The past few hours have been a flurry of activity: I’ve picked up my daughter Zoey from school early, taken her to her annual doctor’s visit, visited the library to celebrate a successful check-up, filled my tank up with gas, quickly stopped at the grocery store for some last minute items for dinner, and lastly, navigated our way home through what seemed to be an endless amount of traffic.
When we finally pull into our basement parking garage, it’s late—6:03, to be exact—and almost all of the parking spots are taken. After driving around for a few minutes, I find an empty one tucked way back in a corner and carefully pull into the tight space that’s just barely big enough for my car to fit into.
I look down at the passenger seat, taking stock of everything I need to carry upstairs. Aside from my already heavy messenger bag—the one that I carry my life around in every day along with my laptop—there’s groceries and library books and paperwork from the doctor and a pile of Zoey’s artwork and water bottles and, and, and… And my tiredness, I think. Along with all of that other stuff, I have to try to carry my tiredness upstairs, too.
I start feeling overwhelmed and my chest begins to tighten. I try to take a deep breath, but I can’t. Because while it seems like everything else in the world is here in the car with us, air is nowhere to be found.
* * *
We all have those days.
I’m sure you know the kind I’m talking about—they are the days you wake up feeling just a little bit off, and then, no matter how hard you try, you just can seem to shake it. But then you go to bed at night, telling yourself that tomorrow will be a better day, and when you wake up the next morning, you smile because you were right: You feel like yourself, refreshed and ready to tackle the day, and you breathe a sigh of relief.
Although I’ve been known to have days like this, for the most part, they are few and far between. But this week was different.
Last weekend, in an effort to try to hit a reset button in the busyness of our lives, Zoey and I had a lazy day. At the time, taking a day to do nothing seemed to be just what I needed. But then a new week started, and things started piling up again. Deadlines loomed. Pressure built. Perfection was demanded. Time started slipping away, and then, slowly, it started running out. Heaviness settled in.
Every night, I went to bed thinking in the morning I would feel better, but when the sun came up the next day, that heaviness was still there. Every single morning was like this: me, waking up exhausted, with a low, dull ache tugging in my chest, one that made it hard to breathe and kept me feeling like I was always on the verge of tears. As I went about my week, I kept feeling like this, and, on top of all of that, there was the issue of my heart: It felt a little numb, and frankly, that scared me to death.
* * *
I have consolidated everything from the car in as few bags as possible and achieved (at least what I feel to be) the perfect balance so that we can get upstairs in one trip. I’m starting to walk away from the car when Zoey’s voice echoes in the concrete basement.
I turn to look at her, but she isn’t even looking at me. Zoey is leaning down into the backseat of the car, and after I watch her reach under the driver’s seat, she turns around and holds out her hands, which are curled into two tiny, little fists.
“Look!” Zoey exclaims. She opens her fingers wide to reveal two rocks, one in each hand. The one on the left is larger and dark gray. It has sharp, jutting angles that make it almost look angry. The right one is completely different: smaller and smooth, it is a soft, creamy white. “I saw these under your seat when we were on the way to the doctor. I forgot I put them in the car the other day after we went to the park.”
“I’m going to leave this one in the car,” she continues, raising her hand that holds the dark rock. Zoey turns around and climbs back into the car to gently set it in the cup holder of her booster seat before shutting the door and walking up beside me.
Although everything I’m carrying is heavy in my arms and all I want to do is to get upstairs so I can set it all down, my curiosity gets the better of me. I tip my chin in the direction of her hand, the one that proudly displays the white stone.
“What made you choose to keep that one?” I ask.
Zoey doesn’t answer right away, but she is staring at me so intently with her piercing blue eyes that it momentarily catches me off guard. I stare back at her, half expecting some sort of pearl of wisdom to roll off the tip of her lips, and then, of course, because she is Zoey, it actually does:
“That’s easy, Mommy. The other rock was sharp, and it hurt my hand a little bit when I picked it up. But this one,” she says, holding up the stone with her thumb and forefinger, “This one doesn’t hurt at all. Shouldn’t you always choose the things that are easier to carry?”
