Archive for December, 2007
As part of a winter solstice/new year ritual, my Unitarian Universalist fellowship passes around a basket of words that we each select to serve as our theme, personal and collective, for the year ahead.
So, today at Sunday services it was time to draw our words. The word chosen for the fellowship was “expectancy.” Words individuals chose were “education,” “exploring,” “patience,” “risk.” Doing this other times I’ve drawn “humor” and “willingness.” So, you get the idea of the kind of words we’re talking about.
It was a rare treat to have my DH sitting next to me at the service today, our DD playing happily in the nursery. DH and I closed our eyes and drew our words together. By instinct (or many years of doing this together with fortune cookies), we each held ours upside down until we’d both picked. Then, he turned his over. “Power,” it said. And I turned mine over. “Obedience,” it read.
We burst out laughing. Obedience?! Not a word either of us would choose to describe what I would strive for this year (or any year since, uh, birth). Nor would the concept of a power/obedience relationship ever be used to describe our partnership. “We might as well just switch,” DH joked. Then he made a guy-like crack about posting them on the refrigerator or bedpost.
The minister had us all say our words aloud, all together, and DH nudged me jokingly as I sheepishly mumbled, “Obedience.” After the service, I went up to her and told her of our words. She gasped and laughed. A fellow feminist who knows of our egalitarian marriage, she understood the oddness of the words for us. “As a feminist, you can just reclaim it, right?” she joked.
Then she told me that the first time she had participated in this tradition years ago, the first word she drew was the same as mine, “Obedience.” Unhappy with that word, she put it back, danced around the winter solstice bonfire again, and selected another word. “Trust,” was what she got.
All afternoon I’ve been thinking about this. While I’m not one to take a newspaper horoscope too seriously, I do have some faith in these kinds of intention-driven rituals, in the universe giving us signs in subtle ways about ways we can grow. I’m a fan of drawing runes and paying attention to patterns or signs we notice in our lives.
So, how on Earth could “obedience” be a theme for me to focus on this year? Obedience to what? To whom? I, of course, went to the dictionary and found “submissive to the restraint or command of authority” as the definition. OK, submissive, ick. Can’t really embrace that.
However, I was all right with the definition of a synonym, “amenable”: “a willingness to yield or to cooperate either because of a desire to be agreeable or because of a natural open-mindedness.”
A willingness to yield or cooperate. Perhaps this is something I could learn from. (Reclaim, right?) I do sometimes resist things at first, particularly the unexpected or an idea that’s not immediately exciting to me. I like to create my own way of doing things, which sometimes can make tasks more difficult than they need be. It’s something I work on. And could surely continue to work on. Finding a balance between being a creative individual with strong ideas about the world and being a pleasant person to work and live with.
One of the things I love about these kinds of rituals — and participating in them as a person who wants to grow — is that they often don’t deliver us what we think they will. They don’t tell us what we want to hear.
So my word for the year isn’t “humor” or “leadership,” it is “obedience.” I will accept it, with my own caveats, of course. And see it as a call to work on my willingness to yield or cooperate. To stop and breathe before I respond or react in opposition. To think of the desires of others before I think of my own. To find a healthy balance between the two. (This will be especially helpful with a two-year-old!)
This concept will also surely apply in ways I haven’t yet thought of. I remember the obedience I had to adopt when diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my pregnancy. Unexpected, but necessary. The obedience to study for my grad school comp exams. A drag, but so satisfying when completed. I’ll pay attention now, to what shapes this word takes on for me this year. I’m game. I’m willing. I’m cooperating.
Of course, my DH can find his own nuanced meaning in “power” as his word for the year. And I have faith that he will. We needn’t get stuck in the traditional definitions. We never have before. It makes a funny story, our words, for those who know us, and an interesting lesson for me.
Happy New Year.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is the John Lennon line: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” In fact, I use it so much I’m afraid it’s becoming cliche. I’m a big fan of questioning our “plans” in relation to our “presence.”
