My mom said something in passing recently that has stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words, but the effect was this: Life isn’t always what we want. 

It just isn’t. Sometimes it’s rosy; often it’s raw.

It’s an obvious, yet profound sentiment which I have been mulling over through the holidays and now into the new year, including when:

• I talked to a friend whose mental health is currently not optimal. It’s actually oceans away from optimal. Her ongoing strenuous struggle is something I really can’t comprehend. It’s so hard and it’s so much. Did she choose this? Is her life unfolding as she hoped? (Answer: no) Or is she doing the only thing she can do, which is to bravely accept the challenges she’s been given? It’s a humbling thing to see the magnitude of a friend’s pain.

• I listened to another friend talk about some major parenting challenges–the kind that aren’t entirely foreign to me. Of course, I can’t fully understand her experience, but the vast unsolveable-ness of her family’s challenges resonates with the way my life has unfolded over the last fourteen years. Do any of us actually sign up for this massive emotional restructuring? Or is it simply the nature of mortality to get in deeply over our heads? And what do we do with the lessons we learn in the midst of this pain? Do they harden and embitter us? Or do we cull wisdom and empathy from them? (I realize there aren’t easy answers to these rhetorical questions, but I’m asking them anyway.)

• I learned about Sensory Processing Disorder. I thought I knew everything about special needs parenting, which is a stupid thing to think because the universe can hear you and then it laughs. I didn’t envision this part of raising my youngest boy. Something that’s emerged from this process is a sense of empowerment for both me and the seven-year-old. We understand it better. We can manage it (mostly). We are agents acting intentionally, rather than pawns or victims of circumstance. This is a big gift.

• I read an essay by a fellow Segullah writer who said her spirit thrives when she pursues the things she wants, as well as the things she needs. This rings true in my experience, because we’re all so focused on meeting our basic needs that it’s easy to get caught up in surviving, basically. Where’s the joy in subsistence living? My parenting life has been an exercise in learning to look beyond the daily struggle to identify that which is satisfying, sustaining, renewing. There’s enough hardscrabble plodding forward already. We need more moments of spiritual sustenance. This is how we manage weathering the hard things. And I am here to emphasize that WE ALL HAVE HARD THINGS.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. Every year with Jack, my word for the year was “survive,” and that’s no joke. It was all I was focused on.

If I had a word to strive for this year, it might be “incandescence,” or the quality of being incandescent—light-filled. That’s my goal.

I finished reading the Gospels in the New Testament today and felt a big infusion of light from hearing about Jesus’s mortal sojourn in quadruplicate.

I felt lighter after texting with a new friend, whose son happens to be housemates with my son. We are at different points in the journey out of the abyss that severe disabilities punched into our lives. We understand each other.

I feel emotionally lighter when I do my PT-prescribed exercises. Movement as medicine, as they say.

I’ve also been noticing the winter light. I’m seeing how the skies have wispy pink clouds in the morning at school drop-off. I notice the blue sky more. I especially like the indigo mountain skyline at dusk, this time of year. There’s less light in January, but it’s pretty stunning in its transient way.

Lightness of being, people. I’m hunting for it in all the places.

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