Coming undone in the hardware store
Starting October 1st, I’ll be teaching a new online writing course called Open Heart, Moving Pen. Here’s a little of my own openhearted writing from this past weekend…
Sometimes you come undone in the heating vent aisle at the hardware store.
It’s a simple decision you have to make. White vent covers or brown ones? Plastic or metal? It’s simple, but this is that one decision, after thousands of decisions stretching over an intense year of solo-decision-making that tips the scales for you, and suddenly you’re weeping alone in the heating vent aisle. You can’t even muster the strength to ask a store employee to help you with the decision, because you’ve been faced with too many professionals who held your fate in their hands these many months and you. just. can’t. anymore.
You feel like you’re under one of those buckets at the splash park that’s got lots of capacity to hold water, drip by drip, but suddenly there’s that one drip that is too much and it tips, drowning you beneath it. This one decision about vent covers is that final drop and you’re drowning and now you just want some kind adult to pick you up, dry you off, take you out into the sun, and feed you cotton candy and soda pop.
But there are no kind adults coming to rescue you, so you brush off your tears, leave the store, and step into the rain. The heating vent covers will have to wait for a day with more courage. Right now you have to muster every last ounce of courage you have to make it through the grocery store, where a hundred more decisions await. You are, after all, a grown-up and grown-ups don’t go home to their children and say “we have no food to eat for supper because I came undone in the heating vent aisle at the hardware store.”
On autopilot, you make it back home, and you make it through the evening without coming undone in front of your children, but then when the darkness comes and your bedroom door is closed, the tears come again and you realize the bucket didn’t entirely empty itself – it just stayed unbalanced long enough for you to shut the door. This time, you don’t have to worry about any strangers looking at you funny, so you let the bucket flow until your body is week from the weeping and you are empty.
You may have been the one who chose the ending of your marriage, and you may still be convinced it was the right decision, but that doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes need to grieve what you lost and what you’ve been through. And your bucket may have lots of capacity and you may be able to handle a lot of decision making, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel like you’re drowning sometimes. You may even like sleeping alone and you may have a life that’s full of contentment, but that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally long for someone to crawl in beside you and hold you at the end of a hard day.
The next morning you wake up and you’re still tender, but the tenderness has shifted. Now the tenderness invites you to pack your daughter’s lunch, even though it’s not your job, and to drive your other daughter to work, even though she can catch the bus. Because the hard days may come, and the buckets may overflow sometimes, but you can still wake up grateful that you have this life and this family and that your home is still filled with this kind of love. And you may get splinters from your unfinished floors and there may be no furniture in your living room and the heating vents may not have covers on them, but you can still look around you and marvel that you’re lucky enough to own this home.
And maybe tomorrow your courage will return and this time you’ll take your daughters along to help you pick out heating vent covers. And maybe they have buckets that can hold a little of the overflow from yours.