A few nights ago, I lay in bed and listened to the downpour outside, the lightning bursting across the sky followed by thunderclaps, with no interval in between. The noise was constant, and even though I was thankful for the rain, all I really wanted to do was sleep. I thought back a few years, caught a glimpse of my 19-year-old self—staying up way too late without a care for the 7:30 class the next morning, playing music and talking to this cute cute boy who was pretty quiet but would talk to me—dashing out into the sudden spring thunderstorm and twirling madly in the rain. And for a second, the 26-year-old me felt almost embarrassed by that girl, because I didn’t really recognize her. Was I faking it then, the exuberance and freedom, were they an allure put on for that boy? Or was that my best self, back at 19, and now, great with my second child, fearing for the sleep of my first child, am I doomed to view thunderstorms with the prosaic vision of one only concerned with the disruption of my quiet and rest?
I mean, I didn’t want to dance in the rain, not even a little bit.
It occurred to me, then, that 19-year-old me couldn’t possibly have been my best self. What kind of best self peaks at 19, when everything is carefree and simple (relatively) and energy is ceaseless and possibilities are endless? How much more remarkable would it be, to live within the responsibilities and work you’ve accepted and welcomed, but to do so with a passion and hunger for life and living well. I’m not going to be pregnant forever. I’m going to teach Eliza to twirl in the rain one day, it’s just that right now she’s kind of scared of the rain (it’s rained so little this year that she doesn’t really know what it is), and it hurts too much to get quickly out of my bed, let alone run down the stairs and outside with a toddler propped on the belly full of my next baby. That’s today, and that’s fine.
But I rebel against this notion that a passionate existence and meaningful life are reserved only for those who reject responsibility and strive for freedom. If, without any cares or worries, you achieve the joy and wonder of living, that’s great. But I think that in the commitment to people and to love, to work and to satisfaction in that work, there can be freedom, and one that is even greater and more counter-cultural than just protesting by leaving. If I love my family well, if I work to stay free from the love of money and prestige, if I learn to be mother and artist and intellectual and dancer-in-the-rain, I think I’ve accomplished something far greater than that 19-year-old girl who twirled in the rain because she had nothing in the world to worry about.
Jack Kerouac wrote that the only people for him were “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” And I always thought, because he meant the vagabonds and the expatriates, that to him, I must be one of the ones who didn’t live, not really. Now I protest that, in my commitments and responsibilities is greater life than one who is free from all ties will ever know, and I am mad to live well.
I will dance again, in the rain, maybe even late at night, when my hips don’t pop and crack at my every shift and move. And until then, when the thunderstorm wakes me, I will lie in my bed and smile, and remember and dream.