Driving south on I-75 outside of Atlanta last weekend, the skies opened up and unleashed a downpour unlike anything I’ve seen since living in New York and L.A. for the last decade. As I struggled to see through the rain that exploded against the windshield, I remembered being stuck in summer storms in Miami, where you couldn’t see the car in front of you, or even the road sometimes. I thought about all of the precautions I would take then — slowing down, pumping the brakes, leaving extra space between my car and the car in front of me. If I could pull from all of my driving experience and knowledge, I could do this.
I felt safer for a wonderful instant ... until I started seeing cars piled up, accordion-style on the shoulder next to me. Seeing the trucks that had floated past the shoulder and were turned backwards or upside down on the grassy median. Seeing police cars and ambulances and fire trucks flying past me. How many of those drivers also did everything they were supposed to do to ensure their safety, and still ended up being slammed from behind, or hydroplaning right off the expressway? At some point while you are white-knuckling it through the rain, you realize that any real sense of control is false and imagined. At some point it seems you have to accept that you're doing everything you are able to do and pray for the best result.
I spent the weekend in Georgia with my friend Rachel, a mother of two special needs children, rambunctious boys who are six and four. I could only liken her to some kind of superhero as I watched her being thrown challenge after challenge everyday, usually with no recovery time in between. As I was driving, struggling to navigate and stay, quite literally, above water in this massive storm, it struck me that so many of her days must be spent in this same manner — white-knuckling it through each moment, using all of her knowledge and skills and love to prevent slips and slides and collisions, but still often just getting rear-ended by life. Control over these situations? Not likely. I wonder how she can continue to have faith, that today everything will work out, that tonight everyone will be happy, that tomorrow it will be easier.
I've been feeling stuck for a few weeks since coming down from the high of vacation. Stuck in my own stuff, the everyday annoyances and setbacks and life stuff. Unable (or unwilling) to sit down and explore it, I've just been going through the motions. I watch it happening almost as though it’s happening to someone else entirely. I see the tightly clenched jaw and the furrowed brow. I hear the clipped tone, the voice that gets shorter throughout the day. I feel it in the seizing stomach and pounding of the blood through veins.
I’m getting worse at yoga, too tense and preoccupied to relax into the asanas. I’m getting worse at my job, too impatient and overwhelmed to be at my best. I’m getting worse at writing, too anxious and stressed to focus completely. I’m getting worse at relationships, too tired and distracted to give the people I love the attention they deserve.
I’m getting worse at life.
I hear the words that come out of my mouth, and wonder who this person is speaking. I hear the same things repeated over and over and over.
"Once I get through this, I'll be fine."
"After this, things will be so much better."
"As soon as this passes, I'll be happy."
Until it finally hits me, hits me like the hail pounding the roof of the car in that Atlanta storm: this is my life. And I’m spending all of my time wishing it away.
How did that happen? This surely isn't how it was meant to be, this “getting by” instead of really living. I know I’ve done it before, really lived. So how could I have so easily forgotten? Forgotten like it was just one of those times where I walked into a room to get something only to have no clue what it was once I got there. I forgot how live life, like it was a sweater or a pair of earrings I didn’t remember to retrieve from my bedroom.
One of the best lessons you can learn from a parent of special needs children is how to be present. It has been a theme in many of my yoga classes over the past year, but seeing it in action, in real life, through someone else, really illustrated what it means. Being present means you're fully engaged in each minute of each day — not just the good ones. Being present means you're dealing with the mess and the dirt and the crap that often accompany those days. Being present means you savor every sweet moment, holding onto it as though you know it’s fleeting but you will still relish every second until it’s gone. Being present means not waiting to get through it, through life, before allowing yourself to be happy.
Being present means, if I may borrow the lyrics from one of my favorite Rent songs, “There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret. Or life is yours to miss.”
Be present. Show up. Listen to your heart and your body. Breathe. Pay attention. Do whatever makes you happy. Relinquish control. Laugh. Love. Live.
“No other road. No other way. No day but today.”
May is Prader-Willi Syndrome Awareness Month. Click here for more info about this rare genetic disorder, and watch Rachel's April appearance on The Doctors to learn more about what life with Prader-Willi Syndrome is like.