My word for this year is “surrender.”
I had the epiphanous realization that I tend to shrink. Deep into my turtle shell. And that I live life in a state of fear of that which I cannot control, thereby limiting my experience to only which I can predict and control the outcome of.
I didn’t use to be this way. In years past, I kind of always took for granted that life would work out, or whatever I was chasing would happen. I banked heavily on synchronicity and serendipity, and I tended to usually land on my feet.
But not as of late. Not at all. And it had me doubting everything I once felt to be true and hiding like a tortoise.
Perhaps it is related to life’s recent experiences, disappointments, repeated failures, and risks that didn’t pan out or a combination of all of the above. Or maybe it’s a self-doubt that has always been lurking below the surface unbeknownst to my egoic, pretentious “woke” self.
Then I started taking care of Peter.
I was politely and gently detoured from my life of Constantly Trying to Be More, Have More, and Get More into this delightful bubble of alternate reality where I got to play Backgammon for a living. And have insightful conversations with a 90-year-old Romanian man who spoke seven languages. Seriously, does it get any better than that?
It was what you may refer to as a “hard stop” emotionally. And a sharp left turn. Into a bubble of healing and protection that I desperately needed and didn’t even realize it. I had been living under the mistaken impression that I “was done with all that.” Sigh.
Life is not black-and-white, it seems. For 46 years, I deeply wanted it to be that way. To be simple, to be one way or the other, clearly defined, and laid out in a linear, explainable way.
My ex-wife attempted for nine whole years to detour my thinking into a more messy, less planned-out kind of way, but alas, I divorced her eventually so that I would not have to change my rock-solid perception of what I needed life to be. Which was not gray and not messy. Bless you, Samantha! You did try, love. I must digress here and extend a deep thank you to my ex-wife, for without her unwavering support for the nine years of our relationship, I would absolutely not be who I am today. She was a catalyst for so much change in my life that undeniably would not have occurred without her, and it is my deepest regret that I could not come to this realization before I destroyed us. I did not trust her love for me (because I did not trust my own love for myself), and because I did not trust it, I destroyed it before it could destroy me.
Following my divorce in 2020, I continued a process of wrangling to the ground the person I used to be and not yet knowing who was going to emerge from the brokenness. I, along with the rest of the world, was being thrown into a world of uncertainty with the pandemic, but I was living in a microcosm of that global unraveling in my own mind.
Fast forward a year and a half, and I was utterly exhausted. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially. Some mornings, I spent curled in a ball on my kitchen floor, crying, and my pit bull would lay beside me frantically licking my face, willing me to be better, until I would inevitably smile through the tears and hug his neck. God, I love dogs. They just know.
During this unraveling, my days with Peter began. And a slowing down happened. Way down. Because that’s what was required to spend my days with someone who is 90. Everything was in slow motion.
At first, I resisted this because I was used to “doing, doing, doing.” All of the time. Downtime was the devil’s playground, the voice of my Baptist upbringing whispered to me constantly. And this new gig felt like downtime to me at first. Slowly (fittingly) the shift began and eventually, I found myself rising from bed each morning excited to spend my day with Peter, no longer concerned with the pace of the day or my level of production. This was a brand new way of functioning for me. Previously, I had always judged myself before bed every night for what I did not get done during the day and would pile on the guilt as soon as I awoke the following morning—even before my first cup of coffee. Jesus, I was one hell of a judgy b*tch—toward my own self, mainly.
Maybe it was the way his face would light up when I walked in the door every morning, or the jokes we would make despite the language barrier. Perhaps it was his perspective on a life well-lived and captivatingly listening to his reflections on years past. We spent our mornings playing Backgammon, which was his favorite thing in the world to do and he had played the game since he was 10. He was overjoyed to teach it to me and soon, I rose to the level of a good competitor. He could hardly wait to pull that board out every morning when he finished his breakfast. We ate lunch together, took walks in the sunshine, our days became predictable, and they had a lovely, slow rolling flow to them. The tensions began to recede from my body quite literally (I had been diagnosed a few months prior with a frozen shoulder, and despite all medical interventions, it refused to budge, but now miraculously, it began to heal) and I started to trust life once again. I could feel myself emotionally relaxing into a place of surrender that I had not ever experienced.
Peter would tell lovely stories of his childhood during the first two world wars, his time as a youth playing Rugby, his years as a working professional, his emigration from Romania (his home country) when it had been overcome with communism when his sons were very young, and then his time living with his wife and family here in United States. He raised two sons and he spoke of moments he cherished in their childhoods.
Without intending to, he shared his prescription for a no-regret position at the end of one’s life.
And it was not what one may think—what I myself had thought before my days with Peter.
I surmised through listening to him, that his best life had been created by a connect-the-dots of many tiny moments—simple ones—which, when traced along, had created a big life, a life genuinely filled with love and decks of joyful memories for him to shuffle through, as his now 90-year-old self, and smile. He rarely referenced his big career or spoke of whether he earned a lot of money, drove fancy cars, or owned a big house. These didn’t matter. They were not the important things for which his 90-year-old mind sought sentimental reflection.
It occurred to me that what mattered to him most of all were the stacks of tiny moments.
This broke through the hard shell of my Be More, Have More, Get More perspective in a way that nothing ever had before. My stubbornness receded, and I became softer, more malleable, and open from the inside.
It permeated my deepest self, and slowly I began to trust again. I felt myself becoming more confident in my ability to live a rich and full life because all of a sudden it was not tethered to doing, having or being more. It was rooted in happiness, flow, and finding joy in the smallest things. Like a game of Backgammon or a good story. It became okay to not make an effort all of the time, to relax, smile at silly things, and allow some mess in my life in the form of uncertainty and unpredictability and to trust that my life wouldn’t end up in a fiery crash if I learned to trust the process.
During my final weeks with Peter, I intuitively felt that a shift was coming. I was sad, yet also curious. Sure enough, I was offered a job position out of the blue, which I decided to accept because it was what I had been so fervently seeking in the months before Peter, only to have doors continuously slammed in my face despite my efforts. The one element of sadness in accepting this new job role was that I would have to leave Peter.
Two hours after receiving the call offering me the new position, I received another call from Peter’s eldest son letting me know that Peter would be moving to another location in order to be closer to his younger son (something he deeply desired) and would not be requiring my assistance any more. And just like that, the chapter closed, both of us nicely situated in new realities as if with the flip of a card deck. I was once again out into the big world, but much more adeptly prepared, and Peter was off to another city where he would be able to spend more time with his younger son, something that he said he desired, often to me, in his more vulnerable moments.
It may seem odd that a renewed sense of confidence is rooted in a game of Backgammon or a story of days past, but for me it was. Because in slowing down and learning to take joy in the moments right in front of me and fall in love with the simplicity of the day—leaving behind the rush mentality—it gifted me freedom. Layered in that freedom was a fresh feeling of confidence in life’s ability to direct me where I need to go, to show me that detours are beautiful and amazing, and to release my white knuckle grasp on control.
I had learned that life gave me exactly what I needed, it had my back, and I had literally nothing to do with that process. In that, I felt taken care of. I felt confident once again to step forward not knowing all the details of how things would work out and be willing to find joy by living within those small details.