I am behind in posting to this personal blog. I owe two reviews, various musings, and a special response to a nomination by The Imperfect Kitchen – a post that I am excited about writing and sharing with my readers.

But lately I’ve felt more like thinking about writing, rather than actually writing, thinking-past-bedtime-style, and thinking about the the usual suspects.

Loss, healing and love, in no particular order, because in my mind they are all one and the same.

A neighbor of mine cared for her mom during her last days this month. She gently, sadly left her family far too soon, and it made my heart ache, though I’d never met her.

It made me think, god, I’m so grateful, truly grateful that my mom and dad and sister are still here with me. 

Most nights my family sits around the dinner table and haphazardly share our daily gratitudes. It’s our “Our Father, Full of Grace”, a reflection on the day’s gifts and rainbows.

The deal is that everyone is supposed to share at least one thing for which they are grateful that happened that day, even if, and this is quite plausible, that day truly sucked and was horrible till the end.

Despite that we have shared gratitudes before the evening meal for over a year now, it’s not sinking in. Our boys dig into their food, starving, until I ask them to pause. Then they’re suddenly squabbling, hands reaching, each determined to share his gratitudes before anyone else.

Our youngest says he is grateful for the “water park” that we visited last November. He says this every night.

It’s not a religious practice, I guess it’s optional, but it irritates me that I constantly have to remind them to show appreciation for what they have. They are good at saying ‘thank you’ for an ice cream cone or a birthday gift, but less so at acknowledging a subtler act of kindness or uncommon experience.

The truth is that we live in a community that enjoys so much privilege. I want our boys to recognize this, and so I make them identify something, anything, for which they are grateful every night. Once they get started, however, they have a hard time stopping. This suggests that one day I won’t have to prompt them.

Right?

Recent gratitudes from the older brother include “watching the World Cup, especially Brazil and USA and the Netherlands, and sorry, Mom, but I’ve got to root against Mexico when they play the Netherlands, and for this dinner, and for getting ready to go to Bubba and Nana’s house…” and from the younger, “I’m grateful for this beautiful dinner and I love Mom and Dad and Miles and Coppi and our new kitchen and going to the water park and coming back from school and the dumpster wasn’t here and we didn’t need to do any more work”. 

It’s really good stuff, these gratitudes that I insist they share.

In late 2000, my two sisters visited my partner and me in southern Mexico. We were working 12-16 hour days, volunteer-style, at a guest ranch located not far from the Guatemalan border. Mostly European and a few intrepid American travelers arrived shouldering backpacks, ate great quantities of excellent home-cooked food, hiked and photographed nearby ruins before heading on their way.

We served traveling Germans a lot of Mexican beer and washed piles and piles of dishes. We also developed a healthy respect for the indigenous Zapatista community’s presence down the road as well as for the Mexican army base located less than one mile from the ranch.

I’ve written about this experience in Birds of Paradise, Part One, Two and Three. Fresh out of the Peace Corps, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work in a piece of the world not well known by anyone other than its residents and the local American missionaries (I should write about them sometime – they weren’t your stereotypical missionary family).

Toward the close of our tenure at the ranch, my partner and I spent time in close dialog, not only with each other, but with members of the staff. We agreed that the way in which the operation was run (by American expats greedy for pesos and a permanent vacation) was crude and unethical. The ranch employed a hard-working staff of young men and women who completed their tasks with a serious yet pleasant attitude. For most of them, Spanish was their second or third language after their indigenous dialect. We earned their trust by working alongside them, washing dishes by hand, serving plates and drinks, and weeding the garden. It helped that we spoke the language, sharing jokes and lightening the atmosphere a bit.

Bringing this memory back today seems timely. Although we did not have children back then, and in fact did not have much for which we were responsible – no mortgage, no “real” jobs, no bills waiting to be paid – we felt accountable, to one another and to the staff and neighbors of the property.

