I’ll Start

Nothing is different

But everything has changed.

That’s a line from a Paul Simon song.  And it’s the way I felt when I stepped foot off the plane in L.A. after a summer spent in Taiwan, when I looked at my husband the morning after our wedding, or when I watched the sky outside the window of my hospital room after my son was born.  My homeland, my husband’s face, the sky – they were the same as every other day, but they appeared completely new.  There were things I’d missed before.  New meanings to the familiar American landscape, the corners of Marc’s mouth when he smiled, the sunlight warming the clouds with pinks and reds.  Experiences can make that magic.  Cause us to view old things with new eyes.  Something deep in the soul changes – it sends a message to the brain: “Whoa!  Everything is new!  This is amazing!”  And the whole body responds.  It feels more alive, more awake, superhumanly able to appreciate.  To see with more clarity than before.

I thought it would be fun to gather a list of experiences like this from you, the readers of my blog.  I love a good list, and I bet you all have some neat eye-openers to share.  The great thing is, as in all stories, everyone can relate.  By reading about another person’s experience we are reminded of one of our own, reminded that we’re all in this together.  So leave a comment below, long or short or however you like, and let us know about a time when nothing was different but everything had changed.  Let’s see what we get…

Here.  I’ll start.

It was just before my junior year in college, I was at a summer training program in Colorado Springs with students from all over the country, along with my friend and only fellow-Jayhawk Marc.  I had just sent a letter to my best friend swearing off boys for the forseeable future, as they proved to consume and confuse my thoughts and I was ready for a break.  Then I left for a hike with the close group of five other friends I’d made over the two months.  Three guys and three girls, hiking up a canyon, talking, laughing, crossing back and forth over the stream that ran down the mountain.  At times one of the guys would reach out a hand to help me across the merely ankle-deep water, which should have impressed me as an act of chivalry, but instead annoyed me as a sexist view of my capabilities.  I didn’t need no stinkin’ man’s hand to cross a stream.  Until I did.  I was about to slip off a rock, so the guy in front of me reached to help.  I took it, looked up, and everything changed.  True story.  It sounds corny, and it is.  But that is how the letter to my best friend became null and void, and how I started my deep fall into love with Marc, the man I (much later) married.  He suddenly nearly glowed, I adored him so.  He had no such reaction to my hand in his, but for me it was magic.

There, now you go…

Reconstruction

          I’ve been readying my house to sell this past week and a half, which is an enormous and exhausting task.  I’ve packed boxes, carried boxes, sorted, cleaned, purged our home of “stuff” that we don’t need, shoveled mulch and rock, dug holes for plants in 100 degree heat.  And not been the best mom.  I accomplished a lot in a small amount of time, but I haven’t accomplished my main job well – taking care of my kids.  Yes, they’ve been fed, they’ve been clothed (mostly), they’ve gotten to school with homework done and lunches packed, which at times is all you can do.  But I didn’t do it with love.  There’s been a lot of “hurry up” and “I said to put that away!” and “I just had that carpet cleaned!”  Probably a lot of mean, ugly faces.  I can tell, because I’ve seen the same kind of faces looking back at me.  Luke has reached new heights of distraction, and Lily has perfected her talent of defiance.  Sweet Mae, who is typically happy to roam the house finding things to do, smiling and singing and talking to her babies, has actually been stomping her little feet and lying on the floor in protest.  She’s attempted a few sit-ins.  She has sensed my frantic, grumpy attitude and responded in kind.  Bummer.
          One moment of calm and clarity did occur – with Mae – in the middle of the chaos.  While I was putting away Polly Pocket dolls and tea party dishes, Mae came up with some play scissors from the beauty shop set.  “I cut yo hay-ah?”  I wanted badly to keep sorting.  I was on a roll with the other two at school and I didn’t want to stop.  But her sweet voice convinced me.  I sat still.  “Close yo-ah eyth.”  I closed my eyes.  She stood above me and I could hear her breath.  The only sound in the room.  I took a peek and saw her soft, chubby cheeks, her tiny lips pursed in concentration, her blue eyes watching the pink scissors in my hair.  Everything stopped then.  I gave in to it and let the moment be a moment instead of stealing it back.  Mucking it up with things to do, the tyranny of the urgent.  She saw me looking then and giggled, and it became a game of “close yo-ah eyth” and peeking and giggling, over and over again.  It was so much better than accomplishing anything, as much as I enjoy that.  This little person who will someday think I’m a dummy wanted to cut my hair.  Wanted to giggle with me.  Wanted her mommy to sit still for a minute.  So I did, and it was worth it, and it made her feel loved, and it made me remember what really matters.  Then I got back to work and we both felt better.  Yay for moments.  Yay for the whole reason we’re moving: my family.
          I should have done more of this.  I should have taken a few moments to give them a quick hug instead of an order, or played a game, or had the wherewithall to have the older two journal their feelings about moving or something meaningful like that.  But I didn’t.  So now I have to do some reconstruction.  Go in after the damage has been done and rebuild, which is always harder than doing it right the first time around.  Some post-war reconciliation projects are in order – some snuggling, some book-reading, some dance partying – while keeping the house tidy for showings.  Is it too much to ask of myself?  Maybe.  Probably.  But I’m going to try.  I think they’re worth the effort, even if I fail.  It’s the least I can do for my little war victims. There’s a lot more stress and busy-ness and, likely, grumpiness to come as the house-selling process continues.  I can’t expect it to go smoothly, or for myself to be the perfect mother in the midst of it.  But I can try.  Each day I can do my best, and when I screw up, reconstruct and try again.  It’s a crazy time.  My goal is just a little less crazy.

