Quote of Inspiration

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kindness: Day 1

Yesterday was Day 1 of 7 in my attempt to perform Random Acts of Kindness.

It was harder than I thought.  It felt a little forced.  It didn't really feel random at all.  But then I thought about my experiences with meditation (which I still have not done for 30 days straight), and I remembered that the hardest part of meditation is that it, too, feels forced at first.  We fight against it, resist, have numerous expectations, feel uncomfortable and so on.

It is part of the process.  For a long time I thought that it was getting in the way of the process, that mediation would begin once all of that other stuff settled down and took up residence in someone else's life.  I was wrong, of course.  Meditation is the whole enchilada.  All of it.

I am learning this to be true for all of life.

So, rather than obsess, I just looked for open windows throughout the day to be kind to the people around me.

I did all of the family laundry, and instead of stacking it on the dryer and having everyone put their laundry away, I put it away for them.

This was a big deal for me because I am often very worried about teaching my kids responsibility and teaching them that I am not the maid and teaching them to appreciate me.

I am not sure I can so directly teach those things.  I am not sure a 9 and 7 year old are going to 'get' those lessons by putting away laundry or making their beds or clearing the table. And if they do learn through these experiences (and I think they do), it is a long time coming, a very slow process, which likely never includes a lightbulb moment at which they stop, look at me and say:  wow…you do so much for me.  I'm so lucky and appreciative of you.

I thought, yesterday, I'll just put their things away, neatly, in their drawers.  They will have freshly folded shirts and underwear, which they will take for granted.  But tomorrow, when they have to go get ready for school and they are deciding which of their shirts is the coolest, they will have all of them tucked neatly away.  They won't think of me while they sift through them, but I will have put them there, and the process by which I did it will have been a kind one.

Does that make sense?  Is there a difference between slapping some clothes on a kids' bed out of duty and expectation and setting them down lovingly, with intention?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe I'm just looking for easy outs.  But I will say that as I put their things away and made their beds, I looked around their rooms in the quiet of mid-day, without their little bodies and big voices trailing in and out, asking for snacks and if they can ride their bikes without a helmet, just this once.  Their rooms were quiet and peaceful.  I saw all of their beloved objects strewn about, and what seemed half-hazard and cluttered and messy at first glance suddenly made more sense to me.  Dolls weren't tossed on the floor; they were lovingly put in tiny little doll beds made of stuffed socks and sewing scraps.  A map wasn't left on the floor; it was put there, with little pieces of paper detailing vacation trips for said dolls.  Books were stacked not randomly but according to fiction and non-fiction.  There was a tiny bit of rhyme and reason to all of the madness.  In my son's room, air planes were lined neatly on an imaginary runway.  Football uniforms were heaped in a pile, ready for action.  Shoes were tossed at opposite ends of the room, victims of his rush somewhere else.

Perhaps my act of kindness wasn't putting away laundry but slowing down a little bit.  Getting out of myself and seeing my kids.

For my husband, my act of kindness was two-fold.  First, I made sure to thank him, sincerely, for helping me out yesterday when I didn't feel well.  I didn't offer it in passing but looked at him directly and said, "Thanks for helping me out this morning.  I really appreciate you taking the kids to school."

It's sad how often those little sentences get held up between intention and every day life

The second opportunity I had was after dinner.  I still didn't feel fabulous but I got up and did the dishes.  My husband and I have an on-going debate about dishes.  I think he feels I should cook dinner and clean it up, since I'm a housewife.  I feel that if I cook (and shop and plan and prepare the table), he should clean it up.  It's a classic domestic squabble.  But last night, instead of waiting for him to do the work and then being silently (and sometimes not so silently) disappointed in what he leaves undone (wiping down counters, cleaning pots, putting food away in actual containers instead of leaving hunks of cheese to dry in the fridge), I got up and quickly did the dishes myself.  He came in and thanked me.

I thought it was such a small gesture on my part, but it likely made his evening a little bit better.

I get so caught up in what is fair and equal.  I did my part, which was a level 7.  You need to do your part, and it needs to be a level 7 or higher.  It needs to be equal.  Fair.

But equal and fair and very subjective terms.  And the ebb and flow of life is never quite so clear.

The winner in all of this, of course, is me.  I enjoyed doing these little small things for my family.  It didn't rock our world, but I felt calmer inside.  And I feel excited to see what can be done today.

I am a believer in cycles.  Good and bad.  Either one is easy to begin.  Cycles of good lead to growth of good.  And cycles of bad lead to growth of bad.  I've been in both in my marriage and with my kids.  Perhaps ending it is as easy as making the choice.


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