I can remember just a few months back, sitting under a tree, lamenting the change of season. Spring was shifting into summer and, though I love summer, I could already feel a longing for the early bloom of springtime.
This was the first year, maybe ever, I felt present every day, open to the new life unfolding. I allowed myself to have my breath taken away at each turned corner, open to the surprise of a burst of yellow from the forsythia that always seem to appear first, then to the patches of pink tulips, drooping from the weight of their too-heavy heads. I loved crossing the street and being charmed by the powerful scent of hyacinths and the voluptuous lushness of cherry blossoms. I let it amaze and astonish me.
And then I began to mourn it, even before it was over.
This is a pattern of mine, missing things before they’re gone. Yearning to grasp a little longer even when I know they aren’t meant to stay with me. And then holding onto the memory of them far too long.
I wonder if there is ever a time in life when longing ceases to exist. If there is ever a moment when now is enough.
Some of my deepest relationships are with memory. Sometimes memory sits with me at the dinner table, talking to me as if we’re an old married couple reminiscing about how we met. Sometimes it curls up with me in bed in the middle of the night, wordlessly holding me so close I can almost feel it breathe. Sometimes it goes with me to work, sitting next to me in a meeting asking, “Wouldn’t you rather just talk to me, so we can remember? So we can remember the possibility of what was, of what could have been?”
I long for things that haven’t ever been real.
I think about the man I had a crush on a year ago and the one 10 years ago and the one almost 20 years before that, people I longed for so deeply the thought of them today brings the first flush of infatuation as fresh as when I met them. I can think of him, who I thought I couldn’t live without, in the long-sleeved white T-shirt tight and plastered to his muscular body and feel that same ache for him, exactly as I did all those years ago. I convinced myself that it was enough, that our story was to be romantic yet unrequited, something to remember fondly, to look back on wistfully. Longing does that—it allows the lies you tell yourself to seem real, or at least to think the possibility of what could have been is sufficient.
Longing holds on, even as the years pass by, clinging to the thought of what might have been. Is this what makes a life?
I think of the babies I never had.
Recently at my hair salon, a small child sat across from me. He watched a video on his mother’s iPad. As my hair was blown out, I watched him intently, impressed by his calm, quiet and engaged demeanor.
I looked at the little boy—probably about 5 years old—his tightly-curled hair cropped short, and thought he is what my son would have looked like had I ever given birth. My son would have been gorgeous, so cute he would seem edible, so well mannered even Emily Post would be impressed, so smart people would stop and listen to what he had to say. In front of me was this little boy who unexpectedly unearthed a craving I didn’t know I had.
An unfamiliar ache crept up through my body, and I was not sure how to process it.
I’d felt it once before, after reading the saddest story about a woman and her dying baby. She lived through this with as much grace and bravery as anyone can imagine, and I was moved to an odd stillness by her story. I sat in that space for a moment, not knowing what it was I felt or what to make of it.
Then the thought came. So powerful and certain and from the purest place, it surprised me.
I want a baby.
This was not a thought I’d ever had, not even from the youngest age. Most girls I knew had a certainty around this, the way they were certain that puppies and ponies were the key to happiness. I had a certainty about my ambivalence. It was a definite maybe. I’d always thought it was something I’d figure out later.
And then later came, galloping in all gritty and dirty and thrashing in the wind. And, it came with the realization that later is too late.
I, who was never sure if having children was for me, suddenly longed for a baby of my own. Those offhanded jokes I’d told about ‘me and my one good egg’ over the years now didn’t seem as humorous as they one did. Always thinking there would be time to decide —was it what I really wanted, to be a mother, or would I be content to live independently, for myself and no one else?—it is startling to realize that time has run out. I ran the clock down not realizing there was ever a chance of losing the game.
Longing fills the space made empty by all the things that never came to fruition. Wishing and hoping are the unlikely promises for the things that never stood a chance. Deep down, we really know those wishes and hopes and dreams don’t belong to us.
Still, we long for them.
As I get older, I’ve discovered a heightened sense of urgency, a knowing that there isn’t an endless well of time to count on. There’s a deep sense to get it done, now, before I’ve lived a life where I dreamed everything but accomplished nothing. Longing makes me realize that my deepest fear is not that I’ll be childless or loveless or less traveled, but that I’ll have done nothing I fantasized about when I was a child and dare to dream about in the present moment.
Maybe in between the ache of what wasn’t lies a sweetness. Maybe there’s a reason for all those things that didn’t happen, or did happen and turned out to be heartbreaking. Maybe life has other graces laying in waiting. Maybe longing is the roadmap that leads the way home.
And so in the space of longing, I trust in what is to come.
Dena Young is a writer and blogger living in the town of big dreams, New York City. Working in the publishing industry for the past 10 years, her former life in television production solidified her appreciation for the creative spirit. A hedonist by nature, you’ll sometimes find her catching the sunset or wandering through a museum, but – as a food lover to the core – she’s always in search of the next great thing to eat. Her blog “Goodness, Grace and Grub” is a celebration of all the pleasures in life. And as an optimist at heart, she believes that magic and grace are just a thought away.