Michelle’s Review: An enlightening and empowering read that leaves one with a feeling that there is always something we can focus on no matter how things feel right now.
The days blend together. I try to keep track of what I want to do each day, but some chores are often preempted by a nap, with the knowledge that the next day will arrive, empty and yawning as a canyon, and I could easily add whatever got knocked out of the lineup back onto my get’er-done list.
Then I read a Facebook post by my friend Joanna in Austin, Texas which indicated her to-do list for that day. It read:
* Embrace Joy
* Enrich Connections
* Encourage Growth
* Empower Dreams
This struck me as powerfully different than my to-do list any day of the week. Mine is more of the mundane variety:
* do yoga
* call brother
* laundry – don’t forget dishtowels!
* pay utility bill
My list focuses on tasks; hers focuses on attitude. Her list contains action words, verbs which imply something will be done, but it’s open ended and open to interpretation. Oh, Joanna, why did you have to make me think? I was doing fine stumbling about with my menial tasks, grousing over the state of affairs and allowing myself to coast along in a mindless fog. Perhaps “fine” is not the most accurate description. I was doing minorly okay. Surviving rather than thriving. I found myself thanking you grudgingly for the kick in the ass and decided to give your list a try, to reinterpret what I was going to do each day using the E words.
Embrace Joy. One would think, as the pandemic persists and the political discourse becomes volatile and we get anxious and brittle and bored, that it would be more difficult to find joy in anything. That’s what gives #1 on the list its power and purpose. I suppose, since Joanna is a minister, embracing joy is equivalent to counting one’s blessings. But, knowing Joanna, it goes beyond that. I’m ready to go further than my own business-as-usual blessings and look for examples all around me of how people are creating new or discovering overlooked blessings.
Changes in my life remind me how inflexible I can be. Change is happening, whether we are happy with it or not. Change makes me cranky because I am a person of habit. I am joyful by nature when all goes according to plan and my life is not too seriously disrupted. As I considered embracing joy in a time of disruption and change, I realized that flexibility needed to go beyond the realm of my body and into my attitude. I needed a good example of someone who has been flexible and able to find joy in all the changes, even the sucky ones.
Casting about for an example, I noticed the little girls who live across the street. They are seven-year-old twins. I admire them for the good sense of having each other as a built-in playmate. They often play outside, bicycling up and down the neighbor’s driveways or skipping along in their own front yard. Their joy is evident. Each time my husband and I see them, as we walk our dog Mindy, they start exclaiming their enthusiasm. We sometimes feel like we are being interviewed on the street by curious, miniature journalists. I love the questions. How old is Mindy? Where are you going? Can we pet the dog? They persistently ask this last one. We, just as persistently but with patience, tell them, “Not right now.” We explain that Mindy has a tendency to bite people when she’s excited and happy. The girls nod their heads in little-kid wisdom and keep a responsible distance away. Mindy protests this injustice.
These girls are clearly embracing joy in a time of life-altering circumstances, playing exuberantly in their available outdoor spaces. Since their schooling went online and their lists of playmates dwindled down to one, playing outside must be the best part of their day. I need to start thinking like them. I also have built-in playmates. We just need to start playing. Tag in the back yard, roller blading on the street, splashing in the dog’s wading pool are all possibilities for realizing maximum joy potential. Well, maybe not the roller blading. I want to embrace joy not send myself to the ER.
I decided that I will look for all available opportunities for recognizing joys big and small. I will go outside and observe how neighbors of all ages are engaging in activities which make them happy. I will communicate my own joy to everyone I see. And…yoga will not just be yoga; it will be the joy of moving my body in age-appropriate ways which will not result in embarrassing medical intervention.
Enrich Connections. I discovered the importance of connections in Houston, during the Hurricane Harvey flooding and evacuation in 2017. Giving and receiving offers of help, peace of mind knowing friends were safe when they had to leave their homes and just plain hearing voices of concern kept my emotional head above water. Moving to a new city made seeking new friendships a priority. Make new friends, but keep the old. That old song about keeping connections alive resonated with me. As I sought ways to create local companionships, I was able, through social media, to stay in touch with the cherished ones I had left behind.
Finding new relationships in the time of COVID-19 is a real challenge, but people seem to be managing to do just that. Social media and safe-distance outings seem to be means of the moment. Everyone is hungry for connections. How could I enrich those I have already made and foster further liaisons within the community?
