Monday, January 5, 2015

A Healthy 2015: Endings, Beginnings, and Middles

Welcome to a new year! My husband and I are back from our Christmas vacation and recovering from the 15-day road trip around the country. We drove 7000 miles and got to see friends and family in many different states. Like many things, it was so worth it and a relief that it's over.

I feel healthy coming back. Healthy and strong. I've learned so much in the past year, and changed so much, and figured myself out more. I hope that's how every year feels: like I've progressed.

Not that it's easy or joyous to make progress. It's often very hard. But we dismiss hard things in our culture and use comfort as a measure of health.

I want to evaluate the health of my life differently this year. I have several--I guess you'd call them New Year's resolutions--of how I want to live healthy and whole this year. Each day this week I'll describe another of these new perspectives. I want to challenge myself to use each one to evaluate how healthy my life is throughout the year, rather than seeking after emotional comfort, a certain weight, specific possessions, obtaining certainties for the future... These define life as I want to live it.

The first perspective is my understanding of life as a journey.

In November, my beloved guinea pig Penny, who wrote a guest-post here on the blog, passed away. This was not unexpected. She passed her 5th birthday. Most guinea pigs only live to 3. Recently I noticed her getting the sniffles more often, and she became less tidy about where she did her business.

She loved the smell of the outdoors. Sometimes I put her outside in the grass (hovering over her for protection, of course) and she thought she had died and gone to heaven. Which gives me much hope about where she is now.

There came a day when she was breathing through liquid. You could hear it in her labored breaths, her lungs filling up with fluids that shouldn't be there.

She got worse throughout the day. I held her often, snuggling her in her favorite green blanket. I gave her all of her favorite foods--fresh lettuce, carrots, hay. She stopped eating by midafternoon and wasn't moving much. Fluids came out with every breath. We prayed that she would pass that night. I couldn't handle her living like that much longer.

The next morning, I found her laying comfortably next to her water and food. She was dead.

I didn't cry. I never cried over her. I do miss her. I keep turning towards the corner where her cage used to stand, expecting to see her sniffing hopefully in my direction. I hear phantom guinea pig squeaks. I miss her snuggly little ball of warmth.

That's the hard part about death. It's not about them so much as it's about you: your loss. All the ways they intersected with your life. All the places where they are now missing.

Endings are hard because at the ending, we feel lost. We don't know where to go next. With pets and people, the disillusionment is inevitable. With processes and journeys, we make the disillusionment worse by rushing headlong toward the ending without thought for the middle. It's all about accomplishment or getting it over with. Yet at the ending, there is that same sense of lostness. And that--the end-of-journey confusion--is something we can deal with.

This ending-driven mentality is built into our language. We have a tense aspect that sums it up perfectly: I have done it. Not just "I did it." Present Perfect talks about the past from the perspective of the present. It highlights the fact that right at this moment, the thing is done.

We're all about finishing.

But what about the journey? I know that's cliche, but apparently we haven't heard it enough. A friend told me how they went through a dark time spiritually and emotionally--but only for a month, they quickly reassured me. It was short, and now they're fine. The thing is over.

It does little respect to our seasons of darkness if we care only about the ending. (Tweet this.) Darkness has a process, and that process is important. Without darkness, we never outgrow our petty wants, grudges, or small-mindedness. Feeling bad is okay. Doubt is okay. If we're afraid to ask "why?" of God, then there's hardly a point in talking to him at all.

Owning my depression last spring and summer was one of the best things I ever did. It freed me to live my way through it and, eventually, come out the other side. But the other side wasn't the point. I wasn't going around saying, "I'll get better." I was simply saying, day after day, "I have depression." I lived in the moment, even though the moment sucked.

It sounds depressing (no kidding), but that's because it was. Acknowledging that life sucks doesn't mean we're ungrateful, we're suicidal, or we'll never again appreciate the good things in life. It's like saying, "I'm happy:" it tells people what you're feeling in the moment. Everyone knows it's ephemeral, but we don't devalue that joy.

This year I want to enjoy the journeys more. I don't want to measure my life by the things that have ended--though sometimes, like with Penny, those endings happen and can and will be celebrated. But when I'm going through a rough time, wrestling with something, or even when I'm happy, I want to share it. Not at the end, when everything is wrapped up and tidy. But in the middle. Where it's messy. Where it's real.

Which leads me to tomorrow's healthy 2015 perspective: honesty.

Word count: 952.