What if I am RIGHT where I am supposed to be, right now? What if that were actually and, more importantly, always true? This morning, I woke up at 4:55 a.m. to get the big girls going so they could be out the door at 5:30 to their morning row on the Potomac River in Georgetown. Still waking up myself, I dallied a little bit before I went to their rooms to get them up, so it was 5:15 by the time they actually had their “feet on the floor”….which pushed back my food assembly for the morning (a substantial task when feeding athletes), which meant the big girls didn’t get out the door before 5:40, which meant I was already 10 minutes late getting Bateman out of bed so we could ERG together before her music lesson – – a once a week affair at 7:15 a.m. So I hurried Bateman out of bed without the regular fan-fare and we got out to the garage by ten of six, ERG-ed until 6:30, then I took the dogs-to-the-yard, made a round-two breakfast for Bateman and right on-the-dot at seven, we jumped in the car to go to her lesson on the other side of town…. On the way, we discovered a car had jumped the highway and sailed into an apartment complex which had our regular route closed down so we took a detour that was significantly less efficient, making us perilously close to late. At this point I was about to give myself a pat on the back for executing the hardest morning of the week almost flawlessly, but just then the phone rang, and it was Emerson muttering the dreaded, “Mom, I forgot my…..”
As much as those calls make me CRAZY, I kind of love them too, and I know I will miss them when they are gone. Thank goodness I am just like my eldest when it comes to organization. I GET that you can totally forget your shoes, twice a week, when assembling a post-workout, pre-school wardrobe change. I GET that things like car keys and homework and socks can disappear without fair warning. I understand that “getting everything squared away for the morning” never really includes everything…. But that never makes it easier for me to adjust in the moment when plans unexpectedly change, it just enables me to offer a little (and I mean a little) bit of grace when I do get those calls…
So again, I patted myself on the back for not “hollering” back a text but rather sending a “Sure sweetie, I will look for your Bean Boots” and eyed the clock to see if I had enough time to make it home and back before the music lesson was over. Just enough. So off I went and was doing fine until the phone rang on my way into the house to retrieve Emerson’s shoes, with Bateman calling from her lesson, saying, “Mom, I feel sick.”
I think in pictures, so the moment I got Bateman’s call, the next “scene” that popped into my head was her throwing up on sweet Mrs. Berlin’s carpet. But I nixed the image and suggested she might want to run to the bathroom until I got there and told her I was no more than 12 minutes away. I finished the conversation while running up to the attic bedroom to find a Emerson’s shoes in what I was praying wasn’t an unholy mess. Once found, I began texting my eldest to renegotiate a drop off point and time for her shoes. “Bateman’s sick can you meet me en route?” Four unanswered texts to my shoeless-daughter later, I was starting to get a little hot.
‘You do your part, and I will do mine….’ It is a refrain that goes through my head ALL THE TIME. It is what literally pops into my head every time I run into something not put away, a chore left undone or an unexpected task that stands in the way of the things I so hope to get to in the course of my own day.
Careening back to the music lesson, I got to my little one before I had to call Stanley Steemer to clean Mrs. Berlin’s carpet, and I finally connected with my big girl to arrange an alternate rendezvous point for the shoe exchange. On the way to drop them off, I dictated Bateman-will-be-absent emails – – typed by the pale-faced child herself – – and sent them over the phone to her coach, her homeroom teacher, and the school office queen who had already heard from me three times in the past week about unexpected changes in schedule. Real sicknesses always seems to happen in near proximity to other kinds of absences – – this week’s happened to fall between a legitimate orthodontist appointment and an absolutely illegitimate afternoon of hooky as I snuck Bateman out of her last period to attend an all-important Nat’s baseball game with once-in-a-lifetime-behind-home-plate-seats. (Thank you Debbie!)
All morning long I felt like I was just behind the curve – – running as fast as I could only to keep falling further and further behind – – almost but not quite where I was supposed to be. That is an EXHAUSTING feeling. To me it often feels like ‘Fail, Fail, Fail…’ when I am doing the best I can, or ‘Faster, Faster, Faster…’ when I am pedaling as fast as I can go.
So much of my time in this age and stage of life feels like I am trying to leap-frog the moment I am in to get to the one in front of it….which isn’t even POSSIBLE!? Those are the moments no one drives right, everyone is an idiot and I end up not listening to the story someone is telling me, in which the actual high or low point of their day is hidden, begging to be recognized….treasures which are lost to me when I am not fully present. When I am playing the game of what is happening vs. what should be happening, I lose the moment I am in.
I think when I try and live ahead of where I am, or try and make life fit my schedule and expectations, it’s always (and I use that absolute on purpose) a disaster waiting to happen. This past weekend, Phoebe and I were running around the Occoquan River, trying to make it to the grandstand to see her sister cross the finish line. We were both half jogging to make up time, and I was not looking where I was going when my foot hit a root and I literally started flailing forward – – arms wind-milling, feet churning, going faster and faster trying desperately not to fall, chin-first, into the dirt. That’s what I do when I try and live ahead of where I am – – and it feels and looks just as ungainly. The only way I was going to stop myself from falling on the path was if I could restore my balance by getting my feet back under my body. And just as I cannot stay upright when my center of gravity is ahead of my body, nor can I live life, ahead of where I actually am.
