“I could have built you a fire and told you this story and hoped you gleaned from it some sort of wisdom. Maybe you would have, or maybe, like most men, you would have ignored your father and gone off to make your own mistakes. ~The character Pieter from Sarah Leipciger’s Coming Up For Air (87)

If only it were that easy, that a child or any person should heed the wisdom and advice of an elder, in doing so avoid most or all mistakes, and lead a near-perfect life. For many of us, such advice, usually based on hard-earned experience, goes in one ear and out the other. We do make our own mistakes, we do learn the hard way, and only in retrospect might we appreciate the warnings.

Why do we do that? Sometimes we don’t trust the source of the advice. It might come from a person whose life we don’t envy or whom we don’t fully respect, so we don’t listen. We might think a situation doesn’t or would never apply to us, so we tune it out. Sometimes the advice runs counter to what we want, which might be a person, an object, or an experience. We might be addicted to drama or driven by fears or desires we don’t fully understand. Maybe the person offering the advice seems so perfect that we feel we can never live up to their standards, so why bother trying?

Mostly, though, it’s because it’s our life and we must live it the way we choose, consciously or unconsciously. Mistakes will be made along the way, some big, some small. It is part of being human, of living a full and authentic life, of taking risks, exploring, leaving our comfort zones. It’s how we learn who we are, what we are capable of, how to trust or not trust ourselves.

I have wondered about people that seem never to make mistakes, whose lives seem too perfect. Are they taking any real risks? Playing it too safe? Living in a carefully constructed bubble? Or have they simply gleaned something that the rest of us haven’t?

How do we treat the people we love when they make mistakes? Do we shame and blame them or love them anyway, try to help them learn and do better? What advice and words of wisdom are we offering? Is it welcome? Is it helping? How do we discern what advice to give, who to give it to, how to give it and when? Will they listen?

Are we listening?

“Because these are the sorts of things that build a life: crossing water to another country and wondering about ghosts and suffering the humiliation of being bested by an animal dumber than you and with more time to lose.” ~Pieter (87)

Dream On

I dreamed the other night that I was in a big city for a work-related event. Somehow I had been placed in charge of rounding up my colleagues, about 30 of them, for a group photo that was to take place at 10:00 a.m.. I didn’t know it was my responsibility until about 9:40 a.m. when the head honcho told me. I looked around, trying to figure out how I would do that. Colleagues were in the street, spread throughout the hotel, walking around the city, still asleep.

I decided I was hungry and needed to eat. I sat down with a salad, then changed my mind, realizing I didn’t have time. The salad turned into long strings of English ivy.

I had to pee and went to the hotel bathroom. There was a long line for the ladies room, so I decided to hold it.

I remembered that I hadn’t freshened up my face, didn’t have enough makeup on for a professional photo. I didn’t even know what my hair looked liked. I started to rush back to my hotel room, but stopped when I realized I didn’t have time.

It was almost 10:00 and I hadn’t rounded up one person. I had failed, and everyone would know it. I would be blamed for the group photo being a disaster. Everyone would hate me. No one would ever trust me to handle things again.

When I woke up from this nightmare, feeling anxious and panicked, one thing was clear: It felt like my real life. I was promoted last spring, yet I still have responsibilities from my former role, primarily a caseload of students to advise and a class to teach to first year students. My boss, whose job I took when she was promoted, has a new boss now and the pressure coming down from the top is real. On top of this, I am trying to navigate all of this during a pandemic while working remotely.

Is it any wonder I wanted to die in my dream?

In real life, I forgot to schedule my son’s entry test for admission to the Catholic high school he wants to attend. Thankfully, due to the pandemic, they are waiving the test, but our chance of a merit scholarship is now null and void because he missed the test. I’m not sure we can afford the tuition without one.

The food pantry items I was supposed to drop at his school last week are still sitting in a bag in my car. I had meant to drop them off on Friday, but instead I was driving around trying to find a rapid COVID-19 test after learning my husband’s coworker was exposed, kept coming to work, and didn’t tell anyone because he couldn’t afford to be out of work.

There are so many things to do and remember: Pay bills on time, schedule doctor appointments, keep up with what’s happening at my son’s school. There are groceries to buy, meals to plan, and stocking up in case we end up in lock down. The house always needs cleaning, laundry is piling up.

