Last weekend I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s, You May Want to Marry My Husband, a piece in which she creates a dating profile for her husband, Jason. (For those of you who haven’t heard of this piece, I urge you to read her words). The catalyst for her essay comes from an unfortunate and tragic circumstance – Amy is in hospice, dying of ovarian cancer.
On Saturday and Sunday, the words of this essay lingered in my head in surround sound. I texted the piece to my husband and put pleas on Facebook for others to read her candid, vulnerable piece. When I read through her essay, I kept asking, “How old is she? How many children does she have? How old are they?” The second time I digested her words, I cried. Her grace and generosity overwhelms.
Prior to reading her piece in the NY Times, I’d intersected with Rosenthal’s work once before. I read “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” earlier this year and revisited her work this past week. Her book impacted me differently as I reread certain passages, especially the following excerpt on “Wabi-Sabi.” She says in part, “I was noticing how more and more I was feeling both happy (actually, content) and sad at the same time. Happiness always seemed to be tinged with sadness, and strangely, vice versa. . . It is feeling content, peaceful, hyper-aware of loss, in awe, perfectly, gently happy/sad. What is the word?. . . Wabi-Sabi – As a single idea, wabi-sabi fuses two moods seamlessly: a sigh of slightly bittersweet contentment, awareness of the transience of earthly things, and a resigned pleasure in simple things that bear the marks of that transience.”
I’ve often reiterated my preoccupation with the pendulum swinging between happiness and sadness, and Amy’s word describes what I’ve felt so much of the time, this hyper-awareness that as much as I want to sink into happiness completely, I cannot, because the lingering edges of melancholy are underneath the scaffolding. I’d like to be clear on this point – I am not depressed or in a sad haze, but cognizant of how happiness and sadness are malleable places, morphing in a continuum, even if I may not realize it at the time.
She discusses dying on page 94 of her book and in it she says, “People are dying everywhere, all the time, every which way. What can the rest of us do but hold on for dear life.” This particular juxtaposition resonated and is a thread that not only runs through Amy’s book, but also is apparent in her Tweets as well. She once said, “for anyone trying to discern what to do w/ their life: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO. that’s pretty much all the info u need.” It’s such sage advice. Learning where we direct our gaze will likely reveal our life stories, one fragment at a time.
I’ve let this particular piece of advice linger in my head. On most days, I am paying attention to the universal. The sunrise and sunsets, the beauty of the random flower in my neighborhood, the need to keep order in my surroundings, as well as the yearning to direct my focus inward and try to develop a stronger sense of self in deciding what is important to me. Other days, the direction of my attention isn’t ideal. I focus on why I am not enough in my roles as wife, mother, writer, person and I let my discontent override the goodness in my day. It’s a challenge to make way for what is, instead of what isn’t every single day,
Spending a few days reading Amy’s words revealed many lessons that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter (at least not in the way she describes) and although I’ve never met her, she offered wise counsel, even though her intent may have been to write about her ordinary life. Her account of her life impacts me in ways I am not certain I fully comprehend. But I am grateful I’ve intersected with her lessons and of what a person I’ve never met has taught me.
Thank you, Amy.