Anita’s Review: Having read your column twice, let me say I find it full of universal truths phrased in a personal and relatable way.
Earlier this week my friend Ruth posted a small line on Facebook about picking up her pizza order in her pajamas. It was one of those days. You know the kind. When your day has been so hectic, so full of the stuff of life, that you have to give up and drive to Dominoes in your pjs because the chore of changing your clothes might just push you to erupt like Mt. Vesuvius, and that vulnerable city below you would be in danger of bursting into flames. I know that day. Hell, I know that week. That week is here, teetering on the edge of the holiday season and threatening to overthrow the kingdom of time management. For reasons I can’t imagine, non-profit organizations think this is a great time to hit me up for my attention and a donation. Peering at my credit card bill as solicitations pile up in my mail box, I need to find one moment in my day when nothing is calling me—not human, postal, electronic or canine.
I recently read an essay posted online that said humans are not hardwired to cope with knowing every horrible thing that goes on in the entire world, especially if we are inclined to want to do something to help. As a result of our technology, the world is a lot smaller and its woes are a whole bunch closer than they used to be. Just look in your mailbox! As individuals, in order to keep from stretching ourselves to the point where we become useless, we may have to pick a cause and run with it. This makes me a bit jealous of the people who don’t care about anyone outside their immediate vicinity. The width of that vicinity might determine whether one is a dick or a saint. I suppose at one point or another we might have to be both, or find some reasonable place in between.
My financial assistance to one favored nonprofit organization prompts a thousand more requests for donations to fight the good fight against all the other stuff that is connected to that other thing I just supported. It makes me mad at the first recipient of my dollars for sharing (or selling!) their donor list with all those other guys. I want to pay attention. I want to help. I want to donate. I want to get the laundry done so I have clean underwear. Having to wear the last pair of drawers, that faded, baggy pair at the back of the dresser, is akin to picking up pizza in your pjs. It feels like failure.
The bottom line is there are too many things to do this time of the year. I’ll reach a point where I get overwhelmed trying to accomplish all the necessary tasks as well as contributing to the global effort of making the world a better place. So, I make a list. Inevitably, I’ll get 3 things accomplished from my list of 20 for the week. I slide those undone things onto next week’s list and add whatever new items come up. Then I get really busy and write more lists. Then I abandon them.
Since I am an early Christmas shopper, I demand a list of gift suggestions from each member of my family well before they have any such ideas on their minds. I want to complete my holiday purchasing before Thanksgiving. This onerous target places the pressure of a very large, unwieldy boulder on me and I start to perceive the squeeze as that marker approaches. Instead of pre-planning my week, I start winging it day by day, shoving one thing or another to a day which seems less crowded with That Which Must Be Done but is, in fact, just as full as the current day because I had been sliding tasks over to the end of the week since Monday. By the time Friday arrives after an intense week, I will firmly believe getting in my car to pick up pizza in my pajamas is a triumph. Dinner is served!
I asked my husband how I managed to get anything done when I worked, volunteered, went to school and had a child at home? He mentioned something about youthful enthusiasm. Wait! Has my youthful enthusiasm for solving problems way beyond my immediate vicinity waned? The COVID pandemic has certainly curtailed my out-of-home usefulness to the needs of the world. But, has my interest in fixing by-God everything, every injustice, depletion and incurable disease fallen down a well? After I read the online essay mentioned above, I realized this was the truth. Busy-ness has sucked the righteousness right out of me! Having too much on my plate, a zillion items on the to-do list contributes to brain refraction and then I’m too scattered to get much done at all. I have unwittingly narrowed down my priorities in order to scrape together whatever sanity may be preserved. In the middle of a super-busy week, I tell myself it’s ok to be a dick…in fact, it might even be essential for my own survival to leave the woes of the world in other hands for a while so that I can concentrate on what needs to be done in my own vicinity.
I need a list I can stick to. It may seem like a selfish move to place my well-being as a top priority, but I remind myself that I am of no use to anyone if I can’t function properly. I am a person who needs to move around a lot, so formal exercise and hiking are at the top of the checklist. I hesitate as I write the next item: downtime. I haven’t taken a nap or meditated since spring. That neglect might be contributing to the sense of overall busy-ness. Stress accumulates and manifests in the body. Letting go of these practices for the sake of gaining more time for other tasks has not helped to reduce the tension. Even just sitting at my desk, closing my eyes and taking ten deep breaths slows down my heart rate and eases the anxiety I experience when I am overwhelmed. I did it just now, which helps me concentrate on what I am doing instead of fretting about all the other stuff that needs to get done.
I remind myself there is plenty of time to get the essential tasks completed if I allow some shopping, a few creative ideas and a couple of must-haves to go. My idea of a perfectly executed holiday season has shifted to gloriously imperfect celebrations. As Thanksgiving approaches, I realize I would like to meet the day as a deeply satisfied person instead of a train wreck. My menu will be simple—I don’t even know what I will serve yet! My house will be messy and bright. My guests will be hugged and appreciated. My dog will be well-behaved. Well, let’s not get carried away. My dog will be her usual rascally self but I can deal with that.
As I look out my window and see the bright red of the last trees holding onto their leaves, I whisper to them, “Let it go.” All the other trees are already naked and displaying the beauty of winter. These gorgeous holdouts display the tail-end of the fall colors here at our little mountain casita. Like them, I would be proud to be out and about in my finest apparel, but know that sometimes it is only proper to don some seasonally appropriate sleepwear and embrace this time of hectic complacency by driving my car to the pizza place. It’s not giving up, it’s leaning in. This is my contribution to the world…for now.
Breathe in, breathe out, enjoy,
I met Guest Editor Anita at a coffee meetup. She was immediately invited to join our little writer’s group, aka Scribble Sisters, and has been contributing to the love and laughter ever since. She suggested I insert a word or two to assist readers with following the thread of this story. There’s supposed to be a thread?