Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reaching My Equilibrium

When I was younger, I suffered from delusions of grandeur.  (If I still do, please don't let me know.  I'd like to keep it a secret from myself.  I have enough on my plate at the moment.)

I didn't think that I *was* all that grand, mind you.  If you know me, you know me because you have been patient enough and diligent enough to work past a wall of (almost schoolgirl-grade) shyness that has plagued me my entire life.  I have formed a habit of being introverted, and though I am still trying valiantly to take strides toward correcting this behavior, I am too old now to think that I will ever completely outgrow it.  So, with a fairly firm grasp of my oceans of limitations, I can say with confidence that I never thought I was all that grand.

I just thought that I was GOING to be.

The greatest problem with this belief, of course, was that I never had any idea in what capacity it was that I was going to BE grand.  I just always seemed to have a very firmly held, and deeply rooted, conviction that I was GOING to do 'great things'.  (I have never been one to hold onto unreasonable, and quite sparkly, amounts of confidence for no good reason.  The reason for this conviction of mine eludes me to this day.)

As a child, though, for some reason I seemed to think that *just around the corner* would lie some inevitable discovery of some God-given and GENIUS amount of talent that I had in some particular arena.  (I am still waiting on this discovery.  I think I have been more than patient.)

I discovered fairly early, however, that the arena was NOT to be an actual 'arena.'  Because it seemed that I was utter crap at all sports.  School softball games inspired in me mini panic attacks when it was my turn to bat.  (I remember thinking even then that the sport itself was ridiculous.  Hitting a flying ball with a bat??  And that proves. . . what?  Is important in . . . what way??  Yet for all my pooh-poohing of the sport, and sharp focusing of my will, I could still never seem to make the bat connect with that damned ball.)

I could draw fair enough.  I enjoyed it.  I wasn't going to win any ribbons though.

I've ALWAYS adored music, and so I thought that music MUST BE my arena.  So I played the flute in high school.  Learned to play the piano, too.  Loved them both.  Passionately.  But alas. . . I was not a musical genius.  (I was seriously beginning to feel like Michael Caine's character in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.)

I even had a passing thought that I would be an actress.  Yes, I could see it.  I would set the world on fire with my portrayals on both stage and screen.  My singing would be legendary, my performances would be the highest art, and I would walk around feeling very self-important and often refer to 'my craft.'

. . .have I mentioned that I was painfully shy? 

Yeah.  Scratch acting.

So life keeps rolling along, and I was no closer to finding the area that would be just right for me.

Then one day I had the bright idea:  Maybe I'm just supposed to HELP.  Maybe that's ALL.

And, as was my way at the time, I was convinced that THE way to 'help' was to join the Peace Corps.

. . .Did you know that the Corps actually prefers it if you HAVE a skill?? 

Well shit.  I didn't even know a second language.  (Unless the good people of Tanzania or Tibet have any interest in learning Pig Latin.  I am fluent.)

At this point in my life, I finally began to accept that I wasn't going to write the Great American Novel, or craft a painting that would move grown men to tears.  And so I began to analyze exactly WHY I felt the need to be 'grand.'

And the answer is:  I don't know.

I don't know why.  I just always felt like I had to.  Like I WOULD.  It wasn't something that others forced on me.  Nope.  Completely self-imposed.  Maybe I felt like I needed to justify the space I was taking up on this planet?  Who knows.  (I was kind of a weird kid.)

But the wonderful thing, the magical thing, the STUPENDOUS THING about this whole little goose-chase---is what I discovered today:

Maybe I don't have to.

Maybe I can be here at home.  On a Saturday, with my son.

Maybe I can make banana bread, and clean the house. 

Maybe I can feed the cats, and read a book, and change a diaper, and bitch about the high price of whatever.

And maybe that's ALL okay.

Because what I am learning is that *I* told myself that I had to do something grandiose and phenomenal.  Nobody else.  I did.

And now. . . I'm telling myself that it's okay.

Don't get me wrong:  I'm still going to try my hand at painting.  I still have time to pick up another instrument.  At some point I may discover that I have a green thumb (though not bloody likely).  And as long as my hands keep working, I'm sure I'll write from time to time.

But for now, I'm telling myself to take a deep breath.  And appreciate the fact that I have every amazing and important thing that I have EVER truly wanted.  I'm telling myself to hug and kiss my husband when he gets home, and realize that the home we've created together is FULL of laughter and love.  I'm telling myself to remember what the top of Nolan's head smelled like when he was a baby.  I'm telling myself to sit back and let it happen and just NOT CARE about the end result.  Because I APPRECIATE everything I have.  More than I know how to say.  And maybe being a loving wife, and a good mother, and an AMAZING interpretive dancer. . . maybe that's more than I could've ever asked for.  And maybe that's enough.

So for once in my life---I'm going to take my own advice.

And maybe what I'll make will turn out to be art anyway.  =)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At the Risk of Alienating All My Family and Friends. . .

These are some things I believe about Life and Death, and lots of questons I still have.

When I was about 5 years old, I realized that I was going to die.

I remember it perfectly.  (I wasn't sick or anything.)  I was lying in bed with my then-baby brother, in a little apartment in Rocky Ridge.  I was just going to sleep for the night when the realization hit me:  I was going to die one day.  It terrified me, and I started crying.  My mom came into my room to see what was wrong, and all I can remember was crying and saying that I didn't want to die.  She hugged me and kissed me, and calmed me down enough so that I could go to sleep, but all she could actually give me was: "That's not for a long time."

And I remember lying there and thinking that that answer wasn't nearly good enough.

Looking back, I realize that that night was the first of countless nights spent staring at my ceiling and agonizing over things that I have no power to change.

We went to church a lot growing up, and I heard all the stories that the churches tell:  If you're good, and ask Jesus into your heart, when you die you'll go to Heaven and be with everyone you love again, and eat cornbread (or . . .whatever Heavenly delicacy you desire).  If you're not, you go to Hell, and it's just awful.  I wanted to do everything I could to avoid the Hell part, so I thought about and worried over these things on a daily basis.  I decided I would change my life, and just be 'good' from then on.  (Though as I write this with the clarity of the years, I wonder what a child my age could've ever done to worry so greatly about being sent to Hell. . .  THESE are the thoughts that trouble me as an adult.)

I digress.

So when I was about 8 years old I did what the preacher said, and prayed a prayer and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

I expected something to change.  I expected to feel different.

I didn't.

I was sure that I had done something wrong.  So I meditated on it, I tried not to think hateful thoughts, or envy people, or covet that Hello Kitty purse that a friend of mine had just gotten, or be anything but 'good.'  And I prayed the Jesus-come-into-my-heart prayer every night for about a month.

All the while convinced (and deeply worried) that I was doing something wrong.

So then I heard the preacher say that we had to ask God to forgive every sin we committed, because otherwise he would not forgive us.  I decided I would do that.  So every night when I went to bed, I prayed.  And I mentally went through my entire day, starting with when I woke up, and asked for forgiveness for every single sin.  Even ones that I wasn't so sure were sins, but wanted to be safe.  (Just in case.)

And every night I fell asleep before I made it to the end of my list.

Which meant that I had sins lingering out there that I couldn't remember, and that were going to go unforgiven. 

I don't think I even have to say that this caused me a great deal of anxiety.

Fast-forward to my teen years, and I went to church all the time.  My parents were active in the church, my friends were there, and I went.  But about the time I was 15 or 16, I had more and more questions about what was being taught.  And I didn't feel like my questions were being answered.  More truthfully, I once again wondered what was wrong with me that *I* appeared to be the only one questioning what everyone else seemed to simply accept as Gospel truth.

My faith wasn't strong enough.

I struggled with it, and years went on.

Then when I was 24 years old, I lost my husband.  Well, I didn't actually 'lose' him---he died.  I had loved him deeply, and one day he was just. . . gone.  I couldn't function for the longest time, and after I did come back to myself again, I found I was. . . different.  Because he had been young, too, and the fact that someone so young, and so important, could just be GONE didn't jive at all with what I had spent my entire life believing.  I believed everyone was here for a purpose, and you didn't leave until it was fulfilled.  And I had decided that he hadn't fulfilled his purpose yet.  So. . .

. . .what was I supposed to do with THAT?

But for a while I had no choice BUT to believe in a mythical Heaven, because I was certain he was waiting for me there.  Still, it was at this point that I began studying the religions of the world in earnest.

And what I found, though many could and would argue the semantics with me. . .is that they are more or less all basically the same.  Be kind, don't harm others, be thankful for what you have, and love, love, love every chance you get.

And I remember feeling a little let down.  Because as surprising as it is to admit, I guess I was waiting for some magical book to give me all the answers about life.

