This week, our island has been mourning the untimely loss of a beloved partner, father, and community member. Tonight, Nantucket joined together to honor him; though I did not really know him or his family and did not attend, I have thought of him often since hearing the news Monday.
Tonight, Nora and I visited Chris at the Brotherhood and ate a quiet dinner in the nearly empty restaurant before heading home. The night was warm, but windy. Salty gusts blew over and between gray-shingled buildings, and up vacant off-season streets. I pushed Nora in her stroller down Center Street and across Main without passing another person or car, lost in thought, both of us quieted by the night. As we neared the Unitarian Church, familiar chords poured from the windows along with light shining golden in the darkness, and I stopped at the steps to listen. 525,600 minutes, the words were on the tip of my tongue before they even reached my ears. 525,600 moments so dear. Nora was awake, but just as transfixed as was I at the voices from the church. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in the life?
I stood there on the sidewalk, alone but for my precious little girl, listening to the beauty of music carried by Nantucket wind from grieving and loving hearts out to the sea. For the full three minutes of the song, we were motionless and silent, honoring the person we never knew and all of those who loved him. Before love rang out, an ocean began to pool behind my closed eyes and slowly slip down my cheeks. At the end of the song, I started walking again, pushing the stroller down empty streets toward home. I cried the whole way.
So many people might ask why about this death, question how it came to be, how any emotion could go so far. Hearing the news pained me so much — not just because of the great loss, but also because I don’t question it. Because I understand it so very well. Too well.
I was reminded of this understanding at La Leche League conference this past weekend. I attended a session on raising resilient children, which I very much wanted to learn about since I, myself, was anything but a resilient child. During the session, the speaker asked us each to draw a line symbolizing our life from birth to present day and to add marks, up (positive) or down (negative), for our major life events. My graph looked like this:With the exception of one thing in 1997 (that I really had to think about), every major event in my memory from childhood is negative in whole or in part. Yes, I have plenty of happy memories, but mostly there was a lot of unhappiness, particularly regarding significant events. I knew this, but I didn’t fully realize or remember until I saw it on paper. Until I graduated from high school, my life was punctuated with sadness, anger, and negative events largely beyond my control, all of which culminated in taking handfuls of pills one night in an attempt to make everything I was feeling stop. That night and the days that followed (during which I was hospitalized and watched constantly) were the lowest point of my life. Everything was painful and wrapped in darkness.
But this chart of my life doesn’t only tell that story. It also tells the story of the years that followed, when I moved out on my own, left behind unhealthy relationships, met Chris, got married, and, of course, the best day of my life: Nora’s birth. This chart reminds me of how sorry I am for myself as a child, but also how incredibly joyful I am now. It is — I am — living proof that no matter how dismal life seems, it will get better. It gets better. It. Gets. Better.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that. I wish I could tell everyone who is now struggling that. I hope beyond hope that Nora will not have the childhood that I had, but if she does have moments of deep dispair I will tell her everyday that, it gets better.
I know how hard it is to feel lost in your own life. But, I also know now what it feels like to finally be happy. Everything has a season and despite our best efforts, we sometimes have to go through seasons of darkness before we can find the love.
But it always gets better. Always.
Incredibly powerful post, Amber. Beautiful, honest, well-spoken. Having been through those down years myself, I couldn’t agree with you more. It always gets better. 🙂
Somehow I suspect the early part of your chart is similar to most people’s lives. Those that finally take ownership of their lives find that’s when things start to improve. If you own yourself you own it all. If we are victims, of anything at all, it is because we have moved away from self reliance, responsibility, possession. And, of course, it follows that the best good one can do for society, one’s culture, the “collective”, IS to own yourself.
Do you think a “happy” childhood is a myth?
Amber, your post was beautiful and it is inspiring to see how you embrace life with so much gusto now. However, if there is no such thing as a happy childhood, I think being a parent becomes hopeless and depressing. Very few times in life are completely happy, childhood included, but it seems to me that Nora is having a beautifully joyous childhood. What a gift that is. I have a young son and while I am sure some of his childhood memories will not be positive, I am trying so very hard to give him lots of happy moments and lots of strength to deal with those difficult moments. No matter how hard we try, I am sure our children will have some unhappy childhood memories, even some stemming from our direct actions or inactions, but giving my son as happy a childhood as possible is one of the greatest movitating things in my life (and I suspect, yours too if your blog is any evidence of the love and effort you put into Nora each day)).
Thank you, Tiffany. I hope very much that Nora has a happy childhood, and Chris and I are doing our best to make that happen. I think that her experience will be markedly different than mine, and that is already is, something that I am very grateful for every day.
Not a myth. I hope it happens that our childhood teaches us lessons about life and parenting that make us better parents such that each generation improves over the previous. My dad had a terrible early life, my mom’s early life was strong on the family side, but very difficult on the survival side. Eight of thirteen children survived to adulthood. Those factors played out in our family life and continued on in the next generation’s life as well. All in all my childhood was happy, but I was perhaps too selfish to fully realize it at the time. I picked at the flaws of mom and dad’s parenting mercilessly and it became a mission to do better than I perceived was done to me and my four siblings. And so I tried. We are all tested constantly. Life itself is a crucible. It it doesn’t consume us our metal gets ever stronger.
Amber, I knew you as that little child and was helpless to make things better for you. I ached for the pain I saw you endure but I always, always believed in you unconditionally and now you have emerged as a beautiful person, wife and mother. I couldn’t be more proud. Love you always, Mim
Amber, I am a lurker on your blog. I have a 16 month old, precious little girl and don’t remember how I found your blog but I’ve been coming back ever since to see how Miss Nora is doing.
I, for one, had a really happy childhood. Everything started to go south once I hit adolesense, but for the most part even the growing pain years were happy. As a child my family was pretty poor. We lived in a very rural part of NC and every vegetable we ate was grown in either our garden or my grandfather’s, who was also our closest neighbor. We had 10 acres of untamed wooded land with a large stream going through it. It was a fantastic wonderland of discovery. When I think of those times, even now, all I can want is to go back. We moved to a less rural place when I was 10 and life got a little more crowded and a little less utopian, but it was still happy. I think this is because, like John mentioned, my parents were raised in very strict households and they wanted better for their children. Even though my own parents’ happiness fizzled out and they eventually divorced, they were extremely careful to make it as easy on my brothers and I as possible. I tell my mom all the time that I aspire to be the mom she was to me. Always fostering a hunger for learning while making everything fun. This is what I see in you as well. I think Nora will be able to say she had a happy childhood. As I hope my own daughter will be able to say when she is older.
Thanks for sharing your life on the internet for strangers to know. It makes mine a little better when I get to read about it.
I had a similar experience to Charity, with the childhood being pretty carefree and the teenage years being pretty brutal. I think a happy childhood exists, but I think people make the mistake of thinking that it has to be happy ALL the time. I think as long as the overall experience is viewed as “good” or “beneficial” then we’ll probably be fine.