“This ordinary time is
gifted in its quiet, marked passing
Christ slips about
calling and baptizing,
sending and affirming,
pouring his Spirit like water
into broken cisterns,
sealing cracks and filtering our senses,
that we may savor the foolish
simplicity of his grace.”
from “Passing Ordinary Time” by Enuma Okoro
Last week I decided I needed to declutter—not my house—my digital life. I have more than a decade of my life spread out on three different computers, various hard drives, and old cell phones. I wanted to make sure I’d taken everything important off of my old Mac. It’s old enough that it looks strange: clunky and antiquated. “What is that?” asks my daughter. “Is that really a computer?” when I take it out.
I was surprised to discover in my Word documents a whole journal that I’d kept just after my daughter was born. We had unexpectedly been forced to move in with my parents when she was just a couple of weeks old. I was depressed about the sudden exodus from the city I loved(/hated), and also probably suffering from postpartum depression. At that time we’d lost almost everything we owned due to a bed bug infestation in our apartment building. We moved in with my parents with just the clothes on our backs, and went back to the apartment on weekends in a rented Uhaul to salvage what we could. We left most of what we owned—furniture, stuff—behind for good. It probably almost ties with my husband’s death as one of the most difficult times of my life.
All of my months of planning and nesting had dissolved with the discovery of just one tiny insect. I can still remember going into the bedroom where we’d put Audrey’s organic crib, and made a mural over it. I can still remember literally pounding my fists on the top of the dresser and saying outloud, “But I worked so hard…” a very elder son thing to say- as if I could avoid any of life’s obstacles just by working hard.
But the words that caught my eye in my journal were my beloved husband’s. Something unplanned and kind of shockingly awful had happened. I was living in my childhood room with my newborn sleeping in a borrowed pack and play. We didn’t know if we should move back into New York City or to a suburban town in Jersey, or someplace else altogether. We had the few things we’d salvaged—photo albums, our instruments, books—in a storage unit. He spent his days commuting back and forth to his job in the city and going to our old apartment to check on things and try to pick up things we might want or need. I spent endless days at my parent’s house alone listening to the rhythm of the automatic baby swing that I’d put Audrey in for hours just to get her to stop crying.
But one day, probably while I was sulking, Dan had said, according to the journal entry I found, “We’re allowed to be happy today.” What he meant was, even though everything feels chaotic and like a total mess, and even though we’ve lost a lot financially, even though we have the responsibility of finding a new home for our new family, and even though we basically have to start over and all of that work is ahead of us, today—we can be happy.
Even when we’re not going through a crisis, we’re so often waiting to get “everything together” before we enjoy life. People wait their entire working lives to retire so they can “be happy.” People are waiting to find that perfect house, then for that “perfect” house to be renovated, to get pregnant, and then for their kids to grow up. Do you see what happens?
I needed to read Dan’s words—I had forgotten them. So much of my own life still remains unsettled. I often beat myself up for not being further along in so many areas. I often feel guilty as a parent that Audrey doesn’t have the things other kids might have. But then usually, what makes her happy isn’t anything grandiose—not the exciting outing or fancy vacation; instead it’s just the time we spend together. Her favorite part of each day is the fifteen minutes each day we call “special time” when we alternate choosing something to do together with no distractions, phone etc. “We’re allowed to be happy today.”
I went on reading the many pages of the journal I’d kept almost ten years ago, and it was apparent that I’d taken Dan’s words to heart. The word “happy” is actually not my favorite, but I learned to be content, and even joyful which is far beyond “happy.” “I treasured having a cup of tea at night with Dan quietly in my parent’s kitchen listening for you to cry for your next feeding,” I wrote Audrey. “I enjoyed that Saturday going to IKEA and eating lunch there and sharing the dessert sampler.” Finding joy in the simplest of things. Finding a safe haven for happiness in the small package of each day despite all that was unfinished.
Wherever you may be today, no matter how much remains unfinished in your plans, in your life, no matter how much work you have left to do ahead of you: taking a day off to rest and enjoy life with those you love isn’t unproductive or foolish. It may well be just what you need to sustain you in the difficult days ahead. So, I leave you with Dan’s invitation, “You’re allowed to be happy today,” and this short entry from that journal I kept, addressed to Audrey, almost ten years ago,
You and I have been up another long night. Your longest stretch was from 10-12:30, but then it was 1:20 am, 2:30 am, and every hour after that. It was grueling in a tender way. Your sweaty head pressed against mine, your tears pressed against my cheek. I nursed you, put you back down, rocked you, held you. But then in the morning, around 7:30 am, just like every day, I go to your crib and you kick your little legs, and look up at me with your mouth in a wide open smile. You are so happy to see me, so happy to start another day. Audrey, I want you to always believe in fresh starts and new beginnings. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
This is powerful, Julia. What a good word – “You’re allowed to be happy today.” This is something we’ve been learning through challenging life situations over the last few years. So important. And sometimes so hard. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Diana. We missed you at the conference! The word is that it may be the last one.
Thank you, Julia. It’s helpful to be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning. We can begin again, for every second is potentially a new morning.
I love that- “every second is potentially a new morning.” Thanks for sharing it.
Contented, delighted, elated, and glad –
I can’t complain, I won’t be sad.
Joyful, and lively, and peaceful, and pleased –
Not down or disturbed or any of these.
It’s a hyphened, light-spirited, high-flying day
Walking on air in a cloud nine-way.
So, though it may sound excessively sappy,
I think I can say that I simply feel happy.
and at 3.39am no less!
I don’t know why it posted then. I actually wrote and sent it at 11:45 or so. I was well out of it by that time!
I’m really not adept at the technical aspects of blogging- I think the clock is off or something. I loved this poem. Thanks for writing and sharing it. It feels like dancing to me.
Wonderful again Julia. I love the “elder son,” just slipped in.
Beautiful. It made me teary – in a good way. In this later part of my life, I make a conscious effort to find sweet moments of just being and feeling. As an anxious person, I don’t always find this easy to do. I need to keep practicing.
Me too, Anne, as you know…let us keep practicing.
“Finding a safe haven for happiness in the small package of each day despite all that was unfinished.” This was my biggest challenge when the kids were little and even now, just in a different way. Thanks Julia for your words
Still a challenge for me too. Dan’s words were a good reminder.
Thank you for the beautiful reminder that it’s ok to rest and enjoy life. Your words came at a perfect time for me. I appreciate your dedication to writing and sharing your words with so many people who need to hear them. God bless you.
Hello. My friend, Thomas Hong, shared this post with me in light of losing my brother 2 weeks ago and experiencing other heartbreaking pains. I just wanted to thank you for writing this. It gave me a profound perspective and encouraged my heart. You have a gift of writing with such depth, beauty and vulnerability that has a powerful impact. I’m a fan 🙂 I hope you continue to find happiness daily.
Thanks for reading. Sent you an email as well.