& an essay on unfinished journeys by Mariah Zebrowski Leach
Prompt 258. Not There, But Here by Mariah Zebrowski Leach
Suleika, your story about Sunshine (Sunscreen, Sunburn), and the picture of your two silly ones celebrating with empty glasses, brought me to tears. These little ones are gifts of joy, and what they bring to our lives reminds me of my carpe diem: gratitude.
In response to today’s prompt, I apologize in advance for writing, again, about the loss of my wife. But I do so because Mariah’s story resonates and is emblematic of the devastation that followed my wife’s death. I will keep it brief.
To me, the conclusions of Suleika’s and Mariah’s stories are similar. “Stop and smell the flowers.” Hidden within this suggestion is the recognition that gratitude is life giving. Rather than seizing the moment by consuming and grabbing, gratitude can be found each moment by sitting (figuratively and literally) in silence, observing, noticing those things that bring joy, that trigger appreciation of unexpected gifts, like the wonder and innocence of a silly puppy (I know this could be a run-on sentence).
The effect of the devastation on Mariah following the destruction of her home and neighborhood is quite like the defeat I experienced following Mary’s death (“…I felt a twist of pain in my belly.”). My world was dead. There were days when I literally wanted to climb the walls to escape my suffocating anxiety about what happened and the dark uncertainty of the future. I am not so sure I have weathered the storm, but I am still breathing. This is my unfinished journey, at least here, on this Earth. I endeavor to continue the journey, but I have not yet found the way to carry on with me in the physical realm and Mary in the formless realms. So, while that pursuit is proceeding, I am “here,” not “there,” filing away my moments of gratitude in that big, invisible library of emotions. Helping others to realize their potential gives me a purpose and adds some of the meaning I have lost.
"..but I think I was waiting for some sort of conclusion to my own story—as if I would magically hit some special point where my own life experiences would culminate into some resonant ending." Mariah's words reminded me of something. In 2013-2014 I worked on a memoir that detailed a life of immense struggle and culminated with me having a brain surgery that left me unable to walk or see. The manuscript ends with a triumphant graduation with a masters degree and subsequent successful career as a psychotherapist. The lesson? Persevere because God will come through for you (always). About two weeks after the manuscript was finished, I found out that due to lots of errors on the part of my team of doctors, the brain tumor had grown back and I would have to have the surgery all over again. The thriving private practice I had written about had to close down in 2014 and my future was all but certain. I've been thinking about that a lot lately, and even started a new piece of writing yesterday. The story is different, but also valuable. Suleika's words, Instead, my guiding principle is to meet every day as if it’s my first—to welcome each new morning with the wonder and curiosity of a newborn. Rather than what I can get out of this life or what I can seize from it, I’ve reoriented my gaze to what feels life-giving—both to my own sense of well-being and to the other humans and creatures around me" is how I want to view my life, and if I write about it, I want it to be life-giving words...helpful words. Thanks, Suleika...you always remind me of what's really important. Congratulations on adopting Sunshine!
This feeling of living in a body that does what it does at any given moment.. and how there's this internal struggle to dare to trust the future the way 'normal' people do (who know not of tumors and such).. The other day, as I struggled to dare think a bit more long-term, and start a new, big project.. move into the direction of my dreams.. I shared my fears and anxious thoughts and overwhelm with a friend.. who then told me to 'grow up'. Which hurt more than a slap in the face. To which I replied 'I grew up a long time ago, had the career and the family and the apartment in the best neighborhood and then had the tumor'.. After, when you're well, people tend to forget. While the fear and each check-up, time and again tend to keep one (me) in that same place of helplessness and fear.. and then, the daily self-encouraging and yours, with these texts Suleika, to press on and keep on and live on, regardless. Thank you. For every word, and this wonderful community of those who get it.
My age holds me back and maybe it will move me forward. Years ago I bought the Kit Kat Clock a big expense. The clock symbolized me starting life. somewwhere it got lost and I just bought it again. Life turns out different and I don/t know what I expect but I am one going. Since my puppy Mommy Mayhem died, I was afraid to get a tiny Chihuahua because of my age.. now I want to bring one home to carry and love.
