the time before

Happy New Year!

It started like this: twenty minutes before midnight, I resolved to be nicer to Bear when he interrupted something I was doing. At midnight, Bear and I were lying around in his mother’s guest bedroom. We had just finished packing, and we’d forgotten to calculate for gifts, so it was much harder than on the way over. It was much more like the kind of practical logic puzzle I’ve always been disappointing at. Our flight was horribly early the next morning.

“Happy New Year!” said Bear.

I reached for him and somehow managed to claw his face. He turned and his knee slammed into my leg. OW.

A minute later, I was checking my phone, doing something extremely important that I can’t remember, and Bear said, “What are you doing?” and I said, “Can you just let me do this, please?!” And broke my resolution. Awesome.

But then, horribly early the next morning, we were on a plane, flying over the whole country, and it was surprisingly big, and I felt a little like God or a hawk might feel, tracing the sweet curl of overlapping highways with my eyes– enjoying that faint, graceful human symmetry against the massiveness of nature. I thought about the people who live by the base of all those mountains, and the people who live near the start of great forests, and all of the people who live in the wild open spaces that look to me like montages out of movies that will have werewolves later, and I was pretty awed. And cowed. Which is a great word. I had been planning on getting things done on my computer, but instead I stared out the window at the world and felt fulfilled.

I have been trying to think of good New Year’s resolutions. But what I really want to write about is the time before. Because I know I’m in it. I’m in this lucky, easy grace period that happens sometimes when you’re young. And it’s easy not to think about where you are. You’re more likely to think about how you were once there, later, when you’re not anymore. And then you say things like, “I didn’t even know how good I had it.”

For the record, I am trying to know how good I have it.

In college, I had three friends who had lost parents. Two heart attacks and a car accident.

I grew up knowing my dad was sick. In college, he called me to tell me his stomach was paralyzed. It wasn’t clear what was going to happen. I remember walking into a final right after that conversation, feeling like my mind was paralyzed. I felt frozen.

Recently, my mom has been dealing with serious back problems. She doesn’t really talk about it, because she’s the kind of person who doesn’t like to talk about her problems. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t take painkillers until she’s in excruciating pain.

But my dad is OK, and my mom is OK, and my two impressively witty brothers, and even my ninety-year-old grandma is OK.

And I need them so much, so I’m OK.

I don’t want to be morbid, but I know it’s not forever. Sometimes I’m painfully aware that it’s not forever. Sometimes this time, the time before, feels fragile, hovering, potentially brief.

Sometimes I look at Bear at it occurs to me that there is no rule that says I had to find him and be happy and safe. Some people spend a very long time waiting for a partner who makes automatic, instinctive sense like Bear. Some people don’t find that partner.

Sometimes I am almost overwhelmed by the sense that this stuff, right now, right here, is precious. And the simplest detail, my mom putting on her glasses to read something, making the face she makes when she’s concentrating, brings tears to my eyes. I am acutely, fiercely aware that there is only one of her. That this is it for me. She is it.

So I guess as the year flips over and another one is lying there, blank and shiny-new, I want to think about what I already have.

And I want to think about how big the world is– full of sprawling mountains and scattered, blinking lakes and places I can’t even imagine from Brooklyn, NY.

I think I know what my New Year’s resolution is– other than to really be nicer to Bear when he interrupts something I’m doing: I want to allow for more mystery in my life. I am such a know-it-all. I think I know exactly where I stand. I think I know what I’ve accomplished and what I will never accomplish. I think now is forever. I think I’ve figured it out– my neck is too short. I will continue to fail in certain ways that I can count without thinking. The things I don’t know about life, I think I need to plan for right now.

But looked at slightly differently, with my head turned just a little, I can see that my whole life has changed, and changed again, so many times. That I could not have predicted where I would be or what I would be doing. That my priorities have shifted and my skills have reoriented, and my singing voice has grown richer and warmer, just from living longer, the way I always hoped it would but didn’t believe was really possible. And I don’t know what will happen next, or where I’ll be when it happens. I don’t know what I’m capable of. I don’t know how strong I am.

But I do know, factually, unequivocally, that it is a big, open world. I want to make room for it in my mind. Maybe one day, I’ll even live at the edge of the wild, rolling mountains.

*  *  *

What is your New Year’s resolution?

Unroast: Today I love my sideburns. They are spunky.

P.S. If you want to win free stuff, enter the sneakpeeq giveaway here. They’re calling it “Let Them Eat Cake” in our honor.


Kate on January 2nd 2012 in family, life, relationships

26 Responses to “the time before”

  1. Melanie responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    This post totally made me tear up. I really try to be mindful, live in the now, and appreciate that I am a lucky individual. Even though my gram whom I was very close to just passed, I got to spend a ton of time with her. More time than most grandkids do. And she died knowing sober, homeowner Melanie instead of drunk practically on the streets Melanie. I am so incredibly thankful for that. I have a boyfriend who appreciates me 100% for who I am, and makes me feel loved.

