Sometimes the most important things get the least of my attention -- and it took a translucent bottom-feeder combined with this week's episode of Parenthood to reveal that nugget of wisdom to me.
We've been through several fish in the past few months, but only a little ghost shrimp could survive the missed feedings and infrequent tank cleanings. I fed him when I remembered to feed him -- while searching for earphones so Javi can listen to the iPod in the house, before crawling into bed after gathering with my family at my aunt's house, two days later on our way out the door to her burial -- and it was usually as a side note to something else.
Never in the past week or so did I actually stop to peer into the tank to observe the water level and quality and ensure that the little guy was still hanging in there. When I finally bent to take stock of the fish tank, I immediately spotted a lump of brownish-gray matter caught in the leaves of an artificial, orange bush. There, decomposing in the murky water, was our now-dead ghost shrimp.
I'd neglected him like I've neglected so many other important things. You know, such as my marriage and my extended family and my day job -- things that should get the full brunt of my attention and the complete span of my focus, but don't. For various reasons. The kids, the household responsibilities, the social calendar, the volunteer obligations, the sidework obligations, and the things I'm not proud of (ehem, a slam-full dvr schedule and the tendency to get lost in Facebook and texts).
I couldn't help but draw a parallel to Parenthood's alterna-Bravermans Suze and Phil Lessing, who we learn are separating under the strain of raising their son, Noel, who has Asperger's syndrome. Phil claims that Suze's entire world revolves around Noel, which pushes her marital relationship so far off the back burner that it's hit the floor. Suze, the overwhelmed and trying-to-control-the-variables mom, seems a lot like me ... right down to her belief that Phil simply refuses to understand and have compassion for all that she must hold together.
Our son doesn't have Asperger's, but his ADHD does require my analysis and patience and work and juggling and attention. I don't spend nearly the same amount of time working on my marriage as I do working on my child -- despite knowing that, statistically, marriages in families with a special needs child are highly likely to end in divorce. I allow my side projects and my volunteer choices and so much else come first.
My aunt died on Sunday -- and it'd been months since I last saw her. My aunt who was a grandmother to me, who was my Papa's favorite sister, and who wasn't that much older than my mother and her siblings. I have a lifetime of memories with her, but I hadn't wrapped my arms around her in too long. And suddenly, she's gone.
And so is the shrimp. But my marriage is here and it's strong. My jobs, often done hurriedly and at the last minute, are here. My family -- the many cousins and aunts and uncles -- are here. For now. The time to invest in them, to enrich and revel in them, is now. Now while we're here together. Now while our hearts are open and able to receive the gifts we have to offer.
I don't want to wake up one day as Suze or Phil Lessing, wondering when the last door closed and why I didn't hear it, so full of regret that I can't stand the sight of myself. It has to be now. Because later isn't guaranteed. Not for any of us.