Not long ago, I had one of those days. They come along periodically, and randomly, it seems. I wake up with a nagging sensation of trouble. Initially I wonder if I’ve neglected to take care of something important for work, or if I have to pay a bill, or sign a child up for something before deadline, or make an appointment for a medical test, or what.
Every time this happens, it takes pretty much all day to unearth the cause. I don’t know why. You would think I could figure it out quickly by now. Then again, when I haul overflowing laundry baskets down to the basement I often think, “Where could all this dirty clothing have come from?” I know the cause, of course, and answer the question for myself as soon as I ask it. But the wondering pops up fresh nearly every time.
Anyway, when I wake up with that unsettled feeling, I go right into problem solving mode, which means I assume two things – one, that I can identify the cause, and two, that I can do something about it. Then I work to prove those assumptions true.
It was a Sunday and I had to manage all kinds of back-and-forth with the Purim carnival, my son marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, preparing for an evening meeting. I took care of all of that – and felt no better. I spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly in the house and through my e-mail. I kept trying things. Did I just need a pick-me-up? I had a cookie – no change. I went out for a walk – that helped some, but the feeling settled back into the pit of my stomach when I got home. I went through mail, put papers in the recycling, emptied the dishwasher. Making progress here and there brings relief on some days – but not today. I didn’t feel different at all.
Earlier that morning, my son had returned from a four-day trip to a music festival in Indianapolis with the high school wind ensemble. Once he got home from the parade, he stumbled into his room and slept through the afternoon. Later, I came in to wake him up. As he sat on his bed rubbing his eyes, my oldest walked in, sat down next to him, and gave him a long hug. “I missed you,” she said. “I missed you more,” he said. And I realized what was wrong. I miss Frank. I miss him as much as I have ever missed him. His not being here is wrong. It will always be wrong.
Something always being wrong doesn't mean that everything is wrong. I enjoyed the laughter of children in Purim costumes eating the popcorn I made. I visited cousins and their children and parents. I breathed in fresh air on a two-mile walk. My whole family piled on the couch together to watch Planet Earth, and we marveled at the beauty and intensity of nature. At my evening meeting I had a heartfelt conversation with a friend, and when I came home, I ate food my daughter had made for me. So much was right.
As to why it takes so much of the day to figure out what irks me, perhaps it’s because I start out hoping to find a fixable cause. Don’t we humans generally look, and hope, for the easy answer first? As a practical matter, I exhaust the more easily remedied possibilities, handling whatever can be handled, before I face the thing I cannot fix.
My brother’s absence will always be wrong. I can keep trying to cope with it. I can keep trying to tackle the smaller issues that pile up every day in front of it. And I can keep looking for the right and good things in and amongst it all.