The coffee canister has been empty for days. As important as coffee is to us in the morning, neither of us has made an attempt to refill the container. Over the winter I inadvertently bought a bag of decaf; it’s been in the freezer ever since. Tuesday we had a big meeting and I sprinkled enough from the decaf bag to make two cups of coffee.
Sean looked at the coffee maker with confusion, not understanding why the machine chirped it was done so soon. “I only had enough for two cups,” I said to explain. He nodded and went about pouring a cup. It felt less cruel to let him drink decaf believing it was loaded, than to ruin the cup by revealing its true nature.
This morning I slipped downstairs before five knowing there was finally coffee to brew. I kept the lights off and made a pot before feeding the cats. As the machine spat and hissed and the cats ate contentedly, I walked outside in my tank top and underwear.
A few days earlier Sean had said to me, “There is a moment in the morning, I can feel you beside me, the house is quiet and the girls are asleep—safe and happy. All I am aware of is you, your hand on my arm or the way you kiss my forehead and none of the worries are there yet. I feel the gift of a new day, the potential and hope. It doesn’t last long before there are deadlines and frustration, hurt feelings and shit that I have to do, but Manda, these kind of moments, even if they last for a second, they let me know that it is possible. Life can be like that.”
I’d been quiet in response. Our life has been a hornet’s nest of unrealistic commitments and expectations, the odds of meeting them all we’ve defied and handled with endurance and willful disregard for whether we were too ambitious. I don’t mean the last few months, I mean the entirety of our marriage. Lately we’re questioning if we need to make a change.
My mom called me the other day, we were literally on the phone less than 45 seconds. She called to say, “I worry that the two of you never stop to celebrate. You work and work and work, but I don’t think in those moments when you achieve one of your audacious undertakings that you stop to savor what you’ve done. It is my only criticism of you two and I make it with all the love in the world, and I just beg you to hear me. Ice cream, champagne, whatever, just pause for four minutes and soak in what you’ve accomplished.”
I promised that we would. We didn’t, or, maybe more optimistically I can say, “We haven’t yet.”
Standing on the porch in my underwear, no glasses, the world was blurry and I felt a moment of hesitation before I let the morning air envelope me. It was like a spiritual cocktail of the best of every summer and autumn I’ve ever had. The air was slightly damp with a hint of the heat that will come later. Birds looped in circles above me between trees, a sprinkler ratcheted into its cycle, corn stalks undulated to my left and cucumber blossoms glowed to the right.
I walked to the edge of the porch. I curled my toes over like a diving board and stood up straight, air filling my lungs as I opened my arms. A single bird flew from one pine to another and the finches nesting in the bird house chirped. I felt as tall as the trees, I kept my mind still as I marveled at how the stress and worry that had made me feel small and brittle lifted.
I stood like that for a while, adding in a few stretches before taking a spin through the garden. I mustered every Pinterest and self-care refrain that I could think of, thanking the plants for growing, the stones for giving me support, and myself for getting out of bed to take this time.
I have no field guide for happiness or stress reduction, but this morning following an instinct to allow gratitude to course through me in whatever form I could find felt right The cats didn’t barge in, the allure of Twitter and Instagram did not call, the girls stayed asleep. It was as if the morning were sacred, everyone including myself allowing this emotional cleansing to happen.
I wish that for you.
—an evening walk
—a weekend getaway
—kneading bread dough
It doesn’t have to be perfect or planned, it doesn’t have to last for an hour; it just needs to speak to you. We genuinely need it.