Strive

Outside my window is a partial view of 50 acres of land. On it sits an understated ranch home that looks the same as it had almost 40 years ago. I’m sure there are glimpses of that view somewhere on here. Our neighbor occasionally bring us tomatoes from the harvest. His late wife used to give us muscadine grapes from the bushes around the side of their home. When she passed a few years ago, the church they were members of was packed full of lives they’d influenced. We sat upstairs in the overflow room and watched the service from a television. I didn’t know them well, but the respect and love in the room moved me; thinking about all that time on this earth moved me. I felt embarrassed for crying since I could tell no one there knew who I was. I keep the funeral pamphlet off to the side in the china cabinet. I see her face from time to time and think of the nearly 60 years they spent together. Their matrimony to this place and to each other feels like a life well lived. Land like that just like marriages like that are rare. Up until recently, people would ask him, with trepidation, if he would ever sell the land, to which his reply was that he’d keep everything the same for his wife, that he wouldn’t make changes while his wife was still with him.

The entire street has enjoyed the charm of his blue Christmas lights that light up the whole street like a runway around Thanksgiving each year. We’ve loved seeing his red car curve up the winding driveway. The view is unreal from any angle you see it. That era is coming to an end now, that land soon to be developed and changed forever. I see it now exactly as it was the day we moved here, yet I know it’s going to change soon and wonder how everything else will change with it. Many new houses will be built on that stretch. Where one family saw our side of the street all these years, now new families will look out. Their view will be our side of the street, and they won’t have known a time any different.  Our view—especially for some time—will have, simultaneously, the memory of what has been and what came after. The chapters that close can be reopened inside by strangers, by ourselves; we can unlock them deep inside and stretch them for our own future. This is what we’ve been doing this year, knowing how things were in the before but living now in the after.

When we stayed in the mountains for a couple nights recently, I noted physical changes in the kids and how their humor has evolved. Layla stood with her dad in the kitchen skewering vegetables. Under the living room light, Zade looked like the beginnings of a teenager, his cheeks trim and arms long. I started to do the math about how many years of uninterrupted time with them I’ll have left God willing before a list of the inevitable scenarios roll onward: where they don’t just want to be with their friends, when their interest in love hasn’t distracted them from their family, when they don’t have their own family to consider. I felt panic and saw it all change in front of me.  I didn’t rush to hold them close though; I know better because to live is the blessing to see life change all the time, and it involves a lot of letting go.

Something that I assumed I’d stop writing about for some time is about home and time, but here we are again, nearly a year after my last post here in this place, nearly a novel later, and I find myself—true and true—coming back to this group of feeling. When I wrote this essay “Migratory Patterns of Serious Girls” earlier this year, I thought for sure I’m out of things to say for now. That piece carved me out and over time then let me be still. Like my friend and I say, one day, maybe, I will write about something else. One day when I’ve worked it out, maybe that motif won’t keep coming up. I wanted to return to this site with a changed voice. But here I am again staring out the window as usual.

The difference, maybe, is that I have felt some changes. For starters, I have success I’m not regretful of: I’ve not let go of things that matter to me. So much of that was threatened last year. I often talk about things I’m wistful for or things I imagine, but I don’t necessarily focus on things I’m glad I have continued. I wrote. I showed up for people. I’ve been a family member and a mother. I’ve dug deep for my students. In my last post, I didn’t know what word I could name to set out my intentions for the year. I was absolutely undecided. I’ve thought often about what the word could be, but came up short. Today, though, I felt the word stir from a phrase: the memory of strive.

I remember what strive looked like and felt like before the pandemic. I had ten thousand goals and raced to them, woke up at 4 am to get to them, planned out the calendar to get to them. It may appear the same now, but it isn’t. It’s not so much the goal I’m after. Goals belong to 2019 for now. It’s not that I stopped having them, but it’s that they aren’t enough to get me going. What is enough for me right now is to just live and do, carry on and feel. Many times this year, I’ve just used muscle memory. I’m accustomed to motivate myself past what I think I’m capable of, but not this year, not in truth anyway. Sometimes I felt that I was poking at my feelings through a clear plastic glass. Do you feel this? I’d ask. I could remember the chase, a memory of what it all was like. I called on it often because memories can haunt us, but they can also carry us.

I started the actions and just did them without the same old feelings of drive. I planned a trip; I finished a novel just enough to move on to the next step; I read with my kids; I masked up and got back to the gym. This time it was to save myself from leaving strive behind. The neighbor’s land out in front of me now will be a memory that will carry; the time with my family will carry; the time I spend on myself will carry. The memory of strive is carrying. Even if the motivation is somewhat, it’s carrying me. Sometimes, in the mornings, I think maybe somewhat is better than strive. So that became my word for this year. I’m no longer undecided. Instead, I tried. I’m somewhat there.

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