Yesterday, my kids and I snuggled together for a family movie night. Our selection, Finding Neverland, won a whole bunch of awards and nods half a dozen or so years ago. Since it was PG and Peter Pan-related, I figured it was child appropriate. And, to some extent, it was -- a beautiful movie, one that you can't watch with dry eyes. It's heartfelt and heart-capturing, the tale of J.M. Barrie's writing of Peter Pan and the life story of the family who inspired it.
[Spoiler alert ahead. Stop now if you haven't seen this great movie and wish to watch it.]
But the mom dies. Correction: the mom appears to have chest cold after chest cold, a cough that worsens and worsens and won't go away, a cough so bad that, at times, she can't breathe. A cough that takes her life. A cough that was just, as my youngest, Dash, pointed out, like the cough I used to have.
"But yours went away, Mama," he said. "She wasn't lucky," he noted, pointing at Kate Winslet.
I did what I had to do in that moment, and I held myself together. We watched the rest of the movie, all wiped away a few tears -- for, as beautiful as it is, needless to say it does not have a happy ending -- and went upstairs for our bedtime routine: a couple of dozen Shel Silverstein poems, a lullaby or three (I love that they still want me to sing to them), and then I went out on my front porch and just sat on my ski bench. It's been about a hundred degrees here, so it was surprising how pleasant it was outside. I sat, looked out at my forest, listened to the bullfrogs croaking in my vernal pool, and took in the last few sounds of the birds on their way to sleep. I had anticipated a good cry, but, instead, I found myself smiling.
There's a great Tennessee Williams quote that reads: "Luck is believing that you're lucky." For a couple of years, there, I had some quite bad luck. And I do think that a large part of wellness is believing that you can be well. It took a while for me to find that belief. Luck may be believing oneself to be lucky. Life is believing in one's ability to live it. Before I got sick, I used to get so caught up in the little stuff of life, especially when it came to parenting: making sure I checked the right boxes, doing my best to get it right the first time, trying my damndest not to screw up. And then, I screwed up, in many ways, because I got sick, and I couldn't check the boxes anymore; I filled myself with even more self-doubt, and, for a while, I even gave up. I thought about the "last lecture"-type letters that I should write to my kids: one for when they hit 13, one for 16, one for high school graduation... college, graduate school, wedding, baby... thinking about how I should write these missives, make them meaningful, words by which to live. And the advice I'd impart would have been grand and unexpected, things like "Fly by the seat of your pants every so often." "Take risks. If one doesn't pay off, try another." "Welcome the blind turn." and "Above all, be a good person. Nothing else matters." I would've inspired them to think grander, to live bigger, to be better.
I never wrote the letters. But I mean the advice.
We all spend so much time caught up in the pursuit of things: the ever-elusive happiness, perfection, in the attainment of goals that will make us bigger, better, more right, more awesome. We forget the here and now. We forget that sometimes, we screw up -- we need to screw up -- in order to redirect our course. We forget that life is as simple as we want it to be. And Neverland? It's right outside our door, beckoning us to make the time just to be, just to play, forgetting about all of the crap that weighs us down, remembering that we can't please everyone but that we do owe ourselves pleasure. We can't write an IOU to ourselves when it comes to being happy. We can choose it, just like we can believe we're lucky.
I close this post from my front porch, deep in the woods of Vermont, likely my last dispatch from this Neverland for quite some time. I've made a lot of mistakes over the last few years, and I've taken quite a few course-corrections, some forced on me by health and circumstances, some by my own hand. And where I sit right now, I am healthy, I am strong, and, indeed, I think grander, I live bigger, I am better, and I am much, much happier. And yes, Dash, I am one more thing: