My husband and I watched Kubo and the Two Strings last night and it was breathtakingly lovely. Near the end, for no specific reason that I can point to, I began to think about dying. Not the abstract certainty that yes, I’ll die some day because we all do, or the deep mourning I have felt when someone close to me or to my family has died, or the fear that comes on me when my children are too quiet or absent too long or running high fevers in the middle of the night. Deeper, darker, realer than that.
Going to sleep and never waking again dead.
Getting in my car and crashing into someone or something, feeling it roll over and over and over me dead.
Just, ceasing to be.
I had my head on my husband’s chest, felt his shifting muscles, his beating heart, my own seize up and tighten, tighter, as I imagined not being. Even now I can’t even capture the terror that gripped me. That I am, now, that I live and breathe and dream, now, and someday I won’t anything. One day I’ll be gone, and I might not even know that I’m gone because I’ll just. Be. Gone.
I don’t prescribe to any particular faith. I never have, and perhaps I never will. A very good friend of mine recently told me of how she prays during times of uncertainty and trouble, how she’s learned to recognize the answers to her prayers in herself, in others, in the world. It sounded to me like a pleasant dream I’m not sharing, a guidance I sorely lack but don’t even know how to begin to crave. I have always been firmly agnostic, though I feel it’s one of those things that lacks firmness. I’m not sure what’s out there, what’s after, what came before, but I’m not ready to say there’s nothing.
Neither am I ready to say there’s something.
The movie ended and I sat up and when he started to talk to me about how he felt about it, I started to talk, too, and my mouth just hung open. I started to cry. Harder. And then I couldn’t breathe, and my heart felt slow and fast at the same time.
“I’m scared,” I told him. “It’s scary.”
I’ve not had a panic attack of this magnitude since college, and I’ve never contended with my own mortality in so visceral a way. But I’ll tell you what’s the same between this response and the crippling anxiety I experienced as an undergraduate: stress and lack of control. At 23, I was so overwhelmed by my course load, my job, my family, and my aspirations that I quit two of those things and sought counseling. Eleven years later, I have the presence of mind to know that this is just a moment in time, and eventually I’ll feel better. Unfortunately, my scope of worry is now so much bigger.
I feel maddeningly powerless about a number of things right now, but I’m painfully Type A, guilt-ridden, and suffer an unreasonable sense of duty that urges me to continue to try anyway. To throw myself against the wall until it breaks or I do. I look at what’s in my life and tell myself I can’t quit anything, but that’s not really true. I can and I must, because it’s pretty clear to me I can’t keep on like I have been. I don’t have any more to give to stress and fear and uncertainty and speculation. I need to focus on what I can do: raise strong girls. Elevate the stories, amplify the voices, and share the incredible transformations in schools and communities through my work. Love my husband and my friends. Tell my own stories, not to escape the world I am living in, but to put magic into it. I can’t be sorry but I already am.
I need to believe that this is enough.
This is plenty.
This is good.