Thursday, July 28, 2016

Being Normal

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
~Jeremiah 17:7-8

“‘Normal’ is just a setting on the dryer!” I said loudly, laughing at my own joke. I was 17, a skinny kid who had just graduated high school and wasn’t going to college. I was young, impulsive, brash, friendly, and above all, I was not— most certainly not, God forbid— normal. Ugh. The word sent shivers down my spine. I looked to my future fearlessly: I didn’t care if I crashed and burned, I didn’t care if all my dreams tumbled into ruin... as long as I didn’t end up stuck in the horror of normal.

And so I ventured forth into the world with that in mind. I didn’t go to college. I worked five odd jobs to support myself, ranging from teaching to acting. I quit some of those jobs and traveled solo around the US. I toured with a band. I visited Europe for six weeks. I married young. I hiked a 2,600-mile trail. 

It was amazing. I always had a story to tell, always had something that made me special, something that other people looked at and said, “Wow!” For the most part, I stayed far outside of the bounds of normal for almost a decade.

Then Zach and I bought a house. 

House-hunting (especially when you’re on a tight budget) is stressful enough, but the week before we moved, I found myself in a violent emotional upheaval. I knew that I wanted to buy a house— I never wanted to rent again— but seeing thirty years of my life quantified on paper was terrifying. It felt like a bigger commitment than marriage. 

We bought the house and moved in. I nested and enjoyed this newfound adulthood (I can track in mud if I want to!) but a piece of me didn’t live there— it was still flitting around, staring at all the phantom adventures that might’ve been if only I hadn’t turned normal. 

Summer passed and winter settled over the world. In the starkness of the gray weather, it really began to hit me: I had a mortgage payment, and utility bills, and a houseplant, and dental insurance, and a basement that sometimes flooded, and a cupboard full of canned beans. I was normal

I didn’t know what to do with that.

I floundered around for a while, and finally realized that I was searching for a new story to tell. I found one and devoted myself to pursuing it, but some part of me was still fluttering through the sky, refusing to be pinned down. Part of me just couldn’t deal with it.

For this and other reasons, a friend suggested I go see a counselor. I did, and he began to help me identify what was going on in my inner landscape. I took lessons in introspection (seriously, I had no idea how to do it). I questioned everything. I tried to dig deeper to figure out why that little bird inside me wouldn’t come to roost. I challenged my assumptions about what should be. I stared at my identity and asked myself who I really was.

Changes are gradual, and I didn’t realize I was making progress until a few weeks ago, when Zach and I left for Audiofeed Festival. The morning we left, I took my watering can and made the rounds through the garden, giving my peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes one last drink. 

As I watered the forest of kale in the front yard, I realized something: I was excited about our trip, but I was just as excited to come home afterward.

I stood in the yard, dumbfounded at this feeling that had seemingly popped out of nowhere. All at once, I didn’t feel like a bird. I felt like a tree. I felt my roots in the earth and my leaves in the sky. 

It stunned me.

For a while, I didn’t trust the feeling, thinking it might be a phase. But at the festival, I was chatting with a woman I’d just met, and she asked me what I did. 

I paused, thinking of all the stories I used to tell, all the fascinating, non-normal things that had been part of my identity for so long. Then I said, “Well, my husband and I work, and we own a house near the Missouri River. We liked taking walks, and I garden. I live a pretty normal life.” 

The woman studied me for a second. Then she asked, “And have you found joy in that?” 

For a second I was surprised at her frank question. Then I smiled, the kind of smile that begins in your heart before it reaches your lips. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I have.”

As I spoke, I could feel my roots in the ground, searching their way ever deeper. I was normal. I am normal. And for the first time, I’m at peace with that.



  1. I'm so glad you're learning about introspection! I'm a little too good at it to be honest. I've spent the past couple of months coming to terms with quitting my job and being a "normal" stay at home mother, so I feel like I can relate to a certain degree. Now my challenge is to stop focusing inward and start focusing outward again. This means focusing on people and the greater scheme of things. It was wonderful that you came to Audiofeed and I'm glad you met people who ask those kinds of questions! Love it!!

    1. Thanks! I think there are two phases to any sort of life change-- first processing it and adjusting yourself, then using that solid core to move outward to impact other people. Now that I'm a tree, I can help out other people who are still birds! :)