Original post can be found here.
They say that things happen in ‘threes’ so to speak.
Less than two weeks ago, one of my greatest role models passed away. I’m okay, it was a blessing for him. Then, yesterday, my Great Aunt Norleen passed as well.
If they say things happen in threes, what’s next?
I like to think that I try to be an optimist, but at the worst of times, I have a tendency to crumble. I’ve never been one to do well under pressure, because my anxiety and I have a hate-hate relationship. While it did me well to get things done quickly in school, now as a functioning adult, it seems to be the bane of my existence most days. If I’m being honest, the majority of my time is spent contemplating the all-time most infuriating question: What IS next?
Last week, on the way home from the funeral, I was given the opportunity to truly be present and see what ISN’T next, but what is HERE and NOW. My husband, myself, and three of my cousins were in the outskirts of our hometown when my cousin’s Dodge started acting like there was something overheating the engine. We pulled over and looked under the hood. There was definitely a hose leaking, and everyone groaned.
In my very recent history of vehicles, I had the bad luck of my beloved F-250 going in for an annual inspection and never returning. I’m not saying I’m heartbroken, but that truck meant a lot to me. I could have seen this situation with the Dodge the same way, that the apocalypse was starting all over again; I was dealing with the fresh loss of a loved one, I wanted to be home from being on the road, I was tired, I was hungry, I missed my dogs, my new truck was fine and I could zip home and leave my cousin to wait for the tow truck driver, but this time, I didn’t.
I decided to be present.
I know, I know. It’s such a condescending phrase to those of us that deal with the demons that come with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Instead of allowing myself to (literally) be swallowed whole by my impending emotions, I took a deep breath, and teased my cousin Paul about needing to switch to a Ford. He smiled. Shook his head. Said he wouldn’t even if I paid him. He started making the phone calls to get insurance informed about putting the truck in the shop in Richmond and calling a tow truck driver. David came out of my truck and leaned on the bed. Gave me a look. I shrugged. “Oh well.”
He frowned. Non-panic is atypical behavior for me, but I was going to roll with it and see how it went. When I didn’t comment, he shook his head and called out to Laura and Julia that it was going to be a while before we could head out. Both piled out of the vehicles and came to stand by the side of the road while we waited on Paul to finish making phone calls.
My two Arizonian cousins gasped suddenly and squealed. In our run of “bad” luck, we had stopped by a pasture of commercial cattle. Luckily, this herd was moderately tame, and the more adventurous few were quietly sneaking closer to us towards the fence. Being a Native Texan, cattle are one of the many daily aspects of my landscape, even more so due to the fact that I advise my FFA students on their animal projects, so I work with livestock all the time. Over the course of my career, I have obtained the somewhat uncommon knowledge that tame cattle tend to take on characteristics of a giant slobbery dog.
I looked at my husband and grinned. Paul continued talking on the phone, but having lived in Texas for the past few years, saw the cattle, two excited cousins, and rolled his eyes. Ex-Marines don’t squeal about anything, let alone cattle.
Julia asked if they could eat crackers. I shrugged and said, “I’ve fed them everything from apples to peppermint candy, I think crackers would probably be fine.”
The joy on her and Laura’s face as they returned from retrieving the crackers from the snack bag was priceless. It started to dawn on me that being present sometimes involved giddy cousins and cattle, which were definitely worth the wait of a tow truck.
The cattle warily eyed us as we approached the fence (which in most situations I would not recommend in Texas, or anywhere rural unless you are with someone who has experience with livestock) and seemed like they might bolt farther into the pasture, but then, Julia crinkled the cracker bag.
It was like working at Walmart on Black Friday.
The three of us happily fed the now overly friendly cattle, trying to make sure each one had a bite of a cracker, and gave them scritches on their noses and ears if they allowed us. I, being the photographer that I am, had the presence of mind (being present again, get it?) to grab my phone and start taking pictures. We kept this up for quite a few minutes while I took some of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken in those moments. Watching my cousins giggle when the cattle slobbered all over their hands was, and will be, one of my favorite memories with the two of them.
I checked on the guys by the trucks. David smiled and shook his head when I beckoned for him to join, obviously trying to look unamused by the snacking bovines, but failing miserably. The sun caught his eyes and my heart skipped a beat. I was reminded of the enormous amount of love I have for that man, on the side of the road, next to a broken down Dodge. Earlier in the day during the eulogy for my grandfather, the priest said that the best way to honor my grandparents’ lives was to treasure our own marriages as they did for over sixty years. To be loving and kind to one another when things got tough. Seeing that this could have been a thoroughly stressful situation for all of us, I was thankful again to be present. Thankful for this sweet, wonderful man who loves me with every fiber of his being. Thankful that after years together, he still finds it amusing that I love animals as much as I do and that seeing them is always like the first time, and the almost childlike joy that they bring to me.
Paul finally got off the phone and after the initial excitement of the treats wore off, the new cattle friends returned to grazing, but Laura and Julia chittered about it as if they’d just gone on an epic adventure. Their delight was infectious and I sighed, content. On the side of the road. By a broken down vehicle. Maybe there really was something to this “being present” thing.
The sun started to set and I got some of the most amazing portraits of my cousins and the cattle. I took my second-favorite picture of my husband in the history of our relationship. I caught a genuine moment of what it means to be a sister. I caught the essence of each of them in photos. We laughed. We talked. We sat in the bed of my F-150 and watched the world go by. We were present. And it was absolutely wonderful.
Eventually, my Aunt and Uncle showed up to give assistance, (for what, I have no idea, as the tow truck driver was going to show up in a few minutes) and we had everything taken care of. They all decided to go to dinner and David and I decided to go home and see our animals for the first time that weekend. The tow truck driver showed up shortly, and everyone parted ways.
In hindsight, it could have been a horrible afternoon. We had just buried Grandpa. We were tired. We were hungry. We could have pouted and cursed the universe or God or whoever for making this happen to us. Instead, almost without saying a word to each other, each of us chose to be present in those few hours and enjoyed what could have-and in reality should have-been a majorly irritating inconvenience. Moving forward with my life, I’m going to really work on being present. It might not be possible every time, but sometimes, if I try, maybe I’ll see more silver linings. Life really is what we make of it, and why worry when you can just take it all in, remember what life is about, what it is and what it isn’t, and just be present?
What are we all missing out on?
What are we blind to?
What little joys are we ignoring?
It’s so easy to be caught up in the inconveniences of life. Really, I get it. But if I found this much joy from one would-be disaster, how many more moments can I have like this? I’m taking on the challenge. I’m going to try to be present in a world that can be cruel, heartless, and make me question everything.
Because if I don’t enjoy my life, who will?
I challenge you to be present. Imagine what you might find. Joy is out there, we just have to be open to receiving it.