Motion

There’s an old adage, I’m certain you’ve heard it, that a “body in motion stays in motion.” I believe that its meant as a physical truth, encouraging one to remain active and fit. I remember, though, a conversation that I had with a young colleague in a Boston office building years ago, while he worked his way, as we all do, through relationships and life. I reminded him that none of us are static. That we change. That the people whom we know change.

On an emotional, psychological and spiritual level, we are always bodies in motion. We’re always moving forward or backward, but I don’t for a moment think that we’re ever stagnant. If we are, we don’t stay that way for long.

I’m thinking of this because I remember a teacher with whom I worked many years ago during my first career. She was struggling when I knew her, both personally and professionally. She wasn’t received well by her peers, and, whatever the details of her battle, the fact that she would not be returning after that semester became increasingly obvious. I remember respecting her strength as she worked to hold life together during the final few months of that academic year. She didn’t return the following year, and I have no idea what happened to her. If I remember her, though, I remember a person struggling through a difficult season of life, wearing all of the frustration and insecurities that go with that on her face, displaying it with her eyes and averted gaze.

Not so long ago, I was beginning a new career, and had taken a position with a company which surrounded me with people much better than I was at what I do. I had viewed this role as a learning experience…and it ultimately was exactly that…but I was a source of frustration to my more-experienced colleagues as they had to stop and explain things to me that were, for them, elementary concepts. When one has to meet tight deadlines in an environment where communication is not a priority, mentoring someone less experienced in one’s field is a burden, not a privilege.

I’m much more experienced at what I do now, and I’ve grown into an expert in my  niche. I have a skill set now that I wish I had possessed in that job, for the sake of my colleagues, because I could have been so much more productive and helpful to them. I occasionally encounter one of them on LinkedIn, congratulating them on a new role or something similar, and I wonder how they remember me. I think that, in their minds, I am still the inexperienced and troublesome novice whom they believed would have no success in this new career.

The teacher that I knew all those years ago, whatever happened to her, is likely in a much better place in life, now. I imagine that she no longer carries the stress that she did when I knew her. I no longer carry the stress of being inexperienced and needing to ask constant questions now, because I have learned and grown. I no longer carry the burdens that I did when my colleagues from two years ago knew me.

We are not static people. We stay in motion.

We all know people like me, or like that teacher. We’ve helped someone through a difficult time in their life, and, whenever we see them now that they are doing better, we begin our approach with a practiced empathy that is no longer warranted or even helpful (perhaps even the opposite), yet engrained with a sort of emotional muscle memory when encountering that person. I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and it’s not fun.

Just as our children will not be the same next year as they are now, neither will the people that we know. I think that recognizing the growth that someone has experienced…actively seeking all the ways in which they are better…is the sort of unconditional positive regard that has an enormous influence on all of us, something that helps us to live our lives that much better.

Because we are in motion. Always in motion. And that is a frightening, as well as a really cool, thing.

A Hope Deferred

Each weekend, I keep a now long-standing tradition of taking our oldest daughter for cookies and milk. It’s the time in which she knows that she has my undivided attention, where she’s the scheduled priority, regardless of other commitments that may press in. I began the tradition by taking her to a Starbucks for a cookie when she was younger. As her love of books grew, however, she developed an affinity for the Barnes & Noble near our apartment in New England. After our cookie and conversation, we would spend an hour or more looking through books, and occasionally returning home with new reading material. Dedicated time with my daughter, and feeding her love of books. Everyone wins.

Since our re-location to North Carolina, Barnes & Noble isn’t as close by, but we manage to make it the home of the weekly cookies and milk outing about once monthly. A couple of weekends ago, after having browsed the books and moved on to the toys, she discovered one of those toys that would be really cool at about half its price. Of course, it’s a toy that she immediately wanted, for which she professed her un-dying love, and that she pined to own in a way that one wouldn’t even imagine possible for a four-year-old.

She’s ahead of the game, I suppose.

My reasons for not buying her the toy were many. The cost was less of an issue than the fact that her grandparents are able to show very little self-control in the toy-buying area, to the point that we must routinely purge old and un-favored toys in order to avoid the cost of purchasing a storage unit or a larger house. Karen and I both wish to not raise materialistic children.

That said, I also prefer to not be the guy with a sobbing four-year-old in the middle of a bookstore because she didn’t get what she wants. Parenting is a learning curve. Sometimes you end up saying things that you realize in retrospect were not the best of ideas. In this case, that went something like, “I’ve taken a photo of it. When we get home, Mommy and I will talk about it. Maybe we can buy it for you if we agree.”

The issue is that I already knew that no such agreement would come, because I could predict with certainty that Karen would feel the same as I did. It accomplished the short-term goal of avoiding the in-store meltdown, but the side effect was frequent reminders on the drive home to remember to show Mommy the toy as soon as we arrived so that we could talk about it and then make the purchase.

As promised, we discussed the toy, and, as predicted, it was not purchased. So, I was successful in deferring the meltdown until we were in the safety of our home, but I also deferred my daughter’s hope.

