Living in Limbo

I’m reminded of why I love the ocean each time I return.

sunrise

We recently spent a week in Florida. With three days of travel, it wasn’t quite enough time to settle in, to get comfortable, feel at home. But then again, you’re not supposed to feel at home on vacation, are you?

This trip was a whirlwind, and hard in many ways. We went to Disney World first and then spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale to unwind. But unwinding with kids is kind of an oxymoron. Or maybe just moronic?

Don’t get me wrong, there were highs as well as lows. Vacation is just another piece of life. Your worries and stressors don’t disappear once you step foot on a plane. If you’re like me, they multiply.

On the way to Ft. Lauderdale our brains sizzled in the sunny, claustrophobic car. My husband and I bickered, the kids fought. At one point in the drive I went silent.

By the time we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale I had calcified.

Even the beauty of the ocean couldn’t melt me, and neither did the chic and crowded hotel we were staying at. I felt like an alien around so many smiling and scantily clad people. I wanted to go home.

But we made it to our room, dropped our bags, and then hurried to the beach as the sun began to drop in the sky.

Once there the kids immediately dove into the still warm sand and splashed their feet in the turquoise waters. I stood with my arms wrapped across my chest, but there was a loosening. My husband called a truce. He hugged me and my anger began to uncoil as the ocean lapped onto my feet.

The next day we went back, despite the spotty weather, the ominous sky.

Together we forged into the beautiful sea glass blue ocean. I held onto my young son’s hand while my daughter splashed at my side. I get the sense that the current wants my children as much as I do, maybe more.

My daughter doesn’t need my hand, however, she can swim like a fish. Diving down to the clear shallow bottom and coming up with beautiful shells. She knows to be cautious about the ocean. I’ve taught her that much. But she’s not overly fearful. She leaves her anxiety behind as she dips and dives beneath the waves with a confidence I hope to one day see on land.

bunky on beach

When my husband took her out to deeper waters, I sat on the shore with my son. We played his favorite game. Build and destroy. First I buried him up to his waist with wet shell studded sand, and then he broke through, cracking like an egg, delight lighting up his face.

Then, castles. I built ten, twenty, small structures so he could crush them with his still chubby four-year-old feet.

I sensed a young couple nearby watching us. They smiled kindly at me when I glanced over. I had a moment of self-consciousness, as if I were posing in an advertisement for blissful parenthood. I had to suppress an urge to run over to them and tell the truth. It’s not always like this. You should’ve seen me yesterday. But of course I refrained. The secrets of parenthood have to be discovered firsthand, if at all.

The beach is my touchstone. Every time I sit in the sand and it sticks to every part of my body, I always feel the urge to brush it all away before remembering to surrender. To the mess of it, to any semblance of control. But surrender has never been easy for me. I struggle to find order in chaos. It’s hard for me to sit in discomfort.

Right now I’m at a crossroads with my writing. A kind of limbo. I have to decide whether to continue with my novel, which needs to be rewritten (again), or embark on the entirely unchartered course of memoir.

The question ping-pongs in my head relentlessly. I’m worried about making the wrong choice. About wasting (more) time writing something that will never reach eyes other than my own.

There is no “right” answer. I know this, and yet I posed the question on Facebook. The wise and supportive responses filled me with gratitude, but ultimately the decision is still mine to make.

So I remain here, for now, in limbo.

A place I’m quite vocal about not liking. But maybe my struggle against limbo is more futile than I thought – because what if life IS limbo – the place we all reside between birth and death? If so, then all we can do is surrender to what may come next. To feel our way, as best we can, through each day.

wall quote

If I surrender to uncertainty, in my writing, and in my life, I will move forward. If I surrender to the mess, like I did in the sand with my son, I don’t feel so worried about wasting time, I can smash down the castles I worked so hard to make, knowing I will rebuild. I can create something new on the base of all those broken, necessary, pieces.

Are you in limbo right now? Hovering between conflicting choices? How do you find your answers? 

