Thursday, January 3, 2013
Resolute in the New Year
On New Years' Eve, amidst a four-hour unrelenting barrage of fireworks in our neighborhood, I reviewed my book list for the concluding year. 44 more books under my belt, a new annual record for me, and I felt pretty proud of myself for that. But as I ran down the list, I could follow a parallel journey in my emotional health over the course of the year. Seabiscuit - Oh yes, I was inspired by the tenacity. The Case for Optimism - I was challenged to look at the world, to weigh in its good, and conclude that it's an infinitely better place than it's billed to be by fear-mongerers and naysayers. The Blessing of a Broken Heart - written by Sheri Mandell who's son was murdered by terrorists and she used the crushing tragedy to reach out and connect with others, offering them support and love. Whatever comes my way, I'll be given the resources to bear it - as she did.
Then Fathers and Sons - I was depressed for weeks after reading this classic Russian novel about nihilism. And Confessions of a Scary Mommy - is it really true that the most I can hope for from this experience of parenthood is to emerge with my sanity intact? I saw my book list shift into two columns- those that resonated, that enabled me to reach a part of my own soul; and those that proved discordant, that made me want to put my hands over my ears and curl up into a ball and whisper, "This world just doesn't make sense."
I've felt more unhappy that happy in the last few months...and maybe it has to do with the fact that the last several entries on my book list have keeled to the side of the discordant. I've become bogged down by a superficial image of what I am supposed to be, what I imagine others would like me to be...and in trying so hard to live up to it, my neglected essence - my soul - was starving in a corner. Please, it pleaded with me, please take care of me.
"Don't worry. I'll get back to you just as soon as I have become what all the others need me to be."
You'll forget me. You won't know me anymore.
"Shh! I won't forget. Be patient until I have time. More time. Enough time that I can do fix everyone else' problems and misconceptions and struggles and have a little left over to work on my own progress."
I began to take the same tone with my kids. They ask, "Mommy, can we all go out for a bike ride?"
"Just wait a little while, guys. I'm making bread pudding for us to have tomorrow."
When that's done, "Can we go now, Mommy?"
"Oh, you guys are running out of clean underwear, I need to put some clothes in the washer!" And after that, I have to check my email, or facebook, or catch up on reading The Week, because I can't miss being informed of things that happened in the recent past. Before I know it, it's nap time for the boys and I tell them maybe we'll go tomorrow and I am back to running between doing all I need to prepare for my future and catching up on things may have missed in the past.
There's been something about the now that escapes me. And I realize, my low points come when I am pulled away from living in the moment. When I step outside of who I am right now, that's when I start to get inexplicably sad.
So, on New Years' day, I mapped out a plan and took my first tentative steps. I cleared the shelf beside my bed of books that would attempt to make me into something other than what I am and replaced it with books that would move me to continue on my own journey. I'm in the middle of one called Swimming to Antartica about a cold-weather long-distance swimmer who set an English Channel speed record twice as a teenager. It's a story about pushing yourself to do things that may be assumed to be impossible.
That works for me. Books that expose the evils of government or the corruption of corporations, or the angst of disgruntled feminists, or the need to scientifically prove or disprove G-d just...don't. Of course, I could get something out of those other books, but they don't meet my criteria for this year: stay true to who I am right now. Feed her. Don't worry about the future version of me, or the past one.
The next day, it trickled down to my kids. When they congregated around me, I closed my eyes and asked, "Who am I right now? Right now, while my kids are here with eyes wide open and trained on me. Am I a housemaid? A cook? Or a teacher...a mom."
As I pushed away the other things that wanted my attention, a deep happiness exploded out of me like those New Years' fireworks against the black sky. Because I gave myself the freedom to live in the now.