mountains

September Inhale & Exhale

· 9 min read ·

“Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary.”

Is this day amazing, awful, or ordinary? Every day is an opportunity to answer this question.
Is this day amazing, awful, or ordinary? Every day is an opportunity to answer this question.

I am writing this on September 29th, exactly one month after returning home from our European adventure, and a month after my post “On Returning Home.” Since touching down at Boston Logan airport, I’ve been intentional about simply experiencing life at home, instead of trying to “figure it out.” Part of this experience includes more feeling, and less writing/analyzing; hence the break in posts. One month in, I have some things to share:

Just a few days after returning home, James and I shot off to my family’s lake-side cabin in Canada. It’s the place that I’ve been going to each summer since I was a kid, it’s the place I think about when I can’t fall asleep at night, it’s the place my mom lovingly treasured and captured in her nature photography. Four summers have passed since my last visit there, so I knew I had to make it a priority to get there before the season’s end. I was excited for James to experience the sights and sounds that align so closely with my heart, and I felt I would be able to honor my mom during the days spent there.

We were fortunate to share a couple of the days at the lake with my grandparents and uncle. It was lovely to catch up with them and my Oma got us hooked on crosswords, which we did as a group after dinners. I’m mildly garbage at crosswords, so I assumed the pen-holder position. When not cross-wording, we took dips in the chilly lake, kayaked, read, needlepointed, cooked (always), and generally lazed around.

It was easy livin’! But it wasn’t always easy at all — The essence of my mom was everywhere and, though I was persistent in genuinely recognizing that, the protective part of my brain also wanted to block the sense of loss. As I’ve already learned, swallowing emotion creates ample opportunity for emotions to bubble up and bubble over.

One afternoon when I was having a particularly difficult time, I went out for a bike ride. I had brought my mom’s Cannondale bicycle with us and, as I rode through the graveled path out to the smooth asphalt, I breathed memories in and out. The bike I rode had been purchased from an annual bike swap in Nashua, New Hampshire. I remember how thrilled she was when she told me over the phone about this exciting purchase, and how she had never imagined buying such a nice bike for herself! She likely rode it wearing her bright pink sneakers, another exciting purchase. I remember the time she posted a photo of her new pink shoes to Facebook — “Haven’t told these pink sneakers yet about their first 5k tonight! Hope I don’t finish last!”

These memories, of her cancer-free health and of her endless joy, are the ones that I hope to keep close at hand. If you’ve lost a loved one to an illness, you’ve likely had an internal battle of memories — those of their healthy life and those of them being overtaken by sickness. The latter are the more recent and easily accessible, but they don’t represent the whole at all. And so, her bike below me, I inhaled the good memories and exhaled those sick memories that seemed to be stuck somewhere between my heart and my stomach.

Back at the cabin, I read through her limericks still showcased on the fridge, I followed her in “drinking in the moment” of each day, and James and I spent quiet times watching birds and the unbelievably beautiful sunrises and sunsets — no doubt a gift from her to us.

After Canada, we headed to Vermont to visit and send off our friends Brooke and Ethan, who are currently on a road trip to their new home — Victoria, British Columbia! We stayed a few nights with them and continued our new tradition of staying up doing crosswords! It was nice for us to spend some time with friends that are also in a time of transition and that both have such an entrepreneurial approach to their careers — Brooke is the founder of successful needlepoint brand, Thorn Alexander 2, and Ethan is a marine-focused engineer specializing in ocean plastic identification and reduction. We are so proud of their accomplishments but even more proud of the people they are, dedicated to supporting one another and making this world a more lovely place.

From Vermont, it was back to New Hampshire for us! Outside of the quick trip to New York and Vermont, which James wrote about, and a couple of drives to Boston, we’ve mostly spent our time at my house with my sister and father. This lifestyle is certainly a change from backpacking our way through Europe. Instead of walking miles of city-scape, we are running through forested trails again. Instead of living out of our bags, we have some diversity in our wardrobe (still not much!) and wash our clothes on a regular basis. Instead of searching for WiFi hotspots, we are spending hours on the phone with healthcare professionals and setting up doctors’ appointments and I actually found myself whistling the hold music the other day…

What do I have to say about this? It’s not worse. It’s not better. It just is.

My old self would be furiously planning the next chapter (or, more likely, would have already planned it months ago), would be anxious to setup a slew of social events, and would be designing an assortment of personal metrics and goals. 1 My old self would be pressed to see the full value of where I am and what I’m doing now. Right now, I honor my moments of sadness, I honor my bedtime, and I cherish the time at home with my family. There is no rush, I realize, only self-imposed bounds of time and the ability to adapt expectations. Right now, we are cooking up some plans … but we are also leaving a hefty amount of room for the universe to happen.