And I began to think about the morning….What if I was RIGHT where I was supposed to be, all morning long – – through it all – – through every unexpected change, every inconvenient moment, during each ridiculous 180 or change of plan? What if I was right where I was supposed to be every ungraceful and mutable step of the way? What if that were actually true? What if all the flailing had to do with me wanting to be somewhere other than where I was – – what if all the stumbling forward was me trying to make life fit my picture instead of appreciating the picture that was unfolding before me? What if an ever-changing life, is the balance God is asking me to negotiate? And what if I negotiate that balance by simply trusting Him in revealing life in the order, sequence and measure He chooses.
What if I was supposed to take that detour with my daughter – – spend that extra time with her? What if it was a good thing that I took a few extra minutes to orient myself before launching into the wake-up time with the big girls – – even if it tilted my schedule on its end? What if it was just fine that everything I had planned and expected for the morning changed? What if it would have been o.k., EVEN if Bateman had thrown up before she left her music lesson? What if it is always o.k., to be just exactly where I am with just exactly what is going on around me at the time?
Who am I to decide that life SHOULD go a certain way, or happen on my schedule? Life goes the way it goes, no matter how hard I chase perfection-according-to-me. Life happens as it happens sometimes because of me, sometimes in spite of me but the overwhelming majority of the time wholly unrelated to me.
And even though I might be right where I am supposed to be, I constantly battle with the idea that I am some amorphous and ever-equidistant expanse from being where I ‘should be.’ I have always been one goal away from all-squared-away, 10 or 20 pounds from just-right, 30 minutes from happy, 40 minutes from sane, almost relaxed, just about ready, not quite content, far from prepared and always, ALWAYS, almost there. And as a result, I have just-a-minuted my way through far too much of my life, instead of fully inhabiting it as it plays out in real time.
And when I just-a-minute-life and those in it, I carry this enormous tension – -this inner drive to ‘get there’ so I can relax. But getting there, Being done, finishing up never happens in the now. ‘When I….’ never occurs in the present. So if I can only relax when our retirement is in order, or when I finish the next task, or when the event is over, or when my presentation is done, or when the kids are in college, or working or married or whatever the eventuality is – – If I can only relax ‘When’ – – I can never actually relax. The same goes with ‘Once’….I will be able to relax once the house is organized the photos are in order, the grocery shopping is done, the clothes are culled, the yard is mowed, the garage is dry, the painter comes, the list goes on ad infinitum…. There is always a ‘when’ or a conditional ‘once’ and if I cannot learn to be present for the time between the when and the once, well, life ends up being exhausting, unfulfilling and a precarious structure exclusively constructed upon the infinitesimal odds of having life fit my static picture of how it should be.
The net result of living this way is that I never look forward to ANYTHING. I only look forward to things being over.
My mother once said to me, “Don’t wish your life away…” And this is exactly what she was talking about. Life isn’t good when. It’s good now. When never comes. It just doesn’t. And nor do perfect circumstances.
I remember when my eldest, Emerson, was in pre-K at Casa Montessori, the most wonderful school in the world in Austin, Texas. I was at my wits end with her. Her timing was always slower than my schedule. When she was little we even called her (in secret and in love….) MO-lasses. There was never a flower not smelled, a butterfly not noted or a detour not taken, and her attention was so intense, it was hard to get her to jump from one task to the next without accompanying questions, or lingering interest. Whether it was saddling up the dog, or inspecting an ant…there was absolutely no rushing Miss Emerson. Still isn’t. And I remember, in all my type-A glory, coming through the drive through drop-off one day (of course) and pausing after she trotted off to class to ask the world’s best teacher, “What on earth can I do to get Emerson to speed up in the mornings?” While I was anticipating a great piece of Montessori or Martha Winters-wisdom, she just laughed and said to me gently, “Oh, Karen. It’s not Emerson who needs to speed up; it’s you who needs to slow down.” And, as usual, Martha was right. It seems nearly 15 years later, I am still working on the same issue, just in relation to me and life in general.
When I am always laying the ground work for LATER, my attention never gets to rest on the present. And I am absent, in a funny way – – totally absent – – from my own life. It’s why life can feel hollow for me sometimes. Because I haven’t been there. It’s the difference between watching a ball game from behind home plate – – or watching a ball game on television, while answering email and making dinner all at the same time. Two totally different experiences. I want the live version of my own life – – the one I get to live purposefully and with my full attention. But I have to be willing to stop chasing the lie that I can tie up all the loose ends before I actually stop, slow down and relax, or inhabit the moment I am in.
And how does that play out in my relationships? In the long term, the full measure of relationship will be restored if I can stop giving directives and give the people around me the time and space to share about their day, and take the time to listen and then share about my own day – – my own life, my relationships will flourish, not based on what issues get resolved, or tasks get knocked off a list, but the gentle execution of shared time. Real life happens, regardless. I can either spend my life policing the pace, content and sequence of time, or just jump in and share the ride with the people I love.
‘Be Where you Are.’ It’s on my fridge. But it won’t translate into my life until I stop getting ahead of myself and settle down into the moment I am in, with the KNOWLEDGE, that life is always going to throw in unexpected detours, sick children, left shoes and afternoon classes that get in the way of Nat’s home games. The trick to life might just be, taking a deep breath, opening my arms and saying, “I didn’t know you were going to happen this way, but I have been expecting you!” I can embrace life. I can expect the unexpected. And I can hold fast to the notion that I am right where I am supposed to be.
There is an actual destination in life– and if I look down and draw a circle around my own two feet, it’s right there in the middle. God makes no mistakes in time and place. So I can relax NOW. I can breathe NOW. I can engage NOW. I can listen NOW. I can live NOW, no matter what. And I can rest in the fact that I am absolutely right where I am supposed to be, right now.