The Authenticity Experiment, the end of the world edition. When I was growing up, a young, sensitive, empathic Pisces, given to reacting to sudden changes of mood in the room, my mother would say to me, Oh, honey, it’s not the end of the world. Then, I understood this as dismissive. I wanted a mother who knew her high intuitive daughter needed soothing, a hug, some tea, and the reassurance that everything would be okay. Instead, what I got was, Oh, honey, it’s not the end of the world.
Even when she began dying. As I assessed the situation and decided to call my sisters to come, I sat at her bedside, where she lay unresponsive, held her right hand, still so soft, the skin so thin and friable, and put my head on her soft belly and cried.
She woke up and asked why I was crying. I said, Because you’re dying, Mom. And she replied, Oh, honey, it’s not the end of the world. I said, It is to me. You’re my mom.
Then she fell back into that liminal space and I continued crying, but I also felt my psyche shot through with this revelation that my mother had NEVER been dismissing me in those moments, but had, actually, tried to give me true and practical, pragmatic advice. It wasn’t the end of the world and the feelings would pass. That’s what she meant, I believe, every time she said, Oh, honey, it’s not the end of the world. And I don’t know think it was time or therapy or 12-step work that changed my understanding. I think being with someone close death, instead, is what has forced me always to the present moment, and opened me to the most piercing insights. It happened when my father died, it happened when my friend Stef died, and it happened in this moment two days before my mother died.
I was reminded of this phrase as I went to climb on my indoor trainer this morning. This week challenged me in ways I haven’t felt in more than a year, challenged me to control my thoughts and to remember that feelings aren’t facts, and that there is always another door to walk through—even if you don’t like what’s on the other side—there is a door.
If these sound like slogans to you, that’s because they are. But they work to redirect my hamster wheel of a brain. If you don’t have a brain like this, I think you’re lucky, but really, in this age of instant communication and social media, who doesn’t have a brain like this? Constantly running, wondering what happened and what’s going on now and what’s next. Squeak, squeak, squeak as the wheel spins faster and we run to keep up with it, paradoxically pushing it faster until we collapse.
But, right by my trainer, is a picture of my mom and a beautiful paperweight with her ashes swirled in it. Maybe you think that paperweight sounds macabre, but it looks like the universe to me, and given Joni Mitchell was literally right, we are stardust, it seems appropriate. My left foot clipped into the pedal, I looked at the photo as I started to swing my right leg up and over the rack and seat. I said out loud, Oh, Mom, I wish you were here to give me some practical advice.
Then I heard her voice in my head, Oh, honey, it’s not the end of the world. And I realized she did have pragmatic advice that seemed to apply even in this situation. The world was not ending—not even remotely—and, as she was also fond of saying, This, too, shall pass.
She’s right, my mom. It isn’t the end of the world and soon this will pass and I’ll hamster wheel onto something else. That’s the thing about our brains, my brain, really, and why I have to work a program to keep it in line.
One of the Kates—there are 11 of them in my phone, which says more about my age demographic than the cacophony of Kates in the world—asked me why I had stopped writing these. I told her it was because I couldn’t bear to have my life out here on the stage anymore, that I have gone deeply internal, and besides, I didn’t have any nice tidy advice to tie up any of these posts. Ten of them are sitting in half finished in the folder, waiting for the insight to finish them.
This Kate said something to the effect of, why don’t you just tell people that. So, maybe I’ll start putting half-finished pieces up. No piercing insights. Just fragments from a working writer’s life. My editor Judith Kitchen used to tell me to work with my weakness—which is wanting nice, tidy endings. I think this Kate basically said the same thing.
So, I’m not promising anything. I’m just saying maybe. No tidy ending? I guess it’s not the end of the world, is it?