One of the things I love about writing is that it helps me organize and connect the many thoughts, facts, emotions and analysis scurrying around in my head. Basically, it helps me make sense of the world as I’m experiencing it.
Today I was a spectator. I observed what most of us know well– life is full of hard and beautiful and interesting scenarios. We don’t usually see all of those scenarios in one day, but today I forced myself to sit back and just take them all in.
From the moms at a playdate who bonded over their painful struggles with mentally ill parents to the coming-together of neighbors and families to commemorate a historic life and place, my day couldn’t have been much fuller. Even though I have nothing to do with our neighbor’s historic home and cannot even imagine what it would be like to have parents with borderline personality disorders, I was invited in to these peoples’ stories.
If you’ve listened to many motivational talks, sermons, etc., I’m sure you’ve heard the cliched metaphor about joining in the game of life (i.e. “Are you going to sit on the sidelines and be a spectator of life, or are you going to play the game?”). The spectator role, it seems, is not the preferred one and is not what we should be aiming for. But as I was tucking in my girls tonight, thinking of all I’d witnessed today, it dawned on me how very much a part of it all I felt despite my periphery role.
And I thought about what an important role spectators play. What would a football game be without fans in the stands? And what would a child’s first piano recital be without proud parents watching? And how hollow would the world seem if every person was always in the middle of the action but no one was stopping to observe the beauty in others? Or the pain?
I think that’s why I appreciate artists so much. They stop and observe. And then I get to see all the side stories–the ones that don’t make the nightly news– in paintings and songs and poems.
Our neighbors’ home was “plaqued” today (not to be confused with a dangerous plague or vandalism– they actually had the local Historical Society present a plaque which will hang on their front porch). They had a little gathering, complete with appetizers, wine and a pound cake from a 100-year-old recipe, in which a little ceremony of sorts took place. Since their home belonged to a locally famous historian and writer, Hannah Ditzler, they had an entire scrapbook about her and even some of her distant descendants attended. The gentleman from the Heritage Society was remarking how Hannah’s detailed diaries give us a picture of what life in Naperville Illinois was like in the late 19th-century, and her detailed sketches of the home are remarkable.
Standing in this small, warm crowd of people who were simply celebrating the fact that someone took the time to observe life in Naperville in the 1800s made me pause. Even though I like to think that, with the many bloggers and journal-keepers out there today, we will have more than enough written records for future generations, I also wonder how much we take the time to observe what’s really going on around us.
Not feeling benevolent enough to observe for the world’s sake? Well, it benefits you too. Observing others’ stories takes us out of our own heads for a moment. Truthfully, I haven’t been blogging much lately because I’ve been working on more fiction writing. Both reading and writing fiction is comforting to me because it takes me out of my own world with all its little problems. I get to live vicariously through elephant trainers in the 1920s and teenage fugitives in future societies. But there was something a little more powerful– or at least more real– about being drawn in to the stories of actual people around me today. I felt like I was contributing to their story just by being there with them.
It made me think about how the next time I’m feeling insignificant sitting on the sidelines, I am a significant spectator.
It seems like I’ve been talking to a lot of people who feel down lately. Some of the down feelings are
circumstantial, but for most of the people, it’s more of a disillusionment with the way their everyday lives are going.
And because I’ve definitely been there, it is causing me to analyze some of my “joy” data– and I’m not talking about my name here….. what brings joy into my life on an everyday basis? (and this is beyond all those easy answers like God and children….)
For me, it’s words. I remember loving the feeling of stringing them together as a kid…. that pure delight even in kindergarten when I wrote, “The Rose Girl” and had some vague sense that I had created something.
And maybe my first love of words had something to do with the fact that pictures were sometimes hard to see, and how the words describing them made them visible to me. My toddler has a lot of first words books where I point to the picture and she tells me what it is, and honestly thank goodness for the large, bolded words below each picture because I have trouble deciphering what most of them are even though she recognizes most of them right away.
I think it’s human tendency to withdraw from some of the things we really enjoy doing in life when we’re down. I know I withdraw from writing when I’m feeling depressed (hence the lack of entries over the winter!)
Yet as I write daily– whether I intend to ever share it with anyone or not– it makes me wish that I had forced myself to do it over the winter because I feel like the days build on each other and increases my daily joy exponentially.
it sometimes takes effort, contemplation and soul-searching to sit down and do the thing that feeds us– or even figure out what it is. But when it is found– whether it be yoga, art, long walks– whatever– give it a prominent place in your life. Challenge yourself in whatever it is, and ignore messages clouding your brain that tell you it’s a waste of time.