 

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33 thoughts on “Living in Limbo

  1. Dana, you write so beautifully about motherhood and parenting, I have no doubt whatever captures your heart you will write it well. I think it was you that recommended we read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert?? But when I get stuck in limbo (and I do often) I think about how she gave me the permission in that book to just go with whats there, don’t ignore that creative vibe. Follow the passion and you will find your bliss. Good luck, nice to know Im not the only one who feels like this.

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  2. This is so beautiful. These lines are my favorite. “She leaves her anxiety behind as she dips and dives beneath the waves with a confidence I hope to one day see on land.” We are in Florida as I read and so much of this rings true in our family too… And limbo- right there with you! A tricky, tricky places.

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  3. There is nothing quite like that brain baking, stifling heat of being captive in a car on a hot sunny day in Florida! I was right there in the car with you, took me right back to a very long car ride we had once with small ones.

    The ocean is my place of refuge, I try to stay awake on purpose through the night so I can hear the waves crash. I miss it. And she does gently coax us to unfurl. I loved spending those moments on the sand with you, thank you for generously sharing them.

    You introduced me to Julies’ blog, “Studies in Hope.” I think of her post that she wrote in January nearly every day, the one on everything counts. I hang on to that thought like a lifeline. Everything counts, nothing is wasted.

    Life is limbo isn’t it? In-between, always in the messy middle. These words, ” I can create something new on the base of all those broken, necessary, pieces.” resonated with me. I don’t understand how it happens, but I do know that all those broken pieces can create the most magnificent stained glass. The kind that take your breath away with their beauty.

    Peace to you my friend as you wrestle with this crossroad. I will look forward to reading whatever you write, you always touch my heart.

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    • I love this comment, Terri, and truly appreciate your kind words and support. We are of the same mind about the ocean. I remember when my parents had a house on the beach, I’d stay awake, too, listening to the soothing waves. And after my mom died, those same waves helped. I love that post of Julie’s, thank you for reminding me of her wisdom. This line of yours, floored me: “all those broken pieces can create the most magnificent stained glass” – gorgeous words!

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  4. Oh, I miss your words, Dana. This is spectacular. The image of your daughter in the ocean and wanting that confidence for her in life. The (completely relatable) you-should-have-seen-me-yesterday feeling.

    I detest being in limbo. There is nothing tangible to fix, to hold onto, to fight. Yes, this decision is yours. You’ll make the right one. Or you won’t. And then you’ll know. 💕

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    • Thank you for this comment, Sarah. It made my night 🙂 I am going to try and follow my own advice and stop fighting against limbo and let it float me out to sea.

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  5. Really beautiful post, Dana. I especially loved the line “I get the sense the current wants my children as much as I do, maybe more.”

    As for your limbo, I’d say there is a power in letting go. Maybe that novel had to be written to make way for the memoir…maybe it filled its purpose. I like what you say about life being limbo…but it’s change, too, a constant breaking down and building again, like your sand castles. There is no easy answer, but I’m sure whichever path you choose will be just what you need. xo

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    • Thank you so much, Tara. I feel like limbo and change are one in the same. As in, limbo is just the space between being born and dying, and everything that happens in between is life, and life inevitably means change. I have to let go of my need to figure out what is right, and perhaps trust that there is no true wrong, at least in this particular situation 🙂

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  6. I am in limbo right now, no question about it … but I am inching towards the realization that, just as you say, life IS limbo … this is all there is. Your words and evocation of that beach are so beautiful. Thank you. xox

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    • Thank you Lindsey, I am certain your last post was lingering in my subconscious as I wrote this. The life IS limbo is almost surely inspired by your words and wisdom 🙂

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  7. I do love those moments when you’re silent, morale is down, things are not good, and then you just melt and grin. The ocean can do that.
    We did Disney World for five days and then St. Augustine for four. Last year we did the reverse and I have no idea how we mentally pulled that off.

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    • We did two days at the beach (St. Pete’s) and then five days at Disney. It was our first trip, and afterward, the only thing I wished we had changed was to have done Disney first and then the beach. Because, although the beach is not as relaxing with kids these days, it was MUCH more relaxing than Disney! 🙂

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    • I love how you phrased that, Tamara, the melt and grin. I wish I could do that! But I’m more like, slightly soften and grimace 🙂 I definitely agree that there needs to be beach and (some) serenity after Disney!

