Hinge Days

How innocent are you right now?  How content?

I thought I’d ask because I never fully realize when I’m in it.  I try to.  Here:

Right now, I am relatively comfortable sitting on a sofa cushion placed on the floor, with only my friend Allison’s donated body pillow and Stacy’s purple quilt between my back and a concrete wall.  My feet rest on an air mattress.  Lucy is curled up next to me, which she could never do back home because my couch cushions there were actually on a couch and her long, 11-year old back prevents her from jumping onto furniture.  When I say her name she gently smooshes her head into my hip.

The Friday evening before the storm, I had friends over. I’d cleaned the whole house.  We laughed and ate.  I allowed myself one more blissful night of living like Sandy was not storming up the coast.  Then Saturday, Steve and I began to prep.  We thought it would be pretty bad—like Irene the year before or worse.  After that storm we had spent all our savings on a complete drainage system, which we were fairly confident would handle Sandy.  The company had guaranteed we’d “never see another drop of water.”  Still, we thought it best to move everything in the basement to the upper shelves.

Sunday morning we had bigger fish to fry.  It was the day of my first 5K!  This is a much bigger story, but for now suffice it to say I needed to run this race.  And I thought that if I didn’t, I would get to the other side of the storm, and have to find another race the next weekend.  But I’d already had to reschedule once.  And what if I get a cold?  What if my back hurts?  Who knows what things will be like next week?

Who knows, indeed.  It’s a good thing I ran that race.  The landscape of my life changed the very next day.  But before that happened, I achieved a once unthinkable personal goal and ran in honor of a little boy who had inspired me.

Later Sunday and Monday we put sandbags around the water heater and the boiler downstairs, as well as the front, back, and cellar doors.  We were preparing for the worst, but we could not imagine that it would happen.  I was on a runner’s high.  I’d turned forty several months before and had now completed my trifecta: Polar Bear Plunge, skydiving, and my first race.  My year was defined.  I had no idea.

How innocent am I right now?  What is it I don’t know about tomorrow, next week, next year?  Have I done what I need to do for myself, for others?  Have I remembered?  Spoken?  Honored?  Forgiven?

The father of a lifelong friend is battling cancer.  We spoke of longing for those innocent moments before she knew, before her family knew—when Jimmy made a corny joke and you rolled your eyes and laughed without wanting to cry.  The little boy I ran for lost his life to cancer.  What his parents wouldn’t give to go back to the day before Ty’s nightmare diagnosis—to see him flying around the house, a superhero in his own mind—not a real superhero in the fight of his too-short life.

In the book I wrote about my mother’s illness and death, I named the day when everything changes.  Here is an excerpt:

Some days are hinges that fold a whole year in half.  A door closes in and opens out, and a new room appears.  Early on October 12, 2005, I entered because I had to.

In retrospect, the morning of a hinge day takes on a new significance.  The routine appears greater than the sum of its parts.  That blessedly regular morning would become the final picture of life before, its newly framed splendor tragic and dear now as I looked back through the doorway.  Were showers really that invigorating back then?  The Italian Roast coffee that savory?  Is it possible that I leapt from one to the other with the all-consuming exuberance I seem to recall?

How good is your coffee today?  How cozy your house?  How amazingly functional your body?  How funny your dad?  How healthy your child?

Thinking about all the possibilities for Hinge Days can deposit me in one of two emotional extremes.  There is the anxiety, the fear.  I woke up the other morning close to a sheer panic.  I had a feeling it was a Hinge Day.  I rose from my air mattress with dread and checked my texts, voicemail, email, and then the news.

Is this normal?

The fear dissipated after awhile, and before the end of the day I was almost all the way back to the joy and gratefulness.  Yes, anything could happen, Jenn.  Don’t fear it.  Live what is happening now.   Live!  Honor!  Love!

We are all reminded of how fragile life is.  I would love for that knowledge to consistently help me resolve to live better, but sometimes I experience the opposite effect and move toward limiting myself in some way due to fear.  In today’s survey question I ask you to think about this.  I welcome a discussion, and hope that these questions help all of us just a little.  Perhaps merely starting the discussion can help us to take another step away from fear and toward love.

Please keep Jimmy in your thoughts/prayers, and visit Superty.org to learn more about the little boy who inspired me.  Pictured:  Steve and I on race day in our SuperTy gear.



17 responses to “Hinge Days

  1. Jenna, as I battle the bureaucracy to get aide to rebuild my husbands business, my innocence is more evident to me than ever before and at the ripe old age of almost 59 I find myself disillusioned, cynical, made to feel foolish and sorry I always followed the rules. Nonetheless, the essence of who I am struggles to empower me to find the old me again; the one that still believes in miracles, sunshine, and a better tomorrow. All thing I, of course, wish for you.

  2. Why it says Jenna in the first sentence I do not know, I clearly typed Jenn. Just so you know that I do know who you are 🙂

  3. Once again, cousin, you have used a disater, tragedy, loss, to inspire you and others to look for the real messages, the real truths, and to seek the strength and goodness in ourselves and in each other. I look forward to reading more blogs from you. 🙂

  4. As I have said before . It is easy to allow isolation because of our circumstances. This isolation I think can really do a number on our fears. Really blow them out of proportion. You just can’t get away from it all without friends and conversations. I know it all too well. Sitting on my couch, seemingly comfortable until one day I sit there and realize how uncomfortable I have been on that couch.

    • REALLY well said, Jodi. Time alone is wonderful for the soul, but too much time alone without the perspectives of others and you can begin to perseverate and obsess. Worry about the future. Living in the now on a couch is tricky because you know you have to get off of it.

  5. I do notice myself getting into phases where I am bracing myself for a Hinge Day. I see it all around me, watching people fall, watching their family and loved ones suffer through those days. It sometimes feels like a battle to remind myself to live life for today and in the moment, embracing the normalcy that it is. I find my mind projecting to the future that may find me someday having a nightmare come true. What a sad way to spend energy, projecting trauma upon yourself long before it happens, just out of fear. It’s a weak mind, I would say. The most helpful thing I can do for myself is to meditate, spend time guiding imagery toward positive thoughts, love, and contentment. I know that is what I need to do to have a happier existence. It’s a matter of action, taking the time and energy to retrain my thoughts. It’s something I will be teaching my patients to do in about 8 months, so I better start doing it myself. Practice what I preach. I feel if I strengthened my thoughts, I would be strong, solid, content, happy, and full of love.

    • Julie, there is a wonderful book I think you would really appreciate, called The Untethered Soul. It has really helped me to separate myself from my thoughts and look at them as an observer would. I found that just the act of separating and sort of standing behind them–seeing them before me playing out–helped me to keep from emotionally attaching to them. My thoughts since this storm had really veered out into new territory. Over the last few weeks I’ve started to see them more for what they are and not get carried off on their unsteady shoulders. This blog over the last few days is helping me to not take my thoughts as seriously because I get perspective by writing (framing my experiences for others to understand forces me think about them differently) and I also get to read wise & insightful responses like this from you. Meditation–thank you. I am going to get into bed ten minutes earlier tonight. It’s been awhile.
      I miss you, lady.

      • Thanks, Jenn. That book is now on my wish list. I know this process is not a week or a month of practicing, it’s a lifetime journey. Some days I will do it better than others. Just like a diet or an exercise plan. Just need to keep plugging away, and progress will be made.
        I miss you, too!!

      • And we will do better with each other’s support and feedback! Thank you so much for continuing to share your thoughts with me. It makes me feel as though we are near.

  6. Jenn, I’ve been going crazy all morning long feeling overwhelmed and in a state of panic over a project that is out of control. Taking a moment to read your blog gave me such a feeling of calm and honestly centered me. Your words and your spirit continue to guide me and your amazing strength inspires me every day. I love you!

  7. Jenn –
    You are always amazing! You are a burst of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day! Thank you for so eloquently putting into words what we all feel at one time or another. Please know that I look forward to returning to Grand Blvd. for another night of friendship and laughter. For now, my friend, hang in there, and know I love you!!! Mama Yee

  8. Jenn, my old, sweet Jenn. I really miss reading your beatiful words. Your writing is such a gift, what a blessing that you can use it to keep your positive energy going and uplift those of us who love you. So often, I get so stressed by the daily grind and the pressure of school work and I try to breathe and think about all I am grateful for. Even just appreciating Jimmy more after his surgery and recognizing how much I love him, and thinking about almost losing Keith. When I get crabby with the girls I think of the Sandy Hook moms and try to refocus. It still can be hard, so I look forward to your words of wisdom. Much love-xoxo

    • I always love your perspective. Sandy Hook, SuperTy, and the loss of my former student have all served to angle mine in new ways since this storm. All our life experiences, losses, and near-losses make us who we are–in a positive way if we allow it. We have to remember, though–like you do when you are feeling impatient with the girls and remind yourself to be grateful. I am thinking of 9-11 now–how as a nation and as individuals we had to strike a balance between carry on and never forget.

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