Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.

Success Through the Eyes of an (Almost) 30 Year-Old… and Ralph Waldo Emerson!

Sometimes, when faced with major milestones in our lives, as I am about to be in two days when I turn 30, we can’t help but look at where we are now and compare it to where we thought we might be. For some this comparison may be wonderful because they have accomplished so much more than what they thought was possible. For others (and I’d venture to guess this is the majority), it is a tough comparison to make. It is tough because life is rarely as grand as we imagine it will be when we are younger and because, as I so often stress in this blog, it is entirely too easy to weigh life by its grand moments, which are few and far between, rather than by the little beauties that ought to overwhelm us every day. I am trying to train my thoughts to mark worth and value by a much finer measure and take better notice of all of the little things that are the building blocks of the bigger ones. But even with my constant and vigilant efforts, I still find myself subdued, even saddened at times by all that I have not accomplished: financial stability, debt eradication, literary success (or at least notice), non-familial long-term relationships, a better handle on my own character flaws, a career. But as I begin to sink into these thoughts of “what if” or “if only” my wonderful husband often sits beside me and reminds me of all the important things I have accomplished: marrying an incredible person who I have the privilege of co-piloting life with, creating and training from scratch another human being (and a half), working to help provide for my family while being its primary care giver, producing almost a year’s worth of consistent (and, dare I say, occasionally profound) writing that has developed a growing following and influenced more people than I know, playing a distinct and important role in many people’s lives even if they are not still an active part of mine, starting a book club and voraciously consuming literature, completing a degree in two fields and opening many doors as a result, becoming an excellent cook, and constantly changing and growing and developing as each year passes. What more could I ask for? As I was contemplating these faithful encouragements from my dear hubby, I came across this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that was so pertinent to my meditations and so poignant in its profound and elegant beauty, that it made me cry as I read it. I hope it moves you as it did me.

Life in the Light of Death

Having not attended a funeral in many, many years and then randomly attending two in the last two months, I’ve been pondering the concepts that surround death. And life. And everything that lies in between. I know this seems like a somewhat morbid concept for a blog that focuses largely on seizing the moment and appreciating life, but what makes this theme more crucial or potent than death? Is there anything that motivates us more strongly to grab life by the horns and savor the wild ride? So if you were hoping for a more lighthearted post about shopping or design or recipes, come back next time, there will be plenty more of those. But for now, here are some thoughts inspired by the ending of two lives worth memorializing whose influence spread wide and whose love left a lasting mark on this world:

– I do not appreciate my own life or the lives of my loved ones enough. We are all only here for a moment. But what a moment! There are SO many beauties that surround us every day but often we allow ourselves to be robbed of them because we are too busy worrying, stressing, begrudging, envying, etc. How many times a day do we tell those we love how much they mean to us? How vastly would that number change if we knew our time with them was limited? It is. So SAY IT! Every time you appreciate something about those you hold dear, tell them. Every time you have a lovely thought about them, tell them. Every time they inspire you to be better, tell them. There is no one who would tire of hearing such things and you never know when your expression of love and gratitude may be your last.

– Explaining death to a two-year old is hard. Who am I kidding? Explaining death to ourselves is hard, much less trying to explain it to someone who barely has his head wrapped around what it means to be alive. And lets face it, none of us knows exactly what will happen to us when we die. We can have faith that certain things will happen. We can hope for some things. We can hope against others. But we don’t know. So answering questions such as, “Where did they go?” “Will we see them again?” “What does die mean?” “Will YOU die?” are very difficult when looking into the eyes of your innocent, naïve, beautiful blue-eyed son. Especially when the answer is simply “I don’t know.”

– I have a deep desire to leave a legacy. I wrote about this a couple posts back. It doesn’t have to be vast, but it has to be powerful. I want to be remembered by more than just my children and I want my children to remember me as more than just their mother. When people consider the life I leave behind, I want them to be inspired to be better people, as I have been inspired by those recently passed. I want to leave a legacy of unmatched love, selflessness, faithfulness that inspires growth and change, written and spoken word that is not easily forgotten, loyalty, hospitality, open-mindedness, and light. Perhaps the sphere of people that I influence will be relatively small, but I hope that sphere will do great things.

– I do not wish to have a visitation before my funeral. If the point of such gatherings is to say goodbye, it is too late. I will already be gone. I don’t want people to gaze at my lifeless body and wish my soul were still with it. I want them to remember me alive, not dead in a box. And if the point of a visitation is to pay respects to the family, most often, they need time and space. And having to face everyone they know with a smile and say, “We’re doing fine, thank you.” at a time when they are really not, actually, doing fine, seems a bit . . . well . . . cruel. I want to give my bereaved family room to mourn privately and I want the eulogy at my funeral to focus on my life and what it meant rather than on its ending. There is a scene in the movie, Love Actually, in which a widower expresses the wishes of his wife for what she wanted at her own funeral. She asked that the music of the Bay City Rollers, “Bye Bye Baby,” be played while a projector displayed images of the beautiful moments of her life over her casket. It was sadly funny, beautiful and touching and I have always been moved by such an idea.

– Nothing ever prepares us for death. It will always be shocking and painful. But we as human beings have a remarkable ability to recover, adapt, move on. Never forgetting, but forging ahead and learning how to live in the absence of the person who is gone. I cannot even fathom the chasm that would be left if my darling husband were to leave me early, or how desperately painful it would be to outlive my son. But strangely, I can imagine leaving them, and I KNOW I would not want them to lose themselves in their grief. To forget how to see and experience beauty. I would not want my death to rob them of the their lives as well. Knowing this, from my perspective, I must be prepared to continue to live my life in the face of extraordinary loss, as that is what they too would want.

