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When it all flashes before your eyes

Emma Grey

I have a ludicrously enormous inbox, going back about three years, not backed up — and last week it disappeared!

I was devastated, mainly because that meant I had lost all of the recent emails between my husband and I which, since his death last July, have become more precious to me than gold. The contents of the inbox appeared to have disappeared from my website’s server, as well, and I spend a frustrating morning on the phone with a help desk.

Hours later, like magic, the emails reappeared, but as I’d removed and re-added my email account in the interim, my mail client insisted on downloading every single one of the messages. While that was happening, each one flashed up in the corner of my screen while I was working on something else.

Watching three years’ worth of emails scroll past is an interesting exercise. While there were the inevitably heart-wrenching messages — particularly the ‘ordinary’ exchanges that Jeff and I had about missing drink bottles at childcare, or what we’d have for dinner — there were other messages that reminded me of how much water has passed under the bridge in that time, career-wise.

There’s something satisfying about revisiting your early emails about a project that has really grown, through sheer persistence and hard work. There’s something about watching every step be taken, and every setback crop up and be conquered, one way or another.

We never really get to see our lives unfold from a ‘big picture’ perspective. We don’t get to see how one piece of a puzzle fits in with another, or why a lesson learnt here will be valuable over there. Seeing the chronological working through of logistical, practical, creative and emotional challenges, and knowing where some of the story leads, at least up until ‘today’, is like watching your old self fumble around in the dark searching for a light switch you have your finger on.

It was like moving characters around in a book plot, except the characters were me and my family, friends, and colleagues. It was both exhausting to witness and satisfying. And once all the messages were caught up, it all lead to now. This moment. This far along this path.

And what of the emails yet to be written? What about the fumbling in the dark that’s happening right now, trying to figure out the next steps? The thing I learnt, seeing a significant part of my life ‘flash before my eyes’ is that it’s all figure-out-able. Things were thrown at me that ‘old me’ would never have imagined being able to cope with, or understand. Huge things. Some of the worst things conceivable.

And I didn’t always know what to do. Every problem was encountered in bits and pieces, with trial and error, and with help.

What I learnt, rediscovering my inbox (other than how important it is to back it up) was that, no matter what happens, there is always a way through. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or how many mistakes are made, or what is flung at us from nowhere — it’s about figuring out every step as we go along. Eventually we get … here.

And from here? Those are the unwritten emails. That’s the adventure …

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son.

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