2019 forced me to face living in between.
In between places, in between people, in between homes, in between climates.
I read a bit about the in between from a variety of perspectives: a Jewish journal, a family dealing with cancer and chemo, a parent of a fugitive son, and more. I discovered many different in betweens and ideas to chew on: the loss of clarity in that liminal space; living in the middle versus focusing on the goal; living between knowing and not-knowing.
Here are some of the lessons I am digesting as I emerge from 2019 and living in between. They aren’t unique to living in between, but these lessons became more pronounced in that threshold.
Transitions are hard.
I spent the last five to seven days before my first trips between Baton Rouge, Puerto Rico, and the farm grieving about leaving. This was particularly disturbing for those eight-day stints because I was wasting most of my stay sad about leaving and/or anxious about going.
Lesson: Be present.
Be present has become cliché because we’re reminded to do this from many corners. If it feels watered down, it’s not any less important or vital. After I recognized what I was doing, I made a mindful effort to be present up to the very last minute, wherever I was. The transition is still hard, but I learned to spend less time transitioning and more time living where I stood.
I don’t miss.
During my first trip to Puerto Rico, I experienced an aha! moment. For all the angsting I did before leaving for San Juan,
I don’t want to leave.
Will my dogs be ok?
How much more will mom decline while I’m gone?
the aha! came one evening when Steven was watching a show in which a character was expressing I miss you so much! I realized I hadn’t thought about my dogs in days. I hadn’t missed anything or anybody back home in days. My first thought was: I’m broken! How could I not miss anyone?
I started mulling over past absences and found a disturbing truth: I never miss anyone or any place. I look forward to reunions and visits to places, but I couldn’t find that yearning in me that we associate with absence.
Lesson: Be grateful.
The discussion was tricky, but I talked about this with Steven. I had to admit to him that I never miss him. I’m grateful that he didn’t fall apart and equate love with missing/yearning in absence, thankful that he helped me come round to a deeper understanding of myself. I’m grateful for Steven.
Burdens are often self-inflicted.
I’m especially grateful for Steven for taking this deployment to Puerto Rico. We’ve had a year of adventures.
Steven’s gig in Puerto Rico meant, however, being apart anywhere from a week to six weeks, together eight to fourteen days. My I don’t miss you was pretty damn handy for this. As a couple we experienced odd moments of relearning each other and settling territory (the Puerto Rico condo was his, not mine; the farm house was mine, not his; the house in Baton Rouge was no longer either of ours). The absences were hard on Steven, my pets, and my mom.
The hard part for me? I felt pulled in opposite directions, overwhelmed at times because wherever I showed up, someone needed something from me. Some days, I felt crushed by responsibilities. I held a couple of pity parties for myself, sharing them mainly with Steven and my daughter who was keeping the fort down at our main home.
I don’t want to [insert domestic tasks] everywhere I go!
Why can’t you [insert domestic tasks]?
Fussing never feels great and it certainly wasn’t how I wanted to spend the time I had with my people. One day I was sulking about this pattern, and then, the aha! No one was demanding anything from me. I was choosing to take on tasks.
Lesson: Be mindful.
Being mindful helped me set comfortable boundaries around the domestic tedium and tasks. Once I stopped blaming people I was doing things for and owning the responsibility of my choices, I was able to navigate to a more comfortable balance. In some instances, I didn’t change what I did. Understanding that it was my choice made the task less burdensome. In other instances, I chose differently and no one was less for it.
Relationships are a gift.
For each moment I spent with/between my parents, Steven, my friends, and my children, I spent much more time alone.
In solitude, I explored the wall around my heart. It’s not unrelated to why I don’t miss people. I’ve written about this wall before. I’m clearer now on what that wall is, why it’s there, even why I may have needed it at some point in my life. With mom’s health declining and my dad’s scary heart episodes, I’m motivated to keep the wall fortified. Who wants to be vulnerable at times like these?