Sulieka let me congrats on the new dog. Shes adorable. A prompt like this reminds about the moment i picked up your book after debating for so long until one day when things were good with my daughter in the hospital and something told picked it up without thinking. That book was a whole new experience for me. Regards to the prompt my unfinished journey has to do with 2022 and my daughter. When things happened i put my business mentally on the back burner because i just couldn't deal other people with unpredictableness present. When everything settled down very late 2022 that when i realized i was a complete mess in dealing with all the emotions. She transitioned to adult care so i had recant everything which was emotionally taxing. I started to realize though that each time i did sense some healing of the traumatic scars. Through some personal development and dealing with the mental confusion i do finally think after many lapses where i thought i was through I have made to place where I'm in a better place. As a special needs parent you feel so judged by looks and words. Through some of that personal development I've started to view that in a different and not let what others do or say affect me so personally. My daughter has done so wonderfully for so many years and i realize in her own way she been trying to teach me that. I'm finding a better balance in a way when it comes to family and building my business. Happy Sunday Sulieka.
“Rather than what I can get out of this life or what I can seize from it, I’ve reoriented my gaze to what feels life-giving—both to my own sense of well-being and to the other humans and creatures around me.”
Love this line and your perspective Suleika! An inspiration for how to look at my life even amidst trials and grief--thank you!
I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at age two. I was so young that even today, in my fifties, they refer to it as Juvenile RA. This chronic illness has been a part of my whole life, and I have never known differently. My family tells me stories of my pain that I cannot even remember. The time I climbed to the landing before the turn in the stairs only to stall because I could not make it the rest of the way up. The pictures of a Disneyland trip with me in an umbrella stroller with my knees up by my chin because I was much too big to be in a stroller. And the disapproving looks of those around us. My mother was told to make me walk more than once. I have ebbed and flowed with JRA. There are times I never knew I had it. There are times when it was all I thought about. Because of this yang and yang, I feel like I am always waiting for the other show to drop. When will I come out of remission and get slammed with it again? After reading this weeks post, I was struck by the fact that this is true of all those who deal with chronic illness. I am also stuck by the fact that the shoe will drop whether I like it or not. So just keep moving. Thanks for making me feel okay with being part of this club that I never meant to sign up for.
So I’m having a moment here… Tears!
“I’ve reoriented my gaze to what feels life-giving—both to my own sense of well-being and to the other humans and creatures around me.”
“Practice resilience… and figure out how to thrive where you are…” reworded a bit.
This is a life a life worth living!
I was thrilled when we finally got pregnant with our son, Tyler, and disillusioned with each miscarriage after him. It was always my plan to have child(dren), but my body said otherwise, and when our adoption plan fell through, I wallowed in grief.
I can't remember when it began, but when I look back on the years of raising our son, I realize that I became a surrogate mother wherever we landed: from volunteering with the toddlers at a Katrina victims Red Cross site - eventually, I brought a 2-year-old Tyler for play dates, to volunteering at the Montessori school down the street, to reading with children with learning differences at his elementary school, to being a Site Director for elementary age children, to producing a large-scale talent show with middle school kids, to mothering young women who struggled with addiction, to being a “Buddy” to sweet Abby, with special needs, to coaching young adults who have aged out of foster care, to opening our home for young musicians to have a place to crash.
For me, living is loving, and I never imagined I’d be blessed with loving on babies, toddlers, youth, and now young adults right around our son’s age. “God Has” and gave me countless children to love. My heart is whole, and I am grateful. 🙏🏾
This morning I made waffles with slice bananas and blueberries, and as I was mixing the batter, I was so conscious of doing it. I’m doing this, I thought, I’m on my feet making waffles, then I’ll sit at the table with Dave and wash down each delicious bite with a sip of his great coffee.
A simple exercise which is so indicative of how I live these days, monitoring everything I do for signs that I’m really alive. I, too, have struggled with a cancer that, in the words of my first oncologist, “has a tendency to come back.” Which it did last year, and which it may do again. I go through the motions of life now with that always on my mind. Sometimes I’m amazed at the strength in me; that I can go to New York to see my grandkids' graduations, which I did; that I can go on a two-week road trip with my family, like I also did recently; that I can attend a wedding and laugh and visit with friends.
