About 15 years and four entire lifetimes ago, my days were worked out into a Super Routine. Like a Super Food! Not a moment of any day, week or weekend was scheduled sub-optimally.
For example: I can likely tell you where I was and what I was doing on any day, down to the hour, simply based on the day and time. Thursdays 6am? At the gym, 15 minutes into my workout. Fridays at 12? Cramming at work, at a desk in a big office building in Manhattan, trying to end the week strong and get a jump-start on the week ahead. Saturday mornings, 10:15? On my mat in yoga class.
Etcetera. For years. Decades.
I say this with an air of incredulousness. In reality I loved it, nurtured it. Even now I look back at it with fondness and longing.
I believe that if, like me, you are a world-beater–someone who runs towards the fire instead of running away from it–then a tightly scheduled life is like a little slice of heaven. It’s a way of keeping your feet, your entire self, tethered to something solid and seemingly unchangeable.
Back in the days that I’ve just described, one Sunday afternoon, my ex-husband (D.) and I were flying around the house closing windows and taking out trash, rushing to catch the train back to New York. As one does on Sundays at 4pm. Obviously.
As usual, we were racing around because–despite my careful planning–we were running late. Uch. That feeling in the pit of my stomach. We’re going to miss the train.
We closed, cleaned and hurried out. I drove to the train station like a New York cabbie. Parked, lugged our backpacks onto the platform. Somehow, we’d made it. We hadn’t missed the train!
But when I looked at D., he was patting himself down with an urgency that made my stomach clench. Our eyes met. “My phone,” he said. “I think I left my phone on the kitchen counter.”
My meltdown was re-gearing up. D. could see that. We both knew that my schedule was my security blanket, my comfy ritualistic denial and unconscious insistence that everything in life was safe and fixed and under my control.
D. looked me in the eye and said calmly, “Lisa. I have to go back. If I miss the train, I miss the train. I’ll take the next train home.”
At first it made no sense to my frantic mind. I asked him to repeat it, and he did. It seemed so simple to him. No “what ifs.” Just Plan A, meet Plan B. As D. turned and ran back to the parking lot, back to the house, yes indeed missing the train, it became my mantra–a phrase repeated until the words become meaningless and what remains is the comforting rhythm of repetitive sound: If you miss the train, you miss the train; you take the next train home. If you miss the train you miss the train…
As life would have it I reach for those words to this day, if I’m stressed out or scared or feeling exceptionally lonely. That’s my toolkit, folks: a couple of sanskrit prayers and if you miss the train you miss the train; you take the next train home. My inner North Stars.
Even now sometimes, this logical ecosystem doesn’t completely compute. Sometimes it still seems unlikely that life is even proceed-able with each NEXT big, crazy, unbelievable thing. It can’t!
On other days, it rings so true that it hurts. Life is not going the way I planned. I will continue nonetheless.
We’re living in a place right now where every single day we have to shove aside what’s happening because taken all together, it’s just too much. We are on fire, we are uncertain, we are sick and disorganized and afraid. All of that shoving-aside, the collective mental packing and storing for later, takes an enormous amount of emotional energy. We are drained, spiritually. I know we feel it. I see it in our eyes.
Today my alarm went off at the same time as my quarter century of pre-dawn workouts. I make my tea, set up my desk the way I like it. I arrange my schedule meticulously in the dark light of morning despite my understanding that, as a Realtor in Connecticut in 2020, all attempts at a schedule are meaningless. Everything is going to change and keep changing until the sun sets again.
Still. I like it the way I like it.
I also know now that if I miss the train, I miss the train. I’ll just take the next train home.
It started about four years ago. Somehow, the impossible happened: I began forgetting that summer’s creep into September means that September 11th is about five minutes away.
When I remember, it’s not, oh my god it’s almost 9/11 that comes rushing at me: It’s, oh my god it’s almost 9/10.
I’ve forgotten so much about the days leading up to September 11, 2001, but I remember the weekend prior with the clarity of the September sky.
On that painfully blue weekend nineteen years ago, my then-boyfriend (then husband, then ex-husband, now friend) D. and I were staying at a B&B located around the corner from where I write this now.
We had taken the weekend away from our normal summer routine–train from our apartment in Manhattan to our annual summer rental on Fire Island Friday night, weekend at the beach with the usual suspects, Sunday night commute back to New York. Insert a week of work. Repeat.
Instead of Fire Island, at my request, D. and I had come to the town where I spent my childhood summers. Oh, Eastern Connecticut Shoreline. Oh, the history. The beauty. The people, the memories! Oh, my heart.
So, on September 8th D. and I drove out of the city to stay at my favorite B&B for a long weekend. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were staying at the same Inn where we would elope one year later. Where we would decide, feeling expansive and scared as hell, to make an offer to purchase a home.
The very home where I now sit typing, upstairs in my office.*
We’d spent the weekend before 9/11 visiting the haunts of my childhood. My favorite waterfront restaurant. “My” beach! The fields around Town Hall.
I realize now that bringing loved ones to the Eastern Connecticut Shoreline even before I lived here was, and still is, a way of reminiscing about something that still exists. Unlike so many other aspects of life, this place still FEELS the way it did when I was a child. Still!
The evening of Sunday, September 9 was hard. I was anxious and sleepless, and we were still two months shy of my choice to try prescription anti-anxiety* meds to combat night monsters. D. and I were leaving for New York the next morning–back to the apartment we shared, to the alarm ringing at 5:30, the race to the gym/home/downtown/work. You know it: The Grind.
Note that these are all things that I now long for with an ache that I cannot describe.
However: I couldn’t sleep on that Sunday night. I was anxious. The weekend, for me, had been a tumble of emotions and I attributed my growing sense of dread to simply not wanting to go home, to life as usual. (Imagine? Read that sentence again.)
I’d tossed and turned most of the night. Our room was feeling increasingly claustrophobic–not normal for me; I’m a New Yorker! I’ve slept in a closet and called it a bedroom. So I wrote a note for D. telling him where I was going (texting each other with little plastic flip-phones was not yet a thing), dressed and walked down the street to the beach.
The sun wasn’t up; it was that pre-dawn grey that slowly glows into daylight. I sat on the stone beach stairs, swaddled in sweatshirts in the salty pre-dawn air. I’d brought only a notebook and pen. I remember writing and crying, and not knowing why. I remember trying to hear my therapist’s voice in my head–something I still do!–looking for any explanation for the anxiety that seemed to have taken root at the base of my lungs overnight.
My life is good, I kept thinking. What is going on? What am I so nervous about??
Reading what I’ve just written, I think ahhhhh, time. In 2020, I can tell you exactly what I was so nervous about, then and now!*
On that Monday, after daybreak turned into morning, D. sauntered down to the beach stairs. He listened, I cried. To him, mine was a clear story about loss: This summer place, this haven, the whole magical Eastern Connecticut Shoreline, had always been my oasis. The day of leaving, D. reasoned, was bound to surface deep feelings of unease.
This sounded reasonable to me. It was time to go home.
Within 24 hours the world would change.
But on that breezy September Monday, I dried my eyes. We walked to the same Dunkin’ Donuts that is down the street from where I write this, now. We got road coffees, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, and packed ourselves into our rental car.
We took a ride to say one last goodbye to the beach. And we went home.
*Another story, another time!