“Dumbed down and numbed by time and age.
Your dreams that catch the world the cage.
The highway sets the traveler’s stage.
All exits look the same.”
-The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You
I had the worst insomnia last night, filled with worry and grief and panic. Each time I started to drift off just a bit, William would wake me up with his hacking, croupy cough, and then stumble into my room and sigh, “Mom, my throat is on fire.” The last time I did sleep I remember dreaming that I was pregnant and kept feeling limbs kick out of my stomach. It could have just been Quinn, snoring next to me, who has developed a habit of crawling all over me at 2AM.
We are less than a week into the new semester, a bit behind due to school cancelations and the weather. I have assigned my AP Photography students to shoot one photo a week this semester that illustrates something they feel grateful for. As I drove home from volleyball tonight, I thought about that assignment and wondered what I might shoot if the assignment were mine. What might I shoot in the middle of a February that has been, thus far, heavy and chaotic, lonely and anxious…
I struggled to come up with an image (which is probably why I gave the assignment to AP students), but I did come up with a short list. It’s almost bedtime and I am hopeful that rich sleep and fanciful dreams will come easily tonight so instead of counting sheep (which I did resort to last night, but kept getting distracted by the uniqueness of each sheep) I will literally count blessings. These, in particular, mattered to me most this week:
1. My uncle John bought my dad pricey short ribs to cook for his birthday dinner. During a time where both my aunt and uncle, as well as my mom and dad have been helping me out considerably more than usual, I am grateful for this loving gesture that brought family together to celebrate my dad, who loves family and food, especially in combination, more than anyone else I know.
2. As I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw Adam building his installation and Jill making these great little clay vessels, I was immediately grateful that I am living a life surrounded by artists. My mom had her own show last week and I was so happy that my kids were there to hear her speak about her paintings with such articulate grace. Even though we are having some trouble making ends meet right now, I am still headed to bed, honestly thankful to be surrounded by such creative friends, students, and teachers … even my own William this week made the coolest animation about the big bang theory and I just find myself delighted to be part of a group that goes bananas for his illustrations of atoms and DNA.
My favorite Avett Brothers song is I and Love and You. I listen to it all the time when I am sad or when I just need some confirmation that someone else out there gets caught in the in-between. My paintings, many of them anyway, are about that space. I feel like the bear, after a long winter, matted and starving, but knowing, deep in the pit of my stomach, exactly which herbs and berries to find to replenish myself. For me, that magic fruit is in finding gratitude, especially in the midst of pain.
What I guess I need all of you out there to know is that each time I witness your genius and your generosity, I am one step closer to creating a dream that is bigger than I previously imagined, one that is not caged, but limitless.
I feel like the bear, too. I found myself telling my 6 year-old son, who just couldn’t get his feelings under control, “You need to breathe in and out 5 times and think about things you’re thankful for. Only you can make you sad.” The very next day I literally ran off (along icy roads in sneakers and spandex) feeling so down in the dumps until somewhere along the way I remembered the advice that I had given him but had not been following myself. What am I thankful for? Only I can make me sad, especially on those normal down-in-the-dumps-February-blues sort of days. Thanks for the reminder.
Aw, yes. We are always choosing… Sometimes it is really hard not to choose sad.