Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The serendipity of the season reminds me how good it feels to be delighted, amused, surprised. When I think back on the year, I realize that entire days have gone by when I deprived myself (because of busyness) from including a pleasurable activity. This is not to say that each day didn’t bring moments of joy. But I am referring to things just for me, like getting a massage, painting with watercolors, going to a movie, reading uninterrupted for an hour, taking a long walk. I have decided that next year, I will begin each day with a simple plan for joy. Every day I will choose an activity I LOVE to do. No matter how much my family needs me or how many commitments I have, a day will not go by without a large dose of joy of my own choosing. I make a list of my thirty favorite pastimes, including those that I haven’t done in awhile (enough for a solid month of fun). Next to each, I write what has prevented me from engaging in the activity. When I am conscious of the obstacles, I am able to think of ways to remove them. Tomorrow, I begin a joyous new era. ******************************************************************** The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. —James Adams Making more money was once my excuse for why I didn’t make more time for my family. I was driven and ambitious. The next plateau was where my dream house would be built. The next vacation beach was the one I would relax on. But when I arrived, I still wasn’t satisfied and I spent my time making more plans. When my grandmother’s heart began to fail, my Poppy conscientiously cooked meals, scrubbed every surface clean, ran the errands. He was now a very busy man. Yet every evening after dinner, he stopped working to savor a peppermint ice cream cone and a slow dance with Nana on the terrace. Afterwards, he tucked her into bed, making certain she noticed his cool hands on her forehead. He did this because, looking back over a lifetime of moments, he knew he would not regret a few spots on the wall, but rather that they had not danced in the warm night. Why must we wait until “goodbye” reveals how much we cherish each other—what a treasure our time spent with loved ones truly is? When my children ask for my time, I often struggle with the momentary desire to finish “my work.” But once I filter out what is not important, I remember that paying attention is a gift and is the right thing to do. Nothing is more compelling to me than a family moon walk in our neighborhood followed by a good story read together by nightlight. It is that simple.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Does it have to be done? Does it have to be done now? Can I delegate it? Does it have to be perfect? Is there a simpler way to do it? —La Leche League I clear the way for a simpler life. I leave spaces in my day and remove the word “hurry” from my vocabulary. I prune every unnecessary obligation. “Less is more” is my call to inaction. I stop rushing and notice how impatience in my tone of voice and gestures falls away. I no longer feel compelled to hurry my pace, robbing myself of the leisure to touch the world around me. To slow down, I remember this chant: One button at a time. One spoonful at a time. One step at a time. One moment at a time. One place at a time. One decision at a time. One way at a time. One day at a time.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Fifteen years ago tonight, I treated my four year old son, Jake, to a holiday night of sweet treats and amusement park rides on the rooftop of the Emporium, a now defunct department store downtown on Market Street. My own mother used to bring my sister and I there every December to eat crunchy corn dogs dipped in yellow mustard and ride the ferris wheel high above the twinkling city lights, snuggled in our parkas against the brisk air. This was one Christmas tradition my Jewish parents allowed me to experience despite their refusal to decorate a tall tree with ornaments and place a crystal angel on top. The night I took Jake, I did not share his exhilaration and happiness. My husband and I had recently separated and it seemed as though I was the only parent standing alone waving at her child as he whizzed by on the miniature train. I stared at the mothers and fathers holding hands, snapping Polaroids™, watching the images of their children with hands and fringed wool scarves flung into the air materialize on the white squares of photo paper. I spiraled down into a mood so low that I forgot to keep my eye on Jake as he snaked through the crowd to ride the roller coaster. I was paralyzed by the depression. I stood still and felt as cold as an ice sculpture. I didn't hear the music of the carousel. But from the din, Jake's laughter and urgent "Mommy, watch" snapped me out of my funk. I didn't want to destroy his fun and managed to gather the energy to use up the rest of our ride tickets and find the corn dog stand. We somehow caught the right streetcar home and once Jake was sound asleep, I placed a chunky sandalwood candle on the floor in the middle of my dark bedroom, lit the wick, and sat cross-legged in front of it's glow, waiting for clarity. I was mesmerized by the blue and yellow flame. Soon, my chest began to heave and primal sobs burst from my mouth. I was afraid the wracking sound would scare Jake so I pressed my palm over my lips. A movie of memories flooded my mind. I “watched” a little girl in a red and green plaid jumper begging her Daddy to dance with her. The word "homesick" underscored my recollection of a childhood wishing for more time with my Dad. I let the story unfold over an hour that late night. I immersed myself in homesickness; I learned to access old, stagnant emotions by giving myself the space and time to see through to the truth. And then I let go what didn't work for me anymore.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
I cultivate the special quality of being content with very few possessions. Millions of people around the world wear clothes discarded by others, dwell in makeshift homes, eat less than their hungry bellies yearn for. Though I need not worry about scrounging for my next meal or that I will shiver tonight, I adopt a non-clinging attitude towards the material world. Excess surrounds me in this gift-giving season, yet I find myself easily shedding all that I am not. I am not a party girl. I am not a parent who showers my children with toys. I am not a fashion queen. I am not a stressed-out, last minute-obligated-to-get-you-a-gift shopper. What I am is a person who enjoys giving from the heart, giving time and experiences, giving gifts that are evergreen because they are chosen by me with thought and care. Conversely, I strive to receive with attention and model for my children the way to open gifts mindfully, honoring the gift-giver at the same time as the recipient.
Monday, December 01, 2008
I've watched the trees closely as long as I can remember and along the way befriended a forest of favorites. There was the generous flowering plum in the front yard on Stratford Drive that blossomed in April, and by July was laden with shiny little plums. I would shimmy up the trunk, balance on a thick branch, and pluck and eat the tart fruit until my stomach groaned. Through 30 summers at Lake Tahoe, I measured the growth of a Ponderosa pine sapling I discovered as a toddler growing next to the redwood deck. By the time I vacationed with my own children at our summer house, that courageous tree was taller than the roofline and was my father’s gauge for whether or not he could take his grandchildren out on the lake for a boat ride. If the tip-top of the pine was still, needles steady, catching the sunlight, we knew the lake was calm. But if the crown was swaying, Papa called off the trip. He knew the white capped waves would toss and bump his little fishing boat and make it difficult to navigate through the rocky cove. But my favorite was the weeping cherry tree I called Pom-Pom that showered me with petal confetti as I lay daydreaming on the lawn. I loved to watch a pair of robins add one thin twig, a piece of torn newspaper, another bird's lost feather, to their nest in the crook of that happy tree. I passed many long spring Saturdays staring through the wizened branches at the blue sky and passing clouds. I wrote my first book under Pom-Pom and vowed one day to publish a thank you poem for my treasured trees. I wanted to show my appreciation for the gifts of courage and hope that trees give to the world—beginning life as a curious seed, growing willfully up through the dark soil, branches reaching skyward anticipating the sun and rain, then later kneeling down to nourish earth with its crunchy, golden leaves. And beginning all over again.