Stationary Transition: Notes on Waiting as Life Changes

"You can't stop it, just hop on the train and
You never know what's gonna happen
You make your plans and you hear God laughing
Life changes, and I wouldn't change it for the world."
– Thomas Rhett, Life Changes

I’m writing vows I will hold to for the rest of my life on the back of a crumpled envelope as I wince my way through a latte that has way too much lavender. I love a little lavender, but the key is “little” rather than “lot.”

It’s that or spend more time staring at my phone screen, and I’ll be pretending to write them, but I’ll be distracted by Instagram reels of golden retrievers because I miss mine rather desperately. I forgot to hug her goodbye last time I saw her and since she’s a bit of an old gal now, I can’t help but worry that she definitely noticed that and will die hating me a little before I can visit again. I’ll be plagued with guilt. I don’t really want to be.

Or I could look at floor lamps online because the living room needs one. I’m currently shuffling a little table lamp back and forth from my bedroom to the living room at night, because I prefer lamps to overhead lights after dark, but the shuffle is getting old. Each time I try to replug it in the living room I pinch my hand a little bit between the wall and the bookcase.

Or I could nap. That’s usually my go-to when there’s a silly amount of stuff to get done in a day. I daydream about a nap. I say to myself, “I should nap.” And of course I’m right. I never actually do though. However, here in this coffee shop there’s some jazz playing. I’m the only customer and I’m being super low maintenance in a corner by the window, and the barista is out of sight in the back at the moment and has been for the past 20 moments. I genuinely considered that nap, but I’m afraid that would startle the barista, should she ever emerge from the back, and I don’t want anyone to wonder “Oh my, is she alright?”

She is. She just moved into a new apartment (again). She’s getting married in a month to the dreamiest man. She loves her job. There’s a new Taylor Swift album coming out in November. 

She’s getting that apartment ready to have her soon-to-be husband move-in with her after their wedding. She’s also planning that wedding herself. Her parents live 3 hours away but are moving 4-hours further in less than a week. She’s supposed to reschedule a cancelled dentist appointment. She needs a nap.

The majority of these are wonderful things. Exciting things. Big life-changing, long-awaited things, worth celebrating with many mimosas. But when people ask me what I’ve been up to lately, I’m not entirely sure how to respond. I’m prepping. I’m planning. I’m organizing. Sometimes after work I watch Sweet Magnolias for hours and hours before I fall asleep and I can’t say I got anything done at all. I’m doing a lot, and also not so much. 

I’m waiting.

I am watching the Tokyo Olympic games, and there is this moment before each athlete launches into motion. The “on your mark” before the “go.” The salute and the frozen-in-position before the music begins. The crouch on the stand before the buzzer that allows you to dive into the water. The calm before the storm that you’ve seen coming for months. Muscles tensed but not in motion yet. And not 60 seconds later, all the fuss is over.

I know beyond a doubt that everything being prepped for will come and then vanish in a few blinking hours. And I’ll be left with me, myself, and I. And she won’t be magically transformed, wiser, or more knowledgeable than she was earlier that morning. (I’m stewing on a few more thoughts on that.)

But this? This is the part where I close my eyes...and wait. 

These things that are on their way are not bad, but over the past several months I’ve gotten the strangest feeling that I’ve had a great deal of trouble getting my finger on. This is my attempt.

I feel frozen and like I am in motion. 

Like I am going in carefully orchestrated circles, with the motions, the bare-minimum, all planned out and repeated over and over on purpose. I am after all.

I remember sitting on the couch in my previous apartment about a month before I moved again. “Nothing is the same. Nothing. Everything is moving. Nothing is solid.” I said this to Conner, not even looking at him. I suppose facing down a brand new life as a married individual combined with moving apartments again, and my parents also moving, leaving the home I didn’t realize I had grown to care about so much, left me grasping for something long-lasting. 

Some people like change, and up until recently, I thought that I was one of them. Turns out, when it feels like everything is changing at the same time, I’m not a fan. Who knew?

My attachment to a sense of place is strong. One of my favorite authors describes herself in one of her books as “a trainwreck of a romantic” and I relate with that on a cellular level. I am catastrophically sentimental, and where things have happened is entwined closely with my memory of the events themselves. And now, I can’t physically retreat to a home nestled in the mountains that is worn in with memory and comforting with its familiarity. There is now only forwards. A few more unknowns. I’m excited for my family. New starts are fresh and popping with promise and potential. But I am also a little melancholy about it. I’m trying to remember those feelings aren’t mutually exclusive.

The day I said those things to Conner was the same day my mom texted me to let me know that the car I learned to drive in, that was my high-school freedom and sanctuary, had finally died and needed to be replaced. I had not driven it for years at this point, so I was surprised by the sadness that crashed in. Cars are places with memories of their own. Roadtrips, singing loudly and badly and not caring, late night drive-thrus for salty french fries, arguing over which music should be playing, freezing to an icicle for 14 minutes each morning while the defroster attempted to melt the ice on the windshield. The rattling sound that mystified every mechanic we went to. Ah good times. 

