The Working Title Is…There Ought to be a Word for That

I have long known that happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive emotions. And it’s no mystery to anyone who knows me that I tend to experience emotion on a plane that is both guttural and transparent.

I remember, as a child, my Grandma Hogan comforted me by holding my pink, splotchy, tear-stained face in her hands saying, “The Irish feel things deeply…in a way others just can’t understand.”

I’m not sure how directly my emotions are tied to “the old sod,” but I do know that there is an undeniable depth to my feelings. I’ve experienced happiness and joy where my heart beats so loudly I can hear it in my head and feel as though it has expanded in my chest cavity to the point it will likely explode.

I have felt sadness so profoundly that my chest physically hurt. The weight of anguish made it difficult to even breathe, and when I finally surrendered enough to exhale, I was certain that I lost something of myself in that breath.

I have felt the anxiety only parents know when watching their child compete or perform. With bated breath, it seems as if your heart pauses mid-beat, only to resume once the child’s task is complete and pride replaces the post once held by anxiousness.

And then there are those occasions where I have felt completely happy and completely sad simultaneously; not half and half, but if there existed a gauge to measure emotion, it would read 100% happy and 100% sad.

I just don’t know how to describe that conflux of emotion in a single word.

I remember feeling it for the first time the day my Grandma Hogan’s cat died, the same day she held my face in her hands.

We didn’t have a pet of our own yet, and I wanted nothing more than an animal to love that would love me back. That’s why I hated that damn cat with every fiber of my being. I’d chase it around my grandma’s house yelling, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” But it ran from me every time, and on the rare occasion I did catch her, she’d hiss and scratch at me until blood gushed from my single-digit aged skin.

Damn you, Beauty, for forcing me to pretend it didn’t hurt, and forever proving that emotional scars heal far slower than physical ones.

I’m not going to lie. I was thrilled that cat was dead, until, that is, we walked into Grandma’s kitchen and saw her crying. I never saw my grandma cry before. This tiny woman looked even tinier sobbing in her rocking chair. Without that damn cat to compete for rocker space, I crawled on to Grandma’s lap and cried and cried and cried. I was completely happy and completely sad.

That duality has returned many times over the years, most recently, last month with a Marquette University basketball game as the backdrop.  The happiness meter was off the charts. My daughters and their friends, our friends from college and beyond college and their children and their friends all surrounded me.

I was so happy, and yet, the notable absence of those loved ones who can only be present in spirit and in memory left me so, so very sad.

There ought to be a word for that blend of emotion, but I couldn’t come up with one.

And, then, perhaps not so ironically, Death entered my mind.

Death, the narrator of Markus Zusak’s remarkable novel The Book Thief, is a surprisingly likable and humorous character. He speaks of first seeing the colors associated with his difficult work, and then he sees the faces.

Perhaps my emotion could be articulated through color? For me, 100% happy is a spectacular fuchsia, and my 100% sad would be a gunmetal blue-grey.  So it would stand to reason that this dichotomous emotion I experience would be a welcoming, soothing, peaceful color in the deep purplish end of the color chart.

A feeling only attainable when the brilliance of blessings—cherished, now mourned, from the past, savored and protected in the present, and dreamt of and hoped for the future—blend into one.

Benjamin Moore Paint color 2116-30 is named Cabernet.  Sounds good to me.

kmp

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The Working Title Is…BAM!

As one year transitions into the next, you can’t help but reflect on the joys and sorrows of the last twelve months; challenges faced or feared, goals met or missed, love gained or lost.

It is equally inviting to focus on the untold potential of the year ahead and resolve to change or improve, either personally or professionally. Everywhere we turn, we are enticed to contemplate conversion, be it physical, mental, spiritual or financial.

Sadly, this annual metamorphosis moment is lost on me.

And it’s all Tom Hanks’ fault. Tom Hanks and his stupid, gross, disgusting band-aid.

For more than a decade, my New Years’ reflection can be summed up in two words: emotional paralysis. And the finger of blame points directly to Tom Hanks’ pointer finger.

One year (I can’t remember which one) on the eve of New Year’s Eve, we went to the movies to see the critically acclaimed Cast Away featuring Tom Hanks, and my life has never been the same in two specific ways: (1) how I approach air travel and (2) how I will forever cross the threshold into January 1.

A horrific plane crash takes place very early in the film. It is violently realistic and incorporates my lifelong fear of being trapped underwater with the added depiction of a giant airplane careening out of control from a darkened sky.

Up until that moment in time, my mind’s eye had not conjured up a visual of such an event. But now it is there, and it’s never leaving. As a result, (see point 1 above) in planning any voyage by air, my first phone call is now to the pharmacist rather than to Delta. Let’s just say that if Xanax opened a travel agency, it would mean one-stop shopping for this girl.

But just prior to this ghastly scene unfolding before our eyes, Tom Hanks saunters into the tiny airplane bathroom. I remember some foreshadowing of things to come—like radar showed bad weather ahead and the co-pilot had lost radio contact—but Tom Hanks felt safe enough to pop into the bathroom to splash a little water on his face.

And that’s when he sees it…the band-aid. It’s on his pointer finger. In my memory it’s on his left hand. He slowly and carefully pulls the band-aid off to inspect the tiny little cut on his…BAM!

He gets sucked out of the bathroom door, and all hell breaks loose.

The band-aid scene is an insignificant part of the movie, but it haunts me. I have watched it only once, but I’ve contemplated it thousands of times.

It’s led me to classify specific moments in my life, and moments in the lives of those I love, as band-aid moments… defined by the activity you were engaged in just prior to the split second when your life would never again be the same.

I’m six months pregnant, getting ready for bed having just left a bachelorette party when the phone rings.

BAM.

I’m riding down an escalator after a Marquette basketball game when my husband hangs up his phone and says with a furrowed brow, “There’s been an accident.”

BAM.

I finish a chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when a nervous and somber looking doctor, who appears to be our same age, enters the room.

BAM.

But not all band-aid moments are bad ones. I have huge number of good ones in my life.

 

Enjoying dinner at Joe Muer’s on Gratiot when Pat suddenly stands next to me on bended knee.

BAM.

Standing in the hallway, giggling uncontrollably outside a closed bathroom door for exactly three minutes as the box instructed, and then slowly opening the door together to see…. a plus sign.

BAM.

Every single milestone our children have experienced.

BAM…to the Nth power.

 

My annual emotional paralysis is unavoidable when I reflect on my past and consider my future. What band-aid moments will define this year? Is this one right now?

I have had so much good in my life. And I have had my share of challenges. Each New Year, I contemplate what is to be. And I pray for strength to handle whatever comes next.

Someone who I respect and admire and has experienced a disproportionate amount of band-aid moments has said, “Each day, I am faced with a choice. I can be better, or I can be bitter. I choose better.”

And it is as simple, and as difficult, as that.

A choice.

In 2015…choose better. Not bitter.

My kids can’t leave our house without passing by a plaque that declares my philosophy of life.

I wish it were something venerable and principled like a selfless Bible passage or the musing of a Greek philosopher. Instead my philosophy of life was purchased from the Ballard Design catalog.

It says, “We tend to seek happiness when happiness is actually a choice.”

I don’t know what band-aid moments await me.

And even though fear renders me emotionally paralyzed today, I am confident in all future band-aid moments –good, bad and indifferent–I will resolve to choose happiness.

BAM.

And happy new year.

kmp xoxo

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