This week, life took a slow return to some version of our old normal. On June 1, we headed back to spin class. It opened up in May, but I was determined to wait because I thought it was too early to join a small group of sweaty people (this despite Dr Marry’s scientific explanation that with social distancing, there was nothing to fear from being in a workout class). But, of course, my actual resistance is because I was and continue to be so reluctant to go back to our old schedule, our old habits and our old crazy pace of life.
By the time we left for our 6:30am class, I had been up for more than an hour, so it’s not like getting out of bed was the problem. The problem is simply that I have a foreboding sense of what a slippery slope opening this door to our former lives could be.
These three months have afforded me some of the most singular opportunities to plumb my own depths of my entire life. There have been other periods of time for deep pondering, of course, but nothing like this.
For example, Quinn was born in January of 1996. That winter, it was illegal to be outside a number of times because of the weather. If you got pulled over and weren’t going to the emergency room, you could get fined for being out. That meant I had countless hours and days inside my tiny apartment with a brand new baby all by myself—no shortage of time to think, believe me.
But you can imagine that those early months were not filled with many dreams that seemed likely to ever come true—hard to imagine how I was going to be a movie star from the top floor of this little two-story house in Fargo, ND, gazing out the frosted windows at the endless expanse of snow and ice. Hard to imagine how I was ever going to be anything, in fact.
I felt a kind of desperation about my life and what the future could possibly hold, and thinking about it only made it feel all the more desperate. That, and I was barely 23-years old; so while I believed I was quite mature (which is not at all the same as being mature by simply having lived more life), my ability to consider what this new future could hold was limited by my age and experiences.
I played the Little Women soundtrack endlessly that winter.
I can’t hear that music today without getting a little weepy; it’s as if the postpartum emotional rollercoaster I experienced lives inside that music. The minute the first notes begin, I feel the pressing weight of hopelessness combined with the reverent awe of watching my premature baby sleeping for hours. Time moved so s-l-o-w-l-y that winter, and with it my life.
Today, nearly 25-years later, it’s still hard to articulate or reconcile those dichotomous feelings of love and grief. Mostly, I wish I could go back and tell that young woman that she and her baby will be ok, and that their lives will take some wonderful and terrible and joyful and devastating turns. And I desperately wish I could tell her that, while she isn’t going to be a movie star—at least not by the age of 47!, she will find other joys and fabulous avenues to pursue. And I wish I could delight and amaze her with the incredible journey her tiny boy will take and the role she will play in it.
My thoughts that never-ending winter were heavy, defeated and lonely even as I fell deeper in love with Quinn’s little murmurs, his first smiles, his milky blue eyes gazing up at me. Time was forever then, and my life stretched out, like a dry gravel road that got lost in the dusty setting sun.
Those have not been my thoughts or my experiences during this forced period of isolation. This time around, I have let my mind, my gloriously creative imagination, wander to what ifs that are actually within my grasp. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll get there, but that’s part of the journey that I think you can’t understand until you’ve walked a pretty significant piece of it. Today, I can face the unkowns with excited anticipation even while knowing that there will be additional loss, sadness and disappointment.
Today, my path is verdant and is situated within a vista that takes my breath away. It stretches out long up the green hills and down the wildflower-filled valleys, and I know that I can see some of it but that much of it can not be revealed from this vantage point.
Presumably, I am about halfway down my path. I turn around and look back, and I am so thankful for the journey thus far. I honor the emotions and the fear that my younger self experienced. I still feel some sadness over not being a movie star. My chest is still often heavy with all that could have been—I clearly remember the taste of dust I kicked up from the dry gravel road in my mouth because I still taste if from time to time.
But mostly I am filled to overflowing with joy, with gratitude and with anticipation at all that is next. And I know that having this period of forced slowing down has allowed me to move effortlessly forward and back as if I can play with the nature of time; as if I can simultaneously speed it up while it all slows down.
And going to spin class can’t disrupt that. And this is my new normal. And my chest is at once both heavy and buoyant. And I am ready.
Photo images from Green Bay Botanical Garden, WI ; Maroon Bells, CO; Valley City, ND; Lillehammer, Norway; Valley City, ND; Killarney National Park, Ireland