A certain kind of urgency came with me to Santa Barbara - perhaps not unexpected - that has to do with savoring my time with my husband. His retirement created shifts in our household in every sense, as well as a heightened awareness of the very real finite-ness of all it - of our time together, in this home, with all the day-to-day details that are the threads of our story. Retirement is a very specific kind of in-between; it is the in-between space that connects career and, well, I'll just say this plainly: old age and death. We are now in that precious window of deep togetherness, and the particular kind of urgency it inspires arrived the day we received the keys to this house.
While I continue to work, do laundry, see my friends and travel, I am also spending more time staring - looking around in the midst of quiet mornings, raucous dinner parties and afternoon walks in an attempt to record and catalog every single detail. As I take each mental snapshot and tuck it in its place, I imagine some future moment when I will be grateful for my insistence on stopping, staring and taking it all in - savoring it, inhaling it, and memorizing all of its textures and contours.
An example: A recent morning when my husband and I both awoke early. I went outside to get the paper (yes, an actual newspaper), and on my way back to the house I stopped, and I stared. The sun was not yet fully risen, so the sky was deep blue and the trees still more silhouettes than individual leaves and rough bark. With the 5:30am sky as the backdrop, our home glowed, and I stood for a few moments watching my husband through the window, sitting in his robe drinking coffee. The lights were warm and golden, like a fairy tale in three dimensions. Here was Happily Ever After, just before sunrise on a Tuesday in Santa Barbara. I stopped, and I stared, and I acknowledged that the opportunity to appreciate my husband and my life in this way will not always be available to me. One day the composition of our home will change, and the story we are now creating will come to an end.
These moments - and they come to me on a daily basis - sound so sad and gloomy, don't they? Thoughts of mortality, endings, and the uncertainty of our time in this life are such an easy invitation for fear to march in and cast dark shadows over everything. But it is in these moments where I've honed a magical skill, which is the instant transformation of fear to joy. Fear wafts in, I look it in the eye and - poof! - I am deep in a state of profound gratitude and delight, because whatever experience I'm having is a moment I am having - it is mine (and ours) to experience right then and there, and my insistence on savoring it causes the fear to evaporate in a puff of smoke.
That transformation is only possible when I face the truth of our mortality head on, because it is that knowledge that provides the motivation to stay present. Our time is not limitless, so to hell with letting my fear of that reality take away from the time I have right now. Today, I choose joy. Today, I choose the here and now.
I've been thinking a lot about this since last week's bombings in Boston, and about how the world's collective sense of utter randomness - and accompanying fear - seems to be increasing exponentially with every bombing, shooting and natural disaster. And wild, violent imaginings of how all of this could continue to evolve and expand made me more determined than ever to keep practicing my magic, to keep transforming fear into joy. Not only that, but I also recognized the world's profound need for as many of us as possible to practice such magic - that this need was going to increase in direct proportion to the fear that our world's current hateful theatrics are creating. The world doesn't need us to live in fear of public spaces, large crowds, air travel, or Mother Nature; the world needs us to go out and move through the world with passionate purpose and exuberant hearts. The world needs our presence. The world needs our magic.
To hell with fear and those who are determined to flood the world with it. I choose beauty. I choose gratitude. Today, and every day, I choose joy.