The wall protects me from things I fear but that protection comes at a cost. I know it’s time to bring the wall down, but awareness doesn’t make that any easier or any less frightening.
Lesson: Let love.
I know that I love, but I have never loved with abandon. Years ago, when I first began exploring this and admitted that I thought I’d never have a soul mate, Steven begged to differ. (So grateful for him.)
I’m grateful for the love I have allowed in —my family, my friends, Steven— and I’m grateful for Steven’s patience and trust as I’ve discovered my wall, fortified it from time to time, defended it. I’m taking baby a-brick-at-a-time steps, but that wall is coming down. In this liminal space, I feel anxious and afraid, but even in the uncertainty of this threshold, I sense opportunity and new beginnings. It’s a beautiful thing to peek over my wall and discover a sea of love.
Emerging from living in between (or into a new one?)
In 2019, I lived in between the suburbs, the island, and the farm, an experience that was a gift of travel adventures, self-awareness, healing, and mindfulness. The experience was also a microcosm of life because don’t we all always live in the in between?
On the largest scale, in between birth and death.
On smaller scales: in between milestones and celebrations, in between semesters and jobs, in between Mondays and Fridays, Fridays and Sundays, in between appointments and dates, in between waking and sleeping.
We are all living in between something.
As we enter a new year, my wish is that we find peace in that in between. Be present, be grateful, be mindful, and be love. Best of everything to you in 2020.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2019
Very valuable lessons, and we should remind ourselves to follow these findings every so often.
Here’s to a wonderful 2020!
Thanks, Tamara! Same to you.
All very wonderful lessons that I need to be reminded of continually. Love that relationships are a gift, even the bad ones are a gift of learning. Great post.
Thank you for sharing your experience and life lessons with us. Very insightful and very inspiring.
It’s hard to have so many responsibilities. I was there once but no longer and life does get easier but it’s like being a survivor of a natural disaster. The life I used to live still echos from time to time, but I’m hoping that will get better with time.
I do my best to enjoy the moments and people while I have them, even when I’m weary.
These are such poignant lessons. Any of us could face the same thing.
My husband pointed out to me that whenever I’m somewhere, when it’s time to leave, I want to stay, but then I go, and then I don’t want to leave the new place. As empty nesters, my husband and I spend 4-5 months “down the shore” in Brigantine, NJ during the late spring, summer and early fall. The rest of the year, we’re in residence at our Philadelphia condo. My husband still has a day job. During the summer, we’re often apart for 3-4 days per week as he stays in Philly while the dog and I stay in Brigantine. He asks me if I’m lonely alone. I’m not. We also travel as much as possible. He travels for work and I’m a happy “trailing spouse”. I have the best of both worlds then—usually a few days on my own while he attends conferences or visits with other scientists. During my alone time, I just have to think about what I want to do. Guilt feelings for not spending more time with my 94 year old mother notwithstanding, your essay has made me realize that I’m perhaps the most content when I’m in between.
Thanks for sharing your story. And yes, the in between can be wonderful.
Thank you, Pennie, for writing about your living “in-between”. I feel as if I have lived my entire life in-between countries, languages, people, projects. It keeps me present (as you mentioned), which I much prefer over the ruminations in my head. Thank you for also writing about the wall. Feliz año nuevo that I hope will bring you beautifully rich moments.
Thank you, Mayanne, for reading. Like you, I think I like standing (being present) in the threshold of the in between.
One of our favorite poems is titled “The Dash”, symbolic of our life lived in between our date of birth and date of death. It’s our daily prayer to make the most of our in between opportunities! Happy New Year!
Happiest of New Years to you too!
I can so relate to your post about living in-between. Sometimes I yearn to be off by myself without any responsibilities. It would be so freeing but I’d have to take my dogs.
Often I find it’s my pets (my responsibility for my pets) that keep me grounded and prevent me from running off . . . all by myself. 🙂