Saturday, April 28, 2007

Just Breathe

This afternoon I had one of those experiences that make all of us cringe when we hear about it happening to someone else. My hard drive crashed – hard. And no, I don’t back up.

Until fairly recently, this kind of disaster would have precipitated a meltdown and maybe even tears. It was my work laptop, but I kept a lot of personal files and emails on it. I had account data, old quotes, orders, proposals and emails going back to 2001. I had outlines, character sketches, some short stories and about 22,000 words of a draft novel. I knew I’d sent the draft and one short story to a writing partner to read, so it was pretty likely I could get them back. Losing the rest didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would and that surprised me a little and then I understood why.

In the spring of 2004 Scott’s mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She died three months later. Within two weeks, we moved from Colorado to New Hampshire because my father had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and we wanted to spend what time we could with him. He died two months after Scott’s mother did.

In the weeks before our parents died, all of the petty day to day issues that had kept me in a driven, intense state for so long evaporated. The things that were important suddenly crystallized into a sharp, quiet focus and I was calm. There wasn’t much to think about anymore. My family and the people I love were the only things that mattered. The job I’d completely dedicated myself to wasn’t important, being available to answer emails immediately on my Blackberry and take cell phone calls 24/7 wasn’t important, the house I lived in and how it was decorated wasn’t important. There was very little that was.

That was an extraordinary time and our families pulled together into a tiny circle that sealed out all the noise. Eventually we all had to go back into the world and participate. But during that time, I felt the power of knowing that almost all of the things we worry about are completely insignificant in the bigger picture of our lives. I meditated on that thought one night in my father’s hospital room and willed myself to hold onto that feeling and remember what it felt like. I knew that as we put more distance between ourselves and those profound and immediate feelings, we’d slip back into the current of our normal lives and once again become annoyed, afraid, worried, and angry about things that didn’t really matter. It was inevitable. But I promised myself that I would try to remember often, how it felt to be in the moment and what that awareness was like.

Did I go back to my old way of thinking and feeling? Yes and no. I stopped putting my work in front of everything else in my life for good. Old habits are hard to break and I’ve gotten stressed out plenty of times over work and moving and all kinds of things that we have to deal with in the course of living. I’ve lost sight of that feeling I had in the fall of 2004 lots of times. But I’m getting better at remembering to just breathe and think about how I felt then and it works.


The Writers' Group said...

This is incredibily timely, beautifully written, and utterly relevant. Thank you for the check.


Leslie said...

How simple it can/should be to breathe and how difficult we often find it to do. Perspective is a wonderful and powerful thing - I've been learning that all over again these past few months.
Thanks for the reminder.


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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf