Discover more from My Sweet Dumb Brain
What lightness feels like
It’s special and slippery and can’t be controlled.
Two weeks ago, I went on my first out-of-state vacation since early 2020. It was my first trip without my laptop in more than two years and my first opportunity to breathe in what felt like forever.
Billy, baby, and I packed up the car and drove to St. Petersburg, Florida, which we moved away from a year ago. We reunited with friends, visited places we’ve missed, and soaked up endless sunshine. We ate delicious food, played silly games, and caught up with friends in the precious nighttime hours after our daughter went to bed. We laughed harder and slept more soundly than we have in years. We filled our days with familiar faces and places, while also giving ourselves time to wander and wonder how different life would be if we never moved away.
The entire trip was like an exhale, a deep breath that left me feeling calmer and more clear-headed.
This is what lightness feels like, I thought. It’d been so long since I felt this way.
On the drive home, though, a sneaking sense of heaviness began to creep in. Our daughter was fussier on the way back, less enamored by the toys we’d stashed in the glovebox to distract her. At some point, the car dashboard started flashing error lights, requiring an unplanned pit stop at a roadside auto store. Not long after that, I began mentally logging the things I needed to accomplish the following day, meetings to attend and emails to respond to.
The closer we got to home, the farther the lightness seemed.
Once we did arrive home, our real-world responsibilities quickly kicked in. Billy unpacked the car while I entertained our daughter. Then I put things away while he took over with the kiddo, playing with blocks, balls, and beloved books. All the while, we kept an eye on the clock, making sure we started preparing dinner with enough time afterward for the all-important toddler bedtime routine. By the time our daughter was asleep, we were exhausted. We collapsed on the couch and grabbed for the remote. Things were undeniably back to normal.
In the days since then, I’ve wondered whether heaviness is a given. Is it part of the territory that comes with being a person in the world today? After all, we are still living in a pandemic, even if it doesn’t feel that way. We are witnessing a deadly war overseas, experiencing the effects of climate change, and fighting burnout at every corner.
And then there are the unique stressors. (I’m certain you have your own list.) Billy and I are still attempting to balance childcare and work, an imperfect arrangement that leaves us feeling stretched thin. We have a cute but cramped home, one that, in addition to normal home things, also serves as an office space, music studio, and toddler play area. We live in a crowded city, a place full of maddening traffic, loud sounds, and awful inequalities. We have arguments about topics like money and worry about things like the well-being of our aging mothers.
It all adds up. And it makes me wonder: Is heaviness part of being human?
Not long after we returned home, I began looking for ways to recreate my vacation high. I considered that we stayed with dear friends in St. Pete, in a house that was full of natural light and bursting with houseplants. I could definitely buy more plants! I thought. And why hadn’t I ever considered adding a window to this stretch of wall? Before long, I was calculating renovation costs, wondering if we could afford another major house project. (Definitely not.)
There were smaller things that made vacation special, too. We got to spend more uninterrupted time with friends than we had in the past two years. Back in Atlanta, I made a date with my friend Nicki—we drank wine outside as the sun set and talked well into the nighttime. I can do this more often, I thought, feeling encouraged. To keep myself fully immersed during vacation, I deleted all social media from my phone and would enjoy quiet moments with a book while our daughter was napping. This Sunday, after settling our girl down for a nap, I settled myself down in our backyard hammock, book in hand and baby monitor nearby. This is the life! I thought, triumphantly.
I kept going, looking for other ways to make life feel like a vacation. Could I plan for more time in the sunshine? Go on different walking paths? Shake things up with exciting meal plans? Say yes to more events? Life felt like a giant problem to be solved.
Before long, though, the lightness was gone—again. In my craze to carefully structure lightness into my everyday life, I squashed it. Trying to plan for it became yet another real-world responsibility that I was hoping to escape in the first place. Like so many other things, I realized, lightness is something I can’t control.
The truth is, things didn’t automatically feel light when we arrived in St. Pete. In fact, the surroundings—and all of the memories they carried—made me feel especially heavy. We were back in the place where I lost both my husband and my mind. It’s where I experienced my darkest time as a widow, moments where I wondered whether my life was over, too. It’s a place where I said goodbye to my dog, countless friends, and major dreams of mine. All of those memories and emotions washed over me once we arrived.
I was frustrated. Sadness wasn’t part of our vacation plans! “Is Jamie’s death going to follow me everywhere?” I asked Billy. “Probably, yeah,” he said calmly. “And that’s OK.”
Soon enough, I was reminded that St. Pete is a city of lightness, too. It’s the place where I met Billy and gave birth to an amazing girl. It’s where I fell in love with freelancing and learned how to live alone. It’s where I made lifelong friends and discovered what it really means to support someone going through an impossibly hard time. It’s the place where I learned how to open my heart again and believe in the possibility of good.
And that’s when it hit me. All of the light things about St. Pete wouldn’t exist without the heavy ones. They are inextricably intertwined. They complement each other. Combined, they make life worth living.
This week, I’m taking a break from trying to control the lightness I feel. That means I also must stop trying to push aside any heavy feelings. Lightness requires heaviness. Sadness begets joy. None of these things are “good” or “bad.” They just are.
Is heaviness a necessary part of being human? I think so. But lightness is too. We’re lucky to feel both things—plus everything in-between—and experience how vast life can be.
So that’s my task, back in the real world. That, and maybe a bit more afternoon hammock time.
p.s. I have some more thoughts about this topic that didn’t fit in today’s essay! I’ll be expanding on this in a special subscriber-only post later this week. If you’re not yet a paying subscriber and want to receive it, you know what to do.