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Finding the Peace in My Past, Present and Future
A good friend of mine posted this quote on her Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago and I have been thinking about it since:
If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
-Lao Tzu (Ancient Chinese philosopher and author of the spiritual text, Tao Te Cheng.)
In my life I have been all three, and because of this quote, I now know why.
A month after getting married in August of 2005, we moved to Seattle. We quit our jobs just before the wedding. We sold our home while on our honeymoon. When we got back, we packed up the road-tripping essentials and headed west.
Arriving in Seattle, we settled into my in-laws’ guest bedroom on what was to be a temporary basis. As two young, educated and employable people, we were pretty sure it wouldn’t take long to find jobs, which in turn would allow us to find a place of our own. We intended to spend a few short months in this living arrangement. No big deal. Totally doable.
What’s that saying? The road to hell is paved with good intentions?
January rolled around and I still hadn’t found a job. Then it rained for 27 consecutive days; six days shy of the all-time record set 60 years prior. I had not made friends. My in-laws made salmon four nights a week. We began to argue. My list of negatives were stacking up thicker than the moss. With no friends, no job, no home, no sunshine, and the fact I was spending a good portion of my first year as a married woman across the hall from my in-laws (whom I barely knew, and who barely knew me), I was clearly headed to crazy town on a speeding train.
I kind of lost it. I left for a while. I contemplated leaving for a long time.
Then my mother got cancer.
Like a flimsy bi-plane shot down with a missile, I tail-spinned deeper than I imagined possible into the fiery depths of depression…and people, I have an active imagination.
Six years later, and with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that year was about mourning. I was mourning my former life. I was mourning my independence, my freedom, my choices. All the paths not taken, and ones I would never take again. I was mourning my childish naivety that parents never die. All that, and sunshine, too. Oh I mourned hard.
Mourning is nothing if not living in the past, and because I couldn’t escape thoughts of my past, I was Depressed with a capital ‘D.’
Eventually I got a job, a good one that I enjoyed. My mom got treatment and the cancer went away. Twelve loooooong months after we moved into my in-laws, we moved out. At some point, the smoke from the crash dissipated and grass grew over the charred earth. I was happy again.
Then I had a baby, and I’ve lived in a near state of panic ever since.
Nothing will instill a fear of the future in your heart like having a child. Overnight, I was painfully, acutely, alarmingly aware of the prevalence of BPA, CFLs, GMOs, MSG and all the painted, plastic s*** that’s ‘Made in China.’ And now I have two babies, which means my anxiety produces a steady hum somewhere between stockpiling organic canned goods and needing Xanax-laced nightcaps.
Worrying about my babies’ future is a time-consuming, anxiety-inducing process.
Then…then there are days like today. Today, I took my babies to the beach on a whim. We had a picnic of sandwiches, yogurt, grapes and baby food. We played with sand and threw rocks in the ocean. We incited a frenzy of pushy seagulls with our grapes, and I let my daughter walk around in a pink princess Pull-up after she accidentally peed her pants on our picnic blanket. This fact ruined most of my photo ops and part of my sandwich, but it didn’t matter because it was still glory on the highest, worth more than a hundred tropical sunsets and a thousand mountain region starry skies.
As I drove home, they fell asleep in the backseat. I couldn’t stop smiling as I stole glimpses of them in the rearview mirror. I felt contented and peaceful because I was completely present. The spur of the moment decision, the ideal weather, my babies, the view, the sharing of food with each other and the flocking birds, watching their faces in laughter and sunlight was all too, too much and more than enough. It was hard not to just be there, right there, in it, of it, because of it, all of it.
Now, if I could only find a way to bottle that up, I’d be a millionaire…and I could stop worrying about how I’m going to build that bomb shelter in my backyard.
Shannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber turned writer and stay-at-home mother living near Seattle. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues at her self-titled blog Shannon Lell.