We moved to our new house the week before Thanksgiving and so far I am missing a lid, a skillet, a crockpot and about 1000 square feet. Packing up our old pantry, knowing we were downsizing by 50%, was a humbling process. How cute that I thought I needed six kinds of vinegar and could store that level of aspiration.
This year I will turn 39. My youngest child will turn 7 my eldest 14, my marriage will turn 17, my career, which stands on the shoulders of a rich casserole of other jobs, will turn 4, and my 2006 Honda CRV will cross the 100,000 mile mark likely between two long-suffering red lights in Torrance. Last year Ryan and I bought a very modest home in a risky commitment to our jobs, budget, city and each other and in radical rebellion of our generation’s traits of both not owning homes and living large, and a non-profit Christianese scarcity narrative from which we have been slowly breaking free. Last year I ruled out cancer following a circuitous route of about 10 referrals and took some new steps in my career. I remained part-time for my sanity and family life. Last year we left church as we knew it and ended our time investing in non-affirming Christian spaces after finding they were not willing to evolve in ways that directly accepted our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Last year we walked the tightrope of staying connected to people without overexposure to their bullshit that asks forfeiture of mental health and congruence. Last year we ate a lot of ramen but not quite enough.
As a middle-aged woman in the middle of all of this, living a privileged and small life, I feel the absence of things that have provided safety and meaning to me in the past. I feel the loneliness of change and some new beginnings, again. Being trained in and quite good at a very particular brand of faith, being partnered with someone who agrees with me about that faith, making the first half of our adult moves from that orientation and having a specific narrative that guided our raising of children and allotment of time have all been altered the past five years. It has been such a breeze.
Also, just for fun I’m looking at something new: my own happiness. (I am imagining a clap of thunder and lightening.) Responsibility and delayed gratification have been hallmarks of my culture, disciplined personality, and personal achievements and made a lot of people feel at ease and cared for. But as I have unwound the impact of patriarchal capitalism and white supremacy, their deep roots and flourishing within American Christianity and the engendered, racist norms I’ve adopted in my own psyche, I realize how insane and wrongful those primary impulses can be. Two friends recently asked if I was happy and while in recent years I have recovered an appreciation for happiness for other people it, that is happiness, is an ill-conceived notion for my self. I am flummoxed. In the Christianity I grew up in, between the lines, happiness was synonymous with selfishness and shallowness, which my rigid-leaning personality fully embraced. That was a nerve-ending you did not want to listen to and numb as soon as possible because it meant silliness, waste, lust, divorce, women doing things like, not for men and children, and god knows what else. I now fully support and promote the happiness of others and believe it’s good and God-given and part of the image of the divine nature within us. But I am still unsure of how to digest happiness for me, myself and I. I am a baby at this; I know nothing. Am I happy? I literally never self-assess or make decisions with this language. It makes my stomach hurt and I sense danger. Never thinking about my own happiness doesn’t mean I am not, or have never been; it means I have missed the chance to be aware of it and ignored my agency to promote it.
One of the ways I describe what my team and I do at the hospital is that we provide information and conversations people need to make their decisions on purpose. In healthcare, and in life, there are default pathways that we may be on without realizing it. We have boarded trains blindfolded. I would say that palliative care and whole person work in general is about intentional self-awareness and decision-making. There is no accidental or automatic shortcut and this can be very upsetting news, especially to the avoidant or trusting. When people are not equipped and committed to making their own decisions, those with most systemic power and profits are happy to have already set the default.
Pieces continue to break off of the rubrics and guides that I have used to self-assess and make decisions; I have taken many of them off intentionally. But/and/so the questions then emerge, what is left and what scaffolding do I want to add in order to continue to live my life on purpose? If I cognitively agree that considering my own sense of happiness is important for myself and others, what the heck makes me happy and how do I integrate this into my heart, life, time, and roles? As we say in healthcare, what are the benefits and burdens of doing so? If I believe that each person’s connection to the Divine is valid and remarkable, how do I steward and give shape to the time and authority I have in my children’s spiritual development? If I remain firmly committed to Jesus’s model of justice, generosity, love and goodwill far beyond any constructs of institution and doctrine, how do my roles, resources, and rhythms continue to manifest these values today?
I have loved my life and I extend the grace I say to others to myself: we did the best we can with what we had at the time. And I sense an urgency and a desire in this new year to step back and take inventory, to have the conversations necessary to make decisions and reformat life on purpose. The full weight of my pivots and intentions to this point need some attention. It is the unpacking of a pantry in an unfamiliar kitchen after some initial purging. I have some new ingredients, odd sizes, uniquely sourced but not unique to me, to get to know. And I lost track of how many vinegars I kept after all. Space is precious. The defaults are broken. Time to re-organize, on purpose.