For as long as I can remember, I’ve been singing my son to sleep. First as I was nursing him before bed, later as I was rocking him in my arms after his bedtime stories, and now as I kneel beside his big boy bed and he snuggles all of his animals. But tonight he sang to me. With the smallest, clearest voice, carrying a good tune, he softly sang two of the songs I usually sing to him and my heart melted. All the weights and stresses of the day disappeared as his tiny voice magically soothed my spirit. It seemed to be a foreshadowing of a time when I may need him to tuck me into bed. A gentle and sweet reminder that sometimes I need to be taken care of too. And often it is the people I believe to be least capable of doing so that surprise me with the tenderest care. I am truly blessed.
A few minutes ago, as I was reading to Aiden before bed, I fell asleep between one page and the next. There was a long pause and Aiden asked, “Mama, why’d you stop?” My only response, “Oh, sorry, where was I?” That is the state of exhaustion in which I find myself tonight while trying to write something insightful. I was discussing with a friend recently that every decision we make as adults seems to involve some amount of sacrifice. The question we face when making these decisions is, does the gain outweigh the loss? While in the early months of pregnancy, I find that the sacrifice for maintaining my personal goals and sanity seems to be utter exhaustion. Obviously, I believe the benefits of a stimulating conversation with a greatly missed friend till the wee hours of the morn outweigh the crushing fatigue that faces me the next day. Clearly, I think it is more important for me to keep writing consistently even when my bed is calling my name like a siren, than to wait for a refreshed and inspired moment to enlighten my readers with witty repartee. And it is certainly beneficial for me to continue reading for my book club even when sleep is crowding my vision.
But, while considering these things, I realized that this is not a unique problem of early pregnancy. My current battle may be with exhaustion, but there is always something that is encroaching on our time, energy, and commitment. We always have to fight for personal fulfillment and growth even when the activities that cultivate them sometimes feel like chores. Because without them, we stagnate. We sleep. We waste. If we are not striving to be better, even while sacrificing a certain amount of ease and comfort, then we become millstones around the necks of those we care about who are trying to grow. So keep fighting for the things that make you a better person, even when you would much rather be doing something else, because in the long run, you will find yourself changed, with a greater capacity for understanding, challenge, and new growth.
I have been seriously considering, as of late, implementing a regular technological sabbath for myself. A day of rest from the myriad of devices that connect us to everything under the sun. From what’s important to what’s completely irrelevant. From the beautiful to the terrible – the heroic to the mundane. We, more than any previous generation, have the world at our fingertips with all of its woes and inspirations, and the weight of it is immense. The burden of knowledge is great and the guilt of inability, although unjustified, can be just as great. We have computers in our pockets that can show us real-time video footage of the most recent natural disaster, civil war, or peace rally. They can look up, at our first thought of curiosity, the answer to any question, and yet we still feel confused. And even with such powerful tools always at our disposal to advance knowledge and personal development, we spend a huge portion of our time using them for frivolous and meaningless tasks like surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Angry Birds, or browsing Facebook to keep up with our “friends.” If ever we find ourselves with a spare moment of quiet or stillness, out come the phones. Walk around in a public place and notice how many people around you are staring at a screen.
Don’t get me wrong – I love technology. It’s value is immeasurable and it is shaping the world today in ways many never dreamed possible. I just worry that we are attaining its prize at a rather high price. The loss of quiet contemplation and meditation. The inability to experience stillness without trying to fill it. The physical and mental release of curling up in a big chair with an actual book or crochet hook or guitar. Embarking on projects with our families that involve rakes and shovels or paints and brushes instead of remotes and ear buds. Hiking or biking without music or podcasts and simply our own thoughts to keep us company. But, as I contemplate all of this, the devil on my shoulder says, “Yes, those things are all very whimsical and beautiful, but every week? For a whole day? I don’t know. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? What if I need directions somewhere? What if . . . the world stops if I don’t pick up my phone or laptop multiple times a day?!?” My fear wreaks of addiction. There are so many ways to fill a day without the need for buttons. And I really believe I’d be happier if I set one day aside to shut down, breathe, and . . . reboot.
What do you think? Can it be done? Would you do it?
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.