“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

― Mary Oliver

The sea was rough on the crossing to Bremerton. I sat in a booth near the window and watched as whitecaps broke across dark blue water. The ferry rocked and swayed but chugged resolutely onward, the Seattle skyline slowly disappearing behind us. Despite the chop, the day was glorious on all accounts, with nary a cloud in the clear blue December sky.

The next morning, the winter solstice, I dug myself out from underneath a pile of blankets and padded into the kitchen to make coffee. The view that greeted me from outside the wall of inlet-facing windows was pure white; the fog that blanketed the landscape so thick I couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the sea began. There was no snow on the ground, but the grass and evergreen trees had been dusted with a layer of frost, looking as though someone had painted them with a great big silvery brush. It was four days before Christmas, and I was home.

A couple of weeks earlier – more than two, but less than three – on the evening of my birthday, I sat in a friend’s kitchen in North London, drinking wine. My friend told me that she was worried that my writing was so sad, that she sometimes found it difficult to read my blog. This friend had known me a long time; we’d first met when I was a twenty-one-year-old college student on a semester abroad. How different my life looked then, when I attended class three days a week, lived in a beautiful flat in central London, and my biggest concern was which European country I’d travel to over the next four-day weekend.

I remember that girl well, how she sang through the streets of Berlin, and cheered a royal wedding in Amsterdam, and crashed a party at a film festival in the south of France. She’d been liberated from an unhappy adolescence by her acceptance into a prestigious university in Los Angeles, and once there, everything seemed possible. She threw herself into life with abandon, without fear of loss. And why not? Nothing bad had happened to her yet.

When I began this blog, I didn’t set out to write about sad things. I didn’t set out to do anything, really, other than try to survive an all-encompassing darkness that descended unexpectedly at the age of thirty-one. Writing helped. It helped make sense of tragedy. It helped connect me with other people and realize that I didn’t have to suffer alone. It helped me find a voice and a purpose.

I’m on the other side of that darkness now. I still write about sad things. But mostly, I try to write what’s true. And the truth is, my life looks very different than it did before the darkness visited me.

How I loved that twenty-one-year-old college student, off having the time of her life in London. Every time I return to that city – as I did just a few weeks ago – I’m reminded of her. I miss her enthusiasm and her innocence. I miss her, but I know she isn’t coming back. And I don’t want her to.

That girl never would have been brought to tears by the sight of baby Orca whales and their mother hunting for food off the shores of Case Inlet. She never would have been leveled by a tangerine sun setting over cobblestone streets in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, or seen the poetry in the changing autumn foliage in the Hudson River Valley. She would have tried to appreciate those things, but their beauty would have been lost on her.

I am not naïve anymore, not fearless. I know what it’s like to lose. I no longer throw myself into the world with abandon, but I do live in it. I take that fear, and that awareness of how fragile everything is, and I carry it with me out into the world. I see what’s beautiful, and what’s sad, and what’s true, and I write it all down.

And in doing this, little by little, I am re-making my life.

Until next time, friends.

18 thoughts on “Instructions.

  1. I was 31 when “the darkness” struck – must be a pertinent age. For me, it was as far as I could run without examining my roots. My writing is full of emotion, and often times reflects the dark, but I think it is that which lends contrast and character to our writing. This is elegantly penned.

  2. Love love LOVE this. I love how real and raw you always are. Your posts always resonate with me because you are courageous enough to not just write about flowers and rainbows but to be real and vulnerable. Thank you for being you. And for your beautiful words that many of us who have dealt with darkness can connect with. I hope you have an amazing holiday beauty! 💗

  3. ‘We look before and after,
    And pine for what is not:
    Our sincerest laughter
    With some pain is fraught;
    Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.’

    ~Percy Byshhe Shelley

  4. Pingback: The journey of hope | John's garret

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever considered your writing- sad. Or maybe there’s beauty in that sadness, that we choose not to see. Either way, your writing feels like the break of dawn, as i patiently wait to watch the sun rise. Its the calm before a long day!

  6. I believe that I didn’t even know I was in the darkness, until I began to come out of it, it slowly sucks you down into its depths. When you come out on the other side you are changed forever, I agree, but a lot of that change, as you say, is for the better, you are wiser and stronger and most importantly you will recognise the darkness next time it knocks on your door, and you may decline to answer, because you know better these days. You have wisdom, and you’re truthful and candid articles are inspiring. xx

  7. Lol, Not that I’ve ever been incarcerated, but, I am sure hiding one’s password in a very well hidden place, I mean a really, really good hiding place, with hinds to also well hidden is probably not a good idea. (I heard that :). I have a lot of catching up to do. Hope all well Sarah. And a belated Happy New Years to you.

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