my heart ache for her and for me at 19 doing the same.

  2. Erin FB says:

    I feel like, having recently crossed to this shore, and continuing, often, to struggle there, that any words are right words because it means someone’s thinking of me and recognizing my loss. Katrina and the Waves takes the rigthness up a notch or teo, though, for sure!

  3. Marian says:

    Like Ally, this is the line that resonates with me: “That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had.” I think we’ve previously talked about this, but it’s perhaps worth pointing out again that being wounded—and living in fear of further wounding—can actually shut down the brain’s ability to choose right. (That certainly was what happened to 1985 me.)

    I’ve had Walking on Sunshine in my head all day, and I didn’t even need to press play on the link. 🙂

    • Rita says:

      That song was definitely an ear worm for me earlier this week. It’s pretty infectious.

      I don’t really know about wounding and shutting down our brain’s ability to choose well. I’m interested in learning more. I have been learning a lot about the impacts of emotional wounds on our bodies and minds–and, more hopefully, about how we can nurture and heal ourselves through experiences on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. But I can say that 1985 me made quite a few dubious choices, which were child’s play compared to some I made in the 10 years following that one.

  4. Kari says:

    I am also fortunate that my parents are doing well. My good friend has already lost both of her parents, and another dear friend has lost her mother and her father is currently battling illness. But we all know that this happens. The impermanence of life. Yet it does not make things any easier.

    Being mindful/ in the moment has helped me over the last two years. However, the last few months have been especially difficult for me. I saw a quote the other day that said that each day we get closer to death. How will I spend today?  It has dramatically changed my perspective. It took me back to one day at a time. Maybe it can help others too.

    I absolutely love that photo of you and your friend, and I’m glad that you heard that song on a dreary day. Nobody told us how difficult this period of our lives would be. But I have a feeling we’ll be just fine. 😘❤️

    I’m not in the right headspace to watch that video, but I will definitely return to it.

    • Rita says:

      Yes to all of this, Kari. The importance of living in the day we’re in, difficulty the last few months, how challenging this time of life can be. I watched the end of Fleishman Is in Trouble yesterday (about which I have thoughts, but won’t go into them here), and the narrator says something about how we will never be younger than we are today, which hit me maybe in a similar way to the quotation you saw. I hope your headspace clears/improves in the coming week. I’m learning that sometimes being mindful means letting my harder emotions come through. Sure is nicer when it’s the good ones, isn’t it? xo

  5. Kate says:

    I love the picture of you and your friend. And Walking on Sunshine. It feels warm and comforting. (And don’t it feel good!)

    So much of this resonated…the quote Ally and Marian pointed out especially.

    But also, Jesse lost one of his life long mentors this week – a man the same age as a father that he’s known for just about as long. When we found out, we talked about how we are of the few in our friend group that still have both parents living and how we are entering a different stage of our life. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’m becoming an elder. The very beginning stages of it, surely, but I’m still older than most my grandparents were when they became a grandparents. It’s weird.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, Kate. I am having such a hard time grappling with my growing awareness that I’m in a new stage. I think because my parents were so young when they had me (21 and 23) and I was older when I had my own kids (33), I have been in denial about where I’m actually at. I mean, I still had a grandmother just 4 short years ago, so my sense of where I am on the conveyer belt has been all wonky. If I’d become a grandparent at the ages my grandmothers were when I was born, my grandchild would be 11 right now. When I was 11 I thought my grandparents were pretty old! I get what people mean when they say age is just a number, but it also isn’t.

      I am so sorry about Jesse’s loss. There are so many layers to that kind of loss, and one of them has to be grief about our own mortality. It’s hard and scary (even when we’re older and know so much more than we did when young) to lose those people we’ve looked to for guidance and comfort. I think we never outgrow a need for that. Maybe, when we are the elders, we will give it to each other?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.