My late grandfather was fond of saying that everything happened for the best. I’m not sure I share his unbridled optimism, but I am superstitious enough that I do believe everything happens for a reason. I like to remind myself of this belief of mine at times, like now, when everything seems to be happening all at once.
I am busier than I have been since — well, “since law school” is a bad example, because in law school all I did was go to law school. This is a different kind of busy. This is not single-minded, fanatical-focus, one-thing-consumes-your-entire-life busy. This is multitasking busy.
The Cathedral Choral Society (not to be confused with the church choir!), with which I sing, is performing the Verdi Requiem on October 18. That is in three (3) days. That is six (6) days before my wedding. The other world-class performing arts organization with which I sing, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, is performing its fall program — which includes the Tallis Spem in alium — on November 15, a week after we return from our honeymoon. My day job, no cakewalk itself, has also been spinning up in intensity in recent weeks, both travel- and workload-wise. And did I mention the wedding?
I knew what I was getting into when I auditioned for CASW back in the summertime. My first trial as lead attorney was about to begin, I’d already committed to join another huge-case trial team, my CCS commitment was a known quantity, and the wedding date had long ago been set for October 24. I was looking at a straw that might just break the camel’s back. But CASW was doing the Rachmaninoff Vespers later in the winter, I had been invited to audition, and I couldn’t say no.
Everything happens for a reason.
I got in to CASW. My trial came and went like a freight train. I scheduled a busy August for Hugecase so that my travel plans would be less burdensome come September and October. Thanks to &’s spectacular wedding planning mojo, the accommodating nature of government employment, and the absence of conflicts between the dueling rehearsal schedules, this enormous quantity of activity seemed to be possible. Doable. Fun even. This could be the time of my life, if I’m up to it.
I’ve always been up to it, whatever “it” is. I am a recovering workaholic, but no matter how successfully you manage to relax and re-evaluate and get your life more or less in balance, you never really “get over” being Type A. This means that even the most practiced setter-of-priorities, when pummeled with a firehose of opportunities you can’t refuse, will see your best intentions overwhelmed and find yourself knowingly, willfully overcommitted.
Grandpa’s mantra hovered over my schedule like a stage light. All of this stuff — wedding plans, honeymoon plans, the Kennedy Center, the Verdi Requiem, the deposition of the scientist that I was suddenly on the hook to take TOMORROW — had to be happening at this moment for a reason. Why now? I groused to my grandfather as I trundled home from rehearsal or fidgeted in the airplane seat. This is all great stuff, but I’m not sure I can handle it all at once. Why does all of this need to happen right now?
The first little burst of enlightenment came during a deposition in Hugecase last week. I’d had scant hours to prepare for it the night before in my hotel room, and defending it was the most intimidating opposing counsel I’d ever faced down. I had been eating little (pre-wedding diet), sleeping restlessly when at all, and generally living every moment of my life at full throttle. As soon as opposing counsel began his silky snaky intimidation, I felt the familiar old frostbite-spike of anxiety.
An anxiety attack is more physiological than emotional. You feel it in your chest cavity: your lungs lock up like an asthma attack, your heart starts to pound in your ears, and burning icy heat rushes up your spine to flood the base of your skull. It is miserable and intense and throws you off whatever game you’re on. In law school I called it “the fear,” and kept hoping I’d outgrow it.
Opposing counsel neither knew nor cared about my Anxiety Issues; these career litigators attack newbies on the other team with all the delicacy and personal attention of a bulldozer. He may or may not have perceived the onset of The Fear. He was simply doing his job; and I, of course, was expected to do mine too. Damn it! Why now? Why now??? Breathe, damn it, breathe!
And then, perplexingly, over a distance of twenty stories and several city blocks, I heard a bell ringing.
It wasn’t a fancy carillon or even a peal; it was a single church bell, tapping out a message in something like morse code. (“Angelus bells,” one of the attorneys on the opposing team remarked at a subsequent break in the deposition. “They tell you when to stop work and say the Angelus.”)
It may or may not have been my grandfather, or my late father, or any one of a number of benevolent allies laying a hand on my shoulder. But when that bell rang, by whatever means, The Fear quailed and shrank back. My reinforcements had arrived. My terrifying First Deposition Opposite Megatron promptly diminished to a mere lousy day at work. I had nothing to be afraid of.
And there was my answer.
Because now was the time to overcome everything that had held me back. The time to face down every obstacle I’d ever feared, render each one meaningless, and defeat The Fear once and for all. This was how I would clean my slate and walk through the front door of my new life unencumbered by old baggage.
Seeing this made everything make sense. Why was work dogpiling unprecedented challenges on me the week before my wedding, when I was exhausted and starving, spread membrane-thin, and hoarse from singing some of the toughest music I’d ever confronted? Because that’s how you’ll get over it. That’s how, one thing at a time, I would burst all of these balloons, break my bonds, knock down the walls, and clear out the space between me and joy.
That was the why. All that remained was the how.