You don’t get to keep it

Tonight, as I talked to my mom on the phone as I do so many nights, I went on and on about nothing in particular. I sensed she was tired and ready to go to sleep, but I hung on the line, asking little questions and planning details with her for the coming weekend.

When we finally hung up, I felt a little sad, which is strange since I talk to my mom on the phone once or twice every single day.

But tonight, I remembered it was my grandma’s birthday–she would have been 87. She was a woman I loved dearly who was my own mother’s mother, and who died when I was 10 years old. It seemed even more cruel than could be possible back then, I think because, as a child, I assumed I could keep her forever.

Now with my own mother, time and experience have taught me just how much I do not get to keep her forever–but it doesn’t change my desire to.

I also remember being 11-years-old and dreading my 12th birthday. I was a very happy child and I was acutely aware of what the passage of time would cost me–I would have to grow out of my toys and my childhood innocence. I have no idea why I was aware of it, but I was a very introspective child and I grieved the loss of my childhood much like I grieved the loss of my grandmother. The things I loved and cherished most were like water in my hands–I could grip tightly, but I could not keep them forever. The friends went to new schools, we moved out of the beloved house and neighborhood, I learned some of the scarier and meaner lessons of the world. Things changed, as I knew they would. I didn’t get to keep my childhood.

I also think about the things we all take for granted that we can lose. Things like our health, our plans for the future, or even our memories. I see now as my grandfather struggles to remember the ones who he loves, even those closest to him. We don’t think of recognizing loved ones as something we can lose, but it turns out those things are never ours to begin with. My father-in-law, who lost much of his independence in an instant to a stroke. Or my husband, who goes to a dangerous job each day, and reminds me that I can’t control how long I get to keep anyone.

Watching my own children grow up brings the same fear of change and the passage of time I experienced so profoundly as a child. I experience each passing milestone with them, rejoicing in their growth, marveling in how quickly they change, and fighting the ever-present dread that I can’t slow it all down or catch it in a bottle. That it will pass quickly and I will never ever get back the baby snuggles or the sweet, innocent-voiced questions of young childhood. That they have already grown so fast and every day it seems like it is the “last” day we do something we used to do. It turns out those things, as beloved as they are, were never mine to keep at all.

It feels a little helpless. You love and cherish things and people and places and experiences but they are all well outside your realm of control. Loving them feels almost scary–it can all be yanked away at any moment without notice.

But, it turns out that I’ve learned my perspective on keeping was all wrong. People, experiences, seasons of life, were never meant to be owned, or kept. Part of the beauty and the magic of it all comes from the fleeting nature of it. The kicks in my belly while pregnant with my babies were magical–but they sure wouldn’t be if I had to stay like that forever! It is the change and the growth that has made the room and the space for the new things and the most beautiful experiences.

I grieved the loss of my childhood, but that was because my childhood was beautiful. But I had to lose it in order to gain adulthood and then motherhood, which is even more beautiful and fulfilling. And life, in many strange and sad ways, is even more beautiful because it ends. Because we can’t keep it this way forever. Because one of the biggest, hardest lessons for all of us is that we only have right now. This moment. This breath. Nothing else is guaranteed.

And it also means there are many other things you don’t get to keep.

You don’t keep regret. Or fear. Or self-doubt. Or even grief. Someone could read this and hate it and that’s OK! I don’t get to keep that. That judgement in itself is fleeting. There is truly nothing to be afraid of.