Both D and I were out with the stomach flu last week, and I’m having trouble getting back in the groove. Usually illnesses don’t keep me away from my computer; I work even when I’m not feeling well. But the stomach flu is, of course, a different kind of animal, and for much of the week last week I was incapable of doing anything other than lying in bed. I hadn’t felt that shaky since Stella was born and magnesium sulfate was pumping through my veins. And before that, it was when I had food poisoning in Panama during Carnavál. (That was the result of pure stupidity. Who eats pink potato salad from a street vendor when it’s 100 degrees? I’ll spare you that story—it’s much too long and disgusting to share here.)
By the end of last week I did feel better, but I was busy with the girls because both of them were out of school, and then I just didn’t feel like working. Then D and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary. (How have eleven years already gone by?) And I spent the remainder of the weekend playing with the girls and curled up on the couch reading Olive Kitteridge.
Maybe in part it was this book that made me feel incapable of work. I felt heavy with the lives in Elizabeth Strout’s stories, heavy with their disappointments and betrayals. I couldn’t put the book down—Strout really is that talented—but I also found her stories terribly depressing. Short stories are often depressing, I think—there is something about the short form that can handle intense melancholy in a way a novel cannot—but the stories in Olive Kitteridge were filled with such loneliness that it was almost unbearable for me. All those affairs! All of those long, lonely evenings, with children grown and living far away, disinterested in the lives of their parents!
But of course there were moments of hope and connection in these stories, as well. I was so grateful for the last story, so grateful that Strout ended the collection with a sense of connection (even though it was tempered with sadness and regret). And I love the moments in so many of the stories in which Strout reminds us to live in the moment, to not take what we have—what we are living—for granted. I love this paragraph from “Tulips,” one of the stories in which Olive is the main character. Olive is remembering what it felt like to watch her son’s soccer games:
There was beauty to that autumn air, and the sweaty young bodies that had mud on their legs, strong young men who would throw themselves forward to have the ball smack against their foreheads; the cheering when a goal was scored, the goalie sinking to his knees. There were days—she could remember this—when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure. Maybe it was the purest she had, those moments on the soccer field, because she had other memories that were not pure.
I want to be quietly joyful. I want to know that I’m living life as I’m living it. I want my children (and D) to know that I am there, present, living with them, enjoying our lives, even on those days when living is hard. I’m not sure what I need to do to make this happen. Maybe it means I don’t turn on my computer on the weekends. Maybe it means stopping each day and taking stock, appreciating what we do have.
How do you stay in the moment? How do you remember to be quietly joyful?