I wrote this article years ago but feel it pertains to this time in a profound way. If you have read it before, perhaps when you read it again, it will take on a very different meaning.
As we move into very uncertain times, we may long for the old... we may want to hold onto the safe secure, stable life that was before.
But in the process of holding on, we are denying what is and are unable to move forward into the winter we find ourselves in and adapt in a healthy way. We are unable to show up for ourselves and others in a way that is needed.
I realize it's scary to let go. And that's ok. We're in winter now, and it's dark and cold everywhere.
But just as certain as day follows night, spring will follow winter.
Before my personal end-of-the-world started, I’d heard about this legendary mid-life crisis thing. I had never really given much thought to it because, of course, a mid-life crisis was only something that happened to, you know, those “other” people.
I was confident that I’d never have to experience anything like that because I was a reasonable, emotionally stable, spiritual as all get out, and grounded human being. I knew what would happen to me the rest of my life, and beyond. I’d have babies, be a good wife and mother, serve in my church, worship God, and one day when my life was over, I’d get into heaven and live happily ever after with my family. I wasn’t one of those (said in a derogatory tone) people who worked too hard all their lives and never got to have any fun, and suddenly found out that they wanted to sleep around, and party like there was no tomorrow, and dye their hair, and reclaim their youth in a variety of age inappropriate ways.
That would never be me. Never. Ever.
In my mind, I would gracefully pass by this mid-life crises thing, sad for the people who experienced it, but happy, and ever so slightly prideful I wasn’t one of them. I was following God’s plan for my life, and so certainly, He would guide me down a path without too much difficulty as I continued to live His commandments. As long as I prayed, our family would stay together. As long as I attended church and served there, I would be blessed. As long as I kept having unwavering faith, I’d be set for time and eternity. As long as I endured to the end, I was set for everlasting happiness.
Little did I know that the Universe had a much greater plan for me.
Little did I know that I knew nothing about Love or faith.
My outer and inner world started to unravel the year I turned thirty-nine. It was an early mid-life crisis/awakening/end-of-the-world of epic proportions kind of an undoing. Even in all my praying and service and obsessively reading self-help books and scriptures, I could never have prepared for something as devastatingly ruinous as this phase in my life.
I didn’t realize my inner home was a shack/dump, and that it’s fall would feel like the end of me.
Before this breakdown, I thought I was a rock, that my inner world was built on faith, love, and truth. With brute strength and force I held everything together, whether they were meant to be held together or not. I thrived on being in control and planning and knowing what my future entailed. I didn’t know there was a completely different way to live life than I had been living it—an easier way, a go-with-the flow way. I didn’t realize that I was living in the Universe of Fear, in the land of self-rejection and self-abandonment. It all felt “normal” to me, although I was really good at pretending I didn’t see or feel something was off. I didn’t see my personal end-of-the world coming. Not at all. I didn’t think I needed one. And I definitely didn’t realize how my personal end of the world would be my awakening into a new and much, much better Universe.
It all started as the leaves started to change color.
I found myself in New York, living on Long Island with my husband of eleven years with our three children. My marriage had been dying for years, and I had just left the religion I had grown up in—my entire reality, swept from under my feet, beliefs I had based my entire life on, gone. Now, I won’t go into the crushing process of leaving a religion as encompassing as the Mormon religion—that’s a subject for another time—but I will say that parting ways with my former faith allowed for many doors to be opened for me. It allowed me to look my life squarely in the eyes and get real for the first time in my life.
Everywhere, the leaves were turning yellow and red and orange, and since we lived in a large, old house built in 1932 surrounded by tall, beautiful trees, it was a particularly breathtaking autumn. In previous years we had lived in Florida, and so we didn't have the seasons there. New York was an absolute haven this time of year.
Upstairs, in the old red brick house, there was a window in our master bedroom. If you looked outside, you could see the little pond with coy fish below, the broken pool with the torn cover, and the tall, majestic trees that surrounded our property.
As autumn slowly gave into winter, the ground became littered with thousands of colorful leaves. And over the course of a few weeks, there were no more leaves on the trees, and everything was bare.
But right outside the bedroom window, there was this one little leaf that just wouldn't let go. It held on. Through the first snowfall, it clung to its branch, and every time I would glance out the window, I would check to see if the leaf had fallen. If it had succumbed to winter, to death. But every time I checked, it was still there. So brave. So determined. So willful.
Christmas came and went, and every time I would peek to see if the leaf was still there, it would wave at me, gently swaying in the breeze, the only leaf out there, all others far moved on. Every other leaf had embraced change. But this leaf would not, a rebel in its own right.
At the time, I thought the symbolism of its stick-to-itness was a beautiful thing. This leaf was clearly so strong. So resolute. So wild with life to not give in even when it had clearly been long past the time since it should have lost the battle. It didn't give up. It didn't give in. It held on despite overwhelming obstacles.
