I’ve got work to do. It’s quiet work, the kind that doesn’t produce anything that can be seen, or displayed, held or sold. It’s the work of a mind that is continually rehearsing the immediate future, at the expense of settling into presence.
You’ve probably noticed that our family’s schedule leaves little breathing room; this is not a complaint, merely an observation, because it is also absolutely of our own doing. It’s a choice — to live at a pace that tries to accommodate four children’s varied interests and our own, to do the jobs we’ve chosen, to be and to express who we are. But it would be disingenuous not to be brutally honest about the consequences: it can wear a person down. There was a moment, last week, when I was pretty sure I’d reached my limits.
The weather was gorgeous. I was wearing a “business casual” sundress. I’d been up since 4:50AM. I’d taken the bus to Toronto and back for meetings at my Canadian publisher’s offices. It was now 5:15PM, and I was standing beside a carshare car, and it would not open. The keyless entry system appeared to be broken. The carshare company wasn’t answering their help hotline. Kevin and Albus were on their way to a soccer game in Stratford. I had children waiting for me at home, to take them to the school’s fun fair and to soccer practice. And the car would not open.
All my advance planning seemed suddenly fragile. One error could cause a cascading series of tumbles. It could all fall apart, just like this, and my stomach was in knots of anxiety.
This could be my breaking point, I thought.
But then it wasn’t.
I ran home, used the land line to get through the carshare company, rented a different car to which I sprinted in my business casual-wear, a full kilometre, thinking, okay, this is what I’ve trained for. We were late for soccer practice, very late for the fun fair, but that was all. And being late, well, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of anything. Fooey even won a cake at the cakewalk. Perfect bedtime snack.
I could take several different lessons from this.
I could stop trying to squeeze so much in. Or I could stop worrying in advance about things going wrong. I can’t seem to do the former; so how would the latter work?
Lay out the plot, make the plan, write it down, then let it go. Stop rehearsing. Be late sometimes. The stakes aren’t really that high, in the grand scheme of things. None of these items on my to-do list are as important as I’m making them out to be, in my own mind. Do we have food to eat? Yes. Do we have a roof over our heads? Yes. Do we have each other? Yes!
Privilege can warp perspective. I’m so privileged that I don’t even notice all that I’m able to do, without a second thought: let my kids participate in multiple sports, rent carshare cars, own a pretty sundress, buy tickets to the fun fair. I’m inventing needless anxieties. Maybe it’s a way of distracting myself from settling into the work that I need to do. I’m beginning to suspect that distraction is the easy way out. It’s the enemy of presence.
A few years back I wrote a song with lyrics that went like this, in part:
Say it simple, say it best
If you’ve loved then you’ve been blessed
If you’re loved then you’ve been found
Fall to earth
And have no fear