Birthdays. Deathdays. And the stories in between.
It has been an eventful week. Last Tuesday I was taken via ambulance to the emergency room, and ended up admitted to the hospital for a couple of days. Why? Asthma. That long-standing, mild, slightly irritating thing that flared up that one time last winter and hasn't really bothered me much since.
Consider me bothered.
I've posted before on the experience of trying to breathe when you literally can't breathe. It is...disconcerting. Finding a new anchor is all well and good, but in the throes of a full-blown, truly nasty asthma attack, I found it went to a whole new level. All that talk about your pre-frontal cortex not being capable of functioning when your hind brain is in charge (I refer to it as the lizard brain trumping the logic brain) is totally true. I was literally surrounded by men who were looming over me, speaking to me as if I were a child (I am not), telling me I needed to calm down and slow my breathing. In that moment of complete and utter panic, as I lay literally gasping and panting for air, tears streaming and heart racing out of control, there was absolutely no way that was going to happen. Because here's the thing--I couldn't breathe. My entire being was temporarily given over to simply continuing to exist.
I was in survival mode. And until my lizard brain understood that it wasn't needed any longer, survival mode was where I stayed.
Later, in the ER, when the panic had subsided and my husband was by my side (he can truly calm me with a touch), I found myself reflecting on more macabre matters. I was, after all, in the emergency room. I'd literally been gasping for air, and now that my logic brain was back in charge (mostly), I was recalling all sorts of facts about the importance of breathing. Not doing it for even a really short period of time can have disastrous effects. Like death.
My logic brain shifted a bit, and right brain started taking over. Feelings, non-verbals, stuff-that-can't-be-put-into-words. The fact that my mother died at 49 kept bubbling to the top of my thoughts. Forty-nine. She was 49 years old.
Today is my birthday. I'm 46.
Birthdays. Deathdays. Both of them are mingling in my consciousness this year in a way they have not before.
Birthdays are easy. Days of celebration, of joy. As much as we may complain as we age, we recognize that the alternative is worse than having another birthday.
Deathdays, though...those are much harder to talk about. Horrible days, filled with loss so profound it feels your soul has been sucked out by the tide. Pain, sorrow, grief. Deathdays are things we don't talk about, don't even whisper about. Definitely, definitely not polite.
But I've found myself thinking a lot since getting out of the hospital, and what are each of those days but the bookends of a life? We focus so much on one, and not at all on the other...but what about the volumes in between? What are the stories we've written, been a part of, or read with passion? If I look at my bookshelf, do I like what I see there? If not, how can I make some changes? Because like it or not, that other bookend will come, and the stories on my shelf between them are what will remain.
Through that lens, I can look at things without lizard brain taking over again. I can tell my brain the truth--yes, Mom died when she was 49. That does not place a bookend at the same age for me. But since I'm thinking about it, what do I want on my shelf when the time does come?
When I was younger, my stories focused largely on adventure. I traveled. I explored. I tried new things that served no purpose other than terrifying myself (and probably my parents) just to prove that I could do them (ask me sometime about swimming with sharks, or getting stranded on an icy mountain top in Japan). Now my stories almost always involve my children--they are my center, the eye of most of my storms and motive behind most of my plots. Looking forward, though, I realize I want something more. I want to know that I made a difference, that I helped shape the next generation beyond just my own amazing and wonderful children. I want to help as many amazing and wonderful children as I can, and the best way to do that is to help the amazing and wonderful parents raising them.
So that story of my lizard brain is going to be in a lot of other stories now. When your little one is freaking out on the floor of the cereal aisle? True story--they CANNOT simply calm down and use their words. They really, truly do need you to simply show up and be by their side. You can calm them more with a touch than a word. Those moments when their fear response has been triggered and they're terrified? They really can't tell you what's wrong or what they're scared of, because their brain has switched to survival mode. Until you help switch it back, you're in the land of the lizard. And the only thing that can lead you both back is Love, with a capital "L."
I want to build relationships with my children so they can feel that Love through my touch or my presence when words can't get through. I want to help other parents learn how crucial their Love is, and how it can reach through the fathoms to pull their precious littles back from the edge. I want to help shape the next generation of humans to be more compassionate and connected than the last, and to keep that momentum moving forward in whatever capacity I can.
I want my shelf to have my own stories, but be filled with your stories, too. I want that sense of connection and compassion to branch out and grow, spreading one family to the next until the depth of our network is something easily felt. I want my life to be one busy, messy, bookstore, with one story spilling into the next and a glorious cacophony of books so intricately connected they defy categorizing.
How about you? What stories do you want on your shelf? And how will you go about creating them?