Simplify

I work from home during the summer, so this year I have decided to take advantage of the more relaxed schedule to take on the project of cleaning out my house. I am not moving. My kids are not moving. But we have way too much stuff in our relatively small townhouse. Rooms are not being used to their fullest potential, and the clutter is beginning to take over.

We have lived here for 14 years, and it amazes me that we have acquired so much stuff without weeding out what we are no longer using. Yikes! So this summer, I am getting rid of all of the junk, clutter, and just stuff we no longer need. This stuff—it doesn’t matter to me. Living life without all the encumbrances… that is what matters.

One step in the process is to sell whatever is still useful, usually on the local online yard sale sites and usually at a steal. Last weekend was my first foray into the online yard sale arena. I posted two items of furniture, just to see what would happen.

I posted the items late Friday night right before I went to bed, and by Saturday morning, no one had responded. Yep, the immediate gratification we have all come to enjoy on social media was not happening. So I sat down to work in my online classroom, figuring I was not going to sell my items, but knowing there is always the donation route.

It wasn’t long before I had messages from individuals interested in both of my items! And I was messaging them back to decide on a pick up location and time. At one point, I was messaging one of the buyers about a pick up time while simultaneously messaging a friend about something completely unrelated. My son looked on, unaware that I had pulled in a chat with a friend as well as the two buyers.

“Get them bidding against each other,” he told me. “That’s the way to maximize profits and minimize friends!” This last statement held a tiny hint of glee, as if he had just given away some closely guarded secret.

“Well,” I responded. “That would be a good idea, but I really just want this stuff out of my house. And I’m not messaging two people who want to buy the same thing.”

“Oh, too bad,” he stated. “It was a great idea, and it would get you the most money.”

Yes, I thought. If you are a businessperson. But this stuff (and its complications) doesn’t matter to me. My focus for this summer is to simplify.

Simplicity will be the best reward!

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Wonder

The other day, I was on my way out to the car for work when I noticed that the azalea bush at the bottom of my front steps had little pink buds on it.

Let me backtrack for a moment. When I say “azalea bush,” I am exaggerating just a bit. When I first moved here in 2004, there was an azalea bush there. Over the years, it was overtaken by some unexplained rot/mold/disease, and each spring, it appeared to be closer and closer to the doom of nonexistence. One year, when the condo association landscapers came to prune the bushes, I asked them if there was anything they could do to save it. The manager surveyed the sad little bush, shook his head, and told me that he would cut off the dead parts, but the bush would probably need to be removed. He worked away at it for a bit and when he was done, there was little left. “I don’t think that’ll help, but we’ll see,” he told me.

And for the past several years, my struggling azalea bush has been little more than a bundle of sawed off stumps with some dried twigs sticking up. Every now and then, a leaf appears, but nothing more.

So imagine my surprise when I walked out the door on a beautiful spring morning, and the beginnings of an azalea bush were growing from one side of the bundle of old rotten bush-parts. Tiny shoots flaunted bright pink buds that caught my eye. It wasn’t just one twig with a bud or two. It was a forest of shoots, each with multiple leaves and buds.

That afternoon when I returned from work, I gave the little bush some TLC. I carefully removed all of the rotten pieces, one by one. I pulled them out and created a pile of refuse next to my walkway. Now, there is more room for the shoots to grow and flourish.

I had almost given up hope on this little bush, but somehow I knew the life would return and the azalea would see spring again. And I was right—there was just enough life left in the roots connected to those old, dry twigs to send up shoots that will someday be a whole new bush.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”     – E. B. White

Uncompromising…

If there is one very important lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s that there are some things you just can’t compromise. Sure, you can compromise on decisions like what to have for dinner, who will take out the trash, or even where you will live, work, or attend school. But the one thing you cannot compromise is the very essence of who you are. And I mean: The. Very. Essence.