At the end of the day we felt responsible and grateful. We coordinated humble yet delicious dinners and assisted in buying, cleaning and preparing the food alongside two talented Mexican cooks. Eventually the work took place in a rhythm that worked beautifully so long as the ranch owners were not present. It was a good, yet unsustainable situation since we knew the owners were due back any day. After six months, we chose not to take part any longer in an operation that was unkind and unjust to the very people who made it work.

Maybe gratitude can’t really be forced. Through observation and experience of humbler conditions than my own, I grew in immeasurable ways that season, and I was a whole lot older than our kids are today.

I want to live my life with eyes wide open to the blessings around me. Our boys have big hearts, even if they less aware of how good they have it.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 P.S. By the time I got around to posting this, both of my boys had driven me mad, because they were tired and melting down, causing me to feel very ungrateful indeed. But we’ll try again tomorrow. 

gracias

 

 

 

the usual suspects

Snow Day

Real live snowflakes landed in our backyard gingerly at first, feathery, light. We all watched as they began to swirl, creating a blanket of white before our eyes. Over the weekend the boys and I built a very small snowman, a sad thing really. They learned to roll snowballs and had no trouble pelting each other (below the waist, I pleaded) again and again as the sun fell over the past two nights.  

Youngest child: I’m Hiccup! Battling the Night Fury! No! I’m Toothless! Where is my Daddy? I’m Good! This is the Dark Side! I’m Kai! You’re a Ninja! No, I’m a Ninja! I need a helicopter! and a race car!

Back inside, the older one closed his eyes, sitting criss-cross applesauce, and meditated for approximately 20 seconds.

Youngest child: You are the gun guy! 

Me: She is not a gun guy. This is an Olympic event called the biathlon. Children observed the television. 

Oldest child: How can I get one of those shooters? I need one, Mom. Is that like archery? Awesome.

We discussed the athletes from Sweden and Russia and Italy and the United States. Flags and snow and language and speed. We braved the cold to take public transit to the movies yesterday. Go see The Lego Movie! It was a perfect foil to a morning spent out in the weather. This morning the ice crunched, brittle beneath our boots. Our little snow man stood humbly, rather melancholy and refusing to melt. 

We sang “Everything is Awesome” until the boys started fighting and we made them take turns jumping on a mini trampoline. I taught my oldest to do a plank and made him agree to write Valentine’s for the girls in his first grade classroom — VERY grudgingly, he did so. They are shark Valentines. We’ve worn pajamas and snow gear and little else since Friday morning. The youngest was super happy to wear the tiniest boxer shorts ever made all day. Cold feet don’t bother me, he explained as I asked him to wear socks in our drafty house for the fourth time. 

The snow began to transform into freezing slush on the third day. Icicles are drip-drip-dripping from the eaves. Determined neighbors trudged along the sidewalk carrying grocery bags and six-packs of local brew. One woman cross-country skied down our sidewalk pulling a not-that-small child in a bright red sled. She did not look like she was having fun. We drank hot cocoa and ate too many homemade cookies that I pretended were healthy because of Oatmeal. The oldest begged for more I-pad time, but we managed to keep it to a minimum without too much fuss. He practiced tying his shoes, a skill has turned out to be incredibly challenging for him to master. 

It has been a good weekend. I wasn’t supposed to be in town, but the weather won and I stayed home. Now I just hope that school is open tomorrow!

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A book and a spade

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero was a Roman philosopher and writer who lived about one hundred years before the birth of Christ. I came across his words quite by accident and found they were exactly what I needed today. My boys spent time digging in the empty garden beds this afternoon, turning the soil, unknowingly preparing the beds under a bright sun and beneath a gentle breeze. We are several weeks away from putting anything into the earth, but the faux-spring day gave way to dreams of fragile pea shoots, tiny tomato plants and snips of fragile green stretching toward the sun. 

Our past several garden projects have provided the complement to most summer meals rather than grounded them. Perhaps this year we’ll change that by designing the meals to highlight the fruits and vegetables of our labor. While I’m not a naturally adept gardener, the climate here is magic in its capacity to bring seeds to life with minimal effort. Also, I like this: 

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. 

~ May Sarton

Ms. Sarton was speaking of gardening through grief. 

When Cicero was 61 years old, his daughter died shortly after giving birth to his grandson. He wrote, 

I have lost the one thing that bound me to life.

Later, he claimed to have read everything that Greek philosophers had written about overcoming grief, and decided that his sorrow defeats all consolation.

This man, who lived so long ago, knew what one continues to learn through the journey of grief today – that one doesn’t typically overcome grief; instead our heart is modified so that unwelcome loss is tucked inside its strong and hollow fist of muscle. 

As for a library, our house seems rather bare since we tucked hundreds of books into boxes a few months ago in preparation for our non-move. I’ve recreated two shelves of children’s books in the boys’ room, ordering them by age and interest.. superheroes, Dr. Seuss, fairy tales, sea creatures, and ninja tales. 

This week we’ve been reading Max’s Dragon by Kate Banks and Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. Both are finds from our local library. Our youngest likes reading about a “different Max” and is tickled by the images of the naked child floating dreamlike through a magical kitchen in which great cakes are mixed and baked. We are big fans of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and In the Night Kitchen has quickly become a favorite with its strange words and make believe images. I learned recently that this particular book was ranked 25th on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.

This makes me like it even more. 

I am never without a book. I read the good stuff and the not so good. It may not be scholarly literature, and it may occasionally qualify as trash, but even trash has a story. I also believe that writing has healing powers. I write here, and on scraps of paper I find at the bottom of my purse. Sometimes I text myself ideas before I fall asleep. Words, mainly, or a simple phrase. I do this to help me remember. Sometime it works but more often I am puzzled by the piece of a mysterious puzzle. I dream, but I struggle to remember my own version of the Night Kitchen… me, wandering nonsensically through time and space, not quite understanding where or why.

So… a library and a garden. I am in continual awe of the variety and richness of Portland gardens. Created in backyards, strips of earth along the side of homes, and in between the house and the road, they are tangles of green and gold, gifting us with their vivid hues of orange and red. Ripe tomatoes hang ruby-like and full, best tasted warm, unwashed, dirt brushed off by expectant fingers.

Right now our beds sit empty, void of life and yet in my children’s focused turning of the soil today there is something of a future there… we will have our garden.

I have my library.

Sometimes there is so much life in my life.

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Converting the converted

I attended a book reading a few days ago with my father at a local bookstore. The author is a professor at a Portland university and I hadn’t heard of him until my dad read about him in a free paper the other day. The book he discussed is a guide on how to convert people of faith to atheism. It wasn’t really a book reading; it turned out to be more of a lecture.

The guy was arrogant. He made a few excellent points about the lack of historical (or other) evidence many different religions fail to recognize, but he came across as rather brusque and know-it-all. He claimed that those seeking to convert believers into non-believers should always be respectful and kind in their approach, but his demeanor suggested otherwise. At the conclusion of his talk, he asked if there was anyone of faith in the audience.

Perhaps fifty people were listening. Silently, a single young woman raised her hand.

After asking her permission, the professor proceeded to bring her up in front of the group. Although visibly nervous, the girl was steady in her responses, often pausing before she answered his questions about why it is she believes what she does. Eventually, he got her to admit that she may not believe “100%” in her particular brand of religion if she were to be presented with evidence stating that it was not right, true or accurate.

Everyone clapped and smiled at the brave young girl as she left the podium.

Having explored some spaces and questions of faith in my past, I would have liked to have gotten to know her a little better. One cannot realize completely from where one comes in knowing their view of faith in ten minutes, although the professor had attempted to do so. It seemed that she had been born into a household of a particular religion and pretty much identified with it as the “true” religion. This initiation into one’s church or place of faith is typical with what takes place in most of the world. It isn’t unusual not to question the views and values that one’s parents or other influential people teach and model. What is unusual was the professor’s desire to “unmake” those views and values, regardless of whether they bring comfort to the believer and cause no harm.

Then again, I suspect he is of the belief that all religious views and values do cause harm. I do not practice the religion in which I was raised, but I do not think it is wrong. I identify culturally as Catholic, and I agree with many of its teachings as well as admire some of its less conservative leaders. In September I found comfort in attending Mass with my family. It may sound hypocritical, but I think one can be of and of not faith at the same time. I think this can even happen in the very same day!

Were it not for the circumstances of our birth, where would each of us be today? Is it not completely arbitrary that I was born a female in America to middle income Roman Catholic parents who loved and raised me to hold education, health, kindness and respect for all humans paramount?

Had I been born in places I have known… say… a Carribean island located a mere ninety miles south of Miami, or in its impoverished neighbor to the east, how might I be different? Had I been born a Haitian child raised with minimal opportunities for learning, surrounded by intense religious and spiritual teachings, would I not believe differently? And most likely believe that my religion was the “right” one?

We are all converts, one way or another. Converts to our elders’ way of thinking or converts to a new way – be that another brand of God or a way of living that is whole and human but not God-believing or perhaps we fall in somewhere in between.

I once spent time in a beautiful Mexican church where pine needles, fresh eggs, burning candles and bottles of Coca Cola decorated the floor. Petite men and women in indigenous dress tended these tiny altars. Glowing with candle light and surrounded by mumbled prayer, the altars were bizarre and magnificent. I was a stranger to both the practice and the prayer. Out of respect and humility, I left quietly after a very brief stay in their sacred space.

If I had only been born to a woman of the village of this particular church, would I not believe as they did? Do as they do?

Although I agreed with much of the “reason” behind the professor’s speech, I also believe that believers do and say and believe as they do as much due to their life beginnings and experience as anything else.

We trust the people who convert us to a particular way of thinking. This goes beyond religion. Beyond faith. Evidence or no evidence, our place in the world is shaped by a myriad of people, practices and images that continually evolve and turn around the sun.

Unless they are doing and/or saying something that is hurtful to another and they do so based on their brand of religion – which may or may not be different from their faith – I don’t have a problem with them. Organized religion is one thing. One’s personal faith is quite another.

Who are we to judge? said our new Pope. I say “our” because as we belong to the world, the leaders among us also belong to us, regardless of where along the faith spectrum we fall. I only wish that we could belong to each other as well – to help, and not hinder, one’s journey toward bringing out our best selves and in the practice of self care and care for others. Our differences set up apart, but our humanity can bring us together.

SanJuanChamula_DarijAndAna

Here and There

It’s day seven of 30 consecutive days of blogging. So far, so good. I am touched and inspired by the comments I have received and excited to discover great new bloggers out there sharing and writing.

Today has been a strange day. It began by walking into a downpour, Portland style. The boys and I were drenched before we made it to the car. The wind whipped my hair around and the rain slid sideways so that our pants got wet along with shoes and hoodies. While my oldest claimed to “love” this weather, my youngest made his displeasure known. He is extra sensitive to touch and feel, and doesn’t like “sticky hands” or being wet unless he is in the bath tub or swimming pool. A few hours later it cleared up and he was thrilled to spot the rainbow arching across the sky when we picked up his brother from school.

Rainbows make rainy days so much better.

In other weather-related news, nearly seven thousand miles away a raging storm is making its way to hit the central islands of the Philippines. The wind strength of Typhoon Haiyan makes it equivalent to a very strong Category 5 hurricane. This situation is more of interest to me than others given that my father is currently living and working in the Philippines. He’s sent word that he and his neighbors are riding it out, waiting for ever-stronger winds and putting in provisions of cheap imported wine. Thousands of people have been evacuated, but I imagine that many more remain in their homes. Tragedy by storm is inevitable. I wait for more information from my father and international news as I go about my regular day, knowing heartbreak awaits many people in a foreign land tonight.

May the families across the miles stay as safe as possible and know that they are loved.

philippines-typhoon

Read it again

Do you re-read books?

I do. I read them over and over, or at least selected portions of books over and over. My son is learning to read, and it is a wonderful process. On the way home, he asked me what this spells:

T. O. B. A. C. C. O.

Tobacco, I answered.

What’s that?

It’s what they use to make cigarettes. They sell cigarettes there [he's staring intensely at a stand-alone kiosk/drive-through place on a street corner].

They DO?! he stretches, turning around to scope the place out.

Where else do they sell cigarettes, Mom?

Um, I guess gas stations.

Like SHELL?

[Really?] I think.

Do we take oil from SHELL, Mom?

Pause.

I insert a couple of sentences about how we know not to smoke cigarettes because they can make you sick and generally aren’t very good for you.

But I know how to wash your lungs, Mom.

How?

Just drink lots of water.

Sometimes the conversations I have with my children amaze me. They are lifted directly from their surroundings, physical, emotional, visual, scented and filled with air, dirt and love. The boys play with rocks and invite ants to crawl on their hands.

One of these days I’ll purchase over 1,000 [!] ladybugs to release in our garden. To my eldest child’s delight, we also intend to buy a live praying mantis to go after any leaf hoppers, aphids or other pests in the garden.

What a creepy insect. It looks like a twisted, tiny version of E.T. and the female bites the head off her male partner after they, ahem, consummate their relationship. But my son read a book about organic gardening and here I am calling up nurseries to check on their helpful insect supply.

Back to books. Right.

These are the ones that I turn to repeatedly. Especially at the end of a long day, turning to the words of familiar story is like coming home.

Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It was enchanting the first time I read it – I was perhaps nine or ten – and it only got better as I explored the world of Charles Wallace, his family and his star-turned-angel friends. 

The English Patient by Michael Ondaajte. Read this twice while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Its pages are well, well worn. A mystery, a tragedy, and a war compel an unusual combination of people to fall in love and share a home. 

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Published just three years ago, this is the best example of high quality urban fantasy that I have ever read. The sequel was a tad disappointing, but this book is unbelievably good. The magic in this story is dark and dangerous, and the characters will endear themselves to you — if you like antagonistic, narcissistic, depressed teenagers who are painfully transitioning into young adults.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read this as a high school student and remember laughing at the somewhat antiquated, stilted language that pen put to paper in 1958. Today I recognize the significance of this tremendous story that describes the impact of colonialism on traditional African society. It is brilliant, heart breaking, and relevant today.

House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. The magical, beautiful, political story of the del Valle family is set in South America This novel is illustrative of Allende’s best work in magical realism. She makes me want to be a writer. I’ve read in numerous times in English and once or twice in Spanish. 

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Since giving birth to two curious monkeys boys, I understand the brilliance of this book depicting a rebellious young boy and his wish to control his world. 

Almost everything I’ve read by Ann Patchett, but mostly Truth & Beauty and Bel Canto.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The life of a child as he moves from young to middle to old, and older, and his relationship with a tree, and unconditional love. It makes me sad. I still own the copy I was given by my aunt and uncle on my First Communion. 

This list is just a tease, but these are my go-to and go-back-to favorites. 

What are you reading these days, readers? 

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When Skies are Gray

I was incredibly glad to shut my boys’ bedroom door tonight. I have the tendency to be chatty sometimes, but geez, those two don’t stay quiet for longer than a minute or two, and they often speak simultaneously, unless they’re heavily engaged in some strange and creative world that brings together batmobiles, batjets, and batpeople with alligators, birds of prey, race cars, soccer pros and garbage trucks (what, you’ve never played that game?)

That, or if my oldest is playing Angry Birds (a game I mostly curse, but for which I am occasionally grateful).

The day felt long by noon.

My eldest is generally very sweet and unperturbed when I drop him at school. Today, however, it was drizzly and cool as we walked down the road, and he complained of being cold. Always the antithesis of his brother, he actually likes wearing long pants and hoodies and warm pjs and wrapping himself in fleece blankets. Just like me.

He was wearing a long-sleeve cotton T and a rain jacket – just a shell, no warmth built in.

After a month of gorgeous sunshine-y spring, it’s now in the 40s and raining.

I forgot today there was a field trip. The kids were going to visit Portland Police Bureau’s mounted patrol – a pretty excellent opportunity, but they were going to spend the day on public transit and picnic outdoors after meeting the horses. And my kid is freezing because, ahem, his mother didn’t dress him appropriately.

I assured him I could rush out and bring back a warm hoodie in no time flat. He didn’t believe me. There wasn’t enough time before they headed out.

Not to worry, I said. Moms are magic. 

Clutching the hand of my youngest, I marched him down the hallway to Lost and Found. We have lost at least two, maybe three hoodies and jackets this year, and they’ve never shown up at Lost and Found. I had no shame in searching the rack, telling my three-year-old, we’re looking for Miles’ jacket! because we were. Kind of.

Red vest, size 7. No nametag. Big, but it would do.

Back in the classroom, Miles apprised the vest. It looked a whole lot like the one he misplaced earlier in the year, and he slipped it on beneath his raincoat.

Whew.

Then.

Shit.

A bunch of the kids had backpacks. Kindergarten policy doesn’t allow backpacks, and the students bring tote bags instead that all look alike.

Except on field trip days.

Miles recently procured a Star Wars back pack that is awesome and he loves it. Of course, it was at home.

More tears. He’s not cold anymore, but his mother forgot his backpack. Really?

I thought maybe, maybe, maybe I could make it back home and to school again with the backpack, but I told him it was a long shot. We live less than five minutes drive from school.

Off we went, pretending cheer as we left my sensitive boy at the door.

Home, I parked and rushed in to grab the pack and sped back to school.

The classroom was dark.

Back to the car. Max and I drove around the neighborhood because I knew the kids are waiting on a corner for the bus … somewhere close to the school.

I spied 29 five- and six-year-olds in colorful raincoats hanging out on a street corner and pulled over.

Max proudly delivered the backpack to his big brother. But where was the big smile we expected?

Tears flowed. Oh dear. This situation was not one that can be easily remedied. I waited ten or so minutes before extricating myself from my terribly sad child. Around him most of his classmates were squealing and talking and laughing. Just two stuck close to Miles. One, a tall sweet boy with dark, longish curls, and the other, a boy fairly new to the class, accompanied by his gorgeous young mom who spoke with a slight Spanish accent.

They watched him cry quietly and cling to me, thoughtful, not teasing. Others were oblivious to our tiny world of Sad. As I left, I asked the boys to keep an eye on Miles, and they were eager to say, yes, yes, we will. We REALLY like Miles, one said.

Meanwhile everyone else in the class was excited as they waited for the bus to take them downtown. Max and I climbed in to our car and went home.

I got him a snack and set him up with some books, toys and Clifford the Big Red Dog. My sister called, and I hung up on her to take a work call. Things were going well when my dog started barking and the doorbell rang multiple times.

What the *&*^%?

The delivery guys arrived 90 minutes prior to the four-hour window to deliver and move some furniture. I hit mute on my mobile and rapidly signed some paperwork, directing them where to put stuff. Put the dog in the back yard and called back into my meeting.

Meeting complete, I turned my attention back to my youngest who had quietly (miraculously) watched an entire Clifford video.

Stark naked.

Then he put his new rain boots on and announced he was ready to go to the store. I suggested he might put on some clothing, and he did so with minor fuss. We walked to the corner store and picked up a few things for the soup I would make later that day. We practiced using an indoor voice, unsuccessfully on his part, but I did quite well.

Home again. NAP TIME.

Back to work, a review of some materials and communications to make sure I didn’t lose all that had taken place during the meeting.

I picked up my eldest at 3:00 pm. He spotted me from across the playground, dropped his backpack and sprinted to welcome me with a crashing, wonderful hug. We talked about his day, the drop-off, the field trip.

Well, I’m still sad, Mom. I wanted you to come with me like the other Moms.

What did you like best about the field trip?

I got to pet the horses. They were really big, like gigantic. Oh and I met the police men. I didn’t see their guns, but *** did.

And the poop! There were small ones and big chunks of poop. Almost everybody stepped in it. 

Well, in the end he was most impressed by the piles of horse manure in the city, but at least he had found his smile.

And I guess tomorrow we’ll give the red vest back to Lost and Found.

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Guest post at Kind Over Matter

Today I am delighted and grateful for the opportunity to guest post on a wonderful blog called Kind Over Matter. Kind Over Matter is a celebration of community that is creative, energizing and full of gratitude for the good stuff, and even for the bad stuff.

Please consider reading my brief essay discussing kindness after loss.

Be kind, be well, be kind.

Thanks, readers.

girasol

Whelming

A few years ago I offered a basic overview of what I called “Work Overwhelm” to a gathering of my colleagues. It included the definition of overwhelm and several well-intended but impractical suggestions for coping. I say impractical because while I am a true believer in the benefits of practicing yoga, walking, stretching, eating well, taking time for oneself that does not include work or children, and sleeping more deeply, I observe so few people actually committed to doing all of these things — not just once or occasionally — but doing them over and over again and again.

Myself included.

I called this post “Whelming”, but I did not know that was actually a word. Later I looked it up, and found this definition:

  • Engulf, submerge, or bury (someone or something):  “a swimmer whelmed in a raging storm”.
  • Flow or heap up abundantly.

The first definition I interpreted to be negative, while definition # 2 seems positive. The image of the swimmer in definition # 1 reminds my of my father. An attorney, writer, teacher, and former distance runner, he has found a home in the open water in recent years. He swims regularly in a pool but frequently dives into rivers and seas.

The consequences of my father’s swims are certain; he is physically strong, confident and seeking ever more challenging time on the water. The unexpected outcomes include uncertainty of path, process and finish, due to the way in which open water swimming events are  conducted, and the nature of the sea.

Tonight, we talked casually about an upcoming swim of significant distance that he hopes to undertake in a few months time.

The fact that he will finish the event without doing any harm to himself is almost certain.

But.

It is not a fact.

There is a risk that we take in all that we do.  For me, the physical risk is easy to digest, but the mental risk is less so.

Just the other morning a client for whom I am working mentioned at least two of her colleagues being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of e-mail they receive – and consequently they are less able to respond to queries or requests in a timely manner. In the same breath this woman assured us that the busy-ness factor did not prevent them from working effectively, and I can absolutely agree that most overwhelmed people with whom I’ve worked ARE indeed effective. They take on mountains of tasks and make it to the summit and eventually make their way back down to a less tumultuous place.  I’ve observed the journey to be exciting, but somewhat painful.

Does it always have to be this way?

I’m not sure. I think it might.

So.

Knowing that the work won’t go away (and being one very grateful to have work indeed), how can we manage so that we are able and willing to take on great and meaningful work but not sacrifice A.B.C. in the meantime?

Please note that your A.B.C. may differ from mine.

What is important to you?

What matters to your family – especially – those with whom you share a roof?

How do those activities for which you are not paid fit in?

They may (should!) include any or all that follows:

Breathing.

Thinking.

Walking.

Stretching.

Talking (to that one person who will pick up the phone for you no matter what)

Writing (not a grant, not a spreadsheet)

Dining (not in a car, not on the move)

Being

and

I’ll quote from the poet Shel Silverstein:

“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If you’re a pretender com sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!”  

I’m hoping for a little feedback here, because I’m at a loss to provide any creative answers to what overwhelmingly is the problem of overwhelm. I want to meet the person who can put forth a plan for magic bean buying that benefits both the procurement team and the vendor.

I do.

Wishing you and yours a weekend that sparkles with unplanned experience and unexpected outcomes.

WebBeanstalkGrad