For most of my life, I have played the waiting game.
Waiting till I could drive, move from my parents, go to college, being able to drink. After throwing back many warty frogs, biding my time to find my one true love. Postponing acting on my passion for writing.
Delaying having children until the opportune time — almost too late. When I finally decided it was “right,” my body worked against me and I suffered one miscarriage after another. Gratefully, I was able to have two miracle sons.
Many times between those rites of passage, I’ve been in limbo. I’ve put so many things on hold that eventually I disregarded and relinquished my dreams. My fear and insecurity kept me on the path of comfort, not adventure. I was so busy caring for others, I forgot about myself.
Being a caregiver is ingrained in me. I acted as stand-in mom as a 9 year old with the full responsibility of caring for my younger sisters while my mom worked evenings at a restaurant. Small wonder I waited so long to become a mother as an adult.
I am the provincial bleeding heart — wanting to make everything better, empty my bank account to bail out overturned lives, giving unwanted advice when someone only needed to be heard. I am the helicopter mom, spiraling around my children, knowing that life won’t be fair and they will be hurt, or disappointed or irreparably damaged by fortune’s slings and arrows. The tribulations of others in my cloistered fragment of the world still keep me up at night. There is always an ever present and bright night light throbbing in my head.
Now I find myself waiting for retirement. On days when the weight of my toiling far outweighs the joy, I hang on, telling myself soon, soon. Soon, I’ll have the freedom to travel, the time to take up quilting, painting and bird watching. Have the time and corresponding energy to smell the roses and pick those daisies. Mentally counting off the 21 months until that golden handshake.
I keep an abstract bucket list for when that time comes, but am very aware that often the interval between the waiting is wasted, and the awaited time might never come. I don’t want to be one of those who said “they wish they had” on their death bed.
In recent days, our neighbor has succumbed to a hard-fought, three-year battle with cancer. A “sister” friend has lost a child — every parent’s inconceivable nightmare. Several others have been diagnosed with cancer. Loved ones have lost their jobs or have experienced waning health. These stark realities have made the waiting game one that seems too dangerous to play.
The season of Lent is upon us and although I am not Catholic and the selfless offerings of Lent are not traditional among most Protestants, I like the concept of sacrificing in humility and faith. Since I’ve already given up binge eating, sugary treats and a few other vices too embarrassing to mention, I have committed to take merciful action.
For this Lent, 40 days of darkness beckoning to the light, I’m endeavoring at least one sincere and meaningful act of kindness every day. I’ve let people in front of me at checkout lines and practiced patience when my nearly 100-year-old mother-in-law tells me the same story for the hundredth time. While helping at our local food pantry, I took extra time to walk heavy boxes to someone’s faraway home. It doesn’t seem like much, but sometimes that extra gesture — a warm meal, a handwritten card, a long and hope-infusing hug — can make a difference.
I don’t want to wait one second longer. I want to act on my instincts, be compulsive, throw caution to the gales and live, actually live, in the moment. I want to be a light and a torch. A line in Rachel Platton’s song — “This is my fight song” — has become my new mantra “I might only have one match but I can make an explosion.”
So for today, for these moments in my life I will never cradle again, my acts of kindness will be for others as well as for myself. I will vow not to be too careful or afraid.
I will find that match, I will be its light and I will make an explosion.
Carol Lawson-Swezey is a volunteer coordinator for Hinds Hospice and a freelance writer. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org