I woke up this morning to find a former student posted an old picture of me in their Instagram stories. It was marked with the date it was taken, a throwback of sorts, but I knew before I referenced it that I was looking at the me from the years that ask questions.

I knew from looking at my face that this was the me plagued by two uncertainties that felt entirely out of my control.

Would I get to be a mother?

Would this cancer kill my father?

The woman in the photo has lost one baby, and then another. She had buried her grandfather, someone she considered to be the human embodiment of unconditional love, and learned later that very same day that her father had been giving a somewhat dismal prognosis. She both craved and feared hope.

I began this blog to heal from this period in my life and this is work that I am still undertaking. In therapy, I expressed that my fundamental goal is to be a person who trusts in her resilience, who doesn’t anticipate misfortune around each corner, who doesn’t feel like she’s one unlucky day away from boomeranging back to the girl in the photo.

Part of that work is giving myself permission to feel joy when I glimpse it. It has made me protective of my happiness. I’m in a place where I have an abundance of time for the first time as an adult and I’m having more and more say about how that time is spent. Savoring moments with my daughters feels inevitable when I’ve gotten to exercise and shower in the same day. Sunshine on my shoulders still feels like the palm of a wise friend who sees me and loves me and encourages me to grow wildly in whatever direction I please. I’ve noticed lately that strangers are grinning at me only to realize that it’s because I’m smiling somewhat manically at them. I’m that happy to simply be here in a year with more answers than questions.

This picture was taken in January 2015. Both of these questions would be answered before the next year began, but the fashion in which the verdict was rendered and the arduous months that followed would raise more questions I’m still trying to answer.

Will I figure out how to move through this world without a perpetual lump in my throat? Will I learn to love with an appropriate ferocity, one that isn’t so constantly cognizant of how quickly that love can be rendered into a burden by loss? Will I be able to sit with myself and my heart in stillness and feel whole in the present moment and not broken by the past or fearful of the future?

My father would not survive the cancer.

I would get to be a mother, now somehow twice over.

The lump is still there, but I think it’s gotten smaller. My love still feels loaded, like it could be weaponized due to its sheer force. Each day I practice sitting in stillness, opening myself up through gratitude, compassion, and ultimately that dangerous darling of the human condition – hope.

As I make my mental list of what I want out of the day, it’s been astounding to see that most days, it’s something I can achieve. I crave connection with my family. Appreciation of the beauty around me. Time and space to grow and learn. Articulation of words that can bridge the distance between me and many of those I love dearly. I hope for these things, and then I do what I can to make them reality.

And today, during my moment of compassion, I tried to reach through time to the girl in the picture. How desperately she needed a future me to hold her hand and plaster her cracking heart. Not to spoil the endings, but to reinforce that she’d survive until life played its uneven hand, that she’d let grief run through her veins until time diluted it enough that each paper cut didn’t fill the room with a cloud of despair, that she’d learn that sometimes, getting your heart’s deepest desire is the beginning of a complicated narrative instead of the happily ever after you expect. That the surviving would give way to living and with more time and twists she’d never be able to expect, it may even someday give way to thriving again.

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