For years I didn’t really write much because I didn’t think it would ever lead to a “career” or financial gain. And honestly it may never end up putting a dime in my pocket, but I’d pay a whole lot of money to feel as alive as I do when I create with words. I am so grateful for my amazing twin sister who had the idea to start this blog. It has been my free therapy, my place to be honest, my place to grow and the place where my soul figures out it is satisfied.
I know I’m hovering on the cheesy side again, but I’m writing this for the people in my life who are down right now. Because they have soul food in their lives that they aren’t eating.
Usually these soul food type of activities don’t come skipping along at just the most opportune times. They usually arrive in the middle of the inconvenient times. Like right now when I’m supposed to be scoring essays, for example. I score state tests for Pearson from home to help pay bills (and with how slow I am at scoring, I barely make minimum wage, but my philosophy is that something is better than nothing!)
Many of my writing ideas enter my mind while I am scoring exams, which is completely frustrating because I have a quota to meet, and when I stop to write, I really lose time and money. But when I don’t grab those moments of inspiration, they tend to disappear. So lately, when I feel the inspiration to write, I stop whatever I am doing and just roll with it because I know it’s something that will keep building….. the more I am in the habit of dropping everything to do it, the easier it will be and the more joy I’ll get out of it, and the fuller my soul will feel.
And anyone I know who actually continuously practices the things that feed their soul end up heading in a life direction that they feel alive in.
My husband, for example, is a singer/songwriter, and for years he struggled to find his “niche” of listeners. I worked as his booking agent, we hired a publicist and were determined for him to someday make a living as a full-time singer/songwriter. After several years of late-night shows that didn’t really pay, I got really frustrated. Why wasn’t this career happening? But my husband kept plugging away writing and performing, and at times I couldn’t understand why.
Then in 2010 he was asked to do a Christmas show in Aurora, and we argued about whether he should do it because we would be sacrificing a lot of fun plans and even a weekend trip with family, for him to do this show that involved late-night rehearsals, performances spanning over two weekends and little pay.
At some point I remember my husband making the point that ended the argument: “Joy, with my busy job and our family commitments, this is my one opportunity each year to connect with other local musicians and to put music first”
And it was at that performance that he met his current boss, who hired him one month later to do his dream job. He now writes and plays music full time, like we had always hoped he would be able to do, and simply from continuing to do the thing that makes him feel alive even when it wasn’t convenient and didn’t pay.
I’m not suggesting that we will all end up with careers doing these soul food activities, but if we open up spaces in our days to do them and place them above all those nagging things like money and organizing the closets, we just might start to breathe easy again.
We are excited to share our contest winner, Tracey Westphal’s, poignant and inspiring piece with you. Tracey has a very interesting perspective, as both her father and twin sons are affected by RP. As visually-impaired parents, it’s often difficult to think about how our kids view us, but reading Tracey’s memories of her father is definitely uplifting. And reading her insights on raising children with RP is encouraging for any parents struggling to find the balance between pain/worry and knowing your kids will be okay despite their RP. Thank you, Tracey, for your honest and hopeful account.
Growing up with a “legally blind” father may seem like a unique experience but for me and my sister, it was our normal. Dad took the bus to work every day. As little girls, we would run to the bus stop to greet him at day’s end. Our life wasn’t like everyone else’s. Life was a little different. My mom was the only driver. Plus, we weren’t allowed on the grass at all once Dad started the mower. Still, we stood on the wooden deck and directed him with our shouts when he didn’t mow in straight lines and left “Mohawks” in the grass. I never really viewed my dad as a “blind guy”. He was just my dad. Oh, and by the way, he was blind.
I loved the stories he would tell. At 15 years old, he had decided not to take driver’s training because he knew he would never pass the vision test. Apparently, his friends talked him into taking the class anyway and he just turned the wheel and braked when they told him. “Dad, I can’t believe they let you do that!”
“Well,” he would answer with a smile, “I did pass the class. They didn’t give you the vision test until after the training. ” I never thought how sad his teenage heart must have been that he could never drive. He never mentioned it.
Dad and I would walk to the nearby mall for a “date with dad” and buy dessert. While shopping, he would sit patiently outside the dressing room for hours while his daughters paraded around in whatever we wanted to try on, usually the fancy gowns people bought for cruises. “How do I look, Dad? This one is blue.” “You look beautiful,” he would say. And even though we both knew he couldn’t really see me, my heart would still fill with happiness and I would feel beautiful and very loved by my Daddy.
