Saturday, July 14, 2012

Defending the Ordinary Life (or Be Careful What You Wish For)

IT SEEMS LIKE A LIFETIME AGO — which of course it was, all that and more. For a boy, life on the farm was idyllic, but for the young man I became, that very peace and predictability were stifling, unbearable. I had big dreams, and needed a big place to explore them: the whole wide world.

Near our village of Barrel Arbor, the steamliners touched down and traveled on rails along the Winding Pinion River toward Crown City. Watching them pass in the night, how I prayed to get away . . .
- Neil Peart
Clockwork Angels

Like a lot of people, I sometimes think back on the opinions I held and the things I thought when I was in my early 20's and cringe.  It's not so much that I had opinions that time has eroded or changed, it was the vehemence with which I professed those opinions, as if I had the wisdom of the ages on my side.  I think if I were to meet my younger self in some sort of weird time travel warp, I'd have to take her by the shoulders, shake her really hard and tell her to wake the hell up and smell the real coffee.  Think about it.  Wouldn't you have a pearl or two of wisdom to pass along to a younger you?

It's not really that I'm so different at the core.  There are still aspects of me that have always been and always will be.  What's really different is the colors have changed from black and white to various hues of grey (absolutely no reference to that book series that I haven't read and don't intend to).  Like a lot of people in their twenties, only maybe a little more so, I used to see things as very absolute.  I'd take my time forming an opinion about something, but once I did I was all in - my way or the highway.  I've mellowed considerably, with a few exceptions, in that regard.  But more than that, I had certain expectations for myself that, if met, would define my success.  If not met, I would consider myself a failure.  And I'm not talking about parenting, because that was in my future and not in my self-definition at the time, but strictly in how I would judge my own life and career.  Looking around me now, living in a tiny little cottage in suburban Pennsylvania, having never been to Europe or even Alaska, not owning a company or having published anything more substantial than my two blogs, I would have not lived up to my own expectations.  I realize I'm okay with that.  I'm really okay with who I am.  What I want now is to impart to anyone else living in a little box house wondering how they compromised on their goals so completely to feel that way too because, I'm here to tell you, living an adventurous life isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

On the eve of my wedding, contemplating that I was marrying into the All American Family (two sons, two daughters - all glowingly healthy, bright and energetic - college professor dad and nurse mom), I figured I had sold out on the exotic life I had once envisioned for myself in place of the perceived security I was marrying into.  I prayed that night that I would still manage to find adventure and be saved from being ordinary.  Be oh so careful what you wish for!  Nothing about our lives has been ordinary.  Now, with a full decade of turmoil in my rear view mirror, I wake up everyday and hope for peace and quiet.  I think I'd be absolutely fine living a simply ordinary life from here on out.

Let me extol it's virtues:  yes, my kitchen is small and pretty plain.  I don't know how old my stove is, but my guess is, if stoves could drink, it would be allowed into the local bar.  But, everything works, I've managed to find room for all my kitchen paraphernalia and Greg does most of the cooking anyway, and he's resigned himself to it long ago.  Really, I could ask for more, but what more do I really need?  I've already got a main room we rarely use, it's more for show than anything else.  Sometimes I sit in my living room and read for a bit just to say I use it, so overall, as long as I don't manage to recollect the level of junk I had in Texas, why pay taxes on unoccupied space just to say I can?

I'm learning to appreciate the smaller pleasures in life.  The other day one of the neighborhood ducks came waddling straight up to me demanding to be fed.  She gave me a good chuckle in the morning, I gave her a good breakfast.  Win-win.  Maybe it's not as exotic as visiting Notre Dame or the Tower of London, but maybe it is just as precious and a whole lot cheaper.

More than anything, it's the ability to have some head space.  Room to think, room to breathe without the weight of heavy expectations on my shoulders.  I was so busy when I was younger trying to chase the next big experience that I forgot to properly savor the ones I was having.

I'm not saying life is perfect, it's certainly not.  Even taking away the largest imperfection of them all.  I get tired of worrying about money.  I get tired of working when I'm not sure I can see the fruits of my labor pay off.  I worry over the surviving members of our little family.   But, what I know now is that there is no life free from worry.  If I wasn't worried about the bills I am juggling, I'd have to be worried about something else.

Nor am I saying I'm closed off to life's grand experiences.  I most certainly am not.  I have my bucket list.  I fully intend on working through it.  I still have dreams and aspirations.  But, I can now step back to appreciate and savor exactly what I have at this moment.  That is the gift that time - and perhaps the experience of great sorrow - has given me.

Whatever path your life is on, even if it is narrower than you intended, walk it with your head high.  There is no disgrace in living what some might call an ordinary life.

1 comment:

  1. you look like me in that picture :D I take that as a compliment to myself. k now going to read.