Like everyone, I am time impoverished. Too much to do, Too little time. I suffer from a chronic, degenerative condition of known as over-committing. I tell myself that I work better under pressure, but there are some un-lovely things going on in my mind when I travel the familiar path to the well of exhaustion and dissatisfaction. My thinking goes something like this: “If I am frenetic, doesn’t that just mean my work is important?” OR “I am so busy because I am trying to help and serve so many people, which is a good thing.” OR “I don’t have time to think about the Big Picture, because my to do list is so long.”
My malnourishment of time dovetails nicely with contemporary social isolation, a pandemic evidenced by the decline of extended families and natural communities of support. As Celebrants, we look longingly at robust social circles of yesteryear that provided any woman with ongoing encouragement by members of her community of loved ones. So, as one small step toward creating my own council of wise elders, I, along with some of my “lady friends,” started a women’s book club, with readings focused on practical, but spiritual, written works. I envision our monthly meeting will be something of an emotional quilting circle.
Although I’d been thinking of such a venture for some time, I was pushed over the finished line, following a short vacation in May. After an intense period at work, I visited Hungary for a few days away with my companion. My boyfriend, originally from Budapest, has a small place on the banks of the Danube, where time stands still. We sleep and relax. He canoes on the river, as he did in his youth, while I remain motionless basking in the sun on the banks of the shore. Yet, I believe that my sudden de-compression from a hectic spring, left me with a case of the “emotional bends.” For me, at least, the silence and downtime, after a busy, over-booked period, left me feeling a little confused, depressed, and directionless. After all, What does my life look like if it isn’t bursting at the seams with obligations to others? How do I define myself when I take some of my big descriptors (employee, Celebrant, New Yorker), off the table?
In my slump, I perused a little book I brought over for my holiday reading, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. Written by popular psychiatrist Dr. Gordon Livingston, the little book offers short, topically-based life lessons. Each point of instruction is about four pages long, a perfect portion for a subway ride or as an emotional nightcap before falling asleep. I found his advice helpful as it struck a mature balance of optimism and realism. A West Point grad and Vietnam Vet, Livingston battled his own demons, having endured the loss of two children, one to cancer and the other, a bipolar son, to suicide. His book seemed less frothy than many in the self-help genre.
I was personally convicted by Livingston’s point that thinking about change does not equate to actually making it. He goes on to say that even among seemingly motivated people who come to his office for help, often with complaints about depression, relatively few of his patients were actually doing anything differently in their lives, compared to yesterday, last week, or last year. Among his many pearls of wisdom, the good doctor says that talking about life change is not enough—and even taking medications will not relieve depression, unless accompanied by real modifications in a person’s daily M.O. Hoping to avoid being an emotional slack ass, I sent up a trial balloon to my friends with the idea.
The book club was a success, I think, as we happily gathered a few weeks ago. Although the air conditioning did little to address the stifling summer heat of the Big Apple, we were huddled on a Tuesday night to share ideas and offer encouragement. Each woman discussed a particular essay that resonated in her mind. As an appropriately neurotic hostess, I purchased far too much food and worried if people liked the book and felt appropriately included in the discussion. Ultimately, I think we all took away some lasting thoughts about the book and conversation and, at the very least, an appreciation for the fellowship (or maybe sister-ship?) of the night.
Next month’s book selection, courtesy of my wise friend Marianne, who does considerable work on her “interior,” is Geneen Roth’s Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money. Although I was not previously familiar with her work, Roth has written numerous books of the self-help and recovery variety, primarily around food addictions. This book was written to heal from the sudden, devastating loss of her family’s life savings thanks to the evil-doer Bernie Madoff. I received the book last night and it was a welcome tonic for a sultry Monday. Just a few pages into the book, she offers up a beautiful poem “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, that I wanted to share:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows.
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
that sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Onward & Upward.
p.s. I borrowed the title for this posting from a Delta airlines ad campaign of a few years ago. I thought it was partiucularly clever. The Greek letter delta does mean change in mathematics. More delta for me.