When you compromise that part of yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, things begin to suffer. You begin to suffer. At first, it will be almost imperceptible. There will be a vague feeling of malaise. As it intensifies, things will seem to be… well, “off,” but you won’t be able to grasp exactly what is not right.

At the same time, you won’t be able to move closer to where you are supposed to be—your true purpose in life. You will feel stuck. And that’s because you are. If you compromise your true self, you cannot grow and experience life fully. Everything will seem flat.

Recently, I’ve been working to round myself out and fluff myself back up. Like an over-used pillow, years of tending to the needs of others have taken their toll. Before I started this journey of self-(re)discovery, I had been feeling flat and lifeless.

No doubt this will sound cliché, but the work I am doing is to discover the purpose of life. And I don’t mean the grandiose philosophical idea of “the purpose of life,” but I am particularly working toward the purpose for my life. Perhaps this is something I should have figured out years ago, but then again, I wonder if anyone ever truly figures it out….

This past weekend, I was moving through my day when the uncompromising essence of me smacked up against a tiny shard of the divine purpose of my life. The result was a collision so intense that it knocked me to my knees and brought tears in my eyes. And now I know.

I know if I can quell the noise long enough for regular, daily reflection, I can move toward that space—where essence and purpose are in perfect harmony and lead to a life that is so captivating that I will become fully entrenched in the work and invested in all that comes next.

And I know that in the pursuit of a life of amazing energy and passion and grace, some things just can’t be compromised.

Solitude

It is dark and quiet and claustrophobic. A dim light glows from my iPad, currently in “night” mode, as the words of my book dance across the pages. There are other lights shining in my periphery, the reading lights of passengers across the aisle, and a row of gold and red “fasten seatbelt” icons starts above my head and runs toward the front of the plane. The constant low roar of the jet’s engines fills the silence that might otherwise be deafening, stuffing the cabin with its noise.

The book I am reading is one I have been poking my way through for a month or more. Poking. I am not a fast reader, but I have allowed this one to stretch out because it fits where I am in my life, and it allows me to both reflect and catch up with my emotions. If I finish it, the journey will be over.

The journey through Kelly Corrigan’s Tell Me More is one that celebrates life and death, and focuses on both happiness and grief. She talks of the love she had for her father (recently deceased) who supported her through the bumpiest of times—the back-sliding, the disappointments, the struggles of growing up. She talks of his life, his death, and how she’s been since. But there are other stories in the book. Losing her close friend, raising her children, parenting mistakes and triumphs. But it is the stories of her father that resonate most deeply with me because I am right there.

At various points through the book, I have cried. And now, sitting in the darkened cabin of an airplane hurtling through the night, I push my way to the end of the book, and I cry once more. The dark masks my tears, but I am not trying to hide. Grief is a part of a life—part of our deep and loving relationships. This writer, she gets it. The grief doesn’t go away. It quietly walks beside us, slipping into our consciousness every now and again when we least expect it.

As I read, as I work, as I parent, as I live… the grief is there. Every day, I relearn how to live with it as my life situations change around me. Here, stuffed inside the cavity of an airplane, the lessons are learned anew. When the plane lands and the passengers tumble out, I will reflect on this moment of solitude among the masses. And I will remember that grief is a shared experience.

Fleeting Thoughts

I am sitting on the couch all cozy under a blanket as I watch my cat. She is looking for something to play with or something to do to keep her busy. She contemplated eating the charging cord to my computer, but then she remembered she’s not that kind of cat. She is the kind of cat who enjoys pulling my kitchen towel onto the floor, so she moved into the kitchen, perhaps to do just that.

The energy it took to get through the day has drained me, and I am savoring a few peaceful moments before I move upstairs to reread one of the books I will be teaching next week. Peaceful moments equal reflection and writing time, and since I couldn’t corral my thoughts into something coherent, I am writing down the ones that make sense.

