what we're about

Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On being saved by their faces

This is a post for Sarah Bessey's synchroblog, "What is saving your life right now?".  You can read about the synchroblog, find out how you can participate, and read other entries here.  

It's their faces that save me.

Christopher's, when I'm grumbling to myself about how he's "already" awake, at 5:30 or 6:00 from a night's sleep, or from his nap after only 40 minutes. I look into his crib, where he's once again on a mission to figure out exactly what these things attached to his feet are, and he instantly forgets about his all-absorbing toes and bestows on me a look of the purest joy that I have ever seen.  Clear blue eyes alight, toothless mouth agape, little cheeks round with the effort of communicating so much happiness.  It's hard to stay grumpy in the face of pure gratitude.  And then again, it's Christopher's face that saves me when he's wailing on his blanket on the floor, not because he's hurt or tired or hungry but just because he has recently discovered that this makes Mom more likely to come and play with him.  I snap at him "No, Christopher, you may not do that!" even though I know that he doesn't understand.  I'm angry at myself for yelling at my tiny tiny child, but he just looks up at me from the floor with a happy smile because I stopped what I was doing and talked to him.  His happy little face: it breaks me, and then it saves me.

Landon's, when I interrupt his homework to think aloud, again, about the hard, beautiful, messy things that life is handing to us.  Discouraged, feeling desperation creeping upon me, I ask him, "do you think that I can even do this?"  That's when he smiles up at me, his eyes meeting mine squarely, full of the light of his confidence in and love for me and says, simply, "yes."  He is one of the people in the world who knows me best.  He has seen me work, and be pregnant, and go to school, all at once and separately. If he says that I can do this, then I can do it - this abundant, unnerving, bewildering life.  It's Landon's face that saves me again this morning when I've messed up, scolding him as though I'm his mother instead of his wife.  Even though I'm the one stewing while he runs to the store for diapers - stewing when I'm not the one who got hurt - when I apologize he smiles at me.  And when he tells me that it's alright, I know that he's already erased it from his thoughts of me.

These faces.  They save me.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On living lightly

I inherited, whether by physical or mental genetics, a packrat tendency.  I'd say that I have only a marginally bad case of it, but ask my Mom - I've been married for three years and still have childhood stashes at their house.  If something has sentimental value, is potentially useful, or potentially pretty then I want to keep it.  So I keep clothes that I don't wear, but that are so pretty that I feel like I should.  I store up years' worth of potential projects, because if I can think of something to turn a pair of Landon's old pants into, then I feel like I should do it.  I keep cards and notes and snapshots because I can see the scrapbook pages that these could turn into, even though I. never. scrapbook.      

I'm also a packrat of potential priorities.  I am, officially, a stay at home mom, and without an outside job to structure my time I struggle with an excess of possible activities, and with knowing how to balance them.  I have the baby to take care of, of course, and that takes up a fair amount of time.  There is also laundry to be done, food to make, menus to plan, grocery shopping to accomplish, surfaces to clean, and trash to take out.   And then there are books and blogs to be read, thought about, and commented on.  Blog posts of my own to write.  Things (so many things!) to knit.  A piano to play.  New friends to socialize with.  I don't want to let anything go - I want to be a knitter, a mother, a reader, a writer, a musician, a scholar, a housekeeper, a wife, a seamstress, a gardener, and probably two or three other things that I'm not remembering right now.  And I don't. have. time.

My packrat tendencies in both of these areas - stuff, and activities - weigh me down.  Guilt, confusion over priorities, and simply having stuff laying around that I don't know what to do with clouds up the workings of my mind and heart.  I know this intellectually, but I've also begun to learn it experientially simply by observing what happens when I get rid of things.  When I throw away an unfinished (or unstarted) project, or donate clothes to Goodwill, I feel lighter.  I no longer expend any mental energy on guilt for not doing or wearing those things.  It works the same way when I grant an activity the priority level that it deserves in my life.  When I decide that music is a hobby to enjoy when I have time, and not a priority to be devoted to, I can stop feeling ashamed for not practicing every day, and start enjoying the time that I do get to play.  On the other hand, acknowledging that reading, thinking, and writing are a part of my creative vocation frees me from guilt about taking the time to do those things.  Recognizing housekeeping as a practical vocation helps me battle against resentment on the one side and the pressures to make it my creative vocation on the other side.  

Hanging onto unnecessary stuff and unrealistic expectations keeps me from fully devoting myself to my legitimate work and activities.  Letting go of excess leaves me free to concentrate on what I am called to do, and what I find fulfilling.  I want to learn to live lightly, dropping things that weigh me down so that I can run through this wide open life that Jesus has graced me with.  I am free from so many externally imposed weights that limit many women in this world - oppressive political or family systems; grinding poverty; absent, unhelpful, or abusive spouses.  If I can't drop the weights that I create for myself through packratting and vague priorities, then not only will I not be free to concentrate on what is central to my life and callings, but I will also not be free to help lift anybody else's burdens.   

Monday, July 2, 2012

On Gremlins

It was right around 9:30AM that the mental gremlins descended.  They came from nowhere, overwhelming me with the realization that the day was already all wrong, and I had to do something, make something happen, to fix it.  It's like the feeling when the seam on the front of my socks runs crooked over my toes, or my skirt is just twisted a quarter turn around my waist, or my french braid is not exactly in the middle of my head.  It's a physical feeling of wrongness, and I cannot concentrate on anything else until it's put right.  The problem is that when this feeling strikes about a whole day, it's awfully hard to satisfy it.  I'm at the mercy of the gremlins, trying to hear them tell me what the next right thing is to do or not do.  Meanwhile, everything that's a little imperfect is a catastrophe.  While nursing the baby, I got so tense and angry over his never-quite-right latch that I had to put him down on the floor and walk into another room while he screamed because I was afraid that I would accidentally hurt him while trying again, futilely, to make that latch what I feel it should be.  When I looked at the day ahead, full of laundry and little chores, I knew that I just had to go back to bed because I would never be able to play out the day in a way that would satisfy these mental tyrants.  Nothing would be right.  Everything would be wrong.  There would be no functioning.

And then, in a moment of grace, I remembered something that I've learned before: there really is no satisfying these tyrants.  I can knock myself out trying to satisfy the compulsion for mythical perfection, and I will end up unsatisfied.  So I committed myself to a "what comes next" day.  Slowly, carefully, I do the next thing that I know needs to be done.  I changed out of my pajamas into real clothes.  I combed deliberately through my hair, pulling it back into a curly little ponytail, and slipping a soft headband on just at my hairline, because I knew that I would not be able to tolerate flyaways in my face today.  Then, without giving myself a chance to overthink the next step, I sorted through the laundry - a few articles of clothing, the big hamper full of sheets and towels.  When the first load finished, I sorted it out from the washer.  Sheets on the bottom of the basket, some of my light shirts next, Christopher's clothes on top.  It was as I turned one of the baby's rompers inside out so that it wouldn't fade as it hung in the sun, that I began to feel the routine, the ordinariness, the comfortable intimacy of this task begin to drain some of that tension out of me.  In the quiet satisfaction of these everyday tasks, I learned all over again about the kind of stillness that shouts louder than my mental gremlins.  Sometime, all that needs to be done is the next thing.