I wasn’t going to write today. I often worry that I will “jump the shark” with my readers, or, worse yet, begin to repeat myself like some tiresome, elderly relative. “Remember the time I went to law school? Remember that I used to play the cello?” You get my drift.
Yesterday I wrote about my thoughts related to Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Love.” One of the comments has stuck in my psyche like some pathological burr; I can’t stop thinking about it, wondering about it, feeling the urge to address it in some way. It isn’t bothering me because it wasn’t a wholesale endorsement of my thoughts; Mr. Ehrenstein and Mr. Toon, along with others have long disabused me of the notion that everything I write is worth reading or holds up to scrutiny.
I think it worries me because it is an indictment of my life, albeit from someone who knows nothing about me, but nevertheless a fairly hard slap on my earnest, well-intentioned face. In my post, I mentioned at least twice all the things that I have to do in my life. Once it was in the context of my inability to focus while meditating, the second time I was addressing my daily “To-Do” list. In both cases I actually thought I was being funny, but I was nevertheless telling the truth about my various activities. The rebuke from the commenter indicated that I was trying, somehow, to get “martyr points,” and that I had chosen a life of subservient running around for the sake of pleasing other people. You can see, perhaps, why this would give me pause. Am I a martyr? Could I really be living a different life, one in which I take care mostly of myself? Would I want that life if I could have it?
I ran through my litany of “stuff that I have to do,” checking for evidence that I am throwing myself under the bus, or extracting secondary gain from filling my date book, flinging the back of my hand to my (furrowed) brow and moaning “woe is me!” Today I made sure Sam could play football even though he’s late signing up, took him to buy cleats, got a sports physical, filled out all forms, wrote all checks and put all practice dates and times in my calendar. When he wanted to play at the last minute I told him that he’d have to earn the money, get himself to and from practice, and call the coach to see if they still had room. He did. My part took up much of the day, but we had a pleasant time together, I love him as much as I hate football, and I did not feel remotely martyred.
I am taking dinner to my parents because my mother is just home from rehab, my dad can’t stand up for a long time, and I have at least four servings of spaghetti and homemade meatballs in my refrigerator. My mother has also asked me if, while I’m at their house to drop off dinner, I could write a letter for her, a “lawyer letter.” Could I, theoretically have said “screw you, people who raised me and supported me in everything I have ever done! Get your own dinner! Hire a damned lawyer!” I guess so. But I wouldn’t.
Over the weekend we will probably keep my husband’s baby granddaughter overnight so that her (very young) parents can have a break. She may or may not sleep, and I’ll be tired the next day, but we love her dearly, and we think it’s important to be a part of her life – for her and for us. I will also bake 12 dozen brownies because our new batch of undergraduate neighbors are moving in this week, and I piloted a program years ago in which permanent residents in the neighborhood bake something and take it to new student renters. That way we actually know each other and have conversations rather than starting out with noise complaints and stress. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes I’d rather not…but it works well enough that ours is the “model neighborhood” in a morass of town-gown issues. It’s worth it, and while I could throw up my hands and ask someone else to do it, I won’t.
These obligations are, of course, in addition to the basics – running a household and working part time. I suppose that I could stop cleaning the counters, washing the clothes or planning menus, but the ensuing chaos would actually bother me far more than anyone else. I work because I like my job, and we need the money. Again, not negotiable. If I were really a martyr I would still be practicing law, which I hated, so that we could live in a subdivision, drive a Lexus and buy Sam’s clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch.
Anyway, I look at all of this, this running, and I think that sometimes I’m tired out by it, and sometimes I’d like to run away, but mostly it fits well with my values and my faith. We are all part of one world, we need to take care of one another, and there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction, joy, and honor in looking outward rather than in on most occasions. There are times when we all need to put ourselves first, to take time to grieve a loss, heal our wounds or sort things out, but (in my opinion) a life’s work lies not in exclusive self-care but in caring for one’s family, community and world.
Maybe I’m a martyr, and maybe the buzz I get from feeding the baby, helping my son meet his goals, feeding my parents, or baking for a house full of 20-year old guys (and their keg) is really self-defeating. I could choose to live differently, to say “no” more often, and to tend to my own knitting. I could, I guess, take a year and find myself on other continents. The thing is, even if I could, I wouldn’t. My heart and the work of my life lie right here and illuminate every frantic, overscheduled day until the light fairly bursts from every pan of brownies, parent waiver form and dirty diaper……….