On a two month road trip last summer, we found ourselves in Savannah, Georgia, and people recommended that we visit Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure is beautiful in a Southern haunting way. Spanish moss hangs abundantly from the huge and magnificent live oaks, giving it that eerie feel. It is dotted with sculptures, some breathtaking. The cemetery still takes new residents, but when you walk into it, it feels like you are walking back in time. It is the resting place of military generals, Savannah officials, poet Conrad Aiken and Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer.
Time and space opens up in a place like Bonaventure. A cemetery is humbling. You walk around and you see all these people, some of whom died recently, some who died long ago, and you know that one day you’ll move on as well. Being aware of this truth brings a poignancy and power to our lives that we miss when we pretend we will live forever.
I noticed that the vast majority of gravestones spoke to the way the person treated and served others. The grave stones said things like: “Devoted mother and wife.” “Dedicated selflessly to his community.” “Put his love of others above all else.”
I thought of how much conflict co-parents can be in, and how this distress makes them behave. I thought of the ways I behaved in my co-parenting situation. What if our gravestones portrayed these things? “Worked tirelessly to make sure their children had less time with their other parent.” “Remained bitter about their ex until the day they died.” “Made sure their children knew how terrible their other parent was.” “Refused to forgive and move on.”
OK, I realize this sounds silly, but is it? Of course we wouldn’t put this on a gravestone, but do we want to go to the grave bitter, resentful, hateful, angry or frustrated? If not, when is the time to shift out of those exhausting stances? We don’t have forever. What’s wrong with right now?
When we are caught in the throes of fear and emotional reactivity, when we are fearful, angry, frustrated, resentful or anxious, we forget a lot of things. We forget that our lives are short and fleeting, and that the things we are are worried about in the moment will pass and be quickly forgotten. We squander moments on anxiety and frustration, instead of connection; on resentment instead of love.
As I walked through the other-worldly Bonaventure I pondered my place in time and space. I felt myself as a moment in a long timeline of moments, and a life in a long string of lives.
I realized that the time to love is now. In every moment, we have the opportunity to turn toward love. Turning toward love can be hard, and not mushy. It can mean giving in on something for the sake of our children, even if it means having to sit with difficult emotions. It can mean resting in an ocean of fear or grief to do what’s in the best interest of our children.
Choose to love. Chose to face your fear and let go for your child’s sake. Don’t try to possess your child. That is not love. Love is the ache in your heart when you let them spend Thanksgiving with their other parent even though it hurts you. Love is trying to see the best in you child’s other parent because it benefits them when you do so. Love is never putting them in the middle and never trying to convince them that their other parent is bad. Love is finding compassion for your co-parent because it benefits your children to do so. Love is never seeing the battles you have with your ex as winning or losing, because when one parent wins, the child loses.
I try to imagine death on my shoulder as often as I can. When I know that death is inevitable, I think harder about the choices I am making right now. I know that I am here to learn to love. I know that love is a choice, and not an easy choice. I hope my grave stone read: “She wasn’t perfect, but she tried her best to love.” What do you hope your grave stone will say?