Then one late winter morning, I checked to see if my little leaf was still there, but it had disappeared. It was a silly thing, but I felt sad that the leaf was gone. I missed it. How could I miss such an insignificant thing? That leaf was nothing to me, really.
Or was it?
For a few moments I wondered why in the world that shriveled, brown, lifeless leaf meant anything to me at all. There were millions, billions of leaves all over the world. This one wasn’t any more significant. It shouldn’t have caught my attention, or made me feel something when I looked at it. So, when it had vanished, why did I feel I had lost something?
Then it dawned on me. Somehow, deep inside, I identified with that leaf, with the holding on. Here it had been clinging onto the branch as if its life depended on it. And here I was holding on for so long, holding onto a marriage that was painful and dead.
I could no longer deny the similarities: that I was that little leaf.
That I was still holding on far past what I should have. I would not let go of my marriage even though autumn should have been my exit. Snow came and I held on. Death was everywhere, but I insisted on keeping my marriage alive when it was dead. Because to me, marriage was more sacred than the individuals inside that union. In fact, I had vowed I would remain married not only for time, but for all eternity. And being the obedient, good girl I was, even though fall came, I held on to my vows, white-knuckled and stubborn. Through winter, I had obstinately held on.
But in that moment, although I was not in the least bit ready to admit or see that the marriage was dead, I got as real as I had ever been, and I just knew that the relationship between my husband and I was irreversibly broken. Shattered. Dead. But fear held me back. I was too scared of the unknown, and I couldn’t fathom letting go even though the dearth of winter was all around.
Even thinking the thought of giving up, it made me feel like an instant failure of a human being and woman. Although the leaf had given up, had lost the battle, had failed, I would not let that happen. The leaf had become just yet another casualty of the frigid winter. “But, I am not a leaf,” I told myself. “And I’m not about to let this crazy insight determine whether I stay in my marriage or leave.” Immediately, I told myself:
I can’t give up. I’m not a giver-upper.
I can’t lose. I am not a loser.
I can’t fail. I refuse to be a failure.
I tried to convince myself like I had so many times before that if I just worked harder, the past summer would return. I just need to hope more. Pray more. Believe more. I loved my husband. Oh, how I wanted this marriage. Oh, how I would give anything, even my own sanity, my own voice, and my own health to make it work.
So for a while longer, I ignored feeling or acknowledging the “knowing.” And I stubbornly held onto the past, to a past that no longer should or could be my present, willing the dream of the prior summer to return. I tried to force things to make the marriage work, but soon we both hurt, aching incessantly.
Because autumn always comes when it is supposed to. And not only that, it is beautiful, it is right.
One day a few months later, I woke up, fully seeing my white knuckles and clenched teeth, completely witnessing my bleeding, broken, aching heart. I realized I couldn’t clutch onto the past while simultaneously try to believe in a new, better future. I couldn’t live in the previous summer and get to the next one. I couldn’t sprout new life from a summer that had gone.
It was time to move forward. I knew it, and I finally acknowledged it deep inside.
As things began to unravel at lightning speed, I no longer cared to pretend a cringe-worthy mid-life crisis wasn’t happening to me. I was in survival mode. I had no pride left. But I naively did believe that if I just figured out how to get to Utah with my kids and how to keep moving forward in this life without Mormonism, I’d be set and I would waltz right out of this embarrassing crisis phase as if it had never even happened. Things would work out like a dance.
Little did I know that outer darkness was on its way. And that my life would get significantly worse before it got better.
Funny thing how when one tries to become truly authentic for the first time in one’s life, when one sheds the old beliefs, the false self, it’s starkly similar to being born again. But the challenge with being born again is that one is like an infant. Infants learn to walk by falling over and over and over. I was an adult infant who was trying to adult while simultaneously raising three kids, learning who I was for the very first time, trying to piece together a new reality without the religious lens, trying to wrap my head around moving across the country, separating from my husband, figuring out how to make ends meet, trying to not freak out because of a loss of sense of self and a loss of reality.
Letting go was scary, the scariest thing I had ever done. Yet, some all-powerful force inside me pushed me toward leaving—even before I felt I was fully ready. But as I let go, Something… Someone took advantage and flung me in the right direction.
It was summer again by the time I finally left. The leaves had returned and life was abundant everywhere. And although I hadn't decided to divorce yet, and wouldn't until the next spring, it was the first step in the right direction.
Autumn is beautiful. Glorious colors are everywhere, and if we embrace it and let ourselves fall, just like the leaves of autumn, if we just trust our inner voice and intuition and let go with love and trust and faith, we will fall into the arms of grace. We will miss the familiar that what was. We will feel empty and dead inside for a time. And in the midst of death and winter we will even perhaps think that summer will never come again.
But it always, always does.
Much Love, Evelyn