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.

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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.

Encouragement

On a recent college visit, I was escorting my daughter across campus to the dining hall where she would meet up with the student who would be her “day host” for a class visit. As we walked, we passed by a post on which was taped a hand-written sign that said, “It gets better. I promise.”

I was struck by this sign because the truth is that life is a series of peaks and valleys and everything in between. When things are bad, they generally get better. We fight; we work; we pray; we cry; time goes by; and things get better. But a college student with less life experience may not realize this to be the case, especially when students are often told, “College is the best four years of your life.”

Newsflash: College is NOT the best four years of your life.

In fact, on that same college visit, I met with a professor, who was my professor when I was in college—about a gazillion or so years ago. Now, I haven’t seen this woman in a very long time. She looked at me and she said, “You look just like you did when you were twenty. But might I say, you look happier.” Her words prompted me to conduct an instant internal inventory that revealed that yes, I am happier than I was in college.

I tried to express my thoughts, “College… well, high school and college, really… they were tough times. Lots of social pressure and trying to figure out my identity and what I wanted from life.” And then we got to talking about kids today, the pressures they face, and the complications of social media in all its superficial glory. Truly, it was tough enough to grow up back in the seventies and eighties without the pressures brought on by social media. Is it any wonder so many young people nowadays suffer from anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental illnesses?

On my way back to the parking lot, I stopped and took a picture of the sign I had seen earlier. This sign is a message to all of us that whatever we’re going through… this too, shall pass.

And perhaps there will be one person who walks by this sign, and these words of encouragement might just make a world of difference. Whatever it is, it will get better. I promise.

Simple Things

This week, it happened again….

One morning, early in the week, I was finishing up lunches and water bottles, preparing to send my kids out the door for their day at school. I usually add a few pieces of fruit to my water and my daughter’s, so we will have a hint of flavor as we stay hydrated throughout the day. I find if I put it in the bottom of the bottle before I add the ice, it stays out of the way.

Right now in New England, we are moving past our summer fruits. The berries and soft orchard fruits—like peaches—are not as readily available. Pineapple, various melons, and citrus fruits will become our go-to choices for the winter. On this particular morning, it was a few leftover strawberries combined with orange slices—a pretty tasty combination.

The minute I made the first cut into the orange peel, the zest sprayed out, filling the kitchen with its strong, distinct scent. This scent is one that speaks unmistakably of winter and holidays to me. On this morning, the smell brought me instantly to thoughts of Dad—the neatest orange peeler ever—and my childhood home; every year, just before the holidays, my parents buy oranges from a local high school citrus sale.

And suddenly, I began to wonder who might help Mom with the sorting and moving of her oranges this year—the boxes are bulky and heavy. And the grief came flooding in like a tsunami.

From that one simple act of cutting an orange, the week continued with moments of grief both intense and ephemeral. And on Friday, I walked out the door of my office building on a hazy, humid, and partly sunny day to a rainbow in the sky directly in front of me. It hadn’t rained, and the sun was struggling to shine brightly through the haze. And yet, there it was, a beautiful swath through the sky.

This grief thing… it can be a thorny path. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that grief is not something to be overcome. Maybe, tucked in among the thorns, we find the beauty of the roses.

{Photo of oranges by Mateus Bassan on Unsplash}