A few weekends ago, I sat with tears brimming my eyes as my husband toasted our friends. He was again inspiring me, reminding me of the beauty of what lies within.
“You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
My husband worked this past year in a place filled with pain so strong that the people inside regularly turned on each other – not once was he built up by his peers, but oh the times they openly criticized and tore him down. But my remarkable husband, instead of identifying with the hurt and anger he was tempted by every day, he chose to be defined by the love of our big-hearted, beautiful friends. To soak up the goodness of our friends who do a victory dance for him when he gets good news, who send texts to cheer him up, who encourage him through prayers and the power of positive thinking.
As we clinked our glasses to end the toast, it occurred to me that our friends can only inspire Darren to be defined by love and relationships because of how they have chosen to define themselves. None of them are defined by possessions, recognition, social status, special skills or even really by the work they do. They try to live from a deeper sense of who they are.
What lies in our friends also lies within my husband, myself, and all of us if we trust it. It is the true belief that we are not what we have, but we are our connection to others and to this world. We are our oneness with all that is.
My sensitivity is not a weakness. My openness is not a liability. My hope will never disappoint me.
I will continue to choose love, to choose vulnerability, to choose connection and diving in. With my whole body, heart and soul, I believe in this truth -
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I will stay soft; the world will not make me hard. Pain will not make me hate or hurt in return.
Despite all the odds, I will continue to find beauty in this world.
greening my exercise
I do not like exercising or working out in a gym. I’m not the first person to express this sentiment, so I know I’m not alone. The thing is, for me, that has meant simply not exercising for most of my adult life. And, for the most part, this hasn’t been a problem. I know I got lucky being born with good metabolism, but I’m also a healthy eater, and the two combined have allowed me to remain pretty physically lazy without really being unpleased with the physical results.
It’s not like any of that is changing too quickly (though, if I’m honest, I do notice it changing) – it’s just that in this re-envisioned and energized life I’ve embarked on, physical laziness just won’t do. It is suddenly, extremely unappealing. That said, a gym is still completely off my radar. It’s the combination of sweating in front of strangers, the self-conscious voice in the back of my head, and the general inconvenience of the cost that will probably forever keep me from being a gym member.
Obviously, then, I was excited to hear about a recent study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology confirming that outdoor, or “green” exercise not only gets the heart rate up and burns calories, but also improves and boosts people’s mood and self-esteem. It’s simple really – here’s what the primary researcher, Professor Jules Pretty, had to say: “For 300,000 generations, humans were hunter-gatherers and farmers. Yet for the last six to eight generations, we have been living in an increasingly industrialized world. The disconnection from nature is deeply felt.” The study found that just five minutes of being in nature can have a profound impact on a person’s mood. “That small amount of time makes more sense when you see it in the context of where people are coming from—stepping outside from a stressful day, for example,” he says.
These study findings resonate deeply with me. In the last year and a half, I have found myself actually craving a connection with nature. I mostly express that desire through trying to grow my own food and work with nature to produce at least part of what I consume. And I can honestly say that two weekends ago, when my husband and I built our raised beds for a vegetable garden, I felt invigorated and energized by spending so much time outdoors, digging into the earth, and envisioning all that I would grow.
And it probably explains why I had the best day I can remember in a long time last Saturday when I went for a hike with my husband and our dog. It wasn’t very strenuous (though I did race Lola up a few hills), but I saw the beginning of spring and touched a natural stream of water and trusted some of the rocks beneath my feet to not give way as I walked out on steep banks. I felt amazing, in touch with my world, and I became more connected to who I am and my burgeoning calling to be a good steward of the earth. I have committed to myself to go for a hike at least once a week – and hopefully also take advantage of the awesome urban trails Indianapolis has dedicated to those seeking outdoor exercise.
Here are some pictures from our beautiful family outing! (Lola has the super power of camouflaging herself in nature – look hard!)
Tell me this isn’t the cutest duo ever -
quiet and my relationships
The moment I should have known that I was, perhaps, a bit too obsessed with Facebook looked like this: I had just left work, where I sat at my desk, in front of a computer, all day. During this particular day (and almost every day, if we’re being honest), I had occasionally “rewarded” myself for finishing a project or completing a task by reading Facebook. Translation – I hadn’t missed a single of my friends’ status updates throughout the entire day. I took the brisk, 7-minute walk from the office to my parking lot (what passes for exercise all too often in my life right now), and headed home.
And here’s the moment I should have “got it” – at a red light, not 10 minutes into my drive home, I felt bored (never mind that ‘All Things Considered’ was, at that exact moment, broadcasting a story I was actually listening to). No, I actually thought “I can’t just sit at this boring red light and WAIT. With nothing to do!” No, I needed Facebook. So I pulled out my phone, at the red light, and loaded Facebook. There were only three new “stories” on my feed from when I’d left work. Didn’t matter – I kept right on scrolling through what I’d already read! And then someone honked at me. The light was green, and I was holding people up. I hadn’t even noticed – because I was reading Facebook. Stories I had read not 30 minutes prior.
