You know those days that you remember forever? Graduation, engagement, marriage, death, beating cancer, falling in love, having a child. They're the important days, the ones that change you or that usher change into your life. They make you who you are and, once they're past, you'll never be the same.
And then there are the important days that no one else would notice. Maybe you hear a conversation in passing and it makes you think, or you read a phrase that you proceed to mull over for the rest of your life. These days aren't any less momentous, but they're a little harder to explain.
One of the most important days of my life was the day I learned that human beings can feel more than one thing at a time. I remember that I was reading and even what I was reading, though I've never again been able to find the exact quote that triggered those thoughts. But that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I read, and it changed my emotional life forever.
Before that day, I believed that I could only feel one thing at a time, and I would agonize over what I was feeling. I felt like it had to be black and white, because that's what I'd always been taught, and I didn't know what to do when things seemed I'd look at my motivations and try, over and over and over again, to figure out if they were more good or more bad, so I could know what to think about why I did what I did.
I can't tell you the agonies this sort of thinking caused me. I felt so stuck, because I wanted to feel happy about certain things but I could never unequivocally say that I was thrilled. I felt like a liar, like anything I said about my feelings was false, because there was always some nuance that went in another direction.
I remembered all of this the other day when I was talking to my daughter about someone leaving. She doesn't like it when anyone goes out the door without her, even when she's left with other people she knows and loves. But if she gets to wave goodbye and blow kisses, and if she's held, she'll let you go with a minimum of fuss.
So someone left, and I gathered her into my arms to say 'goodbye' to them. I told her that Daddy was leaving, but she'd get to play with Mama and Grandma while he was gone. She looked at me, smiled, then looked toward her departing daddy and seemed upset. "Yeah," I said to her, "it's hard to see Daddy go, but you're excited to stay and play outside with Mama."
It was a little thing. Not much to say, not too many words. But afterwards I realized: I believe that, now. And maybe my daughter won't have to hit her twenties before she knows what it means to feel more than one thing. Maybe she won't have to be overwhelmed when talking about how she feels, because she won't feel the pressure to sum it up in one nice, neat package. It was a little thing, but it has the power to change her world.