Chatting with our twin pals across the street led to a conversation with their mother, who founded a local non-profit called BeLoved Asheville. They distribute food and other necessities to families in need. Their workload has increased since the start of the pandemic. Out of curiosity and in an attempt to enrich this connection, I asked if there was something I could do for her organization. BeLoved Asheville is in the process of opening a center for distribution. This may be the connection I was looking for. My first priority since March has been protecting my health. I intend to continue doing so as I tentatively step out of my comfort zone and join with my community. We are still looking at what role I might assume in working with this group.
In the meantime, I am engaging in phone calls. It’s old fashioned, I know. Texts, emails and Zoom are all fine and keep us interacting with our pals, but a one-on-one conversation is the queen of all available safe communications. It feels more personal. There’s no vying for the floor, so to speak, or misinterpreting written words. Gasp, did I just say that? I enjoy these phone calls, when I can’t be seen. I can kick back on my sofa, press the little icon for the speaker and relax into a great conversation, messy hair and all. I can check the call brother item when I sprawl out on the couch with the dog and employ my phone as a… phone! We’ll talk for an hour.
Encourage Growth. This task felt a bit daunting. My first inclination was to find something new to learn. Knitting, fermenting foods, improving my digital graphics skills were already on my pre-pandemic list of potential learning activities. I enjoy being among people, so most of the fun engaging in new endeavors comes from meeting instructors and working alongside other clueless students learning a new craft. Lacking such interactions, new learning experiences lost some luster. My enthusiasm for formal learning waned as my stay-at-home experience expanded. My growth would need to take on other forms.
In the meantime, growth occurs in other places, such as our garden. Once again, we have a tomato jungle—a certain voluntary tomato plant grows wild here whether we want it to or not! So, we are encouraging growth in appropriate places and discouraging it in the middle of the sidewalk, on the stairs and on top of the car. I feel myself a steward of the tomato wilderness. I have taken on the task of cooking and/or preserving the explosion of goodies presenting themselves daily from the garden. I began to see my own growth amid the pots and pans of the kitchen, as I discovered new ways of using tomatoes or old ways of preserving kale. The pioneer spirit is alive and well in me! Now if only I could stop coveting my neighbor’s eggplant.
I am still looking for a way to expand that feeling of growth into doing the laundry. In the meantime, I can happily be a cheerleader for friends and family, encouraging them to find the hidden corridors they might navigate toward growth and in turn, inspire me with their innovation, perspiration and dedication. I find myself trapped in a wonderful cycle of reciprocity. My friend Anita is teaching tap dancing class online. She is learning all the ins and outs of the digital presentation of a physical activity and has shared some of her insights with me. Her bold move has inspired me to give teaching tai chi online a go. It’s scary for me as I consider myself technically challenged. I will be learning something new after all and hopefully inspire someone else to take the plunge.
Empower Dreams. Oh, this was a tricky one. How do I do this while paying the utility bill? I felt as though so many aspirations had been placed on hold as the pandemic continued to sicken our people, narrow our options and diminish our ability to dream. Even though I am usually an optimist, the future seemed shrouded in uncertainty. The “when” of it all slowed me down. When can I throw my arms around someone? When will I be able to shake hands with strangers, ride the bus, take a vacation? If I dared to dream, when would it all happen? I had no timeline with which to plot and plan. I persevered with working the first three E-words into my daily to-do list.
As I continued to incorporate the E-words into my action plan, I experienced a shift in attitude toward the future. Joy, connections, growth. Together they created a new kind of energy for me. One that has the capacity to empower dreams. Practicing them is the metaphysical equivalent of paying the utility bill. Okay, hilariously stretched into one of my ridiculous metaphors, but completely legit. I finally gave up on the “when” and concentrated on the now, which will influence a hazy distant future. With this change in perception, I found faith in a healthy, vibrant tomorrow, whenever it happens. That is my dream, to arrive at that eventuality with full optimism and scars healed…because, you know, I’m totally going to try that roller-blading thing. Or maybe just take a nap. Oh Joy!
Guest Editor Michelle enticed me to visit her villa with promises of ice cream! She knows a good E word when she sees one. And, can spot mixed tenses from a mile away, according to safe-distancing protocols.