“Forgive my unlovely script, for on the march provides no tranquil place for reflection and correspondence.” This quote, from the book March, was written about the civil war, but is still relevant today. Not because of a literal war, but the busy war of our modern life style. Busy working at all it takes to support a family, and keeping up with social media and broadcasts. Relaxation is no longer sitting quietly on the porch snapping beans. It’s about distractions from everyday life, still busy, but doing something different than what’s required of me, leaving all that life entails piling up inside, physically and mentally. I can hold just so much bad – grief, stress, problems – and struggle to hold onto good – happy, content, carefree – so something has to happen to win the busy war. What? How? When? By making quiet moments a priority, stepping away from busy to focus on the bad; churning them around, finding solutions, discarding all I can. Also focusing on the good; remember, breathe, smile. If I didn’t live alone, I could lock myself in the bathroom or sit in the car, just me, each day for even five minutes. Is it possible? Yes, it is.
Time ticks away at the same pace every day and yet my perception of it does not. From Eternal on the Water: “If the sun blew up and you had ten minutes to live, what would you do? I would do push-ups, because time passes really slow when you do push-ups.” Depending on the task or experience, an hour can feel like two, or more like a half. Time didn’t change, my perception did. This makes me think of railroad tracks with two modes of transportation always available – the handcar or the train. They both get me to the station in the same amount of time, but the first seems considerably slower under my own power. I don’t have to choose the handcar, but I do, and why is that? It starts with the first thoughts of dread or expectation. If dread, I lengthen the dread by choosing the handcar. If expectation, I shorten the expectation by choosing the train. How stupid is that! Is it possible to reverse my choices? Forgetting the dread, focusing on the task, not the end. Forgetting the expectation, holding onto the experience from start to finish. Becoming The Little Engine That Could (New York Tribune, 1906).
The Ironman Triathlon came to town recently – 140.6 miles, 18 hour time limit. A participant told me that although you must be physically fit, it’s really a head game. You train for each leg, swim, bike, and run, but not together, so you must have an unwavering belief that you have the stamina to finish. There are cut off times for each leg, so you could finish swimming and biking but miss the run cutoff, and not be allowed to finish. Pretty hard core! Becoming a widow didn’t require me to be physically fit because it’s all played in my head. There’s nothing I could have done to train for any part, so I must keep believing, through the continual wavering, that I have the stamina needed to keep going. There are no cutoff times, so moving at a snail’s pace, or repeating a leg, could mean never finishing. Pretty hard core! Have I conquered the head game? Has the wavering stopped? Have I run out of stamina? Have I stopped repeating? No, but I’ve come pretty far, not in a race, but a journey of who knows how many miles, with no time limits or requirement to finish.
Everything is forgivable. Oh yeah, well you don’t know what happened to me! I don’t need to know because based on experience, I believe forgiveness is required for every single mistake, real or perceived. I make mistakes, resulting in being disappointed and angry with myself. These aren’t feelings I should keep so they’ve got to go, which means forgiving myself. The mistakes may have only impacted me, but many times others are involved so I must ask their forgiveness in order to be fully forgiven. They may not forgive me, but it doesn’t matter because the asking, not being forgiven, is the letting go. Others make mistakes, resulting in me being disappointed and angry with them. If I don’t want to feel this way forever I must forgive them, whether they ask or not. Sometimes mistakes are perceived, but real or not doesn’t matter, they’re in everyone’s way, so forgive – much quicker and easier than an accusation and defense ping pong match to prove who’s right. Mistakes don’t “go quietly into the night” so forgiveness doesn’t mean forgettable. Forgiveness doesn’t mean fixable either; relationships may end. But only with choosing to forgive can I stop sinking and start swimming.
I see life as having three main ingredients. Influence – I don’t have to be like my parents. Parents are the ultimate examples; children see and hear everything. But if I choose to, I can notice all kinds of behavior, in and around me, and determine, using some kind of measure, what I want to be like, or what I never want to be like. Kindness – the measuring stick for choosing. A single word, easily remembered, that can replace every rule put into place to protect people from themselves and others. If my behavior is based on kindness, no one will need protecting because there’s no need to wonder how I should treat myself and others. And when I fail, there’s forgiveness – not a mistake eraser, but rather a mistake concealer, making it possible to move forward with lighter, yet cautious, baggage. I’ll always be influenced by something, changing as I see behaviors I want and don’t want. I will consistently measure my life against kindness, never letting my past or circumstances tell me who I am. I will continue to give and need forgiveness, not anchored to mistakes, but floating among them. I see, I change, I forgive.
What would make me happy? Currently unanswerable, so I asked, what made you happy before? It surprised me to say I never gave happy much thought because just living – raising a family, working, and later, all we did together – was plenty. I was content, so the happy question never reared its ugly face. I still have plenty, but for some reason it’s not enough. I can’t seem to come up with what would make a difference; content, enough, happy. I play the what-if game in the realm of possible. What if I had an important job and made lots of money? I have an important job and have enough money. What if I moved, started over? Same stuff, same me, in a different location; that’s a lot of work for a change in location! What if I traveled; a different country every month? Not fun with no one to share it with. And there it is, my happy answer involves others, the most difficult happy to achieve because another person’s happy would have to line up with mine. The answer then, is stop looking for the big happy, and start capturing the many little ones coming my way every day.
The futility of complaining really hit home recently. I had become part of the slow moving traffic worm caused by a driver that doesn’t realize there’s only two ways to drive – go the speed limit or get out of the way! But complaining about what can’t be changed only caused frustration because it can’t produce positive change. Trying to change what’s making me miserable allows me to figure out if it’s feasible or not. If it is, take the energy used to complain and direct it towards taking action – bye, bye, miserable. But it wasn’t possible to do anything about the 28 miles to the interstate, with only a few short passing zones and 3 cars ahead of me, so I became a quiet part of the worm, well,, except for hoping they’d run out of gas or breakdown! I accepted the worm, figuring out how to stomp on the frustration by finding some joy. It’s hard to stop complaining, even harder sometimes to recognize complaints as the signal to fix, change, or accept, instead of a part of everyday life. What’s the alternative? Live on the complaint merry-go-round, where miserable goes round and round? Nope, no more.