Thoughts For the New Year: When a Missing Umbrella Makes Room for Joy

IMG_8169I wanted to write something wise about this past year. I wanted to take a sage look back, bright spots highlighted with gratitude, low points vaguely alluded to then quickly turned on their ears and repackaged as lessons learned. I wanted to recount our family vacations, our celebrations, our laughter. I wanted to write about a few trying moments so I could show how I’ve weathered the storm and come up with a plan for next year. I wanted to smile nostalgically at last year’s blinks of undiluted bliss as I leave the cliffs and crags of 2015 behind me and soar into 2016 with my wings fluttering in the brilliant light of the new year.

I’m like that. I believe that if I try hard enough and use pretty words, all the sucky stuff will stay firmly behind me simply because the numbers on a calendar have moved on. I think that if I just soldier through, gritting my teeth, making like I’ve got it all under control, trading in my sad for mad – because it’s much easier to be angry than on my knees in the closet sobbing into my sweaters – that I can start over, better, lighter, stronger on any given day. If I fail, I just keep on keeping on, armored against tears and sorrow and sad. I was going to bullshit you into believing this past year wasn’t bad at all, just “challenging.” With a little fairy dust and a click of my red-heeled shoes, I was going to convince us all that this year was a sweet balance of ho and hum, ups and downs rather than mostly crappy. Listen, I read Big Magic and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough is next. I’ve got it all figured out.

Unfortunately my umbrella went missing and now I feel compelled to discard the sing-song first draft of my year in review. I don’t always remember to bring an umbrella with me when the weather calls for it, but I did yesterday and I was damn proud too. In fact, I was on point all morning. I made coffee, fed the screen-addled kids who are almost as sick of winter break as I am, had a friend over to check out my kitchen so she can hire my contractor, organized my desk and peed the dog. I left the house just in time to make it to my spin class with all the things: socks, hair tie, water bottle, wallet, phone, coat and the umbrella. I felt downright high driving to class, satisfaction surging through me like heroin in the veins of a junkie. At 9:44 a.m., victory was mine. At 10:23 a.m. I was sweating my ass off, triumphantly burning calories I plan to reclaim in the form of a New Year’s Eve gin and tonic. At 11:07 a.m., when I realized my umbrella was gone, I was crushed.

I looked all over the studio, in the lost and found, the bathroom, at the front desk. No umbrella. I told myself, “It’s just an umbrella, replaceable, from Target. Someone probably thought it was theirs and took it by accident.” Yes, yes, of course, but I wasn’t having any of it. I’d done all the things this morning! I’d covered my bases! I didn’t deserve to have my umbrella go missing! I stalked outside into the rain, pissed. Like really pissed, like muttering-swear-words-to-myself pissed. More pissed than I usually like to let on, preferring to glide and gloss right over that icy surface to the grass-is-always-greener side of the pond where I can trade in my skates for flip-flops and cover up my swollen eyes with my Tom Ford sunglasses.

I didn’t do that yesterday. I stayed pissed all the way to the car, unlocked the door and threw my pissed self into the driver’s seat. I sat there for a moment, totally pissed. Then I started to cry. I cried and cried and cried. I cried about my missing umbrella and the disregard of strangers. I cried about my marriage and my kids and how I am blindsided by their needs even as I scramble constantly to meet them. I cried because I’m worried my girls really, truly don’t like each other. I cried about the health scare we had this year and my aunt’s death from effing cancer and the deep sorrow seeded in the hearts of my uncle and cousins. I cried because I let fear and obligations keep me from writing more and because my day-to-day overwhelms me. I cried because I could not, for the life of me, force the glimmers of light that I know shone throughout the year to pierce the darkness smothering me in the front seat of my Buick.

Totally did not see that coming.

I could blow this whole episode off and say it’s because this time of year is just plain exhausting and who wouldn’t cry their eyes out over a missing umbrella? I could tell you that the rush-drag-rush that is the end of the year has left me nursing a not so happy holiday-hangover. I could tell you thanks so much for your sympathy and understanding, but I’m fine, ready to soldier on. Ready for January 1st. I could but I won’t.

The facts on the ground still stand: the children will fight, the dog will vomit on the new rug, friends will expect more than I can give; I’ll run late, I’ll screw up, I’ll forget to buy butter. I will remember to do all the things, say “I love you” to all the people, make the calls, arrive on time, eat kale, appreciate small moments of glory and still, umbrellas will go missing. There will be sadness and if there’s anything I learned from Inside Out, it’s that sadness is okay. It’s got to be better than the backbreaking alchemy of turning sorrow into resentment and anger. If I can just let myself curl up on the closet floor and cry, then there will be an after and maybe, maybe, maybe in the after there is room for joy.

See what I did right there? I figured out my one goal for 2016: make room for joy. If that means more snot-nosed sobbing, then I guess there will have to be more snot-nosed sobbing. Meanwhile, I’ve got a certain umbrella-sized space just waiting to be filled.

