Cinder [precariously balanced on you-don’t-want-to-know-what]: “Everything’s within reach. You just have to figure out how to reach it without getting killed.”
December 26, 2010
A reading assignment that will change your life:
Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It’s all of the expectations that others layer upon us.
Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.
A writing exercise to do instead of saying “but I have nothing to write about”:
Write about why you have nothing to write about. Write for 10 minutes. Then another 10. Then another 10.
There. You’ve written for half an hour. Well done, sweetums.
This is the second week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org).
The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.
Moving from guilt to gratitude
(first published February 24, 2014)
I am sick, so sick, achy, feverish, exhausted, so-tired-I-don’t-think-I’ll-even-make-it-to-the-bathroom-even-to’-I-really-need-to-puke-tired…
(Digression-justification: I am obscenely healthy. I hardly ever get sick. And so, when I do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. Your husband’s man-flu, for which you mock him mercilessly? Forget it. I’m worse.)
I’m so sick, so-tired-barely-conscious, my rational-disciplined self is incapacitated, and the rest of me chooses this moment of physical vulnerability to assault me emotionally and mentally with… GUILT.
I feel guilty… oh, where do I begin? I feel guilty that I’m sick. That I’m not working-billing. Working-family-raising. That I didn’t get up with the kids. Actually I don’t even know where they are. Are they awake? Are they home? Are they alive?
I feel guilty that I’m too sick-exhausted-I-think-I’m-dying to really care…
I need to get myself to the bathroom—but I can’t move, I can’t move—and the door opens and my beloved comes in with a puke bucket.
As I retch—I’m pretty sure this isn’t just the flu or the latest reiteration of whatever gastro-intestinal bug is floating around, it’s the plague and tomorrow I will be dead—he tells me he’s cancelled my appointments for the day and his, and the kids are fine, and is there anything else I need? Ginger tea?
I moan something incomprehensible and don’t hear his response. I’m too busy feeling guilty. Not just guilty that he’s taking care of me and the kids. No, that wouldn’t be self-flagellating enough: I’m guilty over our entire lifestyle. Guilty that our work allows my husband to be there for me and the kids on a day like this. We’re so stupid-lucky, elitist-privileged, bubble-wrapped.
I even start to feel guilty about this: if he had a shoot or a client commitment today that couldn’t be rescheduled—there are a dozen people he could call on to help. And they would be there for me, for us. In a heart beat.
As I start to inch my way across the bed to get away from the smell of the barf bucket, I realize that I’m feeling fully and acutely guilty over being supported, connected. Loved.
That’s when my rational-disciplined self, however close to death it feels, snaps. Can’t take it anymore. And wallops its whiney-guilty counterpart upside the head.
“What’d you do that for? I’m sick! I’m dying! And I feel so GUILTY because…”
My rational-discipline self plays hard ball when roused. IT is on the brink of either slapping the rest of me again or, worse, delivering the mother of all lectures on…
…the door creaks open. “Ginger tea?” my beloved says. And… I am flooded with gratitude.
Gratitude for the tea. For the love that brings it. For the support behind it. For my entire life and everyone in it.
Why is guilt so much easier to indulge in than gratitude is to feel and practice?
I don’t know.
Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused… while gratitude requires humility and awareness of our interdependence, our vulnerability.
I drink my ginger tea. Puke it up almost immediately… then drift off into a feverish-restless sleep-coma-no-not-death.
But I slip into unconsciousness bubble-wrapped in gratitude.
P.S. A. Deathbed experiences make me sappy. Sorry. How do they affect you? B. Clearly, I lived. Thank you for asking. But just barely… I’m pretty sure it was the plague. C. For the last few weeks, Cinder, Flora, Ender and I have been constructing a “Things That Went Right” wall. It’s a simple, fun project inspired by Martin Seligman’s gratitude journal exercise in Flourish: every day, each of us thinks of and writes down three things that went right that day. Three good things. Three exciting things. Or three ordinary things. The week of my plague, “I didn’t puke” was THE good thing each of the kids flagged. It’s all about perspective, right?
P.P.S. Tirzah Duncan aka The Inkcaster wrote a marvellous post about her freeing and beautiful take on beauty last week, and I’d love for you to read it: Beauty is far from skin deep.
For those of you deep in the toddler trenches, pop over to Stephanie Sprenger at Mommy Is For Real for a refresher on the concept of disequilibrium… and a tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) proposition of the massing of transitionin-disequibiriumiated (fine, it’s not a word, but you know exactly what I mean…) toddlers in a toddler “Red Tent.”
Looking for me? I’ve revamped the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”