It often seems, in our globally-connected, sensation-seeking modern world, that a simple life isn’t worth much.
“I lead a small life,” Kathleen Kelly said, in You’ve Got Mail. “Valuable, but small.”
At the time I first saw the movie, I sympathized with that sentiment. I felt that, I, too, lived a small but valuable life, and, like Kathleen, I chafed and longed for something….
In short, I wanted to replace “valuable, but small” with “huge and extraordinary.”
I was much younger then, and there were many things I hadn’t yet learned. Like the way I would grow into this “valuable, but small” life of mine. How I would marry, and become someone’s wife. How we would travel the country, mile by mile, working in national parks, seeing other parts of it in the spaces between seasonal employment. I made friends from around the world, and across a range of diversity I’d never imagined, when I first saw that movie.
My horizons were wider, but I still found my life “valuable, but small.”
Then I became a parent. To my baby boy, I began as all things – maybe something more than a god. I was more than valuable to him, while he was gestating and then nursing.
I was essential, and enormous. I was almost the sum of his universe, although, as he grew, I shrank.
I didn’t see my own value to him, except in that perfect perspective – hindsight. I continued to think of my life as “small” but the value – it got buried in the mountains of things and concerns from having a small child –
And then, the mountains of grief and complexities that come with having a child who is alive, and one who is not – and then another who is. 34 months and a few days separate the ages of our eldest and youngest children. For many families, this is a normal space between planned children – but, for us, there is an empty space between – the space that can never be filled. It’s a small and valuable place, one that might have been occupied by a second, thriving son – but is instead the paradox with which we all live.
My living children are growing toward adulthood now. Our son is 15, and our daughter newly 12.5. I can see the end of their dependency, and so can they. After ten years focused on their homeschooling and upbringing, writing as the opportunity arose (which it didn’t with any measurable regularity until they were 8 and 5), I now have ample time for my own pursuits.
Soon, I will be taking a part-time job, and expanding my horizons again…because I feel that it’s time. The kids need that time, to be independent, to test themselves while they still have a parental framework and support system, and to prepare for their eventual, but not as distant as it once seemed, separation from that support system.
But I’ve learned something; something that means that it doesn’t matter if I never write The Next Great American Novel, or work anything more than simple service jobs (besides, I like people, and making them happy, so, if I’m going to work at anything besides parenting, spousing, and writing, it’s going to be exactly that type of job).
I’ve discovered that, very often, simply changing a single word can change the entire meaning of a phrase, and my perception of it.
I no longer agree with Kathleen Kelly. I’m not living a “valuable, but small” life. I’m living a “valuable and small” one!
And that’s what makes it an extraordinary one.