There’s a place in which I find myself. I guess technically, anyone is allowed to go there, though when I look around, I see mostly middle aged moms and elderly grandmas with me in this place, getting misty-eyed for no apparent reason. Welling up at the drop of a hat.
It’s gotten harder to pinpoint the reason for this strange and frequent weepiness; it’s not that I’m sad, necessarily, or overwhelmingly happy. I go through the list of usual suspects—nostalgia, grief, longing, regret—and nothing checks out. It’s not any of those.
There’s a new reason I cry a little sometimes in middle age, where the pace of life has slowed down enough now to hear and feel and respond in ways that for years were quieted by the business, the children to be fed, the perfection to be attained. Crying used to be something done mostly in frustration, or worry, or after a long day of mothering small people that had gone completely sideways, that felt like nothing short of failure. All that—well, most of that—behind me now, I find that I cry sometimes when something is merely true.
It goes without saying, so late in 2020, that it’s been a helluva year. I won’t even start to recall here the myriad of losses people have suffered, the depth and breadth of variations on the year’s theme of, if you can imagine a worse one, grief. Sometimes when it all adds up and we feel bad, we do that comparative thing, and our inner voice is harsh and mean as it shames our weary souls: You have no right to complain. It hasn’t even been that bad for you. You need to be more positive. Why can’t you just be grateful?
It’s all been hard on everyone in one way or another, and I’m pretty sure we know less than we think we do about how folks are doing. Who’s had the roughest time of it, who is doing fine. Several dear friends of mine are dealing with serious illness and heartbreak, the losses piling up quietly, like dust bunnies, around them. But you would never know. They press on and endure, mostly in secret, mostly alone. People probably think they are doing great.As for me, I mostly just miss being with my grown kids. Their disappointment has always been my Kryptonite, and their adulthood has not changed or improved this for me in the least. I hear in their 2020 voices their longing and loneliness; it takes me back to painful days in their adolescence and my own, and I wonder if any of us have really grown up at all. I hear them managing beautifully through disappointment when their plans are canceled, their work duties are doubled, their worst-case-scenarios come to pass. They are all doing such a great job, so far away, that it all kind of breaks my heart. I remind myself to be grateful they are who they are and are doing what they are doing. And sometimes I shame myself for feeling bad. I have no right to complain. I need to be more positive. Why can’t I just be grateful?
But what if its not an either/or but a both/and situation? What if we are grateful, and are staying as positive as we are able on any given day? And what if it is also true that, if we are honest, the vague, aching hardness of our collective struggles, losses, and disappointments surprise and overwhelm us? What if all of it is true?
This is the only possible reason that I can work out—well, this, combined with the truth-crying thing—that I kind of tear up when I hear, as I did today, the Mountain Goats sing:I’m going to make it through this year / if it kills me….
It’s ridiculous, really; it’s a silly, up-tempo song, and if you have never seen Stephen Colbert join the Mountain Goats on stage to sing while bopping around impossibly like the Peanuts characters, well, I don’t know what to tell you except: do not delay and good luck not smiling. It will remind you that we are all just trying our best to get through this together.
I don’t know what the rest of this crazy year holds. I don’t know how the election is going to turn out, and what the short- and long-term fallout will be. I don’t know if COVID will get a lot worse, if the kids will ever go back to school, how we are supposed to have Christmas, if we will all be OK. While we are at it, I don’t know what 2021 will look like either: if we will get a vaccine, if we will then feel more hopeful, how we will give it to everyone, how long that will take. If next year we will have a normal summer, or maybe a fall. If any of that is silly, or foolish, or just too much to hope for.
But I do know that this is a place I’ve been before, staring into an abyss of uncertainty, pretty sure I’d never live long enough to be the middle-aged mom who always seemed to be inexplicably dabbing at her eyes. Afraid to be so foolish as to think I might. But then, the impossible happened, and I did made it through that year, even though for a long time, that outcome, too, felt too close to call.
There will be feasting, and dancing / in Jerusalem next year….
I figure the Mountain Goats knew what they were doing when they lifted part of this phrase from the very end of the Jewish Seder at Passover. It is both an acknowledgement of past suffering and a parting wish that next year, things might be better, we might get to go home, we might celebrate together. If only we can just hang on.
Hope itself can sound true, if we are brave enough to let it. Even if we are wrong, even if we get disappointed yet again. Even if all those truths, considered together in a moment, make us a little weepy.
But we’re gonna make it through this year, if it kills us.