36 thoughts on “Thoughts For the New Year: When a Missing Umbrella Makes Room for Joy

  1. I loved this, the rawness. I think you and I are once again on a similar plane. And I wanted to tell you that I meditated today and the dharma talk was on “starting over.” And it felt like a very hard thing because, in starting over, it feels like an implication of having done it wrong the first time. And somehow, your post made me think about that all over again, in a nice sort of kismet-y way. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much Susie. I very much agree that the mantra of “starting over” is tricky exactly for the reason you site and also because it’s not easy to sweep away everything that doesn’t work and begin from the beginning. I hope to start from where I am without completely discarding all that came before – even the crap. Here’s to kismet and meeting up again on our shared plane. xo

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  2. Driving home today from a visit with friends, I felt so damned sad. I remembered through rosy glasses life with kids and that even better life with my husband who died seven years ago. Lots of good stuff has happened since then along with challenges. This is life, after all. Today it elt too hard to come home to my empty house. Too hard to remember my sweet dog traveling with me and my sons love me (and found a way to get along much better as adults than they did as kids). I got home and the wood stove is cooking, I made a cup of green tea, the dog is snoring, I read your blog…and I let go of what I’d been holding all morning. I had a good cry. If I don’t let grief in, I can’t feel all the love. If I don’t let sorrow in, the joy is stuck behind my defense system. Thank you for sharing the truth.

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  3. Thanks for being so honest. I feel as if you wrote that for me, the perfectionist who strives everyday to do better. But you said it perfectly, it IS easier to get angry but when you let the tears roll, healing and release and joy come.

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  4. This is the one and only piece I’m reading today, the first day of 2016. It speaks to me, Lisa. I can relate to much of it, and I want to make room for joy in the new year as well. Thank you for sharing the not-so-pretty side; I hope in the sharing you find some comfort.

    Happy new year, friend. Remember that a missing umbrella just means that you can tilt your face to the sky and taste the raindrops. Xoxo

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  5. Lisa, this is exactly the post I needed this morning on New Year’s Day. Not because I want o revel in someone else’s hardships but because life is hard and I prefer honesty and authenticity over happy new year platitudes. Yes to lessons from Inside Out and to weeping in cars and closets. I’ll be doing the same over on my side of the country 🙂 glad to be in such good company when it comes to real feelings and beautiful writing. xoxo

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  6. I’m so lad you shared this… wish I could have stumbled upon it yesterday during my own snot-nosed moments. I too intended (tried to) write sing-song yesterday and eventually gave in to ‘real’. Sometimes it’s better to write in-all-honesty rather than writing (especially on celebratory days) what we think people want to hear. Cathartic for us… and I suspect (as in my case) a relief for others.

    You are a beautiful writer… Outstanding!

    Wishing you happiness (and a beautiful umbrella) for 2016… Kimmie.

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  7. Beautiful words, Lisa, and even though the bad stuff can’t be redeemed by making it literarily lovely, or by a change in the calendar, examining it and putting it in context, away from the overwhelm of it, in writing, really does help. I’m glad you chose to share the hard stuff and the sadness-and-snot-filled gaps. We all have those, but yours hurt more *because* they’re yours…as each of ours do for us.

    And joy…you’re not going to be able to keep it away. 2016 will be full of it, if only because you’re looking. You’re determinedly seeking things to be thankful for, and to celebrate, and you *will* find them.

    P.S. My sister and I spent much of our childhood hating each other, and in active war. We love each other now, and would support each other to the ends of the earth. Your girls have you to guide them and be a role-model. They’ll get there xo

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      1. There really is. Promise. SO much hope. It took us years (probably heartbreaking for my poor mum) but we got there in the end.

        And yes – we need to up and HAPPEN to life, rather than waiting for it to happen to us. I’ve tried the latter for too long, and no more!

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  8. Lisa,
    You are such a beautiful writer. You do know that you are doing all the right things. A lost umbrella is a little frustration in life, especially when you have proven to be so strong in other areas of your life. Happy New Year to you and your family! Love and happiness to you!

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  9. Lisa. I so so love you and am inspired and also want to fold the you sobbing on the floor of the closet up into my arms and remind you of your you. Inspired is, in part, because my closet floor is tile and I saw a dead spider there, have not yet vacuumed it up, and wouldn’t even feel cozy enough to curl up there. Inspired, in most, because #sobrave and so relatable. YOU give me Joy. Knowing you. Reading and feeling your words.

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    1. You can come sob in my closet anytime because, ew, a spider! Knowing you’re there for me is wonderful and I’m so grateful for our friendship and especially that we got to meet this year IN PERSON. More of that please. That gives me joy for sure. xoxo

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  10. I’m glad Pamela shared this so I could read it and remember the lesson embedded in every paragraph. I love the way you explained how sadness helps make room for joy. It sure beats fighting the unwinnable. Happy New Year!

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  11. Oh Dear Heart! I know this so well: the forgetting the butter and the crying into the sweaters and the death and sickness and holiday hangover. Only you said it way way better than I ever could. And you make it look easy. Thank you for all of this! This is a beautiful tribute to what we do as women. xoxo

    PS If I had an umbrella that wasn’t broken, I would give it to you.

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  12. This! As if you wrote the words my heart and mind have struggled to articulate lately. Thank you! You try and try and try, as do I. And it’s so tiring. And the umbrellas still go missing. And at the end of the day, we have ourselves. Tend to your wonderful self. I’m always here! xo

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  13. Holy crap, lady! I love this. So much. The lost umbrella, the sobbing, the swearing, the worrying, the reading of Big Magic… And this:

    “I believe that if I try hard enough and use pretty words, all the sucky stuff will stay firmly behind me simply because the numbers on a calendar have moved on.”

    Happy New Year. ❤️ Make room for joy!

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