Today I am thankful for many elements of my life: family, Topanga family, friends, health and the ability to continually learn. I am home with one daughter and two more on the way. Tomorrow will be spent with extended family and Friday we will honor my mom, making our favorite family Thanksgiving foods and remembering those no longer with us at our Thanksgiving table and welcoming those new to our table.
In a world filled with so much good (books, blogs, art, film, plants, flowers, sunny days and gentle breezes) it still shocks and saddens me that some in this world resort to violence, hatred, bullying and unnecessary cruelty whether it is for a fractured belief or greed. To these, I am thankful for a chance to change, to learn, to heal, to grow and become something better and more honorable.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…The being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
Friday, the 13th. Is this a day of questionable luck, or a culmination of a year and a half of a life gone in such an unexpected direction? The whining and grievances have been kept at bay, and the desire to just hide and burst into tears of frustration and loneliness carefully curtailed for a year and seven months. My purpose is clear and I continue to strive to be a force of nature; in my work, my dreams, my responsibilities. But, what happens when the force is just not enough to break through the wall? What happens when starting over doesn’t hold the magic and promise of the beginning of a great new adventure? What happens when starting over is just an overwhelming amount of work, stress and sadness? If the world is not to devote itself to making us happy, is it intent on making us struggle?
At times it just makes more sense to walk outdoors instead of on a treadmill, transfixed to a television screen exhibiting bad news or silly gibberish. Walking outdoors forces one to be in the moment and in that manner can become a zen experience which can elevate both mood and spirit.
I took a walk the other day, around a lake located in the center of The Valley. A hidden jewel that you would never know was there if you didn’t drive down the long meandering driveway. Once inside the park, a world opens up. A world of picnics, playgrounds, fishing, paddle boats, ducks, geese, and herons. This world is a peaceful respite from the crazy world of cars, traffic, technology, responsibilities, worries and realities. Walking around the lake offers a unique view around each bend and the sunset was the icing on the cake. Brilliant orange, red and golden skies serve as a background for silhouettes of the birds as they fluff their feathers in preparation for their night’s rest.
Walking allows the mind to free fall into areas not usually explored and when the spongy mind relaxes, solutions can enter. If there are no solutions, at least the consequences don’t seem quite as dire.
It is suggested that a writer take a look at something very closely, perhaps a hand, or strands of hair, a table setting, and then begin to zoom out to see what unfolds in the scene. Details are an important part of life and my life is generally on a micro setting, zoom in, zoom in some more and look at every detail. It is a difficult and rare occurrence for me to zoom out and take in the whole picture. In fact, it is downright scary to look at the big picture of my life because so much of it is out of my control. I prefer to keep my life in cubbies, resembling my comfortable teaching world with its lesson plan books divided into little uniform-sized boxes, the cubbies in my classroom offering storage space for items to go home in neat plastic bags to my student’s homes, the year’s 180 days divided into months, weeks, days, hours and minutes. Each segment of time like a neat and tidy bundle all wrapped up, self-contained and complete.
Life isn’t necessarily neat and tidy and sometimes everything just won’t fit into a category or into the place it should be and it unravels, its loose threads spreading in all directions. During these times, I struggle to find something to organize, to get control of and to satisfy my soul. Here are my latest accomplishments:
1. My diet. Since I have started the Jenny Craig diet, my eating life is divided into boxes for each day-breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. This is so comforting! Add to that the fact that I do not have to prepare the meals or decide on them and the freeing feeling escalates within me.
2. My exercise program. Along with the diet must come exercise so I have committed to daily exercise of some sort. It is easiest to just walk, or go to the gym and spend 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer but yoga is a great way for me to calm down and let my mind take a vacation and if I “forget” to go to the gym and it begins to get dark, I have my little portable stepper here to hop on for 20 minutes. No excuses!
