It started when I was in the first grade.
The waiting and the dreading.
I’d take a breath and try to hold it until the whatever-it-was-that-I-dreaded was over.
I think my first deadline worry and held breath had to do with the end of the six-weeks grading period and the issuing of report cards. I was a good student, but what if, what if I got a bad grade? What if I didn’t have all “Satisfactories”? What if I got a “Needs improvement”? Or worse yet, what if I got an “Unsatisfactory”??? So I held my breath until report cards came out, and I breathed with relief when I got all “S” marks.
My first dread worries were about trips to the dentist. I usually had cavities, and I hated the shots and the drilling. My mother always scheduled our dentist visits very near my birthday, which meant I couldn’t look forward to my birthday with happy expectation alone. It was always mixed with dread of the dental visit.
The worrying and dreading and holding my breath until “it” was over got worse as I progressed in school. The end of each six weeks meant tests, projects due. . . pressure. After holding my breath through the deadlines, I’d exhale in relief and breath easy for a little bit after each six-weeks grading period was over. But always, inevitably, the end of another six weeks would roll around, and the pressure, the dread, the holding-my-breath-until-it-was-over would return.
That continued into junior high and high school, where the six-weeks periods seemed to get shorter and shorter. Projects and papers came due more and more often. Six-weeks tests seemed to come every three weeks. I’d hold my breath, I’d dread, I’d suffer through . . . until I could exhale and breath easy for a few days, maybe a week or two.
And on it continued into college, where the six weeks became quarters, which should have seemed longer – but didn’t. The quarters had higher stakes of testing and research papers and essays and due dates. At the end of each quarter, I would feel relief when all tests were taken and all papers were done . . . until the next quarter, just a few days later, when it started all over again.
And it went on into law school, where the stakes were even higher and more pressure-filled because there was one exam for each course – and some courses lasted the whole year. The intense pressure would build and build. I feel sure I held my breath for weeks then, waiting for exams to be over.
Three years of this pressure ended with exams AND the bar exam. I’m pretty sure I held my breath for several months straight.
And you know what I thought then?
I thought that when my schooling was over that I’d be through with the deadlines and pressures and dread.
I thought that “real life” would be different. That I wouldn’t live with dread of deadlines, that real life wouldn’t have round after round of holding my breath followed by the exhale of relief for a few seconds before the new pressure began.
What I discovered, though, is that there are always deadlines. Always expectations. Always dentists visits, doctor visits, things I really don’t want to do but have to do. Things that I dread. Things hanging over my head. One thing after the other. Over and over again.
Over and over. And over and over.
Throughout my lifetime.
Yeah, I was bummed out when I realized that there would never be some perfect time when all went well, when I felt safe and comfortable, when there was no dread.
Where did I come up with that fairy tale that there was some point at which all of my worries magically went away???
All I have to do is look around to see people under pressure, people with deadlines, people waiting to hear if a biopsy is malignant, people scheduled for surgery, people going through difficult medical treatments, people going through divorces, people dealing with addiction, people holding sick children, people grieving deaths of family members.
People in pain.
There’s always a doctor’s appointment, always a possibility that our economy will collapse, always a chance that there might be a terrorist attack, that ebola will spread, that a shooter might open fire in one of our schools, that a tornado will make its destructive swath right over my head.
There will never be a time on this earth when I have no worries, when I’m completely safe, when I have no responsibility.
But that doesn’t mean I have to hold my breath forever.
Because I realize now that my lesson is to learn to live in the midst of uncertainty as if I were certain. As if all is well.
Because it is.
Fall is beautiful whether I’m going through chemo treatments (as I was three years ago) or whether I’m in perfect health.
Friends and family still love me whether I have a deadline looming with my job or whether I’m on vacation on another continent.
The sun comes up every day – no matter if I’m worried or content.
So why, why have I, why do I waste this precious time on earth with worry and dread? Waste the now looking forward to some magical time when I’m worry-free, pressure-free, deadline-free?
A magical time that does not exist.
Or does it?
Maybe all I have to do is tell myself a different story. A story of magic where each moment is precious, each person precious, each situation precious. No matter whether the moment is “perfect” or painful or even just mundane.
I can tell myself that this moment is magic, that it has nothing to do with deadlines or pressures or worries or pleasures or relief. That it’s perfect just as it is.
That’s a fairy tale worth telling.
That’s the story I’m going to tell myself starting right now.
Because on some deeper level, the level under the “real life” I thought I was going to be in, that’s the true story.
One full of magic. One full of perfect moments.
All I have to do is breathe in and out, be present . . . and appreciate what is.
It’s all magical.
That’s my new story.
And I’m going to keep telling it to myself until I believe it.