You can do everything “right” and things can still go horribly wrong.
I am facing this.
I am embracing this.
And yet, the question ‘WHY?’ pops up like a pesky fly, abruptly interrupting my thoughts, my focus, my joy.
But WHY did this happen?
The human need to figure out why a crisis occurred … where to place the blame… or at least find the rainbow in the cloud is mighty strong.
I am good at that last one—the ability to find the lesson therein, the opportunity for growth, the gift in the grief.
But I couldn’t do it this time. Oh, believe me, I tried. I turned this summer’s crisis on its head, over and over, looking for a crack that would let me see the prize inside.
But the more I turned, the more heartbreaking sides to the situation I saw, and the more guilt I felt for missing the signs that may have prevented it in the first place.
So, two weeks ago, I stopped turning the crisis over and over in my head. I set it down.
I said to myself:
“Something really bad happened, and I don’t know why. I may never know why.
This is what it is.
It just is.”
Once I stopped trying to find what wasn’t meant (or ready) to be found, I realized this created much needed space to ask myself one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves:
What do I need most right now to recover?
With a little time, honesty, and self-compassion, my heart indicated:
- I need quiet – I can’t take a lot of people right now.
- I need trustworthy people – I can’t handle those who just want to know things out of curiosity, not because they care.
- I need comforting things – I need cushiony insoles for my slow-to-heal foot, a tiny cat brush for when rambunctious Paisley lays beside me, books I can get lost in, orange-scented lotion to nourish my parched skin.
- I need time – I need to know it’s ok to take as much time as I need to process and heal. I need to know that those who truly love me will wait.
- I need connection – I need to feel solidarity with another human being, not the masses. I need to reach and be reached, one meaningful conversation, one reciprocal interaction at a time.
- I need familiarity – I need to engage in activities I know by heart, by soul, by hands.
That last need brought me to my muffin pans. I’ve lost count, but I believe I’ve made nine dozen batches of muffins in the past two weeks.
Making muffins is one of the most soothing, joyful activities I know how to do. I am a good muffin maker. There are no tunnels from over stirring. There are no mushy centers from underbaking. There is no animosity or resentment in the batter; it is truly a labor of love, which shows in the brown sugar carefully sprinkled on top before baking.
My specialty is banana muffins. I use a simple recipe that I can instantly turn to in the cookbook because it’s been used so many times. I’m pretty sure I know the recipe by heart, but I get it out anyway. I like to hear the crack of the cookbook and feel the flour-dusted page beneath my fingers.
My favorite part of the muffin-making process is placing the mini masterpieces on the cooling rack and watching them draw people out.
“I am soooooooooo hungry,” my youngest teen (who is looking more and more like a grown up these days) said upon arrival from school.
I excitedly told her that I’d made muffins.
“I don’t like banana muffins,” was her response.
What?! Since when? Those remarks popped in my head, but I didn’t say them out loud. Instead, I said, “Ok… suit yourself.”
As she rummaged around in the fridge, the most tender part of me, which is still recovering from crisis, said, “See? You don’t know her anymore. See? You missed something again.”
In an effort to connect to my logical inner self, I took a deep breath.
‘No,’ Logical Me stated. ‘Don’t make this into something it’s not. She does not want the muffin. You don’t have to take this personally… analyze it… or interpret it. It’s simply a choice. It is what it is.’
The next morning, I placed two muffins in separate baggies.
“Would you like to take these to your two friends at the bus stop?”
She considered it. And then said, “Ok.”
When she got home, she reported that since only one friend showed up, she gave one muffin to her kind bus driver and the other to her friend.
“Mom, Julia loved your muffin. She couldn’t stop talking about it. She wants the recipe.”
“Really?” I asked, feeling ridiculously happy over this simple news.
I then watched my daughter take a muffin out of the freezer and warm it up. She then proceeded to eat it – that banana muffin that repulsed her the day before.
“Can you make some more of these, Mom?” she asked between bites.
I told her I’d been thinking about taking some muffins to my friend from the grocery store who had to retire because of her poor health.
“Want to come with me to deliver them to her this weekend?” I asked.
I held my breath as my daughter considered. In the pause, I reminded myself to accept “what is,” rather than analyze, dig, or dissect the outcome.