– Above all else, in life as well as in death, LOVE is primary. It is what motivates us and holds us together. It spurs us into action when action is necessary. It demands a quiet embrace when no action is possible. It is its own legacy and without it we are lost. Remember, nothing is more important than love. Not truth, not being right, not winning, not succeeding or failing. It is the golden rule and the greatest commandment of all religions. LOVE.

There is so much more to say, but sometimes there are too many words. This, I believe, summarizes my thoughts and feelings of late. Perhaps they will inspire you to consider your life in the light of death and appreciate it fully now, even if you don’t get a chance to remember it later. Others will.

Never Alone

I had a remarkable “ah-ha” moment yesterday. One that perhaps should have been obvious before then, but in the silly simplicity of the moment in which I had it, it finally sunk in. I am not, nor will I likely ever be alone. I am SO lucky.

I was having an emotional afternoon (which I will blame on pregnancy hormones even though they probably had nothing to do with it) and feeling rather isolated. My list of friends has been dwindling over the last couple of years. There are a variety of reasons for this – Hello! We are not in college anymore; lives change; people grow apart; kids enter the equation – restricting time, energy, and emotions; jobs; hobbies; busy . . . busy . . . busy. I do not pretend to be faultless in my predicament, but never-the-less, I am bothered by it sometimes. Particularly at times when my husband, who is my best friend, has to stay at work till 9 or 10 at night and 90% of my conversations over the last few days have been with a toddler whose biggest concern in life is that he HAS to eat broccoli. Enter yesterday’s “ah-ha” moment:

Not wanting to be stuck at the house all afternoon, I loaded up my son and headed to the outdoor mall where my hubby works to window shop, let Aiden see his daddy before bed, and pick up some food. This is a common past time of ours, satisfying Mommy’s need to shop, Aiden’s need to run around outside, and both of our needs to see Jonathan. However, yesterday I decided to break with tradition and actually go in some of the stores – dangerous territory for someone so broke, I know. But enter I did, with toddler in tow. We went into Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and White House, Black Market. And then, since it was only fair, and since he had been so patient with his silly, clothes-shopping mama, I took Aiden into a sports apparel store called Sand Dollar Lifestyles, that I thought he would enjoy a lot more than what we had been browsing. Inside, there was very little that peaked my interest, but Aiden saw something that completely rocked his world. He didn’t know what category to put them in. Shoes with TOES in them, like gloves!

He kept saying, over and over again, “What’s THAT?” I would tell him and he’d ask again. I figured the best way to satisfy his curiosity was to show him. So we sat down on the bench, measured our feet with the funny rubber foot measurers, and tried on some toe shoes. He stood on the floor giggling hysterically as he pointed at my feet, “Wook, mama!” I would laugh right back at him and tell him to look at his own silly feet. And then it happened. I looked at him as we both sat on the bench trying on shoes, and I realized – I liked hanging out with my son! As a person, an individual. He is now old enough to be a companion and a friend and we have fun together. No longer just a bundle of need, he gives back. Granted, he still takes a lot more than he gives, but he gives! The moment I had this realization, I spoke it out loud to him. “I really like spending time with you, Aiden.” And he replied, “I like you too, Mama!” And I was not alone. I may not be able to have deep philosophical discussions with him (yet), or rousing debates about politics and religion, or toss around ideas about parenting and hobbies, but we can have fun. We can inspire one another to be happy. And that is what’s important. Yes indeed, I am very lucky.

A Fear of Change

I have had more than one conversation lately in which I voiced some version of this statement: “I do not look forward to the future because I so much enjoy the present.” I can’t decide if this is a virtue or a vice. Perhaps it is both. Certainly contentment with the present is to be admired and sought after, but fearing the future because I see it as a goodbye to the to the things I love now – this is probably weakness and immaturity. The truth is, I have never experienced such significant growth and blessing, stability and strength as I now possess. My life has been an ever-changing sea of faces and places, in which dreams change and lives change and goodbyes are an inevitable part of that change. It still makes me sad to think about what was lost. But perhaps it is that very loss, those very goodbyes that produce the stability and strength I now hold so dear. Without them I would not be the person I have become. Why would I assume that the future holds anything other than further growth, development, and strengthening of my loves?

When I first learned that I would be moving back to the South, I was terrified that I would be isolated and bored and uncomfortable. Now, after voluntarily spending a decade here, it is hard to imagine another place I would call home. When my heart was broken in college, I feared it would never be whole again. But severing it from such an unhealthy attachment, made it wholly ready to embrace my husband and a better man I cannot imagine. Before Aiden was born, I worried that my relationship with my extraordinary husband might not be the same, might suffer even, after he entered the picture. On the contrary, he has added such depth and wonder to our lives it is impossible to imagine life without him. Why, in the face of these and countless other examples of the richness of the unexpected and unimaginable, do I still fear the future? Should I not excitedly embrace it as the conduit of my dreams – both known and unaware? And yet, as I find myself on the brink of a vast new change, bringing another human being into the world and into our lives, I find myself afraid. But I have a choice. I can embrace the change and assume, as life has constantly taught me, that it will bring good, or I can give in to the fear and rob myself of the present which I so enjoy by worrying away its beauty. I chose to embrace . . . the change when it comes, my husband and son now, my friends when I am able, and life in all of its varied, complex forms.