The school year has begun, bringing order and discipline (or the need thereof) to families that had been enjoying the late night sluggishness of summer. This year, my four children began their first year of Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School and High School, leaving me home alone for the first time in 15 years. The change is not quite as shocking as thinking about the change: the weeks leading up to my new freedom were characterized by heart palpitations, migraines, sleeplessness, and vertigo. The vertigo, caused by an inner ear infection, gives me the sensation that the ground is no longer a stable place for standing but will suddenly shift so that I slide without warning at any moment into an abyss. This physical sensation oddly mimics my psychological trepidation of the unknown future. So, thoughts must turn forward, while also returning to who I am, or who I used to be, before I had children sucking all the strength out of me while at the same time giving me a reason to keep going. If nothing else, my responsibilities require me to continue living. We survived summer. Now what? Part of me wants to have another baby, in order to avoid that question. But a more reasonable part of me realizes itâ€™s time to center my life.
â€œWhat makes you feel new?â€ someone asked me. My most immediate response was love – with the disclaimer that such feelings of new beginnings have always been short lived. It is quite astonishing how quickly pure joy turns into total insecurity. Another person asked, â€œSo does feeling pure joy and thinking life is beginning only happen for you when a man is in your life? Does this happen at other times too?â€
I saw her point clearly, though admittedly when human contact remains an unfulfilled need, like food and water, the desire for it becomes all consuming. Nevertheless Iâ€™ve lived this long without anyone understanding me or comforting me. There must be other ways I have found a sense of life within myself.
Before I had children, I loved to travel. Nowadays, going to the salon is my confidence boost. One time I went to the gym in the morning, as the guest of a friend. I felt genuinely awake after that workout. Makes me want to join a gym. But that costs money. Seeing old friends reminds me that Iâ€™m still a person. But thatâ€™s a plane ticket.
So, what makes me feel new that doesnâ€™t involve spending money? A smile from a stranger is always huge (but that also requires another personâ€™s cooperation). All I can think of is sleep. My midwife used to teach, â€œThe difference between total despair and hope is often a good nightâ€™s sleep.â€
What makes me sleep deeply? The only thing that works for me lately is a sense of personal accomplishment. Iâ€™m not sure if personal accomplishment constitutes feeling renewed, or just totally exhausted. A deep prayer or a good cry is often cleansing to the soul. Sometimes the best one can do, rather than feeling â€œnewâ€ is feeling â€œnot scared.â€ One of the most healing mantras for me, when faced with panic, is the realization that â€œI can do whatever I want.â€ In most cases we do have choices.
So many of us are not really able to change our situations to become brand new in any outward sense of the term. We must face each day with less than we need. Maybe we donâ€™t have enough sleep, nor enough time, nor enough food, nor enough money. Maybe we have to worry about being shot by hoodlums, framed by the FBI or bombed with chemical weapons. Maybe we are in prison or maybe we are ill. Yet we all have to get up and deal with each day in the best manner possible.
There are two things we can do to improve our quality of life that cost no money, especially when the kids are at school and we have a little bit more free time. We can stretch and exercise, and we can do housework. Physical activity helps us gain strength, and with strength, our everyday tasks become easier to manage. When get some exercise, we sleep better too. Meanwhile, a clean home creates a feeling of peace and satisfaction that cannot be quantified. Taking the time to cook the leftover things in the refrigerator turns what might have soon become garbage into a dish our family will enjoy. We can all choose to do the best we can with what we have, as long as we possess the mental stamina.
Thinking too much can cause us to burn out. Like the vertigo which turns my world into a rocking boat, too many deep and relentless questions can cause one to flounder. We might ask ourselves, â€œWhat if everything I think is true turns out to be false?â€ and at the same time, â€œWhat if everything I doubted turns out to be true?â€ While there are certainly answers to these questions, they will rarely be found by dwelling on the questions to an unhealthy degree. It is necessary to research, meditate, and to develop trust.
When I was young, a rock climbing friend told me I need to trust that the rock will hold me. Ultimately a rock is just a rock. But the difference between slipping and falling or catching and climbing is the personal confidence that comes with oneness with nature. Trust that the rock wants you to climb it, or that you were born to climb rocks.
In this world, we cannot always think too deeply. Ultimately a rock is not a rock. It is a number of spinning molecules with vast space in between them. A rock might at one time have been flowing lava, and in the future it might become dust. But right now, all we have is that rock to hold onto.
God is infinite beyond description and if we think too much about what He is, we will become dizzy. But right now, right here, we have a rock to lean on. â€œThe Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,â€ wrote David in the Psalms. We came from Him and we will return to Him. During this life, we climb the rocks that He created.