Routine Matters

Sometimes something happens to change the whole trajectory of your life, and you don't even recognize it until years later. You have this revelatory moment when you consider what would have happened had you not taken that class, or accepted that job, or made that move. But there are those other moments, too. The ones that even as they are happening a voice in your head says, "Everything is going to be different now." Moments like when you answer the phone and your husband says, "It's Stage 4 cancer." That was the instant that signaled a before, and an after. The girl I was right before that phone rang simply disappeared.

All of which is to say that perhaps it is not so surprising that I have become somewhat attached to my routines these days. I am a toddler in this new life of mine; I am still learning to stand, and walk, and feed myself. I cling to habits and schedules like a security blanket. I make the same smoothie for breakfast every morning. I walk the dog six times a day (yeah, you read that right, I really need a yard to toss her into). On Wednesdays I go to yoga. On Fridays I water the houseplants. I do the dishes before bed. I put away the clean clothes. Hell, I even order the same shoes every time I wear out a pair, or when the dog eats them. Children need routine. We need predictability in order to function in a mysterious and sometimes terrifying world. These things give me succor. In a life that now feels like just one major decision after another, there is comfort in putting the same yogurt in the blender morning after morning. As I struggle to understand what decades on my own might mean, I find ease in putting the tea cups back precisely where they belong. In a life that became so upended by four words--cancer, four, stage, it's--I find stability and security in tidiness.

And yet, and yet, I have my moments when I peek out from behind the rigid schedule. Suddenly I am eating cupcakes for breakfast. I am walking a new trail. I fly to New York City for dinner. I book a room in Mexico for a week. Much to my surprise, I hear bold ballsy brash ideas escape from my own lips; ideas that others agree to and thence become full blown plans. I am watching meteors zoom overhead in the middle of the night. I am wincing under the sting of the tattoo needle. I spontaneously take a day off right in the middle of the week.

I still retreat under the covers to shiver and cower at the magnitude of my own future. I still step back into the rules set by my calendar and my self-imposed schedule. I still try to build an edifice that can withstand the onslaught of any few words--four, it's, stage, cancer. But those moments of true bravery do miraculously arise from time to time. Every once in a while, without a head's up or advance warning, I find this new young, inexperienced, indecisive, little girl whispering four other words: "I can do this."