Suddenly, with her words—words that seem to get right to the heart of what I’ve been feeling all week—my heart comes back to life. It starts beating so hard and fast I can feel it pulsing in my temple. I slowly kneel down next to Zoey and let everything I’m carrying slide down my arms and onto the floor of that parking garage.
And then, for reasons unbeknownst to Zoey—and perhaps even myself—I wrap my arms around her and begin to cry. It is a raw, hard, painful cry, one that finally—and blessedly—starts forcing my lungs to start taking in the air they have been missing all week long.
* * *
It’s late, and I’m laying in the dark, holding Zoey’s smooth, white stone, as the words she spoke earlier play on repeat in my head:
Choose the things that are easier to carry…
There are so many heavy things that I carry around with me every day, things that I’ve been carrying around for years, things that I’ve had such a hard time casting aside or setting down and walking away from. They are things that sometimes hurt my heart, and not in very good ways:
I think I can do it all… I never think that I am enough… I am impatient with myself… I don’t ever ask for help… I put a crushing amount of pressure on myself to be perfect… I sometimes run myself ragged trying provide everything and be everything I possibly can for my daughter and the other people in my life that I love so dearly… I don’t ever want to feel like I’m failing anyone, least of all myself…
On top of these things, I carry some unhappy memories and painful parts of my past. There are also the walls I’ve built up around my heart, the ones that I think will still protect me from getting hurt anymore somehow. And some days, I also carry around a sad cocktail of anger, resentment, and a little bit of impatience with where I am in my life and why I am here in the first place.
These are my sharp, jagged, heavy rocks, the ones that hurt my hands and the ones that sometimes hurt my heart.
Yet right now, as I lay in the quiet, with Zoey’s stone gently nestled on my palm, I have a moment of clarity: Perhaps beauty and grace can be found even if I recognize and acknowledge that the weight of all these things—these things I’ve been choosing to carry—are far too heavy for one person to bear. In this moment, I am finally able to find beauty in the graceful realization that I can only do so much.
But I also realize that I am the only one who can control these things, and that it is up to me to choose to carry something lighter—something easier—for once and for all. It seems that the weight of what I choose to carry is completely in my own hands.
* * *
In the morning, I’m no longer holding the stone; it lays next to me, just out of my reach, nestled safe in the mess of my covers.
I take a deep breath, set my feet on the floor, and rise to meet the day. I get ready for work and slide Zoey’s stone into one of my bag’s pockets, and then sit for a minute and drink my morning cup of tea, thinking about what I will choose to carry with me today.
I think back to the things I carried with me throughout my days as a child and about the things I see my sweet daughter carry with her throughout her days today. I think of laughter and lightness and warm, comforting thoughts, I think of the sweet anticipation of good, happy things, I think of joy and love and hope, and I think of the people that help bring these things back to life for us when we have all but forgotten.
So here, in the soft light of this early morning, this is what I decide:
I will carry with me Zoey’s sweet smile, her bright, shining eyes, and her beautiful, daily, life-affirming reminders… I will carry with me the kind, understanding words that are dropped upon me by the people I love, the people that know that I’m not okay even when I say I am because they can hear me in my silence… I will carry with me the incredible realization that I’m learning to let go, to surrender, to admit that I’m not perfect—and that it’s okay to do these things… And I will carry with me the understanding that time is not my enemy, because it is the very thing that will eventually make all the sharp, jagged edges of my life softer and smoother and, ultimately, so much easier to carry.
I am a work in progress. Day by day, I’m learning. I know that who I want become and where I want to be might not happen overnight, but I’m learning that that’s okay, too:
Because I realize that slowly but surely, I’m getting there. And that’s a realization that I’m happy to carry, for it makes me feel weightless, like I can finally start taking flight, like I am finally, blissfully, free.