After gigantic, joyful experiences in life – like a trip I’ve looked forward to all year, or a visit from someone I miss so much it feels like getting a phantom limb back – I’ll find myself sinking down fast into my own personal quicksand hole. It’s a familiar spiral, and it starts the minute I close the door behind my friends or sisters and begin sweeping up confetti and pouring half-empty drinks down the sink.
Have you ever caught yourself completely sucking up your own joy? Because it sometimes seems like I have an endless supply of straws in my back pocket. When an especially fun weekend passes and the people I love all head out to where they need to be, I feel the quiet of my house, the mundaneness of what’s on deck for the rest of the week, closing in over me, choking up my throat. Their sudden absence feels just as big as their presence had been.
I have the sort of soul that clings to what it loves. It latches onto moments, routines and people that made me feel happy and whole, wishing for things to remain just the way they are. At the end of the school year – and we are talking just about every grade I ever finished – I used to be the kid tearing up in the hallway in the sea of rejoicing seventh graders, because the people who filled my days were about to go off into their own worlds. I once had a basketball coach who made a slideshow of our fourth grade basketball season set to – I sh*t you not – Photograph by Nickelback. Maybe my addiction to all things sappy and sentimental was born right then.
Nostalgia weaves its way into the fabric of my thoughts so tightly that I don’t always see the fear that’s tied up in it, too. It’s the downward free-fall in the roller coaster ride of being a person who feels so much. At my worst, I think I become afraid that happiness is a nonrenewable resource. As though we can run out of campfires, sunrises, profound conversation and new music. As though there’s a limit to the elation available to be felt in one lifetime.
Instead of sitting in gratitude for the new memories I just got the chance to make, I get greedy. I immediately resent the fact that I can’t live like that all the time, in the language of laughter and white wine and sunsets that break way for porch lights and fireflies. It’d be nice, to linger there always. I’d love to go on hikes through the Adirondacks with my parents every morning, or die laughing sprawled on couches with all six of my college roommates every evening. But we can’t. We have to fan out into all of our own lives, where we’re needed and growing into people who can change the world in endless different ways. And I know I’m better off by learning to be okay with that.
When the free-fall flattens out a bit and I can loosen the grip of the mental quicksand, I think back to that teary seventh grader. She cried because she thought that she needed to hold on to those days; fear unfairly told her it may not get better than this. How many times, how many painful but worthwhile transitions, she has been proven wrong. If I could, I’d walk to the emptying school hallway, take her hand, and lead her through a decade of her life. I’d show her the concerts in the rain, the all-nighters in libraries and bars, the fearless first kisses, the weddings and funerals. I’d show her all the unbelievable people and boundless growth waiting on the other side of her anxieties. How the towering, seemingly impenetrable wall of change actually has a door. And how she and I only need to breathe deeply and walk right on through.