I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I forget…we all do…how crushing is the potential for such an event on a child of that age. I’m not speaking of not getting a toy, but rather about being given hope and then realizing the desired result still didn’t happen. Hope, you see, is a most powerful thing. Only a small amount of hope can inspire us to get through the day, to stop obsessing over that thing that is causing us such anxiety, to believe the best of a potential diagnosis, to try one more time to keep a relationship alive. Hope is a Divinely given gift, one of the best attributes of the human condition.

Hope crushed…a series of dreams that don’t come true…can achieve the opposite. The most optimistic among us can become calloused after a certain number of such experiences.

I believe that I mis-handled my daughter’s hope that day. A small thing, perhaps, a blip on the proverbial radar of her childhood (she’s already forgotten the toy by this point), but impactful should it continue. I gave her hope for something that I knew would not come true, that I knew I would not permit to come true, and I did so because of selfish motives.

I’m quite disappointed in my actions that day. I learned in that moment that realism is always the preferred approach. I want our daughter to know that hope is important because dreams and wishes do occasionally come true to our liking.

I can’t manipulate her outlook the way I did that day because of that toy.

I won’t do so again.

“What happens to a dream deferred?

 

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?”
(Langston Hughes)

Trust…Inherited

As I write this, I’m sitting on the sofa of our friends on a Sunday afternoon…friends who were kind enough to give us a warm place to crash after an ice storm knocked out power for thousands in North Carolina, including us, on the preceding Friday afternoon with a restoration estimate of sometime on Monday (and I thought winters in New England were difficult to navigate).

Good friends are a God-send. We are blessed to have them in our lives.

During this weekend outage, we also joined forces with a neighbor who was in the same predicament as we were. That neighbor, in true Southern hospitality fashion, had proactively introduced himself to us when we moved into our neighborhood, something that was helpful to us as reserved New Englanders. During our brief time living here, this couple has helped us with a few things, and we them. I trusted them by the time this incident occurred.

Karen and I approach others in very different ways. Karen begins with the assumption that someone is trustworthy…I begin with the opposite. I’m the guy who won’t ask someone to watch my bags at the airport gate for a moment while I step away…I pack them all up again and take them with me. I lock the car when I’m away from it for two minutes. I assume that someone cannot be trusted until they’ve proven otherwise. I call this prudent…others (Karen) call it paranoid.

In any case, an interesting disparity struck me in this particular situation. I trusted our neighbors because they have, in my mind, proven themselves trustworthy. When I meet new friends, I believe that opportunities for someone to prove themselves trustworthy occur naturally. This is true of neighbors, co-workers, fellow members of the same faith community. I expect no one to trust me unless I’ve proven myself trustworthy to them. And, yes, there have been multiple times when the questionable theology of this opinion has been brought to my attention. I’m working on it.

The friends with whom we are staying as write this, however, present an interesting exception to this rule of mine. They were Karen’s friends long before Karen and I ever met. I met them through her, on our wedding day. My trust for them wasn’t earned…it didn’t have to be. This is an inherited trust. My wife trusts them completely, and thus so do I.

This is true with many of my wife’s friends, but with many of my friends’ friends, as well, which causes me to suspect that my “trust when proven trustworthy” position on others is perhaps not as universal as I might think. I’m not certain that this is a bad thing.

Trust is a beautiful event. Karen contends, as L’Engle contended, that trust can only be achieved when one is given the opportunity to prove themselves trustworthy. I have a long way to go…longer, likely, than I care to admit.

I’m so very, very thankful for friends in whom I can trust.

The Second Time Around

As of New Year’s Day, 2016, I have two daughters. 

Quite a surprise, that. A surprise that, if it has taught me anything at all beyond simple stress tolerance, has taught me that, just because you remember what something was like, it doesn’t follow that you can predict anything for the second occurrence.  Which is a bit disconcerting, because that is true in many aspects of life. After all, if you’ve ever flown, for example, you can generally predict what will happen the next time that you arrive at an airport to board a plane. Once you’ve gone grocery shopping, you basically have it under control for subsequent shopping excursions. 

Not so much with children. 

Confessions are for priests and not blogs, but, in the interest of transparency, I’ll say up front that I was extremely hesitant about having another child. Certainly, when we discovered that we were expecting again, I didn’t respond enthusiastically. Perhaps that makes me a bad person, I don’t know. In retrospect, it was likely a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, as I couldn’t get past the logistical concerns of living in a new place, working in a new career (which mostly involves working for myself, which involves long hours), and trying to get a house ready to sell, all while planning for a new baby. I haven’t been thrilled with living in the South again, and bringing a new baby into the world while here was not on the list of adventures that I wanted to have. 

That’s the thing about adventures, though. Planning them sort of misses the point. 