Today was one of those days when the world seemed to stand still. The weather dampened everyone’s mood as the rain poured down in buckets and froze on every surface, both horizontal and perpendicular. In fact, everything has been so slippery that school was tardy for itself today, with a two-hour delay that came in an unexpected pre-dawn phone call. Since then, it seems, the day has been working to catch up with itself.

Here in the Northeast, I am craving sunlight and warmth, the advent of spring. It is the dead of winter, and my body is bereft of vitamin D. Like my cat, I want to spend the day curled up in a sunbeam, soaking in the light and the warmth, feeling the positive transformation within the depths of my being.

For now, perhaps sleep will have the effect of a sunbeam. And maybe tomorrow, time will follow a more predictable path.

Periphery

I was driving home from a dance class this evening. It was rainy and dark and more than a little bit foggy. I was listening to a story on NPR about baking and bread and devising new recipes. The story had my attention because I hadn’t had enough dinner before I ran out the door, and I was hungry.

In the distance, a barely visible shadow streaked across the road in front of me, jolting my attention from the radio and from the task of driving. I strained my vision through the fog to discern what it was I was seeing. Was it a cat? It seemed a tad too large. Was it a fisher? It didn’t move in that awkward, uneven manner of a fisher. Or was it someone’s escaped dog? The figure was gray—barely a shade lighter than the gray of the foggy night—and I wondered if, in fact, I had really seen an animal dart across the road despite the clear sparkle of its eye.

But then my mind wandered to all of the things that are constantly playing at the edges of my consciousness. Just like the animal that had crossed my path, these things could slip by unnoticed unless they are given attention. A butterfly flits through the meadow on a summer breeze. A deer stands in the brush, munching on leaves and grass. A streetlight blinks and turns off.

But there are other things that hang out in the periphery, as well…. Ideas that aren’t yet fully formed, that are just beginning to take shape. Words that might have been spoken before the opportunity slipped away. Prayers that need to be said rather than kept inside.

Life has very few distinct edges. It blurs and frays and blends. The physical blends into the cognitive which blends into the spiritual in ways that are reminiscent of this evening’s fog. Our lives blend into the lives of others. If we relocate our attention, we might just shift our focus, our decisions, and quite possibly our reality. Imagine the possibilities.

{Photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash}

Compassion

It’s a complicated world we live in, and it’s important that we stop dancing around some of the bigger issues that threaten our safety and our society.

Today, I received a lengthy and detailed email from some overarching authority at one of the institutions for which I work. This email discussed how to recognize and assist individuals in Distress, with a capital D. “Distress” was then broken down further into several categories: general distress, victims of sexual misconduct, those at risk of suicide or self-harm, and those who may be dangerous.

This last one—oh yikes! But true, even though it seems to hit a bit too close to home as we begin to dissect yet another mass shooting. I listen to the news as the sheriff says, “No one expects this…” even though we are all coming to expect this. I hear an official on ABCNews instruct, “We all should think about what we would do in this situation…” and I know that any plan I could make would be lost in the terror of the situation.

But for those of us who daily deal with vulnerable individuals on a personal level, it is important that we are familiar with the warning signs of Distress. It is important to know what hurt looks like; how pain manifests; and when anger crosses into danger. So I read through the email, and I will read it again to commit the details to memory.

To all of my family, friends, students, neighbors, acquaintances, past and present; to all the people I know only in passing… if you are in Distress, I am here, and I am listening. If you need to talk, I will hear you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, mine are strong and broad. If you need a hug, my arms are open. If you need to sit in the corner and cry without judgment, I will sit with you. If you need encouragement, I will cheer you on. If you need prayers, I will offer them up.

I know I am not alone in the offer of help. The world is full of caring, kind, compassionate individuals who will listen and be present. They are willing to lend a hand, give a hug, connect over coffee, offer words of encouragement, or say just the right thing to make you smile. If you need something, we are here. Please… speak up and let someone know. If we all work together, perhaps we can make this world a little friendlier, a bit softer, and just a touch less complicated.