“Ok. I’ll go,” she said. And a few days later, my daughter stayed true to her word.
After setting the bag of goodies on the elderly woman’s porch, I called her on speaker phone.
“Rachel? Is that you?” the woman said. “I am not doing well, darling. Thank you for checking on me.”
I told her I was so sorry to hear she was still in pain, and that I’d left a gift on her porch.
Over the speaker, we heard her slowly making her way to the door. There was a gasp… then, muffled sobs.
I looked over at my daughter sitting in the passenger seat, taking it all in. She held a look of surprise, tenderness, concern, compassion.
When the woman regained her composure, she said, “The doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with me. I have had so many tests. I am so tired, darling. But today… I am remembered.”
As my daughter listened to the shaky voice on the other line, she brought her hand to her heart.
There was something comfortingly familiar about this gesture, one that gave me peace about the increasingly complex, sometimes nearly unrecognizable teen sitting beside me.
Peace doesn’t come easy these days. The recent events in my family’s life have caused me to second guess everything I thought I knew. What doesn’t help is to pressure myself to find meaning in the heartache. What helps is say, “Maybe it just IS.”
Maybe it’s a chance to learn new ways to love my child… and myself.
Maybe it’s a chance to expand my empathy lens when I encounter a situation I have not lived.
Maybe it’s a chance to lean into what I know for sure…
I know how to make muffins.
I know people need to feel seen.
I know it’s important to talk about hard things.
I know love starts to look different as our kids grow, stumble, individuate, and overcome.
I know my responses in hard moments can add to the instability or ease it.
I know when bad things happen, we are not obligated to look for the “blessing in disguise.”
I know space to heal is created by acknowledging what IS.
This week, a thank you card from my elderly friend arrived in the mail.
In her fragile handwriting, one particular line stood out:
“Your kindness was like a bright ray of sunshine and made me forget my suffering for some time.”
I wondered how many times this beautiful soul has turned her troubling situation over in her hands and heart in hopes of finding WHY.
It’s a human response to find meaning in the incomprehensible.
But on a Sunday morning in September, this dear woman set down the heavy unknown for a moment and was lifted by love.
And I helped her do that.
I don’t know why she must go through this pain any more than I know why something bad happened to someone I deeply love.
But I do know I make great muffins… and I also make a great companion for life’s hardest journeys.
Both are labors of love that I will never pass up when given the chance.
Beloved friends, although I have stepped back from my social media accounts to tend to ‘life’s essentials,’ I am finding great solace, support, and community in my current Soul Shift group. Connection with people who allow us to show up as our most authentic selves is deeply healing and hopeful. If you sense this type of connection is needed in your life, please consider joining me in the mountains of North Carolina on Nov. 5-7 for my restorative, in-person Soul Shift weekend retreat. It would be my joy to meet you right where you are and make healing discoveries together. Click here for all the information.
For the banana muffin recipe, click here. Instead of using a bread pan, use muffin tins and bake at 400 degrees. I like adding chocolate chips to the batter and sprinkling the muffins with brown sugar and walnuts before baking.
Colleen Streetman says
Rachel, I have followed you for many years, and love your well thought out posts. Than you for always being here for everyone. Please take whatever time you need to deal with this. My new mantra is “What is, Is.” My husband and I are now in our mid-sixties and are dealing with health issues, trying to declutter a house we have resided in for 32 years with hopes of selling it and finding a place on a beach possibly in another country to retire. Sending love, positive vibes and hope that you find peace and renewal in your time away. Colleen
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear Colleen. I appreciate you so much.
I think there’s a beautifully subtle cosmic wink in her handwritten script, where she accidentally wrote kinness and left off the “d.” Kin-ness. We’re all kin to one another and this is Spirit’s reminder to us that we’re all one people, there’s no separation, no division except where it’s artificially inserted. To be kind to our kin is so very needed right now, and anyone can do it, if they simply try. I hope your path forward is smoother, Rachel, and I thank you for sharing your neighbor’s story with us.
Rachel Stafford says
Ohhh…. how I love this, Joe! You are a Noticer and a beautiful interpreter of life’s glorious details that others often miss. Thank you for sharing this gold with us!