On my morning walk yesterday, I passed a woman sitting on a stone outcropping next to the pond on the nearby college campus. The sun was rising, occasionally peeking out from behind low clouds, and a breeze hinting of autumn was blowing. She sat there like a statue, hands clasped at her chin, staring out across the water, unmoving. She looked to be praying. Or maybe mulling over a coming change in her life. Like she had a hard decision lying before her. Do I marry him? Do I take the job? Do I come out to my family? Do I believe anymore? I kept turning back to look at her, pensive and still as stone, deep in thought.
It made me ponder a present transition of my own (there’ve been a lot lately). A circumstance I’ve made a formal decision about, just in the past few days. This week four people who love me deeply have all said, “It’s time.” They’ve spoken it in their own individual ways, but they’ve all said the same thing, and in my heart I know they’re right. My heart also knows changing the circumstance will hurt, so she holds the precipitating change at arm’s length in hopes things might magically recalibrate in the interim. But my heart’s arm tires and there’s pain anyway; she needs to drop her arm and let the hard hurt come in fast. Because it’s coming, now or later. In a last-ditch attempt to parse out my situation, I ask another friend – one who has more distance from my personal walk and thus I hope a bit more objectivity – to talk out the details with me. Several years ago he found himself in a situation similar to mine, and reflecting on his own life, he says, “Your people are right. The change will be hard. And it’s gonna hurt for awhile. But it’ll be worth it in the long run.” This is exactly what I do not want to hear. I sigh, shake my head and state the obvious, “This is hard. This is really, really hard.” All he says back is: “Yep.”
I’m not sure how I expected life to be at 40 years into my journey. But I don’t think I expected it to feel quite this hard. And it DOES feel hard right now. I know there are many who’ve survived living in abusive homes or oppressive countries who might read that line written by a white, middle-class, US American in a stable marriage with three healthy children and think, “Please. You have no clue how hard it can get.” And they’d probably be right. I don’t fully understand the heavy despair and burdensome fear that stick to some like glue. But I’ve been around long enough to know that life is hard no matter the house or country in which you reside. Life is hard in an unhealthy marriage…AND a healthy one. Life is hard with children who have limitations…AND with children who are free from them. Life is hard when you don’t have a dime in the bank…AND when you own the bank. The hard just manifests in varying ways.
An out-of-town friend I spent a summer with long ago, and now has two children under the age of 3, said to me last week, “Every day I feel like yelling. I feel so angry. I had no idea being a mother would be so hard.” Sweet mama in a nursery cradle, YES. Motherhood is HARD. Becoming a parent ten years ago yanked every long-buried insecurity of mine to the surface and said, “Here you go…DEAL.” It’s been the most challenging decade of the four I’ve lived: being the primary caretaker for three kids, having to actually confront the aforementioned insecurities, anxiety, depression, insomnia, feeling isolated and lonely and like I’m at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to society and profession. The hard of motherhood overlaps with the hard of life-in-general, too: trying to speak up and out but feeling ignored and invisible, friends moving cross-country, friends deliberately removing themselves from my life, navigating the intricacies of family dynamics. Decisions…so many decisions. Trying to maintain some semblance of physical, emotional and spiritual health. Trying not to panic. Trying to practice self-control. Trying to bite my tongue. Trying to be heard. Trying not to flip people off. Trying to extend grace…to others…to myself. Trying to forgive…others…myself. Wondering if I’m talking to air when I pray. Yep. Hard. All of it.
I find myself wondering too, though, if the edges might wear down and soften a bit if I accepted that plain truth: life is hard. I wonder if acknowledging the reality of hard would make it just a bit more tolerable. If sometimes the hard is harder than it has to be because of our desperate, stubborn human endeavor to try and make life easy. But there’s no getting around it. Live long enough and you’re gonna wade into mud, quicksand, a patch of stickers, a nest of hornets, SOMETHING. Maybe if we can accept that fact…that this will be part of the path, the hard…maybe it lessens the shock when you turn the corner and it’s THERE.
I find myself wanting to go back to the pond, sit down near the woman, and when she looks over at me, simply say: “Yep.”