On one of the two red brick pillars flanking the exit from my Catholic high school, the nuns had affixed a sign that read:
DRIVE GENTLY, DEARIE
I never stopped to think much about this as a spirited teen, when my life spooled out in front of me with endless promise and the likelihood that some ill or danger would befall me was inconceivable. I think back to my fifteen-year-old self and am happy for her and her unbridled faith in the order and permanence of things as inherited, as coddled and incomplete and ignorant as that worldview was. Accidents were things that happened to other people. Cancer and serious illness, too. Because I have always been a pragmatist, I would occasionally think in a retrospectively sickening, self-serving way that because other people in my life — aunts, friends of friends, daughters of neighbors — had suffered such hardships, I would be spared, because — well, what is the likelihood that two people in the same pod bear the same tragedies?
And so I would careen onto 35th Street with blithe disregard for the thoughtful message, the music on the forest green Camry that my siblings and I shared too loud, the windows and sunroof down, posturing some sort of devil-may-care insouciance in the event that one of the Georgetown University boys next door would happen to stop and make a double take, entranced by my unlikely, impressive decision to blast DMX’s “Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Guys?”
The Great Gatsby is often assigned as high school reading, but I don’t think a teen can ascertain the stirring poignancy — the almost deferred juvenility — of Gatsby’s optimism for the future. Because as a teen, I shared that outlook of his. I did not know any other.
On the rare occasion I now drive out of Visitation, I am always overcome with emotion at the sight of that sign, and the delta between Jen at 15 and Jen at 35 leaves me awestruck. I am first and foremost open to the reminder — Ah, yes. Slow down. Precious cargo. And this receptivity itself lays bare the painfully-earned truth that I am not invincible and neither are my loved ones. I might be bringing Mr. Magpie lunch at work when an SUV barrels into my mother’s car at 60 MPH, crumpling its frame like a piece of tinfoil and nothing but the grace of God sparing her. Or I might be an intellectually ripening graduate student, preoccupied with using Foucault properly in a sentence in front of my classmates, when I learn that my friend E. was rushed off to the hospital because she was having trouble breathing, and all her mother could say was that she was for some reason on floor eight, and that it must be a mistake, because floor eight was for cancer patients. Or I might be 34, newly pregnant, sprinting around my apartment, and by freak accident, hurtled against a plaster wall with such force that my head split open and required ten stitches right down my forehead. In short: health is precarious. And I should be gentle with — to quote HRH Mary Oliver — this one wild and precious life I have been gifted.
But I am also moved by the solicitousness of the nuns who installed it there. A year or two ago, I attended an alumni reception for my high school and in the course of some opening remarks, the headmaster said: “The nuns of the Visitation pray daily for you. They have been praying for you since the day you were born.” I was so bowled over by this unexpected generosity that I had to look away, study something innocuous on the wall, stare — hard — at the ice cube melting in my water glass. I later cried on Mr. Magpie’s shoulder about it. How impossibly fortunate and undeserving am I to have these devout women in my corner, rooting me on since the day I entered this world thirty-five years ago — without my even knowing or acknowledging them? What insane, knee-buckling kindness. This reaction, too, is a reminder of my age and the way life has in some ways hardened me, leaving me circumspect about others and their intentions.
Their message appears to me, apparition-like, from time to time, even though we own no car in this urban jungle and it has in fact been months since I last slipped behind the wheel. But I will be rushing around my neighborhood with twenty-two errands and half-formed thoughts tumbling through my mind and finding myself sprinting across Amsterdam with three seconds left on the crosswalk countdown and I will think of that placard and take a beat. Or I will be making exaggerated eyes of frustration to Mr. Magpie as mini stalls and protracts her bedtime routine — “not those pajamas!”, “I want to play with my puzzle now!”, “I need more milk!”, “not that book, this book!” — and I will think of the nuns and take a deep breath and aim for gentleness in those exhausting final moments before her affirmations have been said and her lullaby has been sung and her door is closed. Most days, I earn middling marks on my attempts, but the aspiration stands.
And so I thought today I would remind you, too, to drive gently, dearie. Whether that means gesturing a fellow commuter into the merge lane on the highway or going easy on your toddler (or yourself!) in the face of her toddlerness or just taking a breather for no reason at all.
+Christmas stuff I love. I want to specifically call out these adorable tartan mules that Talbots sent me and are currently under $100 and these tuxedo-stripe plaid trousers that I bought for Christmas dinner!
+This top is Ulla-esque but under $130.
+My sister visited last weekend and raved about these joggers — she said they are crazy comfortable but still pulled-together enough to feel non-pajama-like in public.
+Ordering these for mini.
+Love this floaty autumnal floral — an option if you are still scrambling for a Thanksgiving dress, as Net-A-Porter offers quick shipping! I am SO happy because I had been stalking this Ulla Johnson dress for the occasion, which was sold out in my size EVERYWHERE, and I religiously checked every website to see if one might be returned and suddenly available for nearly two weeks. Lo and behold, Net-A-Porter came through and my holiday outfit dreams achieved. You can still rent this dress on RTR, too, if you’re in my boat! (I was planning on doing that if I couldn’t track down a purchasable one!)
+DYING over this rug. The yellow would be so cheerful in a little girl’s room or a feminine living space, and the black/white would be stunning against crisp hotel bedding in a polished, modern bedroom.
+We were having trouble with the strength of our Internet signal in our new, larger apartment until Mr. Magpie purchased an eero mesh wifi system. It works SO well, and our Internet is lightening fast all over the place now. Great gift suggestion for a tech-conscious loved one.
+Speaking of RDR, Moda is running a huge sale that includes two of my absolute favorite pairs of RDR earrings (both of which I already own): these daisies and these drop earrings. Also eyeing this Rhode dress for next spring, these croc flats, this headband (how many headbands is too many headbands?), and this Emilia Wickstead.
+Such interesting comments in reaction to my post on marathon medal-wearing.