I saw an old woman wearing a see-through blouse earlier today. No camisole underneath it, just a big ol' white bra. It wasn't the first thing I noticed as she made her way towards the bus stop I occupied, however; she had a rather rolling gait, the kind associated with long-term sea captains and the slightly overweight and balance-disinclined elderly.
No, I didn't notice her top was anything other than floral until she sat down and the sun shone through the thin fabric just right. Perhaps she didn't know it was see-through when she bought it. I've gone to work wearing what I thought was an opaque black top over (thankfully) a black bra, albeit one I hadn't planned on showing my co-workers, so I know it could have been completely unintentional.
But as I stood at the bus stop, obliquely watching as her bosom settled onto her rounded midsection, something I should not have been able to see, I wondered if she did know. Perhaps she was playing her "old lady card," the one that allows her to burp and fart in public, open a very loud piece of candy in the middle of church, and mix plaid and paisley in a decidedly un-fashionable way. You know that card, don't you? It's the one she doesn't even know she's playing, because she's just not quite all there any more.
Or maybe her eyesight isn't that good or the lighting in her closet was off, and she just didn't know, and would be horrified to find out what had happened.
But I personally would like to believe that this little old lady looked in her closet this morning, checked the weather, and said "Fuck it, it's hot today." Because really, when I'm old, I don't want to care what people think of me either.
18 Days. That's how much time I have left to get married, have two kids and a dog, finish (and start) grad school, and have the job of my dreams. And a 401(k).
As I round out the last year of my 20s (ok officially this will be my Third Decade celebration because it sounds cool, but thereafter I will set my status to 29 and just keep repeating it)
Wow, long sentence. Starting over.
As I round out the last year of my 20s, I have had many horrible terrible awful thoughts coursing through my head. What am I doing? Where am I going with this life? Why am I still single? It's pathetic how most of the people who took my Facebook "How well do you know me" quiz thought that what I wanted most for my 30th birthday was a husband. And you know what, I was totally fine being single until I realized that everyone else is wondering why I'm still single.
But that's not the point of this blog. The point is that I'm writing this at work, on my lunch break, thinking "Oh God, why oh why can't THIS be what I get paid to do today?" The point of this blog is that I'm realizing for like the 38th time that I actually have yet to figure out how to become what I want to be when I grow up.
I'm still 10 years (and 18 days) away from my one and only life goal: To be a college professor by the time I'm 40. I'm not one for 5-year plans. I made this one back when I was only 20. And I like it, because I firmly believe that going from college to grad school to teaching college isn't always the best for the teacher or the students. I want to approach classes with the understanding that I've been out there, I've lived, I've "done life" and now I'm teaching others how to do it. So technically I'm still in my 20-year plan, doing just fine.
But how do I get from 30 to 40? Because the secret caveat to my 20-year plan is that I'd be a published author by the time I begin teaching other people how to write. I mean, come on, I need credentials. I need to be able to say that I have actually been there, done that, and millions of people have bought MY T-shirt.
This post is going to be open-ended, because I don't know how I'm going to get from 30 to 40. But I know that if I keep finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, somehow my little life will change, and my 20-year plan will unfold like a butterfly from a chrysalis.
Ok, here I go. This is my first unscripted post. The first few were ideas that jumped at me, and I started writing them wherever I was, typically by tapping them out on my BlackBerry and emailing them to myself, after which I could edit, adjust, and re-write to my heart's content before I posted it. Super-cool yes, but I've suddenly realized that I haven't posted anything since. Why? Because while I have had some spectacular ideas, none of them have actually been written yet.
So this post is my confession to you, dear readers. (Please let it be plural by now) :)
I think that I have many important things to say. I really truly do believe that God has given me an insight into the Ordinary in the world, that I may see and share how it actually is Extraordinary. That is important! So very important are these revelations, however, that I cannot share them with you.
Qué? Come again?
Well, that's what it seems like, doesn't it? I'm holding out on you, because these amazingly wonderful missives from on high just aren't good enough until I've written the crap out of them. Forget simply expressing my ideas. These must be practically choreographed.
Ok, hyperbole over. The funny thing is, in all of this I'm realizing the lesson for today really and truly is this: Stop Trying So Hard! (You can add ", Stupid!" at the end if it helps.)
Really, truly, honestly, if God is trying to say something through this post He sure as shooting is gonna do it whether my words are good or not. The irony is that if I write nothing because I'm waiting for most amazing way to say something, I'm in actuality not saying anything. But if I get over myself, throw a few words down, read it once for grammar and clarity, and move on, you might actually get something out of it.
The true irony is that I wrote this to teach myself a lesson.
Cleaning the house is an ongoing thing. I hate that. In my mind it was always a project-oriented goal: clean the house so it will be Clean. But then of course you have to keep it clean, and despite your best efforts dust and cat hair still appear like magic, and the only way to keep it clean is to... clean the house.
