I was trying to describe to a friend recently, what it’s like to be really sick, what it felt like to look in the mirror after losing 40 pounds with no idea why it was happening or if I would ever get better. It’s not a memory I dwell on. I’ve been busy hanging on and hoping. It was always just a brief moment, after a shower as I struggled to dry and dress myself, often with Alan’s help, so of course I was going to be as brave as I could be, but I would catch a glimpse of my naked, ruined body in the mirror and feel so horrified and afraid.
At the time, we didn’t even know for sure what I had, didn’t know why I was losing so much weight and feeling so tired. We still don’t know what happened there, but it seems to be behind me, so we’re moving on.
But it would be such a vulnerable moment. I was so exposed, so wide open to whatever danger life chose to throw at me. All illusion of any form of control over my life or my body stripped away.
And I cried.
I was so broken.
And it echoed all the other times, big and small, that my life and my body had betrayed me. The miscarriages. The night my sister died.
We think if we just hang on, just do the right things, just control our breath, keep from crying out, just try a little harder we will live through this. If I can control my voice, my breathing, the sounds my body makes when it’s being betrayed then I still have control.
But that’s a lie. Because we never do have control. Not ever. Not when life is going our way and not when it’s spiralling so far out of control that we can’t grab hold of even a corner of it for a single moment.
There is no control.
Life is always spinning, moving, dancing, having its way with us. And sometimes it pleases us and we say look what I did. And sometimes it terrifies us and we look for someone to blame. And usually we blame ourselves.
We think we have control but we don’t. And those moments that bring that home to us are so hard and, thankfully, fleeting.
And I know that there are things we do and build and try and that’s all good. Life invites us to create with it. But those things are like sand castles we build at the beach. And then the tide comes in and washes them away and you can’t do anything about that. You can cry and rage against the tide. Or you can do what you need to do to be safe until it turns. And then, faced with a beach washed clean, you start to build another sand castle. Hopefully this time you know it’s temporary, that the entire point of building sand castles is to enjoy building them, not to keep them there forever.
Of course, real tides are predictable. They come in at a certain time and go out at a certain time. They are higher at some points of the year than others. And, aside from the occasional storm, we know when to build and when to move to higher ground.
The tides that run through our lives have none of that predictability. Some people spend most of their lifetime at ebb tide and are able to build amazing and wonderful sandcastles that look to last forever, while other people spend most of their lives just trying not to drown.
So often the ebb tide people feel like they have a better handle on life than the flood tide people.
But if you fully understand that it’s the tides and not the castles that are running the show, you count your blessings during the ebb tides, even if they last an entire lifetime, even if your family has been living in an ebb tide for generations. Even if your race or your gender or abilities keep your feet on solid ground no matter how high the water flows. And you give a hand to the flood tide people, and you try to build some breakwalls to give them a fighting chance because you realize it’s not their fault, that in the same circumstances, you would be gasping for breath, too.
My beach has washed clean. I’m picking up a stick and starting to draw a design. And feeling oh, so grateful for each and every breath.