After being so sick I find it remarkable that I can do these things, but the "specter of relapse" is always, always, on my mind. How to live with it is a never-ending challenge. During my low periods, I have thought that if I’m faced with a repeat of that awful experience, I won’t fight it this time. I’ll just find a way to end it all, to be done with it so I don’t have to suffer like that again.
I say this with full knowledge of the audience who may read this, those who I hope will understand that compulsion without judging or protesting. It is thoughts, not a decision. It’s the voice in me desperately grappling with the unthinkable, trying to deal with a fearsome monster looming before me. Do I fight it or do I run away?
Reading your weekly essays, Suleika, and those of the fine writers you give space to, helps me focus on what I need to do to live, to find happiness in the little things. This rocky journey will never be easy, but what you offer is wisdom to those of us who need it most. May your life be filled with tiny moments of pure joy, each a microcosm of all that life could be.
Your beautiful newsletter and prompt are timely, Suleika. I've been musing on life's journey and shared the following by Leo Buscaglia just nine hours ago on my Facebook page:
“It's not enough to have lived.
We should be determined to live for something.
May I suggest that it be creating joy for others,
sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind,
bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”
I'm grateful for your life-affirming writing, Suleika. And to the courageous souls who share in this community.
We're all trying to grow in resilience and understanding. 💛
Thank you. So much. Powerful, awesome writing. Truly injecting feelings into my mind and heart.
It’s been a hard week and I’m struggling to concentrate when I try to read, but the picture of Sunshine and River in their party hats spoke to me right away. Sending love to your sweet family, Suleika.
Both Suleika & Mariah have so many insightful messages in these writings! 🙏 thank you for the Sunday morning reminders, I always start on the couch at the bay window, the jungle I planted out there peering in at me, the favorite art pieces on the window ledge.......coffee, Sunday nytimes at the ready, with the isolation journals and it never disappoints.
My life has been interrupted so many times, plans abruptly changed or contemplated & journaling has always been my make sense of it all place. Before I read in bed at night i reflect on the day & write. It helps me process all the hiccups & joys, developments, ideas & possibilities and of course frustrations. I don’t live each day as my last or god help me I’d be floating in the ocean with lots of snacks & wine & books on the beach or visiting my kids so often they’d kick me out or whatever the cravings were at the time. I’ve been doing my best to notice, to feel and to engage & help where I can, in my community or further out in the world. This community is beautiful as a touchstone ❤️🎨💃🧶⛺️🌊🎸👩🏻🍳for whatever we’re sharing!
Congratulations on your puppy! I’m sure you already know about all of the off leash parks in and around prospect park- but once our puppy was vaccinated taking her to the parks was so helpful in her overall behavior. So my one tip- the Kensington dog park has a hose, astroturf and a very small shade if you should find yourself on that side of the park.
It is so easy, in the light of day, to be positive in the face of life’s huge challenges-age, chronic health problems, the death of a spouse of nearly 50 years. You wake up, decide to get on with your life, like everyone tells you too, sell your house of 40 years, the home you raised your children in, the home you isolated in during Covid taking care of your husband as he slowly succumbed to cancer, the home he died in during that Covid isolation. You just get up and sell it and buy land and get going on a home that is all yours, a new home, where you will live out the remainder of your life. It sounds so easy. During the light of day, with the sun shining ( hoping for rain as Las Cruces, NM is parched and incredibly hot this year), you plan you live in the today, but embrace the unknown future. Mind over matter is easy in the light of day. But...then comes the night. The long, lonely sleepless nights. It gets harder to be positive in the dark. One’s imaginations run riot, often bring about the worst thoughts. The future becomes unimaginable. It becomes questionable. It becomes frightening. I love lighting the candles on Shabbat. Bringing in the light. Because light is so much about the positive, the hope, the future. Thanking G-d for all of it. Light. Always find the light. Live in the light. Revel in the mundane of just the here. Just the now. Just the light. Let the future go. It will find you soon enough.
Congrats on baby sunshine! Love your lil family!