Clare Saumell VanderWeele

essays on living

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The Things I’ve Lost

When’s the last time you felt the startling realization that you left your phone/wallet/car keys in the store/restaurant/taxi?

That familiar stab of adrenaline, the quickening heartbeat, and sinking stomach? You don’t think rationally in those moments. You’re capable only of disbelief, fear, and anger.

If you’re a parent and you’ve ever lost sight of your small child at the park or in the store, you know that same feeling – or perhaps you can remember being that small child and you turned the corner only to find yourself entirely lost. Your lungs get tight, your stomach contracts, and it’s pure panic.

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The Women I Know

The women I know are spread out across lands and oceans, mountain ranges and prairies. I haven’t yet figured out how to make up for the hugs that cannot be sent three thousand miles. But there are words and photos, tears and laughter.

The women I know are stronger than they realize. They embody love to an extent that will carry them through the valleys. Their laughter fills gaps they don’t know exist, and their soft edges are the home they long for.

The women I know have faith so strong it knocks me over. They pick me up over and over again. They sacrifice and serve and shine. Until they hit walls. And then we pick them up in return. We share coffee and words, we pray and we laugh and we curse.

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On Figuring Out How to Be a Person

It’s my 30th birthday, and I’m not sure that I’m any closer to figuring how to be a person in this world.

That said, there are a few things I believe I’ve learned from three decades of life. I guess this isn’t a real blog post. It’s just a collection of learnings I’ve picked up along the way, which I’d like to share. Here goes.

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Till Death Do Us Part… Again

There are some things it’s almost impossible to write about. These are things I can only live. Things that no number of photos or blog posts can do justice.

Virginia Woolf writes, “One can’t write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes.

What is true of the soul is true of other things. One of which is this: This weekend would have been my 6th wedding anniversary with Chris. Instead, it is a marker of having spent as much time as a widow as I did as a wife. The first three years flew by; these second three years have seemed an eternity.

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Ode to the Worn Out Days

You know the ones I’m talking about. At least, I hope you do.

The nights that feel overwhelming, the busy weeks that leaving us scrambling.

The nights the couch calls our name so loudly we can almost hear it. Oh wait, that just the four-year-old, scream-singing our name from his bed, two hours after bedtime.

The nights we don’t feel like cooking, so we take the four-year-old out to dinner. Only to remember that four-year-olds don’t do well in restaurants that don’t have play-places or where there’s other people who are trying to eat in peace.

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The Greatness of Small Things

This blog was born out of big things. Specifically, one big giant thing that enveloped lots of smaller big things.

It’s coming up on three years since I first choked on the word “widow;” since I saw with my own eyes how grief overshadows everything.

C. S. Lewis wrote in the wake of his wife’s death, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

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What Happened When I Stopped Running Away

I was one of those lethargic teenagers who groaned when we had to run the mile once a year at school. I ran the straights and walked the curves, simultaneously intimidated and bored by that black hot track. It was torture.

But then, sometime around the beginning of college, I casually decided to go for a run. And then I kept doing it. Only ever a mile at a time. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but for some insane reason, I stuck with it.

After college, I grudgingly ran a half-marathon. I clung to the medal proudly, but training had killed my knees and I swore I’d never run another half again.

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A Desperate Mother’s Day Wish

It was 3am, every single day of my pregnancy: I would wake up sobbing, convinced I was going to be a terrible mother.

All the mistakes I’d ever made came flooding back to me, and I imagined my child making the same regretful decisions, simply because it was I who made him.

When he was first laid on my chest, tiny and slippery, I breathed his name and marveled over the fact that he was mine.

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On Becoming a Quitter

I reached 5 miles with a smile. I turned at the half way mark, a pedestrian bridge across the Fox River, and I ran back down the ramp towards the riverside path.

And then it happened.

My ankle buckled. I flew with the downhill momentum. I landed in a heap, with a bloody knee and instantly swelling ankle. And I sobbed.

I had spent 5 months in the biting cold of winter, one foot after the other pounding the icy pavement, and now I was two weeks away from the half marathon I had signed up for in an effort to hold myself accountable.

I needed the winter running to stay sane. I refused to spend months of cold gray skies huddled inside, depressed and agitated. And so I ran. And it was awesome… until it wasn’t.

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Birthday Wishes

I’ve found out over the years that I’m pretty good at killing things.

Walk in my house and you’ll see the ridiculous number of plants that thrive in my home. But in reality, they are a mere fraction of all the ones I’ve ever owned before inadvertently killing them off.

And it’s not just plants. I’ve lost count of the number of fish I ever saw floating lifelessly upside down before I decided to get rid of the fish tank.

This year, though, I’ve planted a hundred promising seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, watermelon, cauliflower, and more. Some are growing already, their tiny green heads poking up above the rich soil.

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