In the Smallest of Things

Photograph of two bright bouquets of flowers

I had a great day today.

And I also had two panic attacks today, which were not great.

I just returned for several days away for a work conference, am hosting a retreat next week, and then hope to take a vacation with my 7-year old which we’ve been looking forward to for months (provided that we don’t get caught up in the current COVID surge). This morning, I had a series of great and productive meetings, humanizing but intentional, and moving work of my heart forward.

Then, when they were done, at separate times in the day, the panic set in, quite suddenly and fiercely, stealing my peace in waves of uncertainty.

Panic attacks are hard. They are exhausting both emotionally and physically. I have had both panic and anxiety attacks for at least 15 years. I have learned to be with them, make space for them, breathe through them, mask them, function in spite of them. But they are still hard and very draining.

This evening, after my second panic attack, I texted a friend to check in. While waiting for a return text, I went shopping at Trader Joe’s. I had planned to buy flowers for myself, and chose a bouquet that was vibrant and beautiful.

Then I turned around and saw a display of peonies. I love peonies.

So I debated about whether to put back the flowers that I had chosen and get myself the peonies, which would also require filler flowers because there were just five stems. They weren’t as good a “value.” They weren’t yet in bloom. What to do?

As I stood there, my mind drifted to my mother, as it often does when I am buying myself flowers. My mother hated cut flowers when she was alive. She thought they were wasteful because they would just die. It was like throwing money away, she used to say.

But everything dies. And everyone.

I had to unlearn that ephemeral beauty and the joy of individual moments are worthless. In fact, what I’ve come to learn instead is that they are sometimes the most precious things in their short and vibrant lives, in our short and vibrant lives.

I had to learn that things that had “no purpose” actually, in fact, had such an important purpose. That time that had “no purpose,” time not doing all the things, actually was the most important time. Time to be present. Time to breathe. Time to be.

My mother didn’t have a chance to know these things. She didn’t have the same life, choices, or circumstances that I have. But I often remind myself that she dedicated much of her life so that I could have this life, these choices, and the best of the circumstances I have.

We are not the same. We might never have seen things in the same way. But, she would have wanted my happiness.

My mother loved me like I love others.  But, she did not love herself so I did not learn to love myself.

We are not the same. We might never have seen things in the same way. But, she would have wanted my happiness. Just like I so desperately wanted hers.

It would have made her sad to know that I have panic attacks. I probably wouldn’t have told her. Maybe she had them too and never told me. I don’t know.

And maybe, just maybe, because she knew it made me happy in a way that she might never have understood, she would have bought me flowers on days that were hard and great at the same time, or on days that were just days because every day deserves beauty.

Probably not, but that is okay.

I have been mothering myself for 27 years, trying to honor who my mother was in the way I made choices in my life. But in honoring what my mother may have done, I may not have honored what she would have wanted.

I cannot know these things. All I can do is carry her with me, and her mother before her and all of my foremothers. I carry them in my heart, and with them, I carry all that they carried. All the love they gave, all the sacrifices they made, all the dreams they dreamed. And in healing myself, I am healing them.

Today, I bought myself a bouquet of prearranged cut flowers…and a bouquet of 5-stem peonies, with another small bouquet of filler flowers to keep the peonies company.

Today, I talked to a friend who reminded me of who I am. I texted with friends that made me laugh. I arranged my flowers, one bouquet for the kitchen and another for my “office” in my bedroom.

These are small things, perhaps the smallest of things.

But we are healing through them, in the humanity and grace of accepting all that is and is not. It is there that peace exists for as long as I can be with it.

For that, I am deeply grateful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *