Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Misanthrope, Interrupted

So my last post was deep and all, but I'm starting to feel like anyone new around here might think this is all I talk about - gratefulness, counting my blessings, abundance, blah di blah di blah deedee blah.  If this was an audioblog, I think I might be starting to sound like Charlie Brown's grandma on the phone.

Perhaps I give the wrong impression of myself as author.  As I recently commented on a friend's 'grass is greener' Facebook status:  I find my own philosophy of "the grass is brown wherever you go" is a super uplifting way to live.  

Yep, I'll go ahead and own it:  I'm a natural pessimist. Tell me a great plan, and I'll tell you exactly why it won't work, and besides we don't have the money for it.  And let me just say, it is sooooo much fun to live with someone like me.  (Of course the upside of living with a pessimist is she is always pleasantly surprised when things do go well. )

So this summer, when my book club read Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, I have to admit that I was deeply irritated by at least 90% of the book.  I found myself grousing inwardly 'what IS it with this guy?  He must drive his wife nuts, even if he is terminal!'   Beyond being overly cheerful for my taste, what grated the most was that he maintained this relentless optimism despite knowing fully what his wife would face after he was gone.  I mean, his handy little Book o' Advice won't be much help when she and the kids hit those early teen years.

Around this same time, I ran into a friend at a swim meet, and as we made small talk between events, she asked what I was reading these days.  I mentioned my feelings about The Last Lecture, and blathered on for a bit about how I was feeling more sympathy for his wife than for the author, how I just couldn't be that 'glass half full' along with him if I was his wife.  I realized, mid-blather, how insensitive this sounded, and tried to backtrack, saying something along the lines of "oh I don't know, I suppose when something like that is presented it wipes the slate clean:  it totally changes who you think you 'are'."  And this friend, this woman who just a year ago lost her infant son after a sudden illness, looked at me with eyes filled with wisdom gained through pain and said quietly, simply - 'Yes.  Yes it does.'

I read the remaining 10% of my book with a very different perspective.  Stopped short by my friend's honesty, I wondered if it truly would take a terminal diagnosis, or a sudden illness to really let me see how full of gifts my life is.

I've been trying to write this post ever since.  How do I say it in a fresh way?  How do I talk about being thankful for every single day that I am given without sounding like Randy Pausch??

Here's my draft from last week:
I heard myself saying the words.  I heard myself saying these exact words:  "what have I done to deserve this??"  And I wasn't saying it in a nice way.  Oh no I was not. 

Apparently, I'd forgotten to circle on my calendar that yesterday was National Tell Your Parents All That They Do Wrong Day.  My kids were prepared, though, yessir.  The morning started with everyone needing to wear different things, because I had tricked them into agreeing what they'd wear the night before.  Annika - my ONE YEAR OLD - tried hitting me because I wanted her to go potty before she peed in her pjs.   Yep.  Then she wet her pants.  The breakfast I made was 'us-guhs-ting' (steel cut oats), I hadn't signed Cecilie's homework page, I didn't understand from Annika's grunts that she wanted milk and not orange juice, in a cup like the big kids not a sippy cup.  Oh, and it was my fault that my son tried to leave for preschool going commando:  although I'd helped him choose the favorite red dalmation print underpants, I hadn't picked them up off the stairs when he dropped them on the way down.

So I was busy feeling woeful for much of yesterday, despite the fact that the beets have arrived at the farmers market!

And my point, in that particular draft, was what indeed have I done to deserve this??  What have I done that I deserve the loving family, cozy crazy home, and the profoundly patient and forgiving husband that I have? 

I've finally decided that I am making progress in my misanthropy if I can just force myself to ask that every day:  do you realize just how much you've been given?   All of these posts, the reflections that I share on just how much there is in the universe for each of us, are simply my little happiness calisthenics.  Maybe someday, I'll get my heart and head in shape to the point where the exercise is no longer necessary.

Then I'll just have to write about American Idol or something.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking back Twilight

I sat outside in the deepening twilight the other night - [I love that phrase, deepening twilight, don't you??] - and watched the long shadows cover the yard, the neighbors' houses, and creep right up to my back door.

I looked around a backyard strewn with toys, bikes, push-cars and sand pails, and watched as my baby girl busily constructed 'woads' and 'ouses' in the sandbox, right into the very last minute of the day.  I turned my eyes up to the house at the top of the yard and in the bright rectangle of the kitchen window could just make out Torbjorn & Lars at the table, deeply absorbed in elaborate Lego structures.

It's a beautiful time of day, those moments just before people start shutting the blinds, when the warm light of their homes shines out of their windows and staves off the encroaching darkness just a few seconds more.  I looked at my own home, registering all of the untidiness around the yard, the shingles that desperately need replacing on that one corner, the windows that could do with a good scrubbing, and hours of yardwork needed to bring things up to scratch, and I was grateful for the shadows, for the softening light that didn't show everything.

Weathered Sunset by Fort Photo / © All rights reserved /via Flikr

The common literary convention is to see twilight as the death of the day (and the whole twilight/death thing is just so regrettably obvious since that crazy vampire story.)  But here's my question: could we perhaps see the end of the day as the time of focus, the time where all the silly details fade away?  See it perhaps as the curtains closing on one act of a very long play, where, as the footlights fade, what is left on the stage in the spotlight are the central elements of the scene:  all that is important.

What the diminishing daylight on this recent evening revealed were the gifts that I've been given, and for which I so often fail to be grateful.  There are, inside my home, three bright, healthy and profoundly sweet children who forgive me daily for my failings, and continue to trust that I will do right by them.  There is, inside my home, a husband who faithfully goes to work, drives hours and hours and hours to get there, all to provide for this life, this place of peace for us.  There are, inside my home, pictures and dishes and teacups (oh my!) that are tangible memories of many people who love us, who have shared their lives and gifts with us, and therefore make our lives richer.

I find twilight - yes, the deepening twilight - so profound.   It is a few quiet moments to reflect on the sheer grace of being given another day:  the lights fading on the trivial, and the spotlight focused only on that which is central to life - those whom we love.
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