But now, I am the grown up. I am the mom, and my little boys were diagnosed with that same disease last year. We all talked about it at the kitchen table so my twins are aware of their condition. Their older siblings often help them find things that fall on the floor or call to them when we are in a new environment.
But I have those mommy moments. Last September, Marcus ran right into a picnic table bench full speed. I knew he had seen the table but the bench was outside of his field of vision. He looked down in surprise after the collision. I headed over to comfort him but a bruised knee didn’t matter to this active boy. He just brushed himself off and kept following his older brother’s call. Yet, my mommy eyes welled up with tears. I don’t want this for my boys! My heart seemed to scream. It doesn’t matter now, my mind reasoned back, and you’ve got to make the best of it.
This pattern still continues as I listen to bedtime prayers, “and dear God, pretty please have a doctor learn how to fix my refinit retinit pigmona! Please, please”. My eyes blink back the tears as my heart grieves and my brain says, “Never let them see you cry; be brave and strong for your boys, tell them what they can do, and let them try anything. Remind them God has a plan.”
Not every day is like that. My Lucas and I had an early morning cuddle, “Mama, will I grow up to be like blind like ‘Papa’?”
“Maybe,” I answer truthfully, “maybe not.”
“Well, that wouldn’t be so bad,” he answers, “Papa is very strong, and he can even listen to the Bible on tape!”
I am so grateful for an active Dad whom I have never seen wallow about his blindness, but simply accept it and move on. I don’t think the words, “I can’t” are even in his vocabulary. As a young man, he exercised as an avid runner, eventually using a sighted guide to finish his races. Now, in his older years, he loves to snowshoe and sled with my kids, spending hours outside with them until they are all redfaced and chilled. He has an exercise room in his basement and the kids love to listen to his radio and exercise with their Papa. It’s even entertaining to me to hear my daughter say, “Oh, my Papa taught me how to hula-hoop, but his record is 392 times! I haven’t beat it yet, but I will.”
So while my mommy grief threatens, my mommy hope is proving stronger. These happy boys who I love so much will someday grow into men. What their sight will be then we do not know, but I hope and pray their vision for life will be strong, just like my Dad’s.
Honorable Mention: Jean Porter (note: With the driving issue being such a difficult one, this story definitely resonates with any person dealing with the hard, disappointing facts of vision loss. Thank you, Jean, for sharing your son’s realization and acceptance.)
From a very young age my son, David would comment when we were out in the car, that when he was old enough he would help me out with the driving.
At the time I was divorced with 4 small children and each time he mentioned it I would wonder how on earth I was going to tell him that his eyesight was not good enough to drive.
When he was about 9/10 years old we were heading home one evening, there was just the two of us in the car and he suddenly asked where we were. I told him where we were and he just said “Mum, they won’t let me drive, will they?” I said “No David, I’m sorry they won’t.”
He never mentioned helping me out with the driving again and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he realised himself that his sight was too poor to drive and I didn’t have to tell him.
He’s 21 now and recently we talked about his vision and finding a cure for Retinitis Pigmentosa. He told me that he would be happy if someone could stop the deterioration so that his vision wouldn’t get any worse, but he biggest regret is that he would never be able to drive!
Once Stephen and the canvas were within my sight, I was entranced by the creativity that was unfolding, but I also had to stifle my laughter. Not at the art, but at the sheer fact that this painting (yes, spotlight and all!) was taking place right in front of me for quite some time, and how I almost missed it entirely. Honestly, if Ben hadn’t pointed it out, he probably would have mentioned the painting after church and received a blank stare from me (definitely reminds me of the awesome RP analogy someone passed on to me that I’ve mentioned in a prior post– RP is seeing a tiny piece of paper across the room but tripping over an elephant on the way to pick it up!)
When the laughter in my head finally contained itself, a question popped in: how many paintings in the periphery of life do I miss? RP or not, how many do we all miss?
Turn your head slightly today. Scan your eyes till you see it. Allow someone to lean over and point it out to you. Seek beauty that isn’t obvious, and find wonder in a Season that may have become stale to the eyes after waiting in too many lines at Target or staring at too many “have-to-buys” on Amazon.
(and if you want to be intrigued anew about art or Advent, check out Scott Hodge’s 12/03/11 message on The Orchard’s podcast… it should be up sometime this week)