3. My shoes. I finally bit the bullet and took all of my shoes out of my closet, sorted through them and created two big give-away bags. I then brought my organized-mother’s shoe cubbies (I remember she was so thrilled when I bought that for her and Gary put it together. “Isn’t this just the most wonderful thing!”), and proceeded to neatly put my shoes away. It is a thing of beauty.
4. My files. I spent a good deal of time researching a good filing system and revamped my household files. My motto: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The happiness exudes as I file away the bills.
5. My emotions. These too must be kept in check in compartments within me, like a public storage facility, my emotions are kept in storage because even though I don’t need them right now, I am not quite ready to part with them and occasionally like to delve in and take a look, savoring the confusion, the loss, or the sadness and sending tears in all directions. Then I can push them back inside and lock them up again.
I have devoted a lot of time trying to understand myself, figure out who I am, what I believe in and what I want to accomplish in my life so exploring my own underside seems a bit repetitive but I am always willing to take a look for hidden treasures. I think that what I have discovered under it all is that it is nearly impossible to figure everything out and it is pretty hard to figure out little things too. I have mastered getting through the day, planning and preparing. I am learning to devote time to myself, to look more closely at others and to appreciate little things, like lying on the grass in the kindergarten yard with my 24 little charges in a big circle around the flagpole, staring at the underside of the trees. That is a coincidence! Today, as we all lay on the grass, staring at the beautiful blue sky, warmed by the sun, we identified the oak tree, the mulberry tree, the sycamore tree and the pine tree. We noticed the fuzzy sycamore leaves and spiky seedpods of the sycamore, the multitude of pine cones on the pine tree, the new leaves on the mulberry and the crooked branches on the young oak. The breeze blew, the flags waved above us and we listened. We listened to the sound of the wind, in the silence of the kindergarten yard, a place usually filled with delighted screams and laughter, now beautifully silent with twenty-four children and one lucky teacher caught in a moment of wonder.
A friend told me recently that we are given packages in life, so I began to think about the concept of our lives being a series of packages and it seems to make sense. We are given these gifts and all are different, some wrapped in seemingly lovely wrapping, but holding something different from our expectation once opened, while others are wrapped in simple butcher paper but hold a treasure inside. Packages range in size and shape and also in content. We sometimes get more than we bargain for and other times open our package to fine it nearly empty, but the truth is that when you accept a gift, it becomes yours and you own it.
Often we don’t realize the gifts we have until they are no longer ours, the packages opened and the contents familiar, then suddenly taken away. Tonight I drew the card: Follow the Scent and I was reminded that the memories of our lives can be evoked by a familiar or long lost scent, which triggered a memory of my mother in her last few years. I think that as we age, our senses are weaker and for my mother, who loved scents of all kinds, it meant a strong dose of perfume so she could smell it beginning with Oscar de la Renta, then later a blend of eucalyptus, Stress Relief, it is called, doused liberally and filling the room with her presence even after she left the room. Now I miss those smells and I find myself inhaling as I stroll through her rooms in the house, or drive in her car, which is now mine. If I take in the remnants of her scent, I actually get choked up and feel a wave of her sweeping over me. It is torture, but I love it.
The thing about packages is that they sometimes arrive when least expected, as a surprise and other times I feel like a child waiting and wishing for the holidays and my package arrives late, slightly torn open on the corners, and not quite as prettily wrapped as I would expect. I open the package up, cautiously, not sure if it will meet my expectations, and then get something I have to keep even though I have no use for it, like a handmade knit sweater that I will never wear. I take out the contents and think, “Great! What am I supposed to do with this?” I am empathetic and don’t want to hurt the gift giver’s feelings, but this package is just not what I pictured, yet here I am stuck with the contents and forced to find a use for them, put them away in the back of a drawer or “re-gift.”
Life is funny that way, delivering surprises and testing us to figure out a use for them. Sometimes a gift card is the best package after all, to be used for what ever you want and saved for a special occasion or just to provide a needed dose of happiness.