This morning, I spent some time hanging out with a kindred spirit. Her name is Dorothy, she’s 90, and John has been mowing her lawn every summer since around 1995. Once in a while I go along and sit with Dorothy and we talk about music, her love of art (she used to be an amazing painter), and our mutual love of books. She’s more into philosophy, whereas I lean toward historical fiction. We both agree biographies are best.
I only just decided to call her a kindred spirit. I knew right away, of course, but it took re-reading a childhood favorite–Anne of Green Gables (which I gave to Cate for Christmas)–to find the right term for the feeling that comes from finding someone with whom you can converse easily and fluidly for hours and never grow tired or run out of things to share. Just like Anne, I have found kindred spirits throughout life, sometimes in unusual people.
One thing Dorothy and I discussed this morning was the extensive traveling she and her late husband did once their children had grown and left the house. She impressed upon me the importance of investing my time and money in experiences, rather than material objects. I could not agree more and I told her about this article, which says just about the exact same thing.
Dorothy is full of the wisdom that you would expect from living 90 years. I told her of my recent conversation with an acquaintance, and then a friend, who both left me feeling as if they were annoyed with me because of my happiness, rather than glad for me. I told her how, although I didn’t care to have their approval (my life is not better or worse for what other people think it may be), I was sorry for them. I wished there was a tactful way to share how much better life can be when you focus on the positive, rather than the negative. We agreed on the point that life, and what we make of every situation, is a choice.
I’m not saying I never get discouraged, or that I’m never upset or angry or sad. Only that I make it a point to try very hard to turn those feelings into something productive. I try to see the best in everyone and every situation. I shared with a friend recently something that a favorite boss once told me, “Try to picture every difficult person you meet as either a very small helpless baby, or frail and helpless elderly person. That will help you to be more compassionate.”
This same boss, Annette, was another kindred spirit. When she was frustrated with co-workers, she would summons me to the “cone of silence,” based on a Saturday Night Live skit I’m apparently too young to remember. All this meant is that we would meet in the storage room, away from prying ears and eyes, so we could vent a little about the situation. We’d always end up laughing until we cried–Annette is a vibrant, hilarious, red-headed Irish lady with a mouth on her–and then come out of the “cone of silence” fully refreshed and ready to deal with whomever’s ridiculousness we faced with abundant compassion.
I admit I had to draw on this compassion several times this week, which I dubbed “the eternal week.” I was already drawing on extra resources, trying to remain positive and functioning with John being gone most of every day and night, plus too many kid activities, volunteer obligations, and three enormous writing deadlines. But then, it seemed like every time I logged onto social media (which I have to do frequently for work purposes, but yes, I totally check my own account way too much while I’m there), I would see someone complaining about how busy they are right now.
Admittedly I have done this many times myself. Not usually, or maybe ever, on Facebook, but I know I’ve written blog posts here about feeling overwhelmed. The month of May is hard on mothers. The fact that they throw Mother’s Day into the middle of it almost seems like a joke.
BUT: we have a choice. We choose to sign up for the activities we are running to every week; we choose our career path; we choose (for the most part) to create a family that has needs we must attend. And we can choose to either enjoy it and go with it, or we can choose to resist and be unhappy about it.
This is what I was thinking when I went on Facebook and saw several friends whining about the number of items on their “to-do” lists. “I have a crazy ‘to-do’ list, too!” I thought, indignantly. “Some of these people have way less to do than I do, so why are they complaining?!” I was really feeling quite negative toward these people and I admit, I needed to draw on the compassion I mentioned earlier.
Right after that, I logged onto Twitter and saw that a friend had posted this:
Perhaps the hardest and yet most essential thing we can do is choose to choose. We are in control of and in charge of more than we realize.
It was sort of like that friend had posted it just for me. I can choose how I react to how others express themselves, just as I can choose how I handle a busy week. The lesson applies in more than one way.
And that took me back to my conversation with Dorothy this morning. She asked me how the kids were doing and I was telling her about the many things they are enjoying right now and all the running around that entails. “Oh you’re right in the fun of it!” she exclaimed.
Not busy. Not overwhelmed. Not one more thing I cross off my list in some race to get….where exactly? Rather, I’m “right in the fun of it!”
It really is all in how we look at it. It’s a choice. I choose happy.