Friday, November 11, 2011

The Sweep of the Hand

Tick-tock... sometimes I feel like I live racing against the clock, hyperventilating a little under the surface. Is this normal?

This is what I think other women's days are like:
Pie in the sky... food of fools.

Not that I spend all my days comparing. More like having a succession of small heart attacks. Because I have no time. Because I want to do it all, achieve 100 goals, and split my life into 20 super-performing segments, each of which will bestow a particular halcyon glow on my ultra-fulfilled life. Basically, I want to eat the world. Not as much as some women. But in my own small way, I'm out to conquer. Life is short, and I'm eager to make up for the Lost Years. 

And that's the problem, because when you try to be a mom, work from home, build a business, study an MBA, cook at least once every two weeks, and have a few small shreds of a social life, then you start to feel like things are getting stretched pretty thin. I know what my priorities are. But I keep trying to cheat the clock, as if I could really do all this stuff during two naptimes a day, or bifurcate my normally narrow attention span so that one eye is always watching Baby and the other is whipping off articles or translating texts. By the end, I feel like my brain is being split in two. 

This isn't just a gripe post, because I could be one of countless women who have no option but to drop their baby off at day care and go through the motions of thankless drudgery under fluorescent office lights, just enough to pay the rent and make up whatever the alimony payment doesn't cover. That, thank God, is not me. 

So it's not that. It's more like a question: how can I do this? How can I achieve all these things?

Clock hands move in two ways. There are the tick-tock clocks that mark off each second as if it were a discrete package, divisible from all those that came before and all those that will come after. They have a certain regularity, a rhythm, like soldiers marching forward in the changing of the guard. 

The other type is a silent sweep. The hand moves in one fluid, unstopping motion, like a river flowing downstream. No illusion of packaging time, no sense of a pause and then resumed movement. There are no seconds or minutes. Those are just artificial markers; true time courses seamlessly, quietly, like blood.

Maybe the way we live is somehow similar. I always think of time in little boxes. I have to "package" it, fit things in. Scheduling is a type of surgery on time. Cut here, expand here, stitch here. Liposuction here. Discipline, more discipline!

Part of the reason why I love vacation is just the chance to disconnect from all sense of obligation, except for the essentials of getting to the airport on time. I turn off the computer, don't worry about any kind of to-do list. On our last trip, we stopped in a hotel in Veracruz on our way home, right by the port. It was somehow healing to just stand on the little porch and watch the people walk by, watch the docked ship unload its freight, let the seagulls circle and caw. 

Vacation, for me, is quietude. It's the earned right to go with the flow, to let life unfold in a more natural way, not to feel pressed and harried and too anxious to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee. Vacation is a state of mind, as surely as heaven is a state of soul.

The theologians say that a person in the state of grace, in that bright embrace of friendship with God, is already living a piece of heaven deep inside. Maybe it's too deep to access it in a tangible way sometimes, but it can come flashing through in a moment of quiet, just as a person estranged from God can feel a moment of hell surge forth in an unwanted pocket of silence and solitude. 

There are times when I feel that heaven is close, not in the sense of singing angels, but in the sense of being loved, a momentary boost of confidence and peace. Everything is going to be alright. I don't have to worry so much. Someone is taking care of me, just as He always has. 

And if those little flashes of heaven are hiding just under the surface of ordinary life, then so should those little oases of vacation. I repeat: it's a state of mind. It's a choice. Being on vacation is having the freedom to move slowly, to work with time instead of against it, to stop straining against its slowness or lamenting its speed. It means learning to respect that silent flow. 

And it occurs to me just now (because for me, writing is a small piece of vacation, a chance to slow down and reflect on my own time, at my own pace), that probably the best way to build oases of Vacation in my life is by touching those hidden wells of Heaven. What I mean is: prayer. I always feel too busy to pray in the mornings because the day is pressing down on me. I have my excuses. But it's really a choice. I can take 15 minutes out if I want to. I just choose not to most of the time because... I'm racing the clock. 

But if prayer stops the clock--if it puts me in touch, however briefly, with something eternal, something much more important-- than it could be the hidden way to stop fighting time and start working with it. Maybe I have been fighting the realization that it's time to let some things go, stop trying to grasp after every brightly colored ribbon that dangles itself before my eyes, and stick to what is most important. Simplification is possible, but the wisdom to do it right, the peace and interior balance to "go with the flow" in the right way, can only come with external help. 

The sweep of a Hand, like the wind in the trees-- it's something so quiet, but it can be so powerful. A wise Hand that calms a beating heart, brings a moment of clarity, and stops the craziness... at least for a while.

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