So, when I was home with laryngitis this Saturday indulging in a little daytime TV (while DH took the little one to the park), I was thrilled to come across a new quote about plans that I love.
I have to credit Dr. Christiane Northrup, who used this quote in her amazing PBS special on women’s health mid-life. (And, a tangent, she has an amazing, holistic, balanced and connected approach to health and I’m putting her books on hold at the library!)
Anyway, the quote is by Joseph Campbell, and he said:
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
Read it again. Do you relate? I sure do.
So often I have found that my and others’ biggest troubles stem from the frustration over things not turning out the way we thought they would. From the small expectations (like holiday celebrations or job interviews) to the big ones (like marriage and children), it often seems that the clinging to an idea of how things “should be” is the root of unhappiness.
I now consider myself blessedly lucky to have had my “big plans” dashed and heart broken at 22, as I learned young to let go as Campbell recommends. (And I made a public speech about letting go, at 23, that I still love — although that Campbell quote would’ve really made it!)
In short, I learned through a dark year and another year seeing with new eyes (and, of course, every day since those years as well) that, boy, the life I had planned was way more boring than the one waiting for me!
By boring, though, I certainly don’t mean that my life now is busier than it was in my East Coast post-undergrad days. Quite the opposite. That’s the other kind of “plans” I like to question. The cultural belief that we must be perennially busy to be happy, productive, or satisfied. My life now is quite slower and quieter than I had planned, but happier and more productive in a deeper way.
I still need to work on the “little plans” stuff, though — the everyday go with the flow. So, here’s my thought and challenge for this holiday season:
What if we, just for a week, took note of every time we got frustrated or felt dejected, then looked to see how those negative feelings relate to life’s circumstances not going as we planned or expected them to? In other words, notice how our bad feelings are related to our expectations of something, rather than the thing itself.
Try it with the holidays. Step back from ideas of what Christmas or New Year “should be,” how you planned it to be. And just be there for what it is. Does it look different?
This doesn’t necessarily mean don’t bake your pumpkin pies in advance. Just maybe see it differently if you accidentally drop a pie as you’re taking it out of the oven. Of course, it could mean really letting go of plans, if those plans annually give you heartburn. Use whatever part of the “plans” shackles have you stuck.
The idea is that, at a certain reasonable point for you, let go of your expectations, resist the urge to cling to your plans, and see what happens. Just release your plans.
Do the gifts take on a different (or lesser) meaning? Can you laugh about more? Do family dynamics seem clearer and less personal? Does the stress lessen?
I may be wrong, but I have a hunch this exercise can work wonders. I’d love to hear from you if you try this. Please let me know!
My brother and I (we’re 15 months apart) are the eldest grandchildren in a large family (well, family gatherings on each side are about 25 people, so whatever size you consider that). We’re both in our mid-30’s (he’s pushing late, I’m still mid!). Many of our cousins are in or just graduating from college.
Now, as several cousins have graduated in the last couple years, and another couple are graduating this year, I’m noticing a trend. Many of them are starting out making more than my and my husband’s current household income. Starting out. At 22. Making more than we make now.
Granted, they are engineers, architects and accountants to our teacher/writer cultural-creative-type existence. But, one has created a highly successful cheerleading mix and choreography practice — certainly creative — and his MySpace page says he earns, well, between equal to and more than we earn.
Does this bother me? Honestly, no. I’m really OK with it because I’m OK with my life. More than OK. I like my life, and we’re not wanting for anything (except, perhaps, some extended family in town to babysit now and then — maybe some of these cousins will pick SoCal?!). And, I’m happy for them and really proud of them for getting educated and doing productive and satisfying work.
But, is it a little strange to think about this income equation? Honestly, yes. These are kids I remember as newborns, who I held and burped and rocked to sleep. And their starting salary out of college rivals mine as I approach mid-life. Even the ones still in college seem to have a standard of living (read: disposable income) that’s more than I ever had, even at my top salary days as a corporate copywriter.