This is true in our lives as well. To keep your life Clean you can't just do one thing. Think of those ritual fasting and cleansing regimes. You go through a terrible experience drinking nothing but lemon juice laced with hot sauce and pepper, you get the runs for a week, but then, who-hoo, your body is clean! Or is it? You finally get to eat again so you sit down to have a piece of bread and look--carbs and sugar are entering your body!! It's not "clean" any more!
So, what do you do? Most people would try to eat better (smaller, healthier) meals for a while, but then eventually they fall back into old habits and before you know it they're eating chocolate-chip pancakes with a side of pork rinds for dinner again. Thank goodness all they need to do is another cleanse!
But they (we, you) need to realize that a temporary cleanse is not a permanent solution! Keeping your whole life clean, including your body, your house, your sexual habits, what have you, is not a one time deal. Why not? Because the sun also rises tomorrow, and with it food, dust, and temptation. Keeping your life clean is an ongoing process. So yeah, if you fall behind in dusting, mopping, and throwing away the junk mail, you might have to sequester yourself for a few days to do a deep cleaning.
But the sure way to avoid doing another one? Every day when you come home, throw out the junk mail, put away the clean dishes, and do the dirty ones. For those of you used to doing chores, remind yourself of this the next time you reach for a chocolate bar. To keep your body clean and healthy, every day you have to make the right choices. There is always some room for saying "I will have this cake because it's my friend's birthday so tomorrow I'll just have salad," but you must be aware that tomorrow is always someone else's birthday. It is a constant struggle, one that will honestly never be over until you submit to the fact that you will always be fighting until you can control your urges. Say no to the second helping, take the 3 minutes to load the dishwasher and put in the soap, and don't go out to the club tonight if you're feeling depressed and vulnerable.
It's about the baby steps, but as one fight becomes easier, you'll be ready to attack the next one. It is always a struggle, but keep it up and some day you'll realize that you haven't had to stay at home for two days in a row just to clean, because everything is being taken care of in daily, easily-manageable packets of time. And your house is spotless.
I've just started to read a book on child-rearing by the mother of one of my dearest friends. (She turned out ok, so I figured the book was worth a try). In this book, Gail says the following:
"I also firmly believe in raising children with a great deal of expressed affection--physical and verbal. Children grow strong and true, and self-confident where they are accepted and enjoyed." -Who's Flying this Plane? by Gail Gammell
I had barely finished reading those two lines when my mind went immediately to thoughts of my childhood--how did my mom show me she loved me? I think the strongest way she communicated her love for me was through physical touch--through hugging.
As I think on it now, I don't know if everyone my age gets a hug from their mother every time they meet. Now maybe most of you do, and for that I am glad! But those hugs that happen now, they must have started somewhere. The squeeze that says "Welcome back, I'm so glad you've come home"--I think that hug has been around for me since the days when my absence was merely the three hours away at pre-school.
But as the length of time separated from my mom has increased, our hug time has not diminished. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if my welcome home hugs are a bit longer now than when I was at "that age" and didn't need long, drawn out hugs from someone as "embarrasing" as my mother. We've all been there, I'm sure, and in fact some people may have never left that state of mind.
But I am thankful that one of my primary love languages is physical touch, so whenever I come home, there's that hug, that "Welcome back to the family" embrace.
Some people's "families" are a bit larger than blood relatives. My church family, for instance, is a rather huggy lot. I don't know if it's a culture thing or what, but I can guarantee myself at least three good hugs every Sunday morning. And that's not all--when I go to my friend's house for house group (small group/Bible study) I not only get a hug from the other members but also I can claim a squeeze from any of her children that happen to be roaming about. In fact I don't have much choice in the matter concerning a few of them--they just come right up to me, arms open wide.
It took me a while to get used to my new, huggy church family. My church growing up just didn't do that too much. I always gave our pastor a hug at the end of service (partly because shaking his hand on the way out felt weird considering I hung out with his son all the time and seriously, how many girls shake the hand of a friend's father once a week?), but most outward displays of emotion were saved for a return from college or the Christmas eve service. So having people hug me on my second visit to my current church in two weeks was just odd. Until it suddenly hit me. Those strange huggy people were simply saying "welcome back, welcome to the family, we're glad you're here."
And after all, don't we all yearn for that? Don't we all want that welcome back embrace? Even if it's hard for you to touch people, it's that handshake, that chuck on the shoulder, that "guy hug" thing that's a cross between a handshake and wrestling... it's in all those little motions that tell you "Hey, it's good to see you again, I'm glad you're here."
Remember the story of the prodigal son? He forced his father to give him his inheritance, went off to the city and wasted it. He ended up alone, dirty, and working in the mud with swine, an animal that was labeled as unclean for his people. He had reached the bottom, and finally in anguish decided that the shame of returning home was no greater than the shame he was currently enduring, and he journeyed back to his father's house. The father, who had himself been anguishing over the loss of his son, did not see the boy and say "There's that scoundrel who made me half as wealthy as I should have been!" no, he ran--ran--to his son, his arms open wide, and threw his arms around him. He then called for a party to celebrate that his son had come home.