It Must Be a Choice

My grandmother turned 95 last month.

I cannot imagine having lived nearly a century.

The changes she has witnessed in culture, the roller coaster of joys and aches, the countless births and deaths, the cycle of seasons experienced nearly 100 times.  Already, having lived through 38 winters, I feel a little weary of them.  And of disappointments, heartache, illness – all the negative aspects of life.  And I haven’t survived the Depression, the Spanish Flu, two world wars or the death of a child before myself.  How does one make it to old age with any amount of energy or uplifted spirit? It seems as though life beats you down over time, wears you out, spoils the innocence you enjoyed when you were young and unaware.  But it must be a choice.  It must take some effort and will to end things well.

***

On my drive to Nebraska to celebrate Grandma’s birthday, as the kids listened to the Sophia the First cd on headphones in the back, I listened to the cd version of the book This I Believe, the compilation of essays written by average and famous Americans about the values that direct their lives.  I’ve heard many of these essays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on NPR, but I’d never experienced them in bulk.  In the very introduction I heard this quote, which confirmed the above sentences I’d typed myself just the day before:

“Beliefs are choices.  No one has authority over your personal beliefs. Your beliefs are in jeopardy only when you don’t know what they are.”

Each essay included in the book is really a proclamation of choice – about the principles on which each author has decided to base his or her life.  Influenced by circumstances, driven by various forces, every single one has asked the big questions, spent time contemplating, and come to a particular conclusion.  It doesn’t mean the ideas can’t shift and change at all over time, but it does mean he or she has done the work of questioning, of grappling, of exercising the heart and mind enough to discover what jives with the soul.

My grandmother has clearly made a choice.  She is sweet and kind, happy with the simplest pleasures, mostly that of being with her family.  She giggles.

She’s 95 and she giggles.

She has had four children, lost her husband and a child, been moved out of her house and into a nursing home and she still smiles to anyone she encounters.  She has lost much of her memory – she neither recognized me the first or second time we “met” at her party – but she has retained her calm, friendly spirit.  Though it’s hard to say whether she knew it was her great-granddaughter speaking, she got a kick out of Mae saying her name, she told Luke when introduced to him “That’s a good name for a boy,” and she happily watched the merriment around her even though she didn’t touch her cake.

One might think that in her dementia she is simply blissfully ignorant of the trials she’s survived in life and therefore happy.  But she has always been this way.  She’s never been an exuberant woman – not openly passionate or gregarious.  But she has always been kind, steadfast, quietly strong and patient.  And she has always giggled.  She made a choice a long time ago to live this way.  Decided what she believed, which values would direct her steps – those cliche but universally-relevant questions everyone asks at some point.  She answered them for herself and her choices have guided the rest of her days.

Listening to all the essays on This I Believe gave me a peek into many different ways of looking at the world, made me begin to form a mental essay on the subject myself, and, as the editors of the book point out is a common result, reaffirmed what I do believe.  I hope that if I live to be nearly a century old, despite all that life with throw at me, I’ll be able to smile and giggle, too (though for me a toothy guffaw may be more in character).  I hope I can end my days with the same uplifted heart my grandma possesses.

My favorite essays from This I Believe (in the order they appear in the book):

Be Cool to the Pizza Dude (Sarah Adams)

In Giving I Connect With Others (Isabel Allende)

How is It Possible to Believe in God? (William F. Buckley Jr)

The Power and Mystery of Naming Things (Eve Ensler)

The God Who Embraced Me (John W. Fountain)

The Power of Love to Transform and Heal (Jackie Lantry)

The Artistry in Hidden Talents (Mel Rusnov)

Jazz Is the Sound of God Laughing (Colleen Shaddox)

There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue (Jason Sheehan)

Always Go to the Funeral (Deirdre Sullivan)

How Do You Believe in a Mystery? (Loudon Wainwright III)