My mindset has not been predictable nor controllable. James will attest to the fact that, since arriving home, my levels of energy and joy are sky high, which is a testament to the level of comfort I feel at home. I am dancing around the kitchen, leaping through the living room, and getting even more inspired in my cooking and fitness endeavors. In this way, I can feel a sense of “coming home to myself” and to my rooted sense of purpose. I didn’t expect this. I also didn’t expect the darker sides of my mindset, including a set of days where I felt, as my friend Tessa would say, “dark and twisty.” Often we try to pin our anger and darkness on a specific event because it helps in our rationalization of our own mind (good luck!) but just as often we are overlooking something deeper. Sometimes we are just having a bad hour, day, or week. And this is just as human, just as acceptable as the flawless days of joy.

During this specific set of days I mentioned, I attended a yoga class back in Boston, back at the same studio where I earned my 200 hour certification. Wow — was that a journey! Have you ever done a familiar activity after a shift in your life has occurred? How did it feel? The last time I was in the same yoga class (in January) I was living and working in Boston, I was yearning to cut ties from my seemingly ordinary life, and I was still dreaming about a backpacking adventure across Europe. Here I was in September, in the same space, physically doing the same movements, surrounded by many of the same people, but internally there was such a palpable shift.

I had been in a dark place in the days leading up to the class but suddenly felt release and relief. Coming home to my mat, to myself, to my truth. At the end of the class, David (the instructor who also co-lead my 200 hour certification) shared a quote by L.R. Knost:

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”

I felt this deeply. While part of me agreed with it… I also had many questions. I’ve always felt that your highest highs can also trigger your lowest lows, and vice versa. Often, times of tragedy cause communities to come together, death falls on the heels of new life, and people exit our lives, but beautiful days will still happen. In hearing this quote I wondered how quickly “normal” people experienced amazing and awful and ordinary and I questioned which one I was feeling.

I’m living at home, I’m at a yoga class, nothing crazy happened today… so is that ordinary? But wait, I’ve been feeling terrible lately and crying at the drop of a hat and missing my mom at home… so that’s awful, right? Yes, but what about the amazing trip you just returned from, your new-found time with your sister and dad, and your fiance who’s thrilled to go 30 minutes out of the way to pick you up at class? And what about your body that was just able to do this crazy thing you wanted it to do for an hour and a half? That’s pretty amazing I’d say!

This internal conversation spurred memories of the awful amazing past summer. Amidst my mom relapsing, I was dating someone new. My first relationship in nearly 8 years. We had dinner on the back porch and she gave James a “trophy” (a 603 New Hampshire shirt) for his first visit to our home. My mom faced another battle but made it all about everyone else. A month and change later and we were at the funeral. James was still by my side. I knew we both had the option to walk away, even for a short while, and at moments I was tempted to do if it would bring us independent relief. Learning how to love with a broken heart was one of the most challenging and beautiful things I’ve ever experienced in my life. That is the intersection of the awful and amazing.

The ordinary is also extraordinary; it’s all in the way that you tell your story. My old self would imagine days spent at my childhood home to be ordinary. My current self sees them as being just as special as the days gallivanting around Europe. To those who have an ordinary week coming up or who live a “mundane” day-to-day, watch out! — you may be living the most interesting life of them all! There is beauty to be found in each and every corner, it just depends on how willing and patient you are in finding it.

So for now, the She & Jim story is told from a good ‘ol New Hampshire town. We’re working on our City Guides, Travel Hack Guides, Recipes, and other musings, and we’re finding bits of the extraordinary in every day. Look for more to come!

Taking time to do some therapeutic stitching in Canada.
Taking time to do some therapeutic stitching in Canada.
Sun over the lake in Canada. My mom always made sure to catch the sunrise and sunset, so we did too.
Sun over the lake in Canada. My mom always made sure to catch the sunrise and sunset, so we did too.
Being able to grab coffee with my sister is amazing! We acknowledge how much my mom would have loved to be a part of it, as well as all the quality time we get to have right now.
Being able to grab coffee with my sister is amazing! We acknowledge how much my mom would have loved to be a part of it, as well as all the quality time we get to have right now.
My dad and me, enjoying a blue-bird day on a New Hampshire lake with my mom’s brothers.
My dad and me, enjoying a blue-bird day on a New Hampshire lake with my mom’s brothers.

  1. This is best demonstrated by my year of “monthly goals,” which I made up and completed myself. Each month was a different goal, such as “writing x number of letters,” “trying x amount of new sports,” “listening to x albums from start to finish and researching the story behind them.” The year before that was interesting as well — swimming every month in a river. Also completed alone.

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  2. Pssst — I also happen to write a weekly newsletter for this brand, which includes uplifting content and inspiration. If you want to subscribe and get some weekly love in your inbox, just visit the site and put your email info in at the bottom of the homepage!

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Adventure travel blog by James Simone & Sheila Murray. Travel along with them on their backpacking trip(s) as they actively explore the American West, Europe and beyond:

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