Preemptive regret clouds the riches of the moment

I’ve been thinking about my post yesterday, and dwelling more in my memories of the dark period after Grace was born. It strikes me that in many ways that episode of PPD was a microcosm of the problem that’s plagued my whole life. It was about the past and the future occluding my ability to see the beauty heaped at my feet in my present. This is the task of my life, that is becoming clear. And not just my life: I think this is a universal struggle.

As I panicked about my future as a mother, about the fact that I would never sleep again and my colicky baby would never stop crying, preemptive regret clouded the riches of the moment. I am so quick to assume that the difficulty of a moment will endure forever and ever. I did that, in the dark nights of Grace’s infancy, and to this day when I think about it I am overcome with despair that I can’t remember her first bath, when her cord stump fell off, of the seductive newborn smell of her hair.

It is as though I cannot allow myself to feel the glory of right now. What am I afraid of? Of staring into the sun? I seem to believe that by anticipating fear, regret, sadness, I feel I innoculate myself against it. Of course I see rationally that this is absolutely wrong. These sad emotions are knit into my experience inextricably, but by assuming that they are coming I allow them to permeate even the moments that they do not own.

My postpartum depression was an exaggerated version of a struggle that has shaped my whole life. It was, I hope, the universe throwing cold water in my face and asking me to stop. To look around, see the truth and gorgeousness available in my ordinary life, and to live it.

And there is so much glory in this life! So much grandeur. Just this morning as I drove my children to school I pulled over to photograph the sunlight glinting off of the snowy trees. It was breathtaking. I must allow that more. I know that sadness is coming to me, as surely as a tide returning to shore. I must learn not to fear this, but to enjoy the times when that tide is out. I am certain my life contains as many moments of pure joy as anyone’s. My problem is not recognizing them, but allowing myself to relax into them. To feel a moment’s beauty, even with the certainty that clouds will return.

The push and pull of light and shadow inside my spirit will continue for the rest of my life, I know that. I don’t want to keep missing the light for anxious anticipation of the shadow. The grace of Grace’s arrival was my first big lesson in that, and there have been others, and there will be more. My brain must get out of my heart’s way.

The Weepies’ All This Beauty is playing in my mind today – I think it gets at this point.

11 thoughts on “Preemptive regret clouds the riches of the moment”

  1. I can’t remember which book it’s in, but I’ve always loved that Anne Lamott quote where she says, “My brain is a bad neighborhood that I don’t want to be in very long” or something like that. I always really related to that sentiment. I’m better off if I stay out of my own head.

    But at least we know that, right? How about if our shadowy minds meet up and have gimlets sometime. And look for the sun…

  2. Beautiful, poignant post. I often feel the same way. In fact, I feel as though I woke up when my son was three, my daughter seven to just what you’re speaking about. I also had terrible PPD. AWFUL. I wrote about it for Vogue and haven’t yet gotten to putting the piece up on my website, but feel motivated now by your post. But what I want to say most is this: don’t be hard on yourself for not remembering each moment and not always being able to enjoy the instant. A friend said to me, when I was ruminating on just this, that we’re not animals–dogs, cats, who live only in the present. It is nearly impossible to do since really you can’t catch the present so well when you have a big brain. It is natural and normal all that you say. Thank you for saying it because it also helps to know and remember that there are so many others out there who feel just as I do, you do.

  3. This thought: “The push and pull of light and shadow inside my spirit will continue for the rest of my life, I know that. I don’t want to keep missing the light for anxious anticipation of the shadow.” is so exactly what I have been thinking.

    So many times I have said, “This is too good to be true” or “too good to last” – I have so often worried in the present that the shadow will come, and it has hurt the present.

    Slowly (ever so slowly) I have realized that I just need to live in the now. That the shadows will come, but I don’t need to worry about them. Deal with it when it comes.

    Thanks Lindsey for the reminder and always putting it so beautifully!

  4. The push and pull of light and dark. Yes. A thousand times yes. I know precisely what you mean about not taking proper joy in the moment, not reaching out for trouble…or at least that’s me.

    Thanks for this.

  5. Like Aidan, I was most struck by “my brain must get out of my heart’s way.” That’s going on my bulletin board. It perfectly explains my daily tug-of-war. Thank you.

  6. The mind is its own place, and in itself
    Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
    John Milton, Paradise Lost

    If my heart could do my thinking, would my brain begin to feel?
    Van Morrison

    In the midst of your acute awareness, struggle, and hope I experience Milton’s “heaven of hell” and Morrison’s “brain that can feel” in the heart you so tenderly express.

    You call me to so much more of both brain and heart, Lindsey. Thank you.

  7. You darling are a poet!

    “..occluding my ability to see the beauty heaped at my feet in my present.”

    Have you ever read Writing Down the Bones? Just popped into my head while I was savoring the above phrase…


  8. Great truths here: “And there is so much glory in this life! So much grandeur.” The push & pull of light and shadow. Yes, I call it “getting my sea legs” — adjusting to the rocking waves of life until, when the rock, you can hold on just enough until the calm.

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