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  8. Oh how I’m in limbo, yes, definitely. It really is so difficult to just be in it, to surrender as you say. Then again, maybe this is it – the constant surrendering to the magic stuff of life. Always love your posts ❤️

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  9. I’m not in a metaphorical limbo but I am in writing limbo. To that, I can completely relate. I have three different projects I could move toward now and each one is tempting in its own way. And each one is a challenge (read – scary) in its own way.

    Cheers to clarity for both of us. And I’m here if you ever want to talk it through.
    (I’ve been here before and I’ll be here again. Hopefully)

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    • Yes, writing limbo is just as tough! I think I’m in both 🙂 And I may take you up on talking it through… and the same goes for you. I really love both my projects, and I feel a definitely pull for the memoir, but I think I feel disloyal to my old beat up novel, and while I truly believe that idea still has potential and merit, I can’t help but drift toward the newer, shinier object.

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  10. “The beach is my touchstone. Every time I sit in the sand and it sticks to every part of my body, I always feel the urge to brush it all away before remembering to surrender.” Love this part! A beautiful way to capture that idea.

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  11. Dear Dana, At the risk of sounding too familiar, I have been thinking of you since you returned home and wondering how you’ve been processing your trip and the ups and downs you hinted at. I know that feeling of calcification, of wrapping your arms around self and feeling things close off. Of later feeling a thaw, of the warmth spending back through.
    Limbo is not a comfortable place for many of us. I tend to grasp at controllable things in moments of flux; at least, they seem controllable. I trust that you’ll find your way. But I know the finding can be stressful too. Sending all the best vibes and peace! Xo, Emily

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    • Emily, first of all, I’m sorry for the delay in responding to your lovely comment! Secondly, I am touched that you were wondering how my trip was. Isn’t it funny (and wonderful) how much we can care for one another even across the inter webs? My first draft of this post was a little too honest 🙂 and maybe TMI, but I think this version more succinctly describes the challenges of family vacations and specifically my own issues that I carry with me, no matter how beautiful the surroundings. Thank you again for reading, and for caring.

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  12. Dana, our whether was iffy in Fort Lauderdale as well. I laughed when I read what you wrote about the sand. My husband, daughter, and one son have sand aversion, where as I love the sand and the mess of it all. And my other two sons roll around in it. The beach has always been my happy place. For thirty years I lived with in five miles of the beach at all times. I really miss it. I am in limbo too, more so than ever. And the yin and yang of writing is a big reason why! Beautiful post.

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    • I was wondering how your trip was, Allie! Florida weather can certainly be iffy. I hope you got some nice enough days to enjoy the beach. Funny about sand! My mom hated it, and I think I inherited a little of that, but my father loves it, and in my heart, I absolutely do. Like you, I grew up close to the beach (more like 10 miles) and I took the proximity for granted. Now that I’m in PA, I really miss it, too. Thank you so much for reading 🙂

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  13. Love this. Yes, I am constantly in limbo.. I want to do, write, try EVERYTHING and I wish there were more hours in the day. I never know what to prioritize. And every time I say to myself “I need to sit down and give myself some space to prioritize” I don’t do it b/c… well, any number of excuses.

    And I thought it was just me, wondering self-consciously if I’m giving passersby the wrong idea about having a family on those occasions when no one is screaming, whining, or crying and we are all just looking generally happy.

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    • So funny, Pam, I feel the same way sometimes. When I have too many ideas floating around, it can be paralyzing. And I love that I’m not the only one feeling like a picture-perfect-family fraud sometimes! There should be a card we hand out to the onlookers, something like what I wrote, “You should’ve seen me yesterday” – ha!

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  14. Like so many other commenters, I am right there with you! I appreciate how you put words to this. Knowing I am not alone in my limbo is healing. I also find that out of every limbo moment in my life I have grown and my writing comes out clearer and firmer. At leafy we have that.
    Also- this is all why I moved to the beach. 😉

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    • Allison, I know you understand this! I wish I could move to the beach. Those pictures you’ve posted always make me nostalgic! Looking forward to hearing how your journey is going…

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