Moments, Masks, and Missions

There is much to be said of the experience of living life. This whole slowing down thing has changed the focus of so many of us. Before the coronavirus shut-down, we were focused on some imaginary mission—reaching our goals, our children’s educational and athletic achievements, amassing money—that we forgot what it’s like to live. We hustled our children from one activity to another. They played baseball and soccer, participated in Scouts and dance, they painted and played a musical instrument. Until that all came to a screeching halt.

And now, we’re faced with a different reality. What would happen if we let our children (and ourselves) have some unstructured time? What would happen if we all had time to think and breathe and not be constantly scheduled for every minute of the day? What if we gave our children time to come up with their own activities? Time to fill in whatever way they see fit. What would happen then?

If we continue to schedule our lives so full—to carry out some imaginary mission of productivity at all cost, we are not allowing ourselves to live life. We are not teaching our children what it is like to pay attention to the world around them and be with themselves. We are not allowing them to experience what life throws at them. We don’t expect them to reach because we are doing the reaching for them. We are not expecting them to figure out solutions to their problems because we are finding solutions before they even have problems. We are not teaching them to fit their mission to their life. Because they are living our mission and not their own.

This weekend, my son became a college graduate. Just like that. No fanfare, no diploma, no walk across the stage, no ceremony. One minute he was hunkered over the computer finishing up assignments that had been four years in the making, and the next minute, he was a college graduate.

And on Saturday morning, we were faced with the task of creating a special day and making our own memories, however simplistic and disappointing. He donned his cap and gown, and we ventured out into the windy, snowy, never-a-dull-weather-moment that is New England in May, and we took pictures. Proud college graduation pictures. In some, he is wearing a face mask, lest we ever forget what upended his senior year and his college graduation. And when we went inside, we feasted on homemade chocolate cake.

Life is not in all the things we try to cram into our schedules. Life is in the moments—in the deep daily living. It’s in the things that go wrong and the manner in which we rise to the challenge to address them. It’s in the ways we grow and the lessons we learn. Life is not in the mission to accomplish, but in the mission to learn and improve and grow. Life is in the mission to live fully and to make the best of every situation.

Isolation and Introspection

I always considered myself an introvert. I spent most of my childhood with my nose stuck in a book, and I carried books with me everywhere I went. Looking back, I recognize there were there were three reasons for this. One, I loved to read and to escape into worlds much different than my own. Two, I have a very active inner monologue that tends to venture into alarmism when I least expect/want it to, and reading was a way for me to keep it busy. Three, by reading, I could avoid interacting with the people around me.

It was not until my first year out of college that I realized I am not completely an introvert. In fact, I realized that I would not be able to do a job that didn’t involve dynamic interaction with people, leading me to believe I possess some qualities of an extrovert, as well.

Isolation may be easier for introverts. Let’s face it, we are used to being alone. Something as simple as sifting through the contents of a drawer can keep us occupied for hours. Going out once a week on my grocery run is more human contact than I currently prefer—especially since so many people don’t seem to understand the common courtesies of social distancing.

I am thrilled that lately, I’ve had a valid excuse to sit down with a book. Nowadays, reading and introspection allow me to avoid the constant influx of information coming through the myriad news sources—none of which presents unbiased facts that soothe the voices in my head. Each day, the news mimics and mocks the alarmist inner monologue that follows me wherever I go. Some days, I intentionally choose ignorance.

My ignorance does not mean that I am an idealist. I am well aware of the realities that lurk outside my door—the invisible enemy that we are all fighting by sequestering ourselves apart from our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Rather, my choice to be uninformed by the constant barrage of nearly identical newscasts insulates me from the stresses that I would otherwise internalize in a manner that would likely lead to insomnia.

Isolation may be lonely (and lengthy), but it is the most effective weapon we have in the war we wage. Think of the loneliness as an opportunity for introspection. Spend some time with yourself. Get to know who you really are and what makes you tick. No matter where you go and how fast or how far you run, you will never be able to run away from your innermost self.

And who knows? Once you get to know yourself a bit better, you might just discover that you actually like you!

Change (and a bit of Creative Reframing)

This morning, I woke up with Billy Joel’s “I’ve loved these days” stuck in my head. Why this song? I have not heard this song in years, and yet, there it was, going round and round in my head. So… I started to think about it.

Now, there are a lot of things that I don’t like about these days: the loneliness, the fact that I can’t see my students, the monotony of the same few rooms that keep me confined. But truth be told, it’s comfortable here, and if I look at things in the right light, there are blessings in this situation.

Since I’ve been working from home, I am not up at 5:30 in the morning to see my son out the door. Nope. These days, I’m often up at 7:00, but I can get up as late as 8:30 and slide into work with slightly damp hair—coffee in one hand and toast in the other—by a 9:00 meeting. I can wear jeans and slippers and wrap in a blanket when I am cold. Better yet, if my “office” is cold, I can bake a batch of muffins to warm things up a bit. When I need to clear my head, I step out into the fresh air and go for a walk. I don’t have to plan ahead if I want lunch.