And that's just not going to happen.  (Feel free to insert your Bible argument here.  I've read the Bible.  I know what it says.  I have questions and problems with a LOT of it.  But in the deepest part of my being, I believe in what Jesus taught.  I believe in what he stood for.  I have found it to be true and good, and it is in that way that I strive to live my life.  And that's the best you're going to get from me.)

But to get back around to my original line of thought:  Am I still afraid of death?

Yes.  Yes I am.  Very much so.  I'm human.  And in being so, the thought of never seeing the ones I love again just destroys me. 

But for some inexplicable reason, I have more or less come to terms with it.

I should hope so.  I lived with the shadow of death hanging over my head for more years than I can count.  Quite literally.  It is the reason that, to this day, I refuse to let my husband leave the house without telling him that I love him.  If something were to happen. . . I want that to be the last thing I ever said to him.

Do I believe in Heaven?  Yes and no.  I have a real problem believing in the storied (to me 'mythical') version of Heaven.  I wish that I could believe in it.  I really do.  But it's just not in me.

But I believe in God.  Not in His 'Big Policeman in the Sky' role that he took on in my youth, but in a much more gracious and abstract way.

I believe in the Universe around me.  I believe that it operates according to certain laws.  I believe that this Universe wastes nothing, and that matter can neither be created nor destroyed by us as humans.  I believe that there is something in every one of us that is malleable, and corruptable, and infintely 'good'.  And I believe that it will survive in some capacity long after this body has turned to dust.

I believe that every body loses a certain amount of weight after we die, and that it is pure energy that causes our brain to function, and our heart to beat, and our synapses to fire.  I believe that pure energy swims all around the cosmos, dancing in ways that I can't even comprehend.  I believe that Life would be nothing without a little mystery.

I believe that Love is the greatest magic that we can know as human beings, and I don't believe that it simply evaporates when we are no more.

I believe that all these things, all these thoughts and experiences, are what we think of as a Soul.

And I happen to believe that Souls are forever.

Beyond that, and in what capacity are they forever?  I haven't the foggiest.

If you feel the need to preach to me, I will warn you now that I will ignore you.  But I welcome discussions.  My problem with those that preach to me is that they believe that they have all the answers.  And people with all the answers. . . stop looking.

So this is what I believe, and I could be wrong about most or all of it.

But I will never stop looking.

And to end, I'll share my favorite quote from my favorite Beatle:

"Everything else can wait.  But the search for God cannot wait."   ----George Harrison

Friday, January 13, 2012

In Praise of my Grandmothers

Anyone that knows me REALLY well knows that I am prone to nightmares.  Whether this is due to my admittedly overactive imagination, my taste in reading materials, a love of spicy foods, or simply some misfiring synapses---I'm not at liberty to say.  All I know is that it happens.  A lot.  And as my dreams are incredibly vivid and life-like --I've always envied those people who claim to be able to 'realize' they are dreaming.  I 50% envy them, and 50% think they're full of crap, but I digress-- sometimes they can be really bad.  'Leave-A-Bad-Taste-In-My-Brain-All-Day' bad.  So when I woke, wide-eyed and with tears streaming down my face at 3 a.m. this morning, no one was more surprised than I to discover that it was NOT the result of a nightmare. 

I had been thinking about happy things.

I had been thinking about my Granny  =)

At 35 years old, I know that it is no small blessing to be able to say that BOTH of my grandmothers saw me reach adulthood.  (Note that that I did not say 'maturity'   =)  "Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers."  --Tennyson??  Can't remember.  Moving on.)  While my grandfather I only remember from photographs, and other people's recollections of him, (though, for some reason, I always felt as if I really had 'known' him) and my Pawpaw, though I knew him well, and into adulthood,

                        (This is my Pawpaw on the left, after a fishing trip with my Daddy.)

. . . I still feel cheated for these years spent without hearing his singular chuckle.  But my grandmothers. . .  My grandmothers were strong and hearty, always loving, always there, and, as far as I knew, up to virtually any task imaginable.

It's strange to think about now, but my Mawmaw and my Granny--though like night and day on SO many levels--grew up, married, and spent their entire lives in the same town, living only several miles apart.  They were friends, and more than that, they loved each other.  I always took great comfort in that as a child.  When people that you love DON'T love each other. . .it's confusing.  But when they DO---it's like a confirmation on your ability to judge what is true.  A confirmation in the way of  "I know.  She's pretty great, right?"  But in the true form of MY grandmothers, they could love each other while still being (secretly, and in their own ways) hilarious.