When I think on that story I realize that the hug I get from my mom, my aunt, my church family... that hug says everything I need to hear from them. It says "Welcome home, welcome back, welcome to the family." It says that I am never truly alone because there are always people somewhere who love me. And it makes me realize that my mom must have known some of this when I was little, because all I have to do when I feel separated from the love of others is go home, because there is always someone there with their arms open wide. Saying "welcome back, welcome home, welcome to the family."
I was waiting for the Brown Line after work today, like I usually do. My stop (the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for those who care) allows me a view of other trains on their circuit around--or away from--the Loop. While watching one such I enjoyed the simile of El train to caterpillar... The one truly does evoke the image of the other, albeit metal and with wheels instead of little buggy legs. But today my mind wandered a little farther, back to the last time I held a caterpillar on my hand, pet it, let it rove around my fingers, and even eat a small piece of a leaf I held for it. I had to go back a long, long time for that memory.
Do you remember the last time you willingly touched a bug without the intent purpose of killing it? Do you remember the days when all you wanted to do was flop on your belly in the yard or on the sidewalk, and dig up earthworms to see which end was the head (and wasn't it both gross and cool when you pulled one apart and each end moved independently)? When did we lose our connection with alive things? Was it when we went to school and spent our days with math and science and language skills and all other human creations? Or was it when something started to whirr and flash? Cell phones, VCRs, cable TV, Nintendo, Atari, ball-in-a-cup, Lincoln Logs, tiddly-winks, paper dolls, rag dolls, hoops... Even the simplest toys were New and Shiny at one time... and clearly more exciting than building with sticks and blowing on those thick pieces of grass until they whistled. How long has it been since you've done that? Has it been too long?
Do you agree that it has been too long, but are you sitting there saying that you'll recapture it with your children? I admit a grown man or woman lying flopped on their belly staring at bugs would look less odd if they were doing it with a small child at their side--but don't wait until you "look less odd." Do it, do it now, whether or not you are in the presence of a child. It is essential to reconnect to earth, nature, Creation. But if you absolutely can't bear the thought of caressing nature by yourself, and you have no children of your own at the moment, then beg your neighbors or friends for theirs (I'm sure they'll be ok with an afternoon to themselves).
Now, what of those of you who have children? Are you doing this? Are you taking them to the zoo, the beach, the park, and then instead of over-scheduling the day are you taking a half hour to watch the ants eat the ice cream that they dropped? Or are you giving your kids the New and Shiny, the Blu-Ray, iPhone, Nintendo DS, Mac book, Kindle? I'm not saying these are BAD, but when's the last time they were just "outside?"
I want to be clear: I'm not saying that electronics are from the devil and I understand that your neighborhood may not be safe enough for your children to play unattended. But I can't help but look on at the group of kids outside the school on my street--yes I drafted this on my BlackBerry on the way home and I do understand the irony--all gathered around one boy playing on his DS. Where is the interaction with the world, with each other? Even if two or more kids linked up, they'd be playing as characters in a world that was made up by some random adult. But give them two sticks and a modicum of imagination and they can have their own adventures!
One year in grade school my friends and I made a snow fort with an elevator, and every time we took it to a new "floor" we'd walk out of the fort into a whole new world--or maybe even to the moon! And this was all without the aid of a human-created construct--not even a shovel. And I still remember that day, almost 20 years later. Do I remember playing Nintendo or watching The Little Mermaid twice a day for a week with my little sister for whom once was never enough? Of course I do. But those were worlds of another man's construct that I merely experienced by proxy, they were not lasting.
I don't think I've ever felt so alive as when I was out there, touching the earth, pulling the stem of a dandelion, spinning in circles on the lawn, or running down a sand dune--in short: I've never felt so alive as when I was out there, living.
It's been a while since I've just sat in the grass or squished sand between my toes, but you know what? It's not too late. It's not too late to get out there on my lunch break and sit on the river walk, watching the Chicago River and waving at the children on the architectural tours. It's not too late for me to walk down North Avenue Beach and kick up the sand just to see it fall. It's not too late to put my camp chair on the sidewalk in front of the building and just sit in the sun.
It's not too late for me, and it's definitely not too late for you. So put down the magazine, stop the DVD player, scoop up your kids if you have them, and go outside, go find your caterpillar. Go forth, and live.
And sure, take your video camera. At least this way the movie you'll be watching is one you created yourself.
I'm an inspired dreamer, a social loner, a skeptic optimist... to wit: A writer.
I love Jesus and He loves me. Ask me about Him sometime and I'll tell ya that even being at the bottom of His barrel is better than being on the top of the world's heap.