When I am outside, I see more families spending time together. Because the weather is beginning to warm up, children are out riding bikes, and parents often accompany them, either on bikes or maybe walking the dog.

In the space of only three weeks, there have so been many changes, but they haven’t all been bad. Our space may have grown smaller, but the pace of life is noticeably slower. People are more patient and understanding. “Oh, it’s fine that you didn’t get that done. We are all trying to figure this out.” And despite our distance, people are coming together more. They are organizing drives to help others, checking on their neighbors, and offering a helping hand.

When things eventually go back to “normal,” I will try to remember what I’ve loved about these days. I really hope some of these changes stick around. The challenges of a global emergency might just make us better people.

{Photo by Kylo on Unsplash}

Grow your Good

On Friday evening, I was driving to my daughter’s dance rehearsal. The sun was low and the traffic was heavy with summer weekend tourists. I was alone in the car, and my mind was flipping through the pages of the day, churning through a brutal narrative of destructive self-talk. I am not enough of this, and I am too much of that. It was the typical inner focus on my flaws and deficiencies.

As the weight of the evening’s inner monologue grew clear to me, I stopped myself and worked to redirect the narrative. You’re not stupid, I tried to convince myself. But that wasn’t much of a redirection. The statement needed to be positive rather than negative. You are much smarter than you give yourself credit for, I ventured. You have good ideas and you follow through. Better. A good deal better! You are enough, I told myself.

As I pondered my self-talk, I reminded myself that I’m not the only one who’s killing it in the self-bullying department. While so many people seem to believe in themselves without a problem (or they’re faking it), other people struggle as they navigate their daily lives. Our inner critics are not kind. But most people couldn’t possibly be as brutal in their inner monologue as I am. Or could they?

What if… just for today, we stop comparing ourselves to others? Everybody is unique, and everybody has their own talents that they bring to the world. We all have positive aspects and negative aspects, and most of the people I know spend inordinate amounts of time focused on fixing the negative when they should instead focus on growing their good. Despite what social media might suggest, nobody’s life is perfect. Accept what you have and work with it. Grow your good.

What if… we began to tell ourselves the truth rather than some warped version of the truth we use to make ourselves feel bad? We could focus on the child we made smile while we were standing in the grocery line. We might consider how well we handle the demands of our job. Or we might look at how a great sense of humor helps us through the day.

What if… just for today, we stop keeping a laundry list of all the things we have done wrong. Better yet, what if we rip up that laundry list and throw it in the trash? Or maybe we could bring it with us the next time we go camping. Then we could throw it in a campfire and watch it slowly melt away into ashes.

What if… just for today, we were to celebrate our successes rather than dwelling on our failures? We might recognize that we have raised good children, or that we handled the latest two-year-old temper tantrum with a patience we didn’t have yesterday. We might see that we walked half a mile more than we intended, or we beat our personal best in our most recent marathon.

What if… just for today, we rewrite our inner monologue? What if we focus on all the things we are rather than all the things we are not? What if every time we heard ourselves engage in negative self-talk, we changed it to a positive statement? By doing so, we might give ourselves an opportunity to see the good in ourselves and the possibility for our future.

And what if… tomorrow, we were to do the same thing?

Don’t Say Anything…

When I was a kid, my mother made sure I was kind and polite, and she often repeated the adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I will admit that even as a young girl, if I wasn’t careful, I would easily tumble into a snarky comment before I could catch myself. But with my mother’s frequent reminders, I learned to think before I spoke—most of the time, at least.

These days, it seems “If you can’t say anything nice…” has gone by the wayside. More and more frequently, it seems people on social media sites are posting comments specifically to pick a fight. I am not naïve enough to think there are so many full-grown adults who are incapable of recognizing inflammatory remarks when they are posting to social media. Kindness just takes a bit of forethought.

If we are trying to discourage our children from engaging in cyber-bullying, why are so many adults modeling the opposite behavior? Why are we so quick to be nasty to others behind the shield of our computers? In the early days of the Internet, online comments were made under a guise of anonymity. Nowadays, people on social media post their comments—anything from nice and complimentary to mean and judgmental—attached to their full names.

The lack of kindness has grown tiresome, and with everything else that’s going on in society, I have decided I am going to opt out of all this negativity. I am going to create a blog exercise designed to promote positivity. The Positivity Project. Now, I’m not going to argue life is all sunshine and rainbows. Not even close. But I am going to suggest that if we look hard enough, we can find something positive in [just about] every situation. And if we get in the habit of looking for the positive, eventually, it will become second nature, and we will notice the positive without looking.

I would like to puncture the bubble of negativity that threatens our society and instead, start a wave of positive feelings, thoughts, and ideas that can carry us forward from here.

Today was positively productive for me. I completed some necessary work, and I was able to do some cleaning and organizing. And now, I invite you to join me! In the comments below, or on your own blog, write about one positive thing from your day.