“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited
+ Mary Oliver, When Death Comes
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the wastefulness of keeping up – the vortex of checklists, an existence propelled by the satisfaction of a single dash across the paper. Visiting. It’s my biggest fear, my greatest urgency. Yours too?
Lists are no way to live (this post – so indulgent, so uncross-off-able), and yet there’s something appealing about quantifying, isn’t there? I’ve been questioning this appeal of late, humored by the habitual mid-winter drag, holding it to the light and scrutinizing its luster (cubic zirconium, for the record). It started, I think, with Savannah’s first semester report card. Her dad read it at the bus stop because we’d forgotten to check her folder the night before and when he called I was sorting socks with one hand and digging cat poop out of my favorite houseplant with the other. Running late, always.
Outstanding, he said. Girl nailed it – reading, math, and our family apex, behavior.
He put her on the phone and I asked if she was proud of herself and she mumbled something about making sure Daddy signed it before next week, informed me Molly was doing a headstand in the back seat, asked if we could have pizza for supper, and – wait, what was the question again?
As the clock set me back another minute and I studied the perpetual disaster of our home, I reasoned this: The list is ever-growing but the work is getting done.
Real, not tidy. Progress, not checkmarks. Rooting, not visiting. The important tasks have no end. On and on and on, one redirection after another, until your baby earns an A in kindness and a new report begins. I had a friend once tell me she couldn’t sleep at night thinking of all the chemicals in her baby’s bath soap. I told her to have more children. Sometimes when you can’t bring yourself to embrace the mess you have to make the mess big enough to embrace you.
Being, not doing. I felt it again on my drive to work this morning after only five hours sleep (Caroline’s woken up every night this week screaming like a banshee – ears? teeth? night terrors? a socially acceptable and remarkably accurate manifestation of our collective mood this time of year? insight welcome) and several weeks of feeling heavily “childrened.” I thought of the lesson plans on my desk, of the looming teacher shoes and academic script, and found myself, not for the first time, wishing I could ditch them all and grace the classroom as my unfinished self. Expose the struggle, honor what Glennon calls the “God-sized hole,” add a pinch of human to the teaching formula. (To be fair, my district would totally allow this – encourage it, even – but I steer clear because I’m afraid and, unless it involves words of the unspoken variety, very bad at public transparency.)
All this to say – welcome, Midwest blizzard. May we all take time during your stay to reflect on the only kind of progress that matters. And may we stay there awhile, a lifetime perhaps, so that we’re no longer only just visiting.