(Featured image above courtesy of Flickr.com, Photographer: C.P.Storm)
While taking a walk this afternoon through our quiet, peaceful little neighborhood, my mind drifted to a place it hasn’t gone in, well, years. I feel particularly nostalgic for some reason this evening. The air is warm and humid, but every so often, my neck is kissed by a cool breeze. I remember like yesterday that same feeling, but in an entirely different setting. My mind goes back to my ten- or eleven-year-old self. It is again summertime, and hot, with the ever-so-coveted and rare cool breeze blowing, and I am on the deck on the back of my grandparents’ farmhouse. It’s the fourth of July, and we are all waiting for the fireworks show to begin. We’ve been swimming all day, and we are exhausted. I can see the sunburned and freckled faces of my cousins and siblings now. Our bellies are full of grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and Nannie’s homemade ice cream. It’s not quite dark enough for fireworks, but it is dark enough to see the lightening bugs. Hundreds and thousands of tiny little lights flickering and glimmering, announcing the arrival of nighttime. It’s like the stars had come down to Earth from the sky to dance a while before retiring for the night up into the heavens. Any other night, we’d catch as many as we could and put them in Mason jars to use as “lamps”. But not this night. No, this night we are exhausted from playing all day in the heat, and for once, we are satisfied to sit and watch and wait for the night’s festivities to begin.
It was the lightening bugs that I saw on my walk that forced those sweet memories to the forefront of my mind this evening. It’s been a long time, too long, since I’ve allowed myself to really relish the memories of my childhood. Partly because so much has changed since then, and sometimes it makes me a little sad to remember those times and realize that it is now a part of my past. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not grieving the loss of loved ones. For now, most of those loved ones remain, but our relationships have changed. We’ve all earned new titles: new prefixes and suffixes. Then I was a Miss with skinned knees and freckles, now I’m a Mrs. Mommy with a Master’s. Times have changed. I have changed.
I don’t know if I’m going through quarter-life crisis (well, a quarter and some change) or if I’m just in a reminiscent mood, but tonight made me think about feelings that I’ve buried for quite some time. As a nurse, I learned to compartmentalize my feelings in order to function. You can’t stop to actually feel grief, anger, or desperation when you are the caregiver and the family members of the ill or deceased are counting on you to hold it together so that they can fall apart. You learn to become numb. You learn to build up emotion and stow it away in a safe place until no one depends on you and you can finally have an emotional break-down or release, just to start the process all over again the next day.
Tonight, I allowed myself to feel again. I have recently made a career change. I’m no longer in critical care, I’m finally done with school, and I can finally breathe again. Prior to graduation and the job change, breathing wasn’t easy. It was like taking a deep breath after you’d already jumped in the water. Now, I’m done with school. I don’t work with patients on the verge of death every second of every day. I don’t have to put on an unrealistic, superhuman mask in the face of emotional situations. Tonight, I cried. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a good, healthy, soul-cleansing cry. But it felt fantastic. I cried because I’m thankful. I cried because I miss my old co-workers. I cried because my babies are growing up too fast. I cried because I needed to and I had the time to, and it felt great.
I could feel the numbness fading away, and as it faded, I felt something else creeping in. Fear. All the walls I’d so carefully built started to crumble, all the compartments began to dissipate, and there it was. The fear that I wasn’t living every day to the fullest and a realization that the times I’ve come to treasure in my heart so much are gone. I’ll never be that ten year old girl again. I’ll never feel quite like I did then, when life was as simple as lightening bugs in a mason jar.
But then I realized something else. Living life to the fullest means appreciating what I have right now; knowing that I am living the best days of my life today. I have a wonderful husband. I have two of the most beautiful, healthy children on this earth. I still have both my parents and both my siblings. I can still eat Nannie’s homemade ice cream on the fourth of July, and I will never take another bite for granted.
Today, I’m thankful God gave us lightening bugs.