Last week something surprising happened to me: the 4th of July arrived, and it shoved me right down into a pit of despair. Eventually this will all lead to my thoughts on my solstice-to-equinox streak, but it’s kind of a long build up, so bear with me.
Two days before Independence Day, I was talking to Kaleb in the morning before I left for work. He said, “Mom, I don’t think it’s fair, being the youngest. All of The Bigs got to have cool stuff on every single holiday. They always got to have a party at Aunt Suzette’s or at Candace & Ernie’s house on the 4th of July. They got to do fireworks and tons of fun stuff. I don’t get any of that.”
Sigh. He’s totally right. It’s not fair and it does suck. And while I pointed out the ways that being the youngest is a perk, he wasn’t having it. Because holidays should be about spending time with your family. In fact, after that conversation with Kaleb, I swear about every other post on Instagram was that quote from Erma Bombeck: “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
Kaleb got that for the first decade of his life, but things are just different now. On Kendell’s side of the family, the cousins have all started getting married and having their own families, so we are extraneous (and the black sheep to boot). On my side, I also feel extraneous; usually I can get over it but right now there is just so much tension because of the settling of my mom’s estate that it seems like everyone might need a break from each other.
At any rate, on Independence Day I went running, and Kaleb went to the water park with his aunt and his cousin. Kendell and I hung out in the house all day and contemplated how sucky it was that our water heater needed to be replaced. We all went out to dinner together (me and Kendell, Kaleb and his cousin and his aunt, plus another cousin and his wife), and then…that was it. I didn’t even go outside to watch the neighbors light fireworks because I was kind of annoyed with my neighbors.
In fact, the best part of the 4th of July was the wind storm we got. I stood outside on my porch and watched my big sycamores move in the wind, restless and unstoppable. Large branches kept crashing down, and I just stood and watched and cried. (Told you: pit of despair.)
This was surprising to me because it was unexpected. I expect that I will be sad at Christmas. But the 4th of July? I didn’t know it would be a marker: of how my family has changed, of my mother’s first year of death, of estrangement, of change. But it was.
Then on Friday Kendell and I had a lovely BUA during my lunch hour. A mean one; things were said that cannot be unsaid. I came home from work apprehensive and thinking my stomach ache and utter exhaustion (not to mention pervasive sadness) was caused by the argument, so I skipped the hike I had planned, did some sculpting exercises instead, and went to bed. Only to be woken at 3:21 a.m. with excruciating abdominal pain.
Ah. Not too tired to hike, but actually sick.
But still pretty sad.
That Saturday, I did absolutely nothing besides lie in bed with the hot pad. I read an entire book, but I felt awful. I drank Sprite with lemon and worried about fibroids and cancer and diverticulitis. I still don’t really know what was wrong—that pain took five days to finally go away completely. But the next day I had to move, so Kendell and I went hiking. We intended 4 or 5 gentle miles and ended up doing 8, but it was OK. My weird pain wasn’t too bad, it felt glorious to move my body, and we worked a few things out.
I was feeling weird about missing a day on the exercise streak because I was the one who started it, and already I missed a day. But when we got to the place we decided to turn around—a beautiful, lush little meadow between two mountain peaks—I decided to set the uncomfortable feeling down and leave it there.
It’s OK that I missed a day.
Even if I hadn’t been sick (or whatever that was), it still would’ve been OK if I missed a day. Because that was what my body needed: rest, somewhat mindless reading, bubbly sweetness. The contrast between Saturday and Sunday, of doing nothing and hiking in the blazing sun, taught me something I am struggling to put into words. It has something to do with what I wrote in my last blog post, about coming to accept my body for what it is. Exercise is not my only interest, physical fitness isn’t the only focus of my life. The softening of my body isn’t my only struggle right now. Sometimes there are other things, too, and on that weekend, for whatever reason, my body had had enough. Running couldn’t heal me that Saturday, just like if I forced a family party on the 4th of July it really wouldn’t have solved anything. I don’t know what will, honestly.
I want to keep my body healthy partly because I want to be healthy for as long as I can. Healthy and involved with my life. But just like I am working around the limitations of my body (that persistent knee pain, for example), I also have to work around the reality of how my life is turning out. I don’t love every change that has happened over the last three or four years. Like Kaleb I am sad, annoyed, and disappointed to find myself in this strange, lonely place. But sub-patella cartilage doesn’t repair itself just like my life is just my life. Kaleb’s life, too. We both have to learn how to deal with it, to work around it, to find moments when we give rest to what needs rest.
That’s what I learned from my day off from my streak: you can plan, you can make goals, you can imagine how you think things will turn out. In reality you’re not always in charge and it doesn’t go the way you imagined. Sometimes you feel bad about this, and that is a valid response. Sometimes you have to pause. But there is also the next day, when you can start again, maybe still without answers, maybe still with heartache, but refreshed, just a little—just enough—by your break to continue on finding joy in movement.