Life or Death. Really?

I woke up the other day with a big knot in my stomach. Not really a surprise, as I’d been expanding at a tremendous rate for the past months and was bound to hit some “upper limit” stuff.

Unfortunately, on days like that, the anxiety tended to get worse and worse. My writing felt uninspired; two clients complained about concerns. And I’d just spent three hours on a computer program feeling like a 5-year-old in algebra class.

I knew I was hitting overwhelm in a big way, could hear those swamp monsters getting louder and louder. “What were you thinking? How will you pay for all of this? You’ve bitten off way more than you can chew.”

At noon, I’d had enough. It was time to take a break and head over to my mom’s for a visit. The whole time I was driving, I could feel my muscles tightening, and that chatter going to town.

My mom was a little firecracker, literally at 4’11. Eighty-four years old, spry, generous, with a laugh that made strangers smile. And though her memory was slipping, she could be a bolt out of the blue with her statements.

Over our traditional cup of coffee, she asked how my day was going. And off I went, grateful for an audience to my frustrations and fears. She listened for a few minutes before bluntly asking, “But is it life or death?”

“Huh? What?” I reeled back, immediately thinking this was my business. I had important work to do. I needed to make a difference in the world. I’d invested so much time and money into it.

“But is it life or death?”

Coming from her, this was a serious question. You see, my family was Jewish. My mother was a youngster living in Paris when the Nazis rumbled in and she and her family had to leave everything behind to escape. By some miracle (that is another story), they were able to slip out of the city and go into hiding.

She never finished school, and though she didn’t talk about it much, I knew she remembered the hiding, the fear, the lack of food, the true terror of being discovered. There was a cousin who’d died and they never told the authorities so they could hold onto her ration card. 

I looked at my mother, with her big green eyes, her gnarled fingers, her ever-present smile, and her great big heart. It made me ponder her question. And the reality of my response.

On the drive home, I was much calmer. I breathed deeply as my perspective shifted and I remembered all the times I didn’t feel ready. When I quit my job to go harvest grapes in France. When I started my landscape business and didn’t know anything about plants. When I gave birth to my daughter and didn’t know anything about being a mother. (Still learning).

She was right. Though life can be devastating at times, take us to our knees heartbreaking, there is nothing that is truly life or death, except life or death. So long as we have a breath to take, we can continue.

I knew the work I was doing was important. The vision of it carried me forward and brought me joy. I would figure things out. One step at a time. It would take what it took to get there. And every time I got a little freaked out, I would remember my mother and her question.


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