I suppose it’s strangest when it comes time for housewarming or graduation gifts, and I’m supposed to be the “elder” helping them get them started in their adult lives. And, really, I can afford less than they can.
To them, $50 gift cards to Crate & Barrel or Amazon.com are expected. To me, that’s more than we’re spending on our own kid’s holiday gifts this year. It’s too much. And, yet, to them it’s in keeping with their standard of living. And, they are working for the money (well, most of them). I don’t begrudge them their desire for $50 gift cards; I just can’t afford them.
What I think I’m going to start doing is just writing something for each cousin — a memory of who they were as a child, in relation to who they are upon graduation. Maybe send a small token with it. But it will be something I found at an outlet store or craft shop, not a whopping gift card. The great part is, I think they will appreciate it. And, if certain ones don’t, they have plenty of other $50 gift cards to focus on.
For me, I’m seeing that a big part of “having enough” is not worrying about the expectations of others, and not focusing on comparisons to others. Even when those others are the “little” cousins I babysat, who are now taking over the world. I can truly be happy for other people’s success (especially these young family members’) and yet not feel compelled to participate in their standard of living.
It takes a little more effort to write a long letter, or find a bargain trinket of good taste, and send it to them. But I hope, in the end, it will mean something — perhaps even more than what they had asked for. And I hope it sends a message that we can all be content to live within our means, whatever those means may be.
These cousins are graduating into a vastly different world than I graduated into, less than 15 years ago. I have a lot to learn from them. And, maybe, just maybe, they can learn a little something from me, too.
My sincere apologies to any regular readers for my delinquency in posting this month. You see, my 22-month-old has turned into a teenager overnight. (And I’ve had a big deadline, but that’s less interesting for the purposes of this blog.)
My sweet, cuddly baby is here in just glimpses these last couple of weeks. The rest of the time, it’s like she’s going through puberty. You know, the natural development. The mood swings. The desperate need for intense attention and wild independence, changing from moment to moment. The rebellion (at this age, to naps). And, the trouble with sharing.
It’s a tough concept, for two-year-olds and, frankly, for adults.
The idea is lovely. We are generous with our things, our time, our feelings, and our attention. We let other people have a turn. And we hope they let us have a turn, too.
The actual practice, though, is complicated.
How much sharing is OK before we start to feel we’ve given too much? What if the other person doesn’t share back? Are there times when it’s OK not to share?
I’m a fan of the idea that the more we give, in the larger sense, the more we receive. I truly do believe our generosity pays, sometimes in ways we can’t immediately see, and the more confident we are in ourselves the more we are able to share with others. However, I also understand that we need to make some kind of boundaries so as not to get walked all over.
So, how do you illustrate all of this to a toddler? By example, of course — right? But how does sharing really play out in our grownup lives? In friendships lately, I’ve had to set boundaries with some while opening up more in others. In professional encounters, I’ve had to attempt to understand others’ quite different concepts of sharing and not sharing this year. In marriage, we’re constantly renegotiating the sharing of chores and time.
It never gets less complicated, really. Sharing is a wide and murky river, never static or crystal clear. It starts tossing us around before we’re even two. I see it in its most dramatic form in my tantrum-prone toddler lately. It’s hard.
Still, I suppose it is basically just taught and understood by example. By showing that we continue each day to navigate that murky river to the best of our abilities. Being kind and generous, and true to ourselves. Believing that, for the most part, giving to others does not take away from ourselves. And, yet, seeing that speaking up for ourselves (with respect for others) is important.
We learn so much by watching the behavior of others (some to emulate, some to not emulate). As parents, we can just try to be an example worthy of following. As people, I guess it’s the same.
And, sometimes, if we feel the need to act out and say “mine!”, well, it’s only natural. Maybe it needs to be said sometimes. Or maybe we’ll learn to share more when we get a little bigger.
Sue Ann (Suzanne, her byline reads) recently wrote about success in a way that I love, weaving Donald Trump, Bill Gates, a Scottish farmer and her own oldest son.
Her point? Success is relative. Her approach? Fresh and insightful.