Sadly, it wasn’t until recently, when I started reflecting on the noise in my life, that I realized how insanely reliant on Facebook I am. But even as I tell my story, I know, it wasn’t just about Facebook. It was about my inability, in that moment, to be still. To tune out the radio story if I didn’t want to really listen, and just be. I honestly don’t know how I got here, but I am now craving stillness. I want to be able to listen – to my inner self and to my spirit.
So now starts part two of my Quiet project. For the next five days, I am staying off Facebook. I am even disabling the app from my phone. In addition to using Facebook as a means to keep stillness at bay, it is becoming clear to me how isolating Facebook truly is. I’ve had conversations with two different people in the last two days about this part of my project, and both said the same thing, echoing my own thoughts. Using Facebook so regularly and so often has started to convince me that this form of “connection” is genuine. I can read what is happening in peoples’ lives so, for example, I know where people eat dinner, how the work day went, what time friends’ babies woke them up this morning, how people feel about the performance of their sports teams, and what articles caught their eye as they skimmed the internet. But the questions of “why” or “how do you feel about that” or “what’s going on for you that this is what you’re thinking or concerned about” – they are not found on Facebook. That sort of intimacy with friends, that true connection, exists only in conversation, in dialogue. Intimacy and true connection exist only when you choose to enter into a real-world relationship with the other person, not a Facebook relationship.
Unfortunately, often enough for me, I let the Facebook relationship substitute for the real one. Months will go by without me feeling like I need to check in on some people because it’s as if we’ve been communicating through Facebook. But it is always shallow, and something always gets missed. My friendships are too important for that, so I’m going to try to break the cycle. Instead of reading (and sometimes simply re-reading) Facebook, I’m going to work on my real connections. I’m going to make phone calls, Skype, send thoughtful emails. I don’t know if five days can break a bad habit, but I’m certainly hoping it can jump-start a few neglected relationships.
I read this quote by one of my favorite authors, James Baldwin, a few days ago –
You think your pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.
Ever since, I’ve been collecting a mental list of all the books, poems, and short stories that have moved me, caused me to feel greater joy or pain, because the honesty of the words and emotion spoke to something inside of me. So here is my list, extremely incomplete, but a start.
Please, tell me yours at the end. I’d love to read more.
John Irving, The Cider House Rules – I connected with so many emotions in this book – particularly feeling lost, not knowing exactly how I fit into my community and family – but there is a line when Angel is born, “And so a baby was born who was neither an orphan or an abortion” and when I read it, and now every time I think it, I am filled with hope.
Joan Didion, Blue Nights – An extremely raw and difficult memoir about the loss of Didion’s daughter. All of the doubt and regret Didion experienced, not for her daughter’s death, but for all that she may have missed in her daughter when she was alive – this all spoke to my own (sometimes) extreme regret and guilt I have surrounding the loss of my gammy. And for the brief time it took to read the book, I didn’t feel alone.
John Irving, A Widow for One Year – I know, two books by John Irving? But seriously, he’s amazing. This is a story of a girl who has lost more than she deserved to lose, who wanted only to have her mother in her life, and as I read the last 9 lines of the book, I burst out sobbing with joy. I can’t tell why, in case you haven’t read it. So read it.
Jennifer Weiner, Good in Bed – It is total chick-lit, but it’s good chick-lit. And when the heroine gets terrible news, she goes for walks, she spaces out, doesn’t know how long she’s been gone. She’s depressed and doesn’t know how to work it out. It’s rough, because at this point in the book, you love her. But it’s also rough because, if you’ve ever been there, you understand the long walks, the checking out. And it is hard. And the book handles it with honesty and humor.
Thinkingtoohard, The Lights are Dim – She is a beautiful and expressive blogger who loves dogs. This story is heart-breaking and filled with love. I have it saved on my computer, for those moments when I am so in love with Lola that I start to cry.
Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin – I am in love with this book. As soon as the pain of the first read subsides, I will read it again. And many more times I am sure. There is something moving about the beauty still found in the tragedy of the heroine’s life. Everyone in the story betrays someone else, the heroine has many regrets and experiences too much loss, but yet, there is still something that gives hope and meaning to her life. Maybe it is the telling of the story in the first place. Maybe that is why I am writing here, at all. It is a sad and beautiful story that connected me to my past and future as a woman, to the loss of people and expectations, and to my hope in ultimately something good happening in this world.
It is getting late, and I must make dinner. Let’s have a conversation. I want to know what writing speaks to you and connects you. I will leave you with this last one:
Howard Moss, The Pruned Tree – I first read this poem almost two years ago. It has helped me heal, and was brought into my life at the exact right time. These words are my breath many days:
As a torn paper might seal up its side,
Or a streak of water stitch itself to silk,
And disappear, my wound has been my healing,
And I am made more beautiful by losses.