People often ask me if I keep a journal because I’m a writer. The answer is technically no. I haven’t kept a personal diary since I was a child mainly because I can’t stand re-reading words I wrote to myself. Though occasionally insightful, I don’t enjoy hearing my own voice coming back to me through journaling.
That’s why I’m still not sure what possessed me to grab a moleskin journal at Target and start writing to my husband in the winter of 2015. Our ten-year anniversary was on the horizon. We had four tiny kids, and our conversations were often interrupted by food needs or minor crises. Writing seemed like a way to finish conversations to each other, a romantic passing of notes in the classroom of life.
I also wanted to remember how good my life was since I was stuck in a loop of anxiety with never-ending needs surrounding me. This journal could help me do that. It could be a place to capture the good in the midst of the chaos, and I could offer it as a gift to my husband. It would be more like a love letter than a journal, so I started writing.
Starting the journal felt like a mistake about two months into it. After a year of experiencing vertigo on a regular basis and some preliminary test results, my doctor felt strongly that I needed to be checked for a brain tumor. He didn’t look me in the eyes when he described the tests I would need. He didn’t offer false hope. I left his office shattered.
Staring at the blank page that night, I wondered what to say and if this particular pull to start writing to my husband came from an internal radar, my unconscious premonition that something was wrong and he’d need reminders of me when I was gone.
Words finally started pouring out, all of my questions and concerns tethered to one place. I wept as I wrote, thinking of my husband trying to sleep in our bed. He was holding it together because that’s what he does, but even he couldn’t hide his fear. Earlier that day, when I asked if our two-year-old twins would remember me if something was very wrong and this went south quickly, he confessed that he didn’t know.
We traded the journal back and forth, my gift to him on our anniversary, his gift back to me on Mother’s Day. We’ve done this for over a year now. I picked it up again two weeks ago to start recording my thoughts for him, but I decided to flip back and see what we’d written in years past. I’d resisted this urge for some time because of how much I hate reading my journal writing, but with his words to me sprinkled in, I found I could get through it.
I read the passage from February 18th, 2016, a short entry that documented the day I went in for my results. After blood work, an MRI, and 48 hours of waiting, we would know the verdict. Before the appointment, I had only written, “How are our lives about to change?”
They did change. I didn’t have a brain tumor, and this made the news that I was losing my hearing and balance due to a degenerative inner ear disorder much easier to handle. We wept for the good news and hardly thought about the loss, committing to learn sign language and being grateful because we knew the alternative outcome.
I flipped to February 18th, 2017, a year from the news, and found that on that day one of my youngest had suffered from a stomach virus. The stark contrast to my entry just a year before was profound. Stomach viruses in littles generally send me into a fair amount of despair because, with four kids in the house, it becomes a contagious, two-week long affair. On that day though, with a sick toddler in distress and three more kids sure to follow, I found my entry was one of gratefulness.
Remember last year when we had to sweat it out until a four p.m. appointment to find out if I had a tumor? Well, today Eowyn has a stomach virus and it’s fine. So much perspective. I’m grateful. (Also, it’s really easy to get puke off of concrete floors.)
I was offered that perspective because of the near misses, the uncertainties, and the hard conversations. I was given the gift of gratitude because the words were there to remind me of where we’d been and where we’d ended up. It’s easy to forget all the reasons to let the small things be small things, to lavish our attention on the minute beauties of existence.
I could because I was here to wake up to the sound of puking and to embrace my child while she felt sick. I was here for the next nine days, when each child came down with the stomach virus and we lounged in our pajamas watching too much TV and eating many rounds of toast. I’m still here to laugh because there are hearing aids and acupuncture for vertigo, and I am around to take part in it all when I need it.
The gratefulness just for the privilege of each day does, on occasion, get buried under everyday life, but when I forget, I pick up our journal. I read our words. There’s evidence of life and trials and triumph.
I was here. I am here. That’s enough.