Flat on my back under the cottonwood, yellow leaves falling, brilliant blue above, an abandoned rake beside me. My two young children sit at my side, feeding sticks to the dog, who likes to chew them up and understands that every time he gently takes a twig and crashes it in his teeth he is causing great delight, and so he keeps doing it, stick after stick.
and Eliana leave him long enough to tackle me, and I have just
enough time to clench my stomach muscles so they don’t knock
the air out of me, and we laugh and wrestle. When they grow tired
of all this, I pretend to be injured people so that I can stay a
bit longer: an injured knight, injured princess, injured criminal,
injured hero, all in need of rest and medical attention. The kids
do what they can to heal me, happy enough in this new game, and
while we play, I watch the leaves come down, and I am thinking of
my arrival. I have fallen into myself.
phenomena, this. It makes me want to take a poll, conduct a study:
When did you fall into yourself? When did you know that, more or
less, you were living the right life, doing the right things? Do
most people fall into themselves in their 30s? 50s? 80s? Do they
fall once, or are there lots of readjustments? Do some people never
get there? Are some people there from the get-go?
I am so
grateful to be here, feeling so balanced and strong, so far away
from the darker times of my life, buzzing with a light energy. It
makes me a little nervous, a little scared, a little giddy. I feel
settled. I feel healed. I feel home.
Know Thyself. In
high school, I learned about the oracle’s advice chiseled in
stone at Delphi, and I’ve thought about it ever since.
What do I know?
I wander through the house,
collecting diaries. There are lots of them — in my dresser,
nightstand, office, bookshelves. I pile them all on the couch,
where I sit cross-legged and start to read.
There I am at
7, 12, 18, 24, 32. I am anxious. I am worried about nuclear war. I
don’t like President Reagan. Like most teenagers, I
don’t like my mom. Especially as a kid, I am just flat-out
disoriented by the world. I live on a small ranch in northern
Colorado, in a home that is not often happy or calm, and I am tense
and on guard. I have no friends except my brothers, of whom there
are six. I can’t invite anyone over. There is a raccoon
living in the house, too many cats and dogs and chickens, and
I’m embarrassed by too much. I start spending time outdoors.
Outside, it’s clean and quiet, and I’m safe, and the
alone seems less lonely. I go to college in Wyoming, then move to
North Carolina with a man who starts hitting me, and it takes me
too long to figure out how to leave. I watch depression take down
my brothers; see four emerge, the other two sink. I return to
Colorado and enroll in school again, directionless. I take an
English class that I love. At 21, I meet James, who soon becomes my
husband, and we grow up together. We heal together. James and I
have two children and we learn what it’s like to move beyond
ourselves. We embark on careers and find a house in the country. We
fluctuate between good times and bad, we struggle to become
At one end of the spectrum, this journey felt
wrong and dark; at the other end, there’s this new energy and
joy. I imagine that most of my life will be spent somewhere in the
middle, occasionally floating in one direction or the other. But
right now, I am at the far end, where happiness and fullness live.
Please, I write in my diary, let me stay here a while.
My new garden, made of curving beds of dirt delineated by
river rocks, looks a little strange. I admit that. Probably a
landscape designer would cringe, but I love it. I love the work of
it. I love that my children and I are shoveling dirt around all day
instead of spending our time inside. I let them use a little extra
water, and they make a mud pit and become Mud Monsters, slapping
mud on skin and chasing after me.
I wonder what the
neighbors think about these children, bare-bummed and filthy,
running around the yard. I don’t really care, though.
Because, basically, I don’t know any other way to parent. I
recognize that they’re going to have trouble with schedules
at school, and with being inside, and having to act in a more
civilized and less rough-and-tumble way, and I’ll make some
half-assed effort to mitigate that. But mostly I’m happy that
they’re not going to have trouble being outside, being dirty.
That they’ve been made aware, at an early age, what laughter
feels like. They seem sturdy, and very alive.
they’re playing, they get into an argument about who should
hold the garden hose. Jake pushes Ellie a little too hard. I make a
move to step in, but she’s already punched him back. They
look at each other fiercely. I hold my breath, ready to impose
Jake does it himself. "You can have the hose,
Ellie. But after three minutes, it’s my turn."
minutes," says Ellie, who has no concept of time, and thinks this
gets her the better deal.
"Okay," Jake shrugs. "But I
keep trying to teach you that two is smaller than three."
"I’m two-and-a-half," says Ellie.
"I know," says
Jake. "Just give me the hose."
"Okay, my dear," says
Ellie, handing it to him, and then she kicks him, playfully.
Then they are conferring in whispers, and then they start
to chase me, ready to tackle me with their dirty bodies. I feign
distress and run away slowly, so they can catch my legs and pull me
down under the tree where I watched leaves drop.
confirm with myself, this is where I want to be.
diary contains this: "I would like to become a riter someday."
I have it posted on my wall, because I did become a
writer, and I’ve even learned how to spell.
it are photos of friends — friends I prize because there was
once a lack, and because I now know how to locate the deepest
dwelling spot of myself and how to share that spot.
my computer, where I write, are dusty-blue foothills, yellow
grasses, red willows. There are honeybees and raspberry bushes. My
dog sleeps at my feet and glances up at me now and then. The aspen
tree leaves flutter, and sometimes I watch them and feel my heart
I do not wish to sound as if my life is perfect. I
am, in fact, feeling more humble these days than I have ever before
— and humble is not even the right word, something stronger
is needed — deferential, lowly.
I am not yet living
in a way that reflects what I value, but I’m closer than
I’ve ever been: growing more of my own food, buying
substantially less stuff, being outside, being present and playful
with my children, caring for my husband, participating in my
There are plenty of things I don’t like,
of course: certain politicians, the new subdivisions around here,
my neighbor’s barking dog, being broke, my back hurting,
wars, loud diesel trucks.
But it’s easier to absorb
and fight these things from the right location within oneself, and
so I pause to consider how grateful I am to have fallen into a good
spot inside. I consider the qualities of happiness: the darting and
bubbling sensation in my chest, the glow in my cheeks, the energy
behind my laugh, my heartbeat and breath inside the fall.