Perhaps just another straw on top of a stack that was already there? “Nothing is the same. Nothing is solid.”

It isn’t just places. It’s little things too. The scent of lotion I like right now is orange and ginger which is different from my normal eucalyptus and spearmint, but that could change again tomorrow. I suddenly like white wine over red at the moment. I’ve left my fingers and toes bare for weeks now, and I’m still shocked every time I see my feet. I can’t tell if that’s out of busy-ness or because all of a sudden I don’t mind how my feet look without polish (a perspective that has been absent for my entire 25 years of life). Conner and I are trying to find a new church to call home that is closer to the side of town this apartment is on. New, new, new.

Many of these, obviously, are my own choices. But together they add some volume to that hum of dissonance when I look around my apartment and see so many things that are not familiar yet. And then I think about those bigger things, the exciting things, but the new, unknown things, and the ground feels a little wobbly.

The thing is, almost none of it has been sudden. So why, I wonder, does it feel so jarring still? 

Conner ran a thumb over the back of my hand and simply said, “I’m still here.”

“Her encouraging words were a gentle breeze on my poor mind, and this is the work of the holy spirit and our operating instructions, to be cooling breezes to sad or worried people, including ourselves, in this sometimes hot, stuffy joint.”
– Anne Lamott, Dusk Night Dawn

A breath of fresh air. He was right. He spent the next 15 minutes helping me compile a list of things that are solid and staying the same: people, places, rhythms. The rhythms, those carefully orchestrated circles, are intentional. In places that feel uncertain, unknown, unsteady, I will wear in my own paths, smooth over the rough edges with use.

We started eating Greek food on Sundays, and I order the same steak kabobs each time. I wear the same pajamas over and over, which means I do the same load of laundry over and over, and I always light a candle for 15 minutes before I sleep. Conner calls me on his way home from work. I make tea (a lot of tea). I listen to folklore over and over. I don’t rush through folding my laundry. I pick up books I have read before and start reading them again. I’m only in the mood to watch tv shows or movies I have seen before. The new ones, I have to digest very slowly. We have a Harry Potter movie marathon. I go to sleep as early as possible.

Is stationary transition a thing? I wonder as I “walk” in my circles. Is it normal to feel this sense of melancholy while excitedly anticipating such wonderful things?

I don’t want to be that person that is complaining about the “burden” that is her wonderful life. That seems insensitive and out-of-touch. But my friends tell me it’s alright to acknowledge when things are big and unknown and wobbly. That it’s alright to admit that your plate is full and you’re mentally overwhelmed. That just because you are looking forward to what is coming with your whole heart doesn’t mean you can’t grieve for what is gone. That I don’t have to ask permission to share that something is actually heavy.

"The way I understand grief has changed. I’ve come to also see grief as part of the everyday experience of being human in a world that is both good and cruel...Of course, the ever-present reality of grief does not mean that we feel sad all the time. Grief is as much a part of us as our circulatory system or our middle name, but we are complex people and we can, and do, hold both joy and grief together because they both witness to things that are true."
– Tish Harrison Warren

I walk in my circles, frozen before the music starts, and yet in a flurry of preparation for when it does.  The trash can is always overflowing. The washer leaks just enough to notice but not enough to be a problem. It rains a lot. I microwave my tea over and over as my focus is always elsewhere. 

These are not complaints in the slightest. They are observations. I love my new apartment. It has some personality and we get along great. That being said, I keep a can of Raid in my eyesight at all times because this apartment is a little more hospitable to six and eight-legged clientele than I am. I light lots of strongly-scented candles.

I’m hanging things on the walls sooner this time. I want it to feel like home, and it slowly is. I go out of my way to find things that make me laugh. I read Anne Lamott’s latest book, Dusk Night Dawn (one of the few new things I wholeheartedly embraced) and I needed it so badly. So much of what she writes about makes me feel sane and human again. 

“Laughing is the breeziest breeze of them all; laughter is grace exhaling bubbly breath.”
– Anne Lamott, Dusk Night Dawn

Bubbly breath. I find things that remind me of that. I video chat with my friends as often as possible. I make myself go sit by the pool and turn my face up toward the sun. I read one more chapter in that “newer” book before picking up the one I’ve already read. I get gifts for my sisters and put them in bags with periwinkle marble patterns, rose gold letters, and pale silky ribbons. I water my plants and, yes, verbally congratulate them on their new leaves. I’m in awe at the bravery of my best friend who has recently sacrificed so much to follow the direction God is pointing her toward. If I’m feeling particularly up-for-anything, I go try a new coffee shop, and I end up writing my vows at the table by the window.

I flip my coffee receipt over and decide that it is how I will talk to God today.

I don’t know how to do this. The words practically smear just by breathing on them since the paper is so slick.

I know what He’s going to say. 

“It’s okay.”

I’m a little relieved but I need to double check.

I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never been here before.

“It’s okay.”

I don’t know how to do this.

I write it on the receipt over and over, and I can inhale a little deeper with each line.

“It’s okay.”

I laugh quietly in my corner and it comes out with a bubbly breath.

The Salt Compass Blog by Madeleine Hagan

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