My daughter Zoey and I are standing on the edge of a sidewalk, looking up. Wanting to take advantage of the day’s late afternoon warmth, we have decided to take a walk to the park, but something has stopped us in our tracks.
That something is a house. But not just any house. A house that stands so proud and prominent on this corner that anyone would have a hard time not taking a moment to stop and admire it.
For the past year and a half, Zoey and I watched this house take shape, and it has turned into a home so massive that it looks like multiple families should live here. Yet, from what I can gather, it’s meant for just one: There’s only one street number mounted to its flawless exterior.
Aside from its enormity, it’s also extremely beautiful: Its sleek, modern lines make it architecturally interesting. Floor to ceiling windows surround its walls, and from where I stand, I can see the daylight filtering inside through a few of them, revealing a perfectly set dinner table and a bottle of wine that begs to be uncorked. Although the yard is small, it is meticulously landscaped. There’s even a rooftop patio, one that sits high enough on the third story so that someone escaping to its comforts would be greeted with a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.
Looking at this house, I find myself filled with a distant, indescribable longing for something more… something different… something better. I find myself starting to play that dangerous game called comparison, one that comes packaged with the slippery, uncomfortable feelings of envy and displeasure and discouragement.
And when thoughts like these surface, as hard as you try to push them aside, it’s easy to get sidelined when you begin comparing your ‘have-nots’ to the ‘haves’ of the people around you.
Throughout my days, I’m surrounded by people who live in houses this size, if not larger. They drive fast, sleek, expensive cars. They shop at stores that I would never dream of stepping into, for fear that I would stick out like a sore thumb. They wear shoes that cost more than my monthly rent. And the lives they live—the lives of the people in this huge home—are so far out of reach from my reality:
Just a few blocks away, our small, two-bedroom apartment sits, the one filled with Ikea and Target furniture. In the basement garage of that building sits my car, one whose front end is still dented from an unfortunate fender-bender I experienced a few months back. It is the car that carries home the groceries I purchase each week with as many digital coupons as possible so I can ensure my monthly food budget stays on track.
And then there’s the two of us. I’m in a t-shirt I’ve had since college, and the pants I’m wearing are slightly frayed on the bottom and have a hole where the fabric has worn too thin. The shoes on my feet were new 2 years ago, and the sole is starting to peel away from the bottom of the right one. I glance at Zoey, who has now shifted her focus to a few fallen leaves on the ground below us. Upon arriving home earlier, she changed out of her school uniform, put on a mismatched outfit, and pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail. Although the top of Zoey’s head is peppered with three different hair clips, now, as she bends over, a few stray locks escape from them and her loose, pink rubber band. They frame the edge of her face, and I notice a small patch of blue paint on a few of the strands—a leftover reminder of her art class from earlier in the day.
We definitely look like we shouldn’t be standing anywhere close to this home.
* * *
“Look at these leaves, Zoey,” I say as I kneel down next to her and pick up two of the biggest ones I can find. “They’re huge!”
I hold the leaves up in front of her, but because they are so large, I can’t even see her face behind them. Though they’re still mostly green, soft light filters through them, revealing small strands of yellow unravelling from its veins.
“Look,” I say again. “Can you see the differences between them? The one on the left is just a little bigger and still has more of its green. And do you see how the stem is a little longer, too?”
“Come on, Mommy,” Zoey says, tilting her head to the side, allowing our eyes to connect. She takes the leaves from me and tugs at my hand with her free one. “We’ve got better things to do than this.”
We’ve got better things to do than this…
Zoey’s words give me pause. I realize I’m still standing here, playing that silly comparison game. I will myself to stop, because I know that focusing my energy on the better things that Zoey speaks of will do me far more good than wishing for the things that I know are outside the bounds of my current reality.
For now, I’ll let those have-nots—those bigger leaves—stay high on the branches above me. Maybe one day some of them will fall around me and land within my reach. When they do, perhaps I’ll gather them up, but for now, I’ll let them simply wink at me from the distance, and I won’t let their luster steal the joy and brightness of what I have and hold in my life right now.
Because when we focus on our haves instead of our have-nots, we are finally able to escape from the uncomfortable, constricting cages of envy and dissatisfaction and lonely, misplaced desires. Outside of those cages, our vision becomes broader, and it is then that we are finally able to look past our someday, one-day, maybe-even-never somethings.
It is then that we are finally able to focus on our right now, everyday everythings.
* * *
I wrap Zoeys fingers around my own, and as we begin to walk away from the house, I look up one last time. My gaze rests upon a lone, open upstairs window. I wonder if there is a girl in sitting in the room, and I wonder if she ever finds herself longing for something more, for something bigger, better, or different. I wonder if she ever falls victim to the elusive leaves, the ones that are proudly perched on high branches above her. I send up a quick wish to her; for if she is up there, I hope she, too, will be able to find clarity in what she has, in the important things that are within her reach.
I bring my eyes back down to ground level and shift all of my focus toward Zoey.
“Race you to the park?” I ask, knowing she’ll be on board with the game.
“Just try and catch me!” she taunts as she eagerly takes off toward the park. As Zoey runs, she holds the leaves tightly in her fist, and they flap in the breeze her forward movement creates.
I catch up to Zoey, and when I do, I gather up my most important ‘have’ in my arms and listen to her delighted squeals echo down the street. I lift her and those two gold-kissed leaves high above me, and the sun is angled just-so in the sky that it seems Zoey is absorbed into it. Its rays are so intense that I momentarily have to close my eyes. A moment later, when I open them again, I see Zoey’s face haloed against the light, and it’s the sight of her face that quickly—and easily—burns out my previous thoughts of all my supposed have-nots.
* * *
So I’m left here, standing on a sidewalk, looking up at and thinking about far better things than I was just minutes earlier.
I’m thinking about the happy home we will go back to later, the one that keeps us safe. I’m thinking about the car that I will soon own outright, the one that takes Zoey to and from school, and me to and from work, and the two of us to places like the grocery store, where we are able to purchase good food to keep our bodies healthy.
Instead of thinking about what my life might be lacking, I’m thinking about just how much I truly have. Instead of thinking about what more I may want, I’m thinking about how I have just enough in this wonderful, magical, nostalgic-to-be moment we are creating.
And I’m left here, standing on a sidewalk in the midst of the sun’s slow descent, in my holey, frayed pants and falling-apart shoes, holding my happy, laughter-filled daughter with her crazy, haphazard hair, thinking about how I have everything.
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.