(English Letter) For the Bad Days
Updated: Mar 2
My dear children,
When each of you was tiny, I held you in my arms and cast a wish out into the universe that you might never experience anything even remotely negative. You were pureness and fragility. I was all thumbs and dreaded the moment that all mothers fear: the day that I would miss the bump in the road; the bee on the park bench; the bullies at school; the tears that fall in silence. I just knew that there would come a time when your angelic, ultra-vulnerable being was going to suffer somehow. Someday I was going to fail and that would be the day that you would figure out that your parents are not the Gods you believed them to be. We are actually just older, more tired versions of you… who never want our babies to hurt. It’s futile, because living is synonymous to pain. And some uncomfortable emotions that we don’t like (disappointment, for example) can be just the fuel that our engine needed to make us try a little bit harder. Even so, I’m willing to bet that every single mom in the universe says a similar prayer over their child, maybe even trusting for a fleeting moment that the ocean of love they feel inside will always be enough to bathe them in waves of lifelong light, safety, and fulfillment.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that in spite of the best laid plans, sometimes the wheel of fortune isn’t so kind. Sometimes that bugger flat-out runs us right over.
This letter is for the bad days.
On the bad days we do what we can do. Sometimes it just is what it is, and that becomes enough. Maybe there’s a problem that you can’t directly tackle right now. Maybe this is a day where you find just one thing within your control, and you make it happen. Yes, your life in fact may really be falling apart, but now it can fall apart in a cleaner kitchen, or you can cry on a made bed, with a healthy meal in your body after a much needed shower. I promise you will feel a little bit better. What brings you joy? We cultivate happiness all the time through meaningful connections, creative outlets, personal challenges, sharing our gifts with others, even something as simple as pausing to appreciate the moon, or to savor the perfect bite of the perfect meal, or to melt into some puppy cuddles. I urge you to identify your network of happiness and tap into it like a deep-sea diver to its air supply. I encourage you to do this on the good days, so that you’re better prepared for the bad ones.
Maybe you’ve found something you love, something that inspires you, something that feels like purpose, but you aren’t good at it yet? Well, keep trying. Nobody starts out an expert at anything and it takes a lot of courage to be willing to suck at something new. (Especially in front of an audience). I once forgot to add flour to my cookie dough in 7th grade home economics class. When I opened the oven door, a bed of blackened bubbly lava and smoke greeted me. It's all a blur, but I do remember lots of laughter and a few shrieks of terror. There may or may not have been a fire extinguisher involved. So. Embarrassing. I’m glad I didn’t decide that day that I was a bad cook. This came just one year after having been eliminated from the District Spelling Bee for misspelling the word “r-e-c-i-p-e” in front of what felt like a million pairs of eyes burning into my reddened cheeks. I knew the letter “y” sounded wrong as soon as my shaky voice betrayed me into that microphone. I remember that Spelling Bee being a pretty big deal. I studied the list of words from the Sunday paper for what felt like months in preparation. In spite of my stage-fright I had out-spelled my entire school to represent Cedar Valley Elementary that day. Your Oma even made me a new dress for the occasion: sage green, with straps that went over an ivory blouse that had fancy pearl buttons and a lace-trimmed collar. Laugh if you must, but this was pretty cool for an 11 year old in the 1980’s and I remember spending a Saturday together at the fabric store sifting through hundreds of possibilities to locate the perfect color; the perfect pattern. I remember hearing the sewing machine working late at night as I fell asleep.
I was too young then to understand that at some point in time, Oma had sent her own prayers out into the universe, too. Because every mother does. And so even though I bombed, she made certain that I bombed in style. She took me and my injured, pre-adolescent heart out to dinner afterward to celebrate having ever made it that far in the first place. I was feeling the rise and the fall of her ocean waves without even realizing it, and by dessert, I had pretty much recovered.
I want you to know that even though I recognize the individual that you’ve become, you are also the most important thing that I ever did. Once upon a time, you walked inside of my heart in such an intimate way that the impression you left there aches when you ache, is showered with your tears, and overflows with your joy. Countries and borders and arguments and even the curtain that hangs between life and death cannot ever erase a connection like that. And therefore, no matter where you are, or where I am, you are never alone.