#23: Water ripples
Write about it if you can. But mostly, look around.
It’s been a long time. Thank you for sticking with me through this summer and my longer-than-anticipated absence. If you’re new here (or for those of you who’d like a little more context), my sister was diagnosed with a rare medical condition called Guillian-Barre Syndrome this past summer. The syndrome happens suddenly and makes it so that your entire body is temporarily paralyzed. It was a scary, all-hands-on-deck sort of situation with my husband and I throwing everything in the car and driving from LA to northern California to be with my family. For all of July, the world seemed to pause as our lives became an endless rotation of hospital visits, caretaking, meal trains, etc.
My sister is—thankfully, miraculously—now back home and healing much quicker than expected. She has regained her mobility and is working with specialists to return to work and her regular routine (she’s the most talented hair stylist and the very best mother to two little ones). But even with her physical recovery, the emotional and mental weight of the summer has left my family feeling exhausted and bruised. I haven’t known how to write through any of it.
My friend who spent over a year of her life in a hospital while her son battled cancer told me that during those months she could only listen to audiobooks or read poetry because of the white space on the page. Her mind needed a break. While I couldn’t write, it was also the only thing I could think about in the lull of hospital corridors and long car rides. I sent myself a lot of emails—train-of-thought kind of notes and half-finished sentences—but I couldn’t put words together despite my desperation for language and meaning.
Instead, I spent a few afternoons swimming in the lakes near my parents’ house. I went kayaking with my mom; we waded through moss and mud and floated in silence. I prayed more than I’ve prayed in the last decade, and by prayed I mean I mostly sobbed under sunglasses while driving between hospitals and houses and grocery stores.
This summer has been a reminder that we never know what people are going through, what battles they are facing at home, with their health, in their hearts. So much of me was cut open while other parts of me were illuminated under light and microscope, forcing me to recognize the shadows I’ve pushed to the edges and refused to confront. Sickness reminds us of our mortality, and when it hangs in the balance, everything else fades away. Suddenly, nothing is as important as paying attention to your surroundings. You feel a bit fileted—exposed and aware of who and where you really are in this world.
This summer was also a reminder that all of us have breaking points. There is a line that, once crossed, we spiral forward and down. It doesn’t matter if we are good at playing strong. It doesn’t matter if we are firstborns or CEOs or fighters. We can only take so much before we crumple, before we need to be scooped and cradled by our community. While that may seem unfair and scary (to need help, to not be able to hold up the world alone), it’s actually a beautiful and freeing fact. We need others. We need to be there for others.
In the final days in northern California, when the dust had settled and we were all coming up for air, I was sitting with my four-year-old niece at the kitchen table. She was coloring, and I was staring at my laptop screen trying to start writing again.
She sat on her knees, her hair in tangles, chatting away in long strings of words without ever pausing for breath or punctuation. In her fist, she held five crayons and scribbled wide strokes across a blank sheet of paper, making movements that felt good to her. She wasn’t trying to create something, she was just coloring.
“Do you think my mom is going to like this picture?” she asked. I nodded, “Yes, I think she will,” not looking up from my computer screen. My niece paused then turned her body toward me as I continued to type. “But you’re not even looking,” she said.
Not even looking.
We don’t look when we don’t want to see, or when we think we’ve already seen what is there. We steal glances, catalog the scene and create a narrative without ever pausing, without shifting and focusing our eyes, without allowing our vision to linger in one direction long enough so that we can feel what we need to feel.
I learned this in the lake. In the hospital. During the long car rides. I learned to simply float—and not above or below what is happening, but to float in the middle of the water, to feel every tiny ripple on my skin. To be okay with the fear, with the silence, with the sun beating down on my body when all I long for is the shade. To be okay not knowing how to create or how to write.
We can’t control the world or even our lives, but we can decide whether or not we will pay attention. Whether or not we will feel the hard and heavy feelings, whether or not we will let others carry us when it becomes too much.
The summer may have passed but we’re still here. No matter what you went through. No matter the light or heavy feelings and experiences you had. It all mattered. The ripples, however subtle or bold, were real. It’s all worth noting.
Write about it if you can. But mostly, look around.
Somehow the summer is almost gone. Here’s a playlist of some very moody songs that kept me company during my (50? 60?) hours in the car over the last few weeks. It feels a bit winter(ish) but I love these songs still. Back to monthly playlists beginning in September and likely some more upbeat music.
This reel from burn survivor and model Catrin about the emotion of scars is so, so powerful
This dance audition from Waverly Fredericks
This excerpt from yung pueblo’s new book: