I thought Christmas of 2016 was tough.
It had nothing on Christmas of 2017.
We had left the start-up and begun rebuilding our lives.
I started freelancing again, and just as I had built up something kind of regular, September came along.
And it brought a hurricane.
With thousands of others, we lost power, and water, and Internet access, and the ability to work.
Our friends and family helped us. My sister set up a GoFundMe. Complete strangers sent us boxes of food and supplies. Our landlord was patient.
The water came back right before Thanksgiving. We had a meal with friends, but the water went off again that day, so we still had to haul water for toilets and dish-washing and, well, everything.
But that was okay. It came back again soon after.
The power came back, on our street, on December 1. It was all the Christmas present I needed.
But we couldn’t afford to buy any presents for our kids.
We told them the week before Christmas. They said, “It’s okay.” I sobbed, because I knew it was our choices — mine, and my husband’s — that had created this lack, this pain.
Every risk we took, we took freely.
Every time we chose not to run back to a safe place, we chose freely.
That moment was one of the most painful.
It’s one thing to endure your own pain, isn’t it? It’s another thing to cause pain for someone else. To value yourself enough that you make a choice you need to make, knowing it will disappoint, or confuse, or upset.
To choose, knowing that your choice will wound.
But you know what? It was also okay. They are okay. And they are watching us.
Sometime in those first, stressful, broke months of 2017, I started asking myself new questions.
I quit asking myself, “How are we going to survive? How are we going to make it?”
I started asking myself, once again, “Who am I? What do I want to be? What do I want to do? What matters to me? What do I desire? What do I need to do, what crazy thing is beating in my heart that won’t leave me alone?”
What is this seed I planted, and what fruit will it bear?
Finding the answer has been the work of a year. A long, slow, nonstop, crazy, terrifying, amazing year. When you’ve spent twenty years or so thinking in terms of survival and being reasonable, it takes time to be honest about what you really want.
But we’re getting there.
And our kids are watching us. I hope they will see and learn what I am learning. I hope they see that I value myself and my desires enough to sacrifice comfort, and the illusion of stability, and a steady paycheck, and the approval of others.
We couldn’t give them Christmas presents, but I give them this truth, every day, as we live it:
You are valuable because you are. You don’t need to justify yourself to the world. You are your own reason for existence. You can value your own desires just as much, just as hard, just as long, through any amount of pain and coming undone, and you can live them.
Every single one.
You don’t have to shift priorities, like everyone else does to make it in the system. You don’t have leave your Self behind. You don’t have to put survival over joy.