Life changes and peripeteia

There’s a TED talk by Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, where – in the midst of talking about castrating sheep – he mentions two words he learned from his classics teacher in college: anagnorisis and peripeteia.

Anagnorisis refers to that moment when a character makes an important discovery. Peripeteia is related – it’s the moment of a discovery and unavoidable turning point. It’s that instant when something happens that completely changes how you view everything else. It’s Oedepis realizing that woman he’s been having kids with is his mom. It’s Bruce Willis realizing that he’s one of the dead people.

In a moment, perspective shifts and everything is seen differently.

Life recently has had a number of “peripeteia” moments for me. Seeing my kid for the first time was one. But more recently I had another, more profound moment.

Having a kid changes things. Life looks different. I knew it coming into this thing. It’s what we signed up for. So during the transition, I’ve worked hard to support Grete as she walks through that change – since she’s home with the kiddo more and ultimately feels the difference more than I do.

We’ve talked about it being a “new normal.” That life was going to look different. And that’s ok and worth it.

But over dinner the other night she shared something she’d heard:

“It’s ok to grieve the loss of your old life.”

I’d heard her say it before referring to herself. This time, it was pointed at me. And for the first time I realized there were things I was giving up, too. Things I missed.

Like flexibility. Extra time for friendships and activities. A freedom to make last minute changes. Time to wash dishes. (Yeah, who knew I’d miss that??)

And for the first time I realized it was ok to miss those things.

Don’t get me wrong. The choice we made and the path we’re on is worth it. But if we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the trap of leading a “plus one” life. Like – we should be able to add this (a kid) without subtracting that (anything else).

So in a time of transition and change, I’m learning it’s ok to grieve what was. And I’m learning to take the next step – to really examine what’s important in my life – what pieces need to stay as other things get squeezed out in the crunch to care for a new life and family.

It’s really an old lesson – nothing new. Put the important and meaningful things first. But most of the time we just have extra space in our lives. The important things just get done because they eventually become urgent enough. In the mean time, we have space and time to do those less important, less meaningful life-fillers. But when change happens, it forces us to make every moment count. And for now, I’m glad I’m forced to discover what’s important and meaningful.

Bring on the peripeteia!

One response to “Life changes and peripeteia”

  1. Thanks for giving parents (myself included) the freedom to miss their pre-kid lives – this post is fantastic.

    I love this line:
    But if we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the trap of leading a “plus one” life. Like – we should be able to add this (a kid) without subtracting that (anything else).

    Amen and amen.

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