So, I buried myself in the logistical concerns. What did we still own that would not have to be purchased again? How would my newly self-employed occupational status manage to make what we needed to have for this financially? We needed to locate a mid-wifery practice in our area, determine which hospital had the best reputation, take care of all of the diet and healthcare that comes with those nine months of planning. We had to pick a name again (something that came easily for our first daughter, but was the source of much debate this time around). So much planning, so many variables that had not been in the equation with our first, to say nothing of the fact that raising a four-year-old takes more time and energy than any human can muster. The sheer volume of things to do kept me too busy to ponder the gigantic spiritual weight of another child most of the time, and when I did have time to ponder, I chose to entertain myself and not ponder it, instead. I was very much behind in my to-read list, after all, and needing to catch up seemed a valid excuse to spend my time in a different way. 

Not the best of coping strategies, admittedly. The end result, though, was that, even more than with our first daughter, this little girl existed only in theory until, for the second time in my life, the cries of my daughter being introduced to our world echoed from the walls of an operating room.

Since then, I’ve nearly lost my mind with noise, with conflicting priorities, with just keeping up with life. I’m doing, not thinking, because thinking and understanding…things which I hold dear…are luxuries that cannot be afforded now. There is only doing, and more doing, almost never for oneself, and always so profound in volume that the actions mean nothing other than survival. My anxiety and stress from nine months ago are more compounded than ever, but with less energy to give them voice. 

Because I want our second to be as exceptional as our first, to love books as much, to bring smiles to everyone nearby as much. I want to be connected with her as much, even though I already am not, and all of this requires a constant, un-choreographed movement, emotionally and mentally as much as physically. My time is insufficient for both of them, yet it must be sufficient because they need me equally, because I am bound to each equally, and the weight of that responsibility is so crushing that it escapes me how anyone could find it a joy. 

A few days after she was born, I was sprawled across the sofa, and our new little girl was placed in my arms by a grandparent because it was “my turn.” I was trying to stop the flood of thoughts in my head, the lists of things that had to be accomplished (the list for even the next evening seeming insurmountable), and I was finally able to breathe for a bit, and relax the noise in my head with one daughter in bed for the night and the other snuggling on my shoulder. She had been crying (a seemingly constant state of affairs), and had finally calmed for a bit, calmed, I like to think, because she was with her daddy. I actually couldn’t think for those moments, not because I was practicing avoidance or didn’t want to, but because I was actually not capable of doing anything other than experience. 

And the experience by which I was touched in that moment, a feeling that couldn’t be explained except perhaps by the Divine, was that it will be okay. 

Somehow, for her sake and not for mine, it will be okay. 

And all manner of thing shall be well…

Holiday Retrospective

Somewhere around the second year of our marriage, Karen and I decided that we should have a family computer. We had both been Mac users for a long time, and we each brought our grad school laptops to the marriage, which were beginning to become dated and underperform basic tasks. So, we purchased a desktop Mac into which we consolidated both of our old laptops. All of the things from grad school and earlier transferred into users on the new machine, and life moved forward.

That computer lasted us until only months ago, at which point we upgraded. The users on our old computer? Transferred right over, meaning that everything from grad school and earlier is still there. The end result of this is that my email application has a habit of storing “archive” messages from forever ago. When it does so, it stores everything in the email conversation…the original email, the replies, every part of the thread. Entire conversations that I had long forgotten about there at your fingertips when you find yourself wasting time (as I was a few weeks ago), and wanting to browse through the past.

Karen and I were part of the same theatre group for some time, and there are a lot of conversations with other members preserved in these records. Conversations with members of our old faith community about the things that were going on in our lives. I miss those friends, with all too many of whom I’ve fallen out of touch.

I love the opportunity to live in different places. You never know when you move to a new place if you’re going to like it or not…sometimes it’s a wonderful experience, sometimes a terrible one, but always an experience from which one grows. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that I’ve only one or two big moves left in me. Partly this is because I’m starting to feel old, but I think that this falling out of touch is a large part of the problem. After moving back to the South recently, we’ve had the chance to re-connect with many old friends that now live only a few minutes or hours away instead of all the way down the East coast. I’ve cherished those opportunities, but I’ve discovered, as well, just how dynamic all of our lives are.

I mean, that works out well in theory…we know we’re not static, that our experiences and relationships are always altering the way we navigate through this journey called life…but it’s much more striking in practice. As we’ve re-connected with old friends, I’ve noticed profound differences at times, even to the point that I’m not certain friendships would have formed between some of us had we met now. I’ve also heard the stories of what has transpired in their lives since last we were in regular contact, and I understand, at some basic level, why these changes have happened. I’m only left wondering how it is that I’ve changed, how different I must seem to these old friends.

Advent is winding down, and Christmas in mere days away. I’ve lived long enough, and traveled around enough, to have friends in many places. Most of them I won’t speak to before Christmas aside from cursory greetings on cards, but there are days when I carry them all with me heavily through the day.

It’s frighteningly difficult to remember at times how interconnected our lives are. Today, we are interconnected despite geographical distances. I hope we can all slow down this week and remember each other, because that’s a part of what the Holiday Season is about.