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It is a Monday. It isn’t a good or bad day, it’s barely even gotten started.

Yesterday evening I had a moment or two of down-deep grieving.

In one case, I experienced the pain and sorrow of seeing people dear to me behave in completely unacceptable ways, and however understandably so, still not okay.  Lingering concerns ride shotgun with me this morning as I ready myself for the day.

In the other case, the wee fish Wyatt surprised me after work by being dead.  That’s just not ever a fun sort of surprise.  As life lessons go, I would have preferred another day, a different fish, or not at all.  I wept without reservations, and found comfort with my partner, who was near-by reading, and as surprised as I was.  He’d also been enjoying looking in on the new guy now and then and had seen him moving about contentedly earlier in the day.  (Oddly, this bit of grief felt so intense in the moment, and seems to have passed.  To be fair, Wyatt had only been mine for about 5 days.  He hadn’t even left quarantine. )

I took it pretty hard in the moment, tears and a feeling of failure, blaming myself – what did I/didn’t I do?  As my emotions began to ramp up my partner turned up, put his hand on me gently and said ”fish die”.  My whole being paused for just a moment, hearing that.  Well, of course. “Fish die.” Yes, they do. Things that live eventually become something that died. Fish, people, dreams… “Fish die.”  It was simple, true, and an observation in the moment that helped me become grounded and calm.

I’m pretty human. I do have a brain injury, and post-traumatic stress. Keeping an aquarium is new for me, and filled with complex process work – I study the tasks and processes that support life in my aquarium as though there is going to be a final exam at the end of the semester. Of course there is; fish die.  It is my honor and responsibility to create a habitat for my fish that supports life for them, that allows them to thrive, not merely endure.  That sense of responsibility is one I bring to my other relationships, too, a step beyond ‘above all do no damage’.

I did some science-y stuff to ensure I learn what I can from the experience: tested the water, looked for process missteps (found a couple that ought not have proved fatal, but better attention to details would have prevented them nonetheless). I observed the environment closely after the fact and made notes about improvements on the next quarantine, and checked those observations against my thriving community tank to ensure I wasn’t carry errors from one to the other.  I made notes improving process steps for my quarantine tear-down/set up checklist. I took a few deep breaths, and said good-bye to Wyatt.  I cried. I cried like a little girl to find him dead.  Some of life’s curriculum is pretty deep.

Today is an entirely new experience. I woke calm this morning, and curious what the day will hold. I slept well and deeply.  I sit, sipping  my coffee, and considering the struggles we have as beings, some shared, some that feel so solitary.  I contemplate the choices we make, and how easily we can choose and choose again, and rage against the outcome of our own choices, seemingly unaware that if the outcome is repeatable, and predictably follows a specific identifiable choice, then we utterly control that experience, not only through our reactions to it, but through the choices that bring us there.  Don’t want it? Don’t choose it.  Simple enough, generally, however tough we may make the process of making a different choice.

Today I choose compassion. I choose tenderness. I choose kindness. Today I choose to smile; there is a lot to smile about. Today I choose eye-contact and conversation; we all spend far to much time feeling alone. Today I choose to change the world.

I’m nearing a year on a very important journey; I find it easier to measure the distance in life’s journey using units of time, rather than distance.  It has been a most singularly choice-driven year of growth for me. It is no surprise to me, considering the matter, looking ahead to future years, looking back on years past, this year is defined by my choices.  It hasn’t always been so obvious to me.

Going the distance isn't about someone else's destination.

Going the distance isn’t about someone else’s destination.

My difficult day at work, at the start of the week, culminated in a profound moment of self-respect, consideration of my own needs over time, self-compassion, and real regard for the work I’m putting into myself to heal and be whole. I’ve invested a lot in my own experience this year. Rather than have any piece of that derailed now, seemingly so close to… something… I made a choice, and after so many opportunities in life to choose the needs of others over my own, to support something outside what I, myself, truly value and support, the choice I made this time is for me.  I resigned from my current employment, and only a few days remain to rise before the dawn and walk in to this office each morning.

I don’t write much about work, in part because I don’t define myself by how I am employed – nor do I define others by what they do to earn a living. I look for something beyond that in the people who are my friends and associates. There was a strange disconnect in my values there, that finally became a challenge. A new bit of life’s curriculum appeared on my lesson plan, because although I don’t define myself by how I am employed, I had been – for many years – allowing employer after employer to have an effect on my sense of self-worth.  The thing is  – it’s not real, any more than any other label we choose to wear.  I am at a place in my life where my needs are vastly more important – and more worthy of my attention and my time – than the needs of any one employer.  The time I spend investing in my health and wellness right now is significant, and worthwhile.  With the encouragement of my partners, I’m taking an opportunity to stop for a moment, on another level, and find stillness – and maybe clarity around my desire to find purpose, and meaning in what I do; something that has value beyond a paycheck.

I didn’t know in February that I would be capable of making a choice like this. I didn’t know I might want to. Hell, in February, I just wanted a reason to go on living. What a very long way I have come this year. What I choose to do to earn a paycheck does matter.

I’m looking forward to the holidays. I’m eager to take a break from the work routine and breathe. It’s premature to retire altogether, but I’m overdue for a break, and an opportunity to reconsider the future, my needs over time, and ‘what I might like to be when I grow up’.  There’s more to life – and success – than a paycheck.  We each define who we ourselves are – and this year, I have changed the way I define myself.

Today I am content, and I am optimistic. Today I am compassionate, and responsive to my own needs. Today… I will change the world.