Clare Saumell VanderWeele

essays on living

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The Unexpected Goodbye: A Letter to Chris

My new neighbor cut their tree down last week. It wasn’t dead or diseased, but I’m sure there was some legitimate reason behind their decision to chop it down.

It was surrounded by other trees and houses, so it had to be cut limb from limb, one slice of trunk at a time. By the time they got to the base, I could see just how old it really was, its life on display in concentric circles, each telling a story.

My whole yard was littered in saw dust and broken branches and torn leaves, and the men sucked it all up clean and tidy, leaving nothing but space. But the roots are still there, all over everything. They snake over the ground and plunge into the earth. Big, old knotty things, preventing anything from growing in its place.

And isn’t that the way it is? Death strikes us down, but our roots stay stubborn and strong, our lives splayed out over everything.

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What exactly am I waiting for?

I don’t like to admit that much of my life these days is a fiery battle with a three year old. But that’s the truth.

And that’s how I ended up squeezed into his bed at 10pm one night, buried in Thomas the Tank Engine blankets, and reading yet another book.

Which is when I came across this most perfect verse:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.

-from Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

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On Empty Milk Cartons and Gum Wrappers

Chris used to put almost empty milk cartons back in the fridge.

And when I say “almost” I mean there was literally one gulp left.

He’d eat almost all his dinner except two bites and put the almost empty plate uncovered in the fridge… On the off chance that one lonely bite of cold, congealed dinner would sound appetizing later.

He would leave empty tupperware containers in his car after work. Empty gum wrappers littered the bedroom floor as they came flying out his pockets, and empty Marlboro Reds packages would stack up on his night stand.

All the empty drove me nuts.

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What No One Tells You About Moving On

“[There is a] universal truth that we are all are responsible for our lives — that we all suffer and we all need to find light in that darkness, strength in that weakness.” This quote from Chery Strayed is how I ended my last blog post.

These words are still echoing in my head. I’m wondering what it would look like if I didn’t take that responsibility, if I didn’t try to find the light and the strength.

What would it look like if I gave in to the heart-clenching anxiety that knots itself in my belly and sticks in my throat? What would it look like if I let the particles of my life break down around me, letting the darkness crowd into the emptiness of the night?

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This Is Why I Write

Robert Frost is famous for saying, “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with.”

I’d argue that, at least for me, most writing begins this way.

My 9 year old self would probably disagree. At 9 I started writing a journal. Correction, a diary. As in, “Dear Diary, today I….…sat next to Simon at school… watched The Simpsons on TV… ate shepherd’s pie for dinner… It’s quite the page turner.

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Shutting the Door I Never Wanted to Open

We’ve all heard the cliché saying, when one door closes another door opens.

It’s optimism at its brightest, and when you’re in the depths of pain, these words almost always come from someone on the outside looking in.

I’m not trying to be callous; I’m generally an optimistic person, and I appreciate these words of hope. But at the same time, they feel a little…one-dimensional.

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Confessions of the World’s Worst Ballerina

I’m still not sure what prompted me to sign up for a ballet class.

I should probably mention that I’m not – and never have been – a dancer.

I can’t even reach my toes.

But it’s something I always wanted to try. Plus, I’ve been making a habit lately of embracing vulnerability. And somehow that includes making a fool out of myself in leggings in a room full of mirrors.

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On Death and Diets

For Lent this year, I gave up diets.

Yeah, I know. That sounds less like sacrifice and more like indulgence.

But here’s the thing: I was secretly obsessed with diets, bouncing on and off various forms of them for at least the last decade. For weeks at a time, I would restrict whole food groups, all under the guise of “healthy eating.”

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To My Son on His 3rd Birthday

You love trains, puzzles, and peanut butter. Your laugh starts deep in your belly and is the most infectious giggle I’ve ever heard. You don’t go a day without singing, even if it’s Jingle Bells in April.

You have my fair hair and your daddy’s round hands. And you still ask for kisses when you fall over.

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I dread the day you realize I can’t protect you from the parts of life that are scary and dark. The day when kisses won’t be enough to heal. Continue reading

Why I’m Terrified of Dying

I didn’t expect to be afraid of dying. The terror crept up slowly like the dawn until all of a sudden it was blinding and hung over my day.

When I had planned out my life years ago, it was with youthful ignorance; predictable and familiar.

I did not expect to become a mother who, exhausted and emotional, reaches for cheerios for her kid’s dinner.

I did not expect to be searching for signs of my husband in the soft sleeping face of my son.

I did not expect to be offended by the rows of summer corn, growing tall as if nothing ever happened, as if time had not stopped.

I did not expect the dust to gather on his nightstand.

As the expectations collapsed, I was left with the bitter fear of my own death.
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