The walls of my house are closing in on me. I feel a sense of dread, or like screaming, when it’s time to sit in front of my work computer. I find myself getting shorter with my family, edgy, easily annoyed. The time change has been the worst. Dark before 5:00 p.m. now, nowhere to go after work, not even for a walk unless I want to go in the dark. I don’t.

It’s like the earth is asking me to lay down and die.

One good part about my dream was that I was in a city. I love cities. COVID didn’t exist. Everyone was crammed in close to one another, no masks needed. Though I was freaking out in the dream, there was also a feeling that I could disappear into the heart of the city, escape, wander, be free.

What a dream that would be.

How are you coping during the pandemic as it drags on? I’d love to hear.

Dream On, by Aerosmith

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

This week’s theme is healing.

Like many women, I spend a lot of time at my kitchen sink, cleaning dishes, preparing meals and lately, with COVID, washing my hands far more than I used to. With some of us home nearly 24/7 due to the pandemic, my kitchen sink has become an increased source of annoyance. It always seems to be filled with dirty dishes. Though most nights it’s empty and clean when I go to bed, in the morning I’m often greeted by piles of pots and pans and plates from my sons cooking at odd hours and not having the courtesy to clean up after themselves.

The view from the window over the sink isn’t much to look at. Some bushes, a fence, and the side of my neighbor’s garage. Though I’ll take the garage over the view I had before it was built, which was the window over the neighbor’s kitchen sink. It was awkward when both of us were at the sink and could see each other through the windows. They aren’t the friendliest people, so it was a blessing when they built the garage.

Drudgery is a word that comes to mind when I think of my kitchen sink. Monotonous, repetitive drudgery. Yet, as Christopher West says in his book, Love is Patient, But I’m Not, “Even drudgery can be transformed into love, and that makes all the difference.”

So I make sure to have fresh flowers on my kitchen window sill, a couple of live plants, a few stones with inspirational messages, two of which a kind neighbor gave me. I look out at the bushes and sometimes see birds. One cardinal in particular makes me smile to see him. I take satisfaction when the meal has been eaten, then dishes are washed, and the sink is clean, even knowing that later or tomorrow, it starts all over again. I use the 20 second hand washing rule as a moment to meditate, enjoying the feel of the soap and warm water floating over my hands.

Yes, even drudgery can be transformed into love, and by extension into a quiet way of healing.

Beach Therapy

Yesterday my husband and I took a much-needed jaunt to the beach. The November day was unseasonably warm in New England and it seemed right to seize it. I wanted desperately to get away for a few hours – from my house that I’m in nonstop because of COVID-19, from the endless assault of election news, from my 22 year old son who is making bad choices and making me worried.

We drove the hour or so to Rhode Island, to my favorite beach, East in Watch Hill, where Taylor Swift’s oceanfront mansion sits high on a cliff, surrounding by fencing and security cameras, and a lighthouse graces one end. My feet sinking into the warm sand, and the not-too-cold water lapping at my heels, felt like heaven. I felt grounded, connected to the divine, grateful to be at this beautiful, healing place.

The trauma, insanity, and isolation of the past year had finally caught up with me over the weekend. It felt like edginess and depression and an inability to focus. I was supposed to catch up on grading for the class I teach, clean the bathroom, cook a nice Sunday meal, but I simply could not do any of these things, couldn’t even go through the motions, as usual.

If not for the ocean, I might have imploded into a heap on the floor. This is not like me. Typically, I can put one foot in front of the other and carry on. But I was tired, so very tired. I needed to feel alive, connected, touch something that was good and pure and healing.

The beach even smelled this way. I marveled at the scent, told my husband I wished I could bottle it up and bring it home. Instead, I pocketed a few black stones and a rare piece of sea glass I found.

By this morning, to my dismay, the ebony-colored stones had faded to gray. Similarly, my ocean-inspired energy is fading. I’m beginning to feel heavy again, as a busy work week looms.

But where would I be without yesterday’s trip to the beach? I don’t even want to know. In a world that sometimes feels like it’s gone mad, we need every bit of grace we can grab.

I’d love to know – how are you feeling?