    I try and do a gratitude list once a week, but sometimes I falter and only do it when I’m having a particularly rough day. It’s important to remind ourselves what is good in our lives, and not focus on the things we can not control that may or may not happen down the line.

    Thanks again for a lovely post. This blog is one of the highlights of my day.

  2. San D responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Happy New Year to a good looking bunch! Sometimes we forget how lucky we all are, and concentrate on the metaphorical aches and pains of life. Each breath is a blessing, as is each sunrise and sunset. Material things are fleeting and replaceable, but the basics in life: good food, roof over your head, and loving relationships, are ultimately all that matter. I have been blessed on many levels, and as a cancer survivor, I stop to smell the roses, even if it means sneezing.

  3. Caitlin responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    My resolution is to be happy in the moment instead of trying to leverage it for more happiness in the future – ie, be happy with a good, productive writing day rather than try to spin it into bigger projected results in the future. I also want to keep my mind clear when I’m with my fiance and focus on him rather than all our upcoming plans.

    Sometimes I feel like one of those puppies who needs to have a soda can fulls of coins shaken in its face – I need to get snapped out of an obsessive thought loop!

  4. Cate responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Happy New Year – another wonderful post!

    Two days before Christmas my dad sat us all down to tell us he has cancer. He goes tomorrow for more tests and a body scan to determine everywhere it is, the stage, and the next steps. We have kept it within our immediate family until we know more but as I listened to him lead prayer at our extended family dinner, watched him dance with my mom on New Year’s Eve and talked with him about a DVD he’s watching about Jerusalem (not normally something I would be interested in) all I can think is “soak this in”.

    Its been an eye-opener to me to live in these moments this week: his silly jokes, the way he snuggles with his grandkids, the “suggestive” comments to my mom after 48 years of marriage… They’re precious. And, while I pray for his healing, I pray that when it happens we won’t go back to taking each others existence for granted.

  5. Abby responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Another original, witty, and thought-provoking post. Then again, your posts always are.

    I loved what you had to say, especially about allowing mystery in your life. But one thing you said especially stuck with me: “I don’t know what I’m capable of. I don’t know how strong I am.”

    It made me think of a Three Kings’ Day tradition my family has. We eat corn muffins, and in each muffin is something different–a coin for wealth, a candle predicting light, a heart predicting love–for something in the coming year.

    But the symbol that it made me think of is the chain–representing that something will hold you back. I’ve gotten the chain a fair amount of times, and it made me wonder: this year, what is holding me back?

    But just reading what you said–”I don’t know what I’m capable of. I don’t know how strong I am.”

    I think what’s holding me back is ME. I think I know what I’m good at and bad at, because of what I’ve been told, because of what I tell myself. The thing is, I don’t know.

    And that’s how I came up with my New Year’s Resolution this year. I wasn’t originally going to have one, but here it is: To do the impossible. To do all of those things I tell myself I can’t do. To do something before I get the chance to tell myself I can’t. I WILL BREAK THAT CHAIN. (And also to do an au, or cartwheel, in capoeira–but that’s something I always say I can’t do.)

    So thank you, for giving me hope and the sense that I can do so much more than I think I can. Looking forward to more wonderful posts in the coming year!

  6. Spelling responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Thank you for this post. I’ll leave it at that.

  7. Lynellekw responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions, but last year I resolved to post a Facebook status every day. I didn’t actually resolve this until February, so I don’t know if it counts. And it sounds like a silly thing… but I’ve gotten so much more pleasure out of Facebook because of it. People I haven’t spoken to in years come out of the woodwork to comment on a status, relationships that might have faded have kept a little flame burning because instead of waiting for the world to come & interact with me, I’ve made just a little step out to interact with the world. And it made me bolder in other places online – like commenting on blogs, for example :) . Just little things that make me feel like part of the world instead of an overlooked bystander. So that’s nice.

    I haven’t thought of anything this year. I might come up with something around February.

  8. camelshoes responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Would you believe that my resolution is very similar to yours? To be nicer to my partner – because I sometimes get snappy at him for silly little things that don’t matter in the grand scheme. And I too broke mine on Jan 1st. And he pointed it out to me, and I felt ashamed. I figure it might be like how I imaging giving up smoking is in terms of sometimes it takes a few attempts and little relapses but in the long term you change the habit. Just because you slipped up doesn’t mean you can’t try again tomorrow. So I’m going to keep trying and if I don’t do so well one day, I’ll think like Anne of Green Gables: ‘Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it (yet)’ All the best for 2012, Kate.

  9. Joceline responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    I love your sentiments here! I sometimes feel so much pressure to experience the moment, so much so that it can stress me out to the point that I get caught up in soaking every moment up and don’t actually live it. But then I feel the sort of thing you talk about at the end of your post–how the world is so immense and beautiful and really, only experiencing a little of it is still such a privilege. Thanks for the great post!

  10. alissa responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Wow. My first thought while reading this post was “yes, she is so right…she should realize how lucky she is NOW, at this point in her life.” I thought about how when I look at pictures from when my husband and I were first married-before kids, etc.- I am always struck by how much I didn’t appreciate that newlywed phase.