Example:  My Mawmaw was younger than my Granny by almost a year, if memory serves.  And yet almost every time I ever saw them together, she would cleverly find some excuse to remind my Granny of this fact.  Smiling and politely feigning ignorance the entire time, of course.  And when Granny got in the car to leave she'd be muttering under her breath, "She knows EXACTLY how old I am."  But she always said it with a grin. . .

Mawmaw was jewel-toned dresses, an abundance of rings, and perfume that almost stole your breath when you hugged her.  Granny was cotton and linen, the smell of clothes dried on the line, soft skin and a sparkling laugh, and a glass of sweet tea always waiting on you.  Weekends spent at Mawmaw's were guaranteed to include watching Remington Steele, Hee-Haw and Golden Girls, and getting to paint my nails if I asked really nicely.  (I am still amazed to this day that I did not destroy ALL her furniture with nail polish.  It is a skill I have not improved on over time.)  Saturday mornings were spent on the living room floor watching cartoons and eating Pop-tarts bought specifically for me, and on Sundays I was always welcome (but expected to behave) on their pew at church. 

At Granny's for the weekend, we would always run to the kitchen cupboard---which is where she stored empty paper towel rolls, wrapping paper tubes, and masking tape just for us to play with.  In the summertime we were free to run and play outside for as long as the sun was up, knowing that a sandwich and a glass of Hawaiian Punch at lunchtime was as inevitable as getting checked for ticks when we came in for the night.  And you just knew that you'd wake up the next morning to the smell of homemade biscuits cooking.  . . . Even up into years when I was probably too old to be asking, if you requested it, she'd sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to you while you fell asleep.

They went to different churches, but they both went every time the doors were open.  (Granny still took food to the 'old people' in her church until she was well into her 70's.)  In the kitchen, they were both veritable Southern Sorceresses, making pound cakes and lemon squares that I will probably never taste the likes of again.  They both dyed their hair quite religiously, proving that a small amount of vanity is not a bad thing.  Granny worked outside the home up until she reached retirement, and Mawmaw worked inside the home.  . . .I don't remember either one ever discussing it with me, but simply by the act of LIVING it, they seemed to make either option okay.

And without being preachy, and despite major personality differences, they each taught me the same things:  Work hard.  Take care of people.  Don't be lazy--it's disrespectful.  And ALWAYS be thankful for what you've got.  Because there's ALWAYS someone else who wishes they had just that much.

. . .so this is what I found myself thinking about at 3 a.m. this morning. . .  My Mawmaw passed several years ago, but my Granny is still here.  Though dementia and Alzheimer's dictate how 'here' she is more often than not. 

It's a scary thing to watch progress, though I know it has to be even harder for my mom and my uncles.  But mostly it just scares me for her.  A couple Christmases ago, while the family sat down to eat a WONderful Christmas dinner, she announced to the room as a whole that "OUR Danielle is DEAD!"  . . .I was very much alive, and standing right behind her.  And I didn't even want to correct her, because all I could think was what a frightening feeling that must be for her.  And I couldn't help wondering if, in the confusion of her disease, she had already mourned for people that weren't gone yet?

But what do I know?  Maybe it's another instance of those peculiar graces:  We get to keep her with us a while longer, and she doesn't have to dwell on all the loved ones that have gone on before her.

So I'm not dwelling on the negative.  Granny got to meet my son!  The one I thought I'd never have  =)  Though I DO hate that Michael never got to know her when she was running at full-capacity. . .she was so FUNNY!  (Like her telling the story of The Great Squirrel-Family Massacre with a smile on her face over Christmas dinner.  The story included a laughter-filled retelling of how a half-crazed squirrel got into her house and tracked blood all OVER her walls and curtains, before she killed it and beheaded its babies.  She told it all very matter-of-factly, and with a smile in her eyes.  *I* was rolling with laughter, of course.  She was a sweet, DEAR woman---but Granny didn't play. =)  And I know that I am immeasurably blessed that I got to HAVE both of these women in my life.

And they loved me, no question.  And curled up in their homes, falling asleep to the sound of crickets. . .I don't know that anything again will ever feel that safe. . .that perfectly *safe*.

I guess it's a blessing beyond words when someone has made such an impact on your life that, when you try to imagine what your life would've been like had they never been in it, you just. . . CAN'T.

And in our bedroom, my husband sleeps.  Under a turtle-quilt that my Mawmaw made for my Daddy, who was good enough to give it to me.

And not 3 feet away, in my son's pack n'play, is the blue-and-white quilt my Granny made for me when I was a baby.

And they are everywhere around me.

And I just miss them both so much.