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You can know people and not know them.

At any given moment, things can turn a corner.

I know this is true.

Last week I had a birthday. Most birthdays are ho-hum affairs. A little extra attention from the family and a close friend but otherwise, meh.

This birthday came at me like a sudden summer cloudburst, raining down shock and awe in the form of a surprise birthday party.

On a weeknight. At a friend’s house. It was festive and fancy.

There was a Pinterest page devoted to the planning and execution of it.

Seriously, this is not the status quo for me. This, along with a few other surprise developments, are the exhibits to make the case that my life has changed dramatically in the last year. I’ve engaged with the real world one hundred fold in the last year. I’ve opened myself up to any possibility. I’ve allowed vulnerability into my life and acquiesed to offers outside my comfort zone. I’ve tried to put others before myself to be part of the “village” that we all like to talk about so much.

The results stun me at times. I’m still a fawn on wobbly legs most days, making the mistake of expecting from others what they cannot give. Some days I expect too much from the universe. On those days I see how my ego is still running the show.

The other side of this is that 100 percent engagement in real life means a major drawback in the online world. And it’s not just me. I scrolled through my blogroll (I know, that’s so 2005.) and many of my favorite, longtime blogging friends have vanished. They’ve moved on, vaporized, left behind polite but vague messages, given up, or reinvented their online persona.

While I doubt I’ll close this site, I’ve certainly scaled back. That’s fine with me. I never had the big numbers. I’ve made some amazing connections and that’s just bonus material. I need a place to write and this is it. If someone, or two, comes around and likes what they see, thank you. If not, I’m OK with that, too. I’ve learned that online engagement is an enhancement, a side dish, to the entrée of life.

And last week that entrée was a bizarre tribute to me and the community that holds me up. As bizarre as it is to even write that sentence, I accept it as the new normal.

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Right now

MZ archives

Right now.

It’s all I have. It’s all you have, too.

So simple. So difficult.

If right now is on a sunny beach, with a gentle breeze caressing your cheeks and a cold beverage is parked nearby, now is a great place to be. If now is trapped in your car on the 402 in Ontario, now is a personal challenge. There are so many nows between those extremes, each with its own set of emotions and expectations.

On a recent right now, I gathered with a group of people I know and we talked about this whole idea. We’re working through some things together: Can we be happy where we are right now, even though we haven’t found the perfect mate, or landed the great-paying job, or made our mortgage payment for the second month in a row, or renovated our kitchen so that it’s on scale with all our friends and neighbors? Can we?

We talked, had lunch, and then helped one of the group members paint their new home. It was a cathartic afternoon.

In that right now:

I shared a real laugh, like I haven’t in some time, that came from deep within and released so much stress and sorrow.

I cringed as I realized I still have work to do in the self-editing department.

I felt the warm embrace of a community.

I got a little light-headed on paint fumes.

The wistful face of the little girl who would occupy the room I was slathering in liquid lilac looked up at me balanced on the ladder with both impatience and excitement. I heard her unspoken: When will you be done?

Never, I thought to myself. I need to keep painting.

Outside the sturdy old walls of this home, the world was a cottony blur as a major winter storm pounded the landscape. The arctic winds slapped around the heavy snow, sending it screaming through window cracks. I felt its icy tendrils wrap around my neck and ankles as I moved around the drafty room. On the obliterated walkways, dark figures trudged through the deepening drifts.  Did they have a warm place to call home? A bubbling pot of stew on the stove waiting to fill their empty bellies? Did they have a community on which they could heap their problems, both real and trivial?

Right now: I feel like I’m up to my neck in quicksand. Some days. Not all.

Don’t flail about, I’m told. Just sit still. Look at that quicksand. How big is it, really? How much of it did I truck in on my own vehicle of pitiful embellishment?

Maybe, upon quiet examination, the sea of quicksand is really a puddle. Maybe I can look at it this way:

Right now, it’s OK.

It’s OK that my mother will find fault with everything I do, with how I’m raising my daughters, with how I’m celebrating Christmas, with how I choose to spend my free time.

It’s OK that I get angry at my children for pushing my buttons.

It’s OK that my life isn’t as lavish and exciting as some of my friends’ lives. It’s OK that I have a warm home, a refrigerator full of food, a cozy bed, and all my utility bills paid while some families huddle in shelters.

It’s OK that I’ve painted outside the lines.

Right now, having the right people around is everything.