    Then, after reading the whole post, I realized that I should cherishing my life RIGHT NOW!! I will surely look back once my kids are grown up and think of how lucky I was at this time in my life.

    Anyway, great message, as usual!

  11. Mara responded on 02 Jan 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    I know exactly how you feel.
    That’s how it is for me. I have everything right now: my dog, my cat, my parents and grandparents healthy, my siblings annoying as hell but whatever; my friends and my house and my bed. And when I stop and think about it, as I sometimes wish I wouldn’t, it feels so, so breakable. As if one little thing will snap and the whole picture will shatter like thin glass, and I’ll know real grief, and everything that’s good now, that I don’t really appreciate because it’s annoying more than anything else, will just be a hazy nostalgic memory that hurts to think about.
    I hate nostalgia. I feel like my soul is being unraveled when I get nostalgic.
    Anyway. Great post. You have it great and so do I, but you probably care more.

  12. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 12:05 am #

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and kept wanting to comment, so now seemed as good of a time as any. What a beautiful post. It definitely made me tear up and appreciate what I have. I know what you mean about sometimes being almost overwhelmed about how precious things are.

    It is so easy to forget how good we have it. I think I’ll make that a New Year’s resolution.

  13. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 12:07 am #

    (I mean, I’ll make a resolution to remember how good I have it, not forget…)

  14. Ezz responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 1:57 am #

    I adore this. I think we often get caught up in these tiny resolutions that are so hard to break because they’re an ingrained part of us – that we forget to see the big picture. And it’s the big picture stuff that matters.

    I made resolutions because goals are important to me – I couldn’t imagine starting a new year without a fresh resolve. It doesn’t matter if they change or evolve – but that fresh burst of positivity and optimism and above all – gratitude – can be really what kicks us into gear. So go you! :) xo

  15. Lexie responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 6:00 am #

    I used to kick myself so much for ‘not’ being mindfull; ie, selfish, caught up in my own world. But instead, I would just get caught up in a bigger cloud of self hatred and it was a never ending circle. Slowly, I learnt that mindfulness comes ‘to’ you; I didn’t have to forcefully tell myself to ‘BE GRATEFULL FOR THE WHOLEMEAL BREAD YOU JUST BOUGHT WOMAN’ but to simply open my eyes more. Once I took time to actually see all of the world, I became SO much more mindfull. And I had these moments, usually in a car (looking like a sad music video, but of course) where I just stared out and wondered how on earth this all WORKED. We were all so lucky to have cars, jobs, friends, relationships, food, clothes, a roof, a gorgeous park so close. The most mindfull moments are the ones you dont force upon yourself; just let them come.

  16. Sarah responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you for this. It made me testy-eyed because I’ve felt some of these ways exactly the past few days. Gosh.

  17. Rebecca responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 10:33 am #


  18. katilda responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 11:37 am #

    my new year’s resolution is to be nicer to myself….as explained on my blog ( …i feel like it’s already impacting me to stop negative thought patterns in their tracks, and i can’t wait to see how the year plays out!

  19. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear that news about your dad. I hope that everything turns out the best it possibly can. You expressed these thoughts so well– gaining awareness of the preciousness of being with someone you love is pretty damn important, and even when people die, I hear their family talking about how incredibly glad they were for how much they appreciated all of those moments that illness made them suddenly notice. (Which is not at all to say that your dad is going to die)

  20. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Nice. I remember once looking up at a sign along the road and thinking, “I wonder how that was made. Who made it?” and suddenly having this feeling of astonishment at everything that had come together to make the world function. You reminded me of that.

  21. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Last year, my resolutions were really concrete. Submit 5 pieces to big magazines, make sure your back is held straighter, go to yoga– stuff like that. I wanted to try something different this year.

  22. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Ha! What a great resolution (from last year). Maybe you should just do it again? I think it’s awesome when you can recognize what’s actually making you happier in a little, but important way. Even if it’s not something people would expect. It’s maybe surprising how tricky that can be. So good for you.

  23. Kate responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    (made me grin)
    Go do the impossible! And also, tell me about it after, if you have a moment :-)

  24. Yan responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I’ve been catching up with friends for the past few days, hearing everyone’s holiday stories (the good, the bad, the painfully hilarious), and I am being reminded again to be grateful for the good within my family relationships. That I still have my mother, that our relationship is what it is (amazing, that’s what).

    I try to hold on to anticipation and let go of expectation. One gives life more spice, and the latter tends to ruin things by preventing me from being open to what is as I look for what I wanted there to be. Mystery is awesome.

  25. Hannah responded on 04 Jan 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Just chiming in to say this is a truly beautiful thing to read. So much easier to nitpick than to live in genuine grattitude. Remembering that I too have great parents + love in my life, and might as well suck all the joy out of it possible! Thanks for making me smile!

  26. Eat the Damn Cake » I want to look like a pirate queen responded on 11 Jan 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    [...] then I decided something. I made another New Year’s resolution, because it’s never too late for a good [...]