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It's OK to Almost not be OK
Looking through the lens of leaning-in
written by: Julia R. DeStefano
I almost didn’t have a laptop to write this on -
watching the mug spin unnaturally on its side,
spilling its contents onto the table,
nearly missing the charging chord
to seep through my folders and work bag -
well, it felt like a fitting image of recent life.
To think, the night before, I had almost brought that mug to the dishwasher. But forced isolation (you won’t ever hear me say quarantine) has dulled me, and it’s a miracle that the mug even made it to the table at all.
or maybe I had just gotten caught up in an e-mail I’d received from an education journal. It was called: I love my job, but I hate this -
or maybe my mental capacity was full from scouring web pages for an available time slot for grocery delivery -
or maybe I could blame it on the perpetual video chat headache -
or maybe I was lamenting the fact that I hadn’t exercised that day -
or maybe I was hyper-focused on tiptoeing around the emotions rearing their ugly heads within the walls of a once (semi) peaceful home –
or maybe I was caught up in disjointed memories:
snapshots of playing at McMackin Field -
after-school stops at the little neighborhood convenience store for penny candy and slush -
endless rides through Revere Beach with the top down, blasting Aerosmith’s Pump at full volume, feeling F.I.N.E -
lunches of Kelly’s Roast Beef sandwiches and fries while sitting on the sea wall -
ice cream sundaes, even the Italian Ice you could never finish in one sitting but also could never make it home with before it turned into a puddled, sticky mess -
glasses of red wine with a lover -
the playful embarrassment over being unable to bowl worth a damn around him, a scene that I would give anything to return to now, even if it meant throwing only gutter balls -
being kissed under the DeMaino’s sign in the dark of night while wearing my lucky dress and feeling like a true Studio 54 dancing queen -
the ultimate gift of touch, back when I still felt human (or felt free to still feel human) and not like some kind of lab experiment gone wrong.
Maybe I’ve been subconsciously grieving the loss of my life as it once was, while caught up in fear of who and what will survive the destruction. Some things will never return, destined to live within me — and on paper — as memories. Other things will return “eventually,” when officials deem them appropriate. But even that isn’t good enough. I shouldn’t have to settle for “eventually” when I was raised on the American ideals of apple pie, liberty, and progress through hard work — and not when my hourglass continues to burn through its sand.
Whatever the reason for my distraction, bringing the mug to the dishwasher meant leveling up, and I couldn’t do it. Even the smallest of tasks have become considerable feats of strength — tasks worth celebrating, might I add.
What the world needs now are more people like me— regular pillars of strength who typically function as others’ rocks — to finally say:
I am not OK. Almost. Please lean into our relationship if you can’t level up. I’m not used to admitting this. What I mean is, I hardly ever admit to this, but I need somebody — some warmth. I need you. I am not completely resilient. I am not bulletproof. I am a woman reminded right now of her need for everything but radio silence, and for a little bit of magic — because it’s what we make of the moments we are given — and I have to believe that there is still some magic left.
The words leave my fingertips, and I feel a sort of strange calm. Human beings — with our struggles, baggage, worries, wants, needs, and quirks — are not emotional support pets.
But we can lean-in to help make good times better and bad times hurt less.
Leaning-in means that we focus on the right now — on the things that we can influence — like our interactions with each other. It makes the bond stronger. Only when unmasked can we see what we are truly made of.
Love is words and love is action, big or small. What we mean to each other is everything, yet rarely do we say it. But during a crisis, it’s something that we are fundamentally hardwired in our need to hear. In the uncertainty of this time, to not feel alone means to share myself — my feelings, my stories, my hopes for the future, even a song I happen to be listening to or a dessert I am baking. On a primal level, it means to share the curve of my smile, my laugh, and even my frown.
I need to know that I am seen beyond my dark eyes, even throughout the shutdown of the world.
I imagine it feels this way for most of humanity, too, as we look to those we are closest with for a little extra something that says: I still see you. You still matter to me. If you need a smile, I get it — especially when you so often give me yours.
I find myself recalling that part of Avatar — the overtly sexual connection of their tails that meant so little back then
but seems to be the essence of everything now.
I don’t necessarily crave progress right now — I mean, I wouldn’t turn it down — but I do crave a little tenderness. Being present with me in real-time means giving me what you have always given me — meaningful connection in the here and now. It shows me that you care about me at a time when I really need it. If I am certain of one thing in life, it’s that when we love, we become better versions of ourselves.
I guess I’m sounding a little like Crash in his speech to Annie at the end of Bull Durham. Now all I need is that dance in front of the baseball altar.
….right now, I’m tired and I don’t wanna think about baseball and I don’t wanna think about quantum physics, and I don’t wanna think about nothin.’ I just wanna be.
I’m ready to do that, too -
just like I’m ready to put that glass on my nightstand into the dishwasher.