Whirlwinds and Tangents
"People come and go so quickly here!" — Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
I can’t begin to describe everything that has happened this week, mostly because neither of us has that kind of time, but also because part of the story is deeply personal and part of it has to do with foster children who deserve their privacy. Let’s just say it was a whirlwind, roller coaster of a week, filled with emotion, high highs, low lows, and very little sleep. I’m just going along, minding my own business, moving my life in one general direction, and then, out of nowhere, I’m spun around and walking down some side road to who knows where.
I found myself several times throughout the week pausing in amazement, thinking how surreal it all seemed. It was messy and imperfect, but magical and exciting, too. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. At one point, at 4:30 in the morning, after sleeping only three hours and while stroking the hair of a restless 10-month-old baby girl entrusted to my care, I sat in the darkness and thought about how strange my life looked compared to just days before. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Everything was upside down and awe-inspiring. I knew everything that had just come into my life could just as quickly go out of it, but it didn’t matter. For one moment, everything was perfectly imperfect, and I was relishing it.
The next morning, after another restless night, the baby woke up a little earlier than I’d hoped. I stood in the doorway of my bedroom in the dark, refiguring my day now that she was awake, and hoping, by some small chance, that she might go back to sleep. She didn’t. Instead, she saw me standing there and crawled over to me. I picked her up, and she just laid into my chest, wanting to be held. I wondered how long it had been since she’d had someone to hold her, a place where she could just feel safe and loved, so even though I knew we were already running way behind schedule, I stood there and held her in the dark and silence until I knew we just couldn’t stand there anymore. I had just met her, and she had just met me, but somehow we both knew to take this road while it was in front of us.
I’m glad we had that moment, because later that same day, I got a call that she and her brother would be moved. Just like that, things would change again. At the end of it all, I felt short-changed. Having started off the week with so many new opportunities that were curious, unexpected, and filled with promise and potential, I finished out the week empty-handed in the physical sense, and I wasn’t sure why. I was now back on this side of the looking glass, and although my life in the physical sense had been restored to its original state, I knew things weren’t the same.
This morning I sat for four hours in silence, which after the chaos of this week seemed like days, but instead of feeling saddened by everything (which is what I expected), I felt more certain, knowing that the entire experience, however short-lived, had made me into a better and stronger person. It had brought everything into sharper focus. One small turn of a dial, and things that were once blurry were now crystal clear.
Life can change in an instant, if you’re willing to allow yourself to get caught up in something, if you’re willing to go off on those tangents. It can be messy and disruptive. It can be unsettling and unnerving, but you’ll never feel more alive than when you stumble on something that turns your life upside down, and that’s what I was caught up in this week — life and truly living. When I look back on it, sure, my life might not look as perfect and smooth as the lives of those around me, but I know the highlights will be in the tangents I took along the way. They always are.
Unexpected opportunities will come along, if you’re paying attention and if you’re willing to go out on a limb. Stay open. Say ‘yes’ every once in a while. Take those side roads. You might surprise yourself, and you’ll definitely be surprised where your life ends up. Sometimes things will turn out well, and sometimes they might not, but as a 7-year-old foster child told me this week, as tears welled in his eyes from missing his dad and trying so desperately to find a way back to him, "You’ll never know if you don’t try." "You’re right," I told him, knowing full well, in that moment, that he was the teacher, not me.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
Published October 26, 2012