April 29, 2008

awake

The down side of a nightly sleeping pill is that, well, I SLEEP. Deeply.

I know that doesn't seem like much of a downside, but I'm finding that I wake up earlier and earlier every day. I think my poor mommy-trained brain just doesn't know what to do with a full 8 hours of sleep anymore, so it kicks me back to consciousness as soon as it can. Without the pill, I toss and turn all night, mind racing and muscles aching. With it, I woke up this morning, and the past several mornings, at 4 A.M. Today, I lay there for about half an hour, then had to get up out of sheer boredom.

There are lots of upsides to waking up early; bright sides, if you will (ha!). I can catch up on my recorded shows without any interruptions, same with email and (apparently) blogging. The silence of the house is glorious. All I can hear right now, aside from my own typing, is one little bird singing just outside the window. The sun is rising and painting every house in the neighborhood a soft pink of new light.

But there are downsides, too, like knowing without a doubt, come 9 A.M. I am going to go crash, bang, boom with tiredness. It'll start with a yawn and gently progress into a delicate concerto of blinking and drooping eyes. By 10 A.M., though, that proverbial piano will come crashing down on my head with blunt force exhaustion like some Roadrunner cartoon of days past.

I am fortunate, so fortunate. My children are both, for the time being, in morning daycare. My husband is home for the week and generous with his compassion. I can go lay down, supposedly without responsibility.

But I hate to do it. I feel like I've been laying down a hell of a lot lately and I don't want to waste any more daylight hours, child-free hours full of opportunities, laying down. So I'll probably push through, have some more coffee, read my books, write my essays, think my thoughts and heck, maybe even do some chores.

But by 8 P.M.? I'll be too tired to go on. I'll take my nightly medications, brush my teeth and fall into a deep, assisted, sleep. After which, of course, it'll all start again.

Anyone want to meet for coffee at 4:30 tomorrow morning?

April 19, 2008

The blessing of long life?

Indiana Woman, Oldest Known Person, Turns 115 on Sunday

I don't know why, but I was very moved by this story of Edna Parker. She was born in 1893 and is, to date, the oldest living person in the world. The article itself is mostly about how this could be possible; what vagaries of genetics, lifestyle and good luck have allowed this woman to live through more than a century of human life.

After scanning the whole story, I was struck mostly, though, by what went unsaid. It says her husband died in 1938. She spent the next 55 years living alone on their farmhouse before going to live with one of her sons. It says she outlived both of her children. How someone could write a story about a 115 year lifetime and not mention the effect of such loss, I have no idea. How did she cope? What did she do on the nights, year after year, alone in the home she once shared? How did she get through the days of the funerals of her only sons?

Both her sisters lived long lives, too, into their late 80's and 90's, and I imagine and hope that they leaned on each other for those moments. Then, eventually, they also passed away. I wonder if after so many years of being the one left behind, it hurt less? Or more?

The main interest of the article was on research being done of such "supercentenarians" like Mrs. Parker, an upwelling of eager enthusiasm to uncover their secrets so that everyone can live and live and live. But I think the article missed one key point: Nowhere does anyone ask Mrs. Parker her own perspective.

I wonder about that, if this "holy grail" of anti-aging, should really be sought at all. Edna Parker, from the little I could glean about her in this story, is a happy woman. She laughs and smiles at her birthday celebration and enjoys looking over a scrapbook of her life. The only real reason behind her extended years given is that she "appears not to dwell on stressful events".

Her grandson Don Parker, himself in his late 50's, had this to say about her. "We don't know why she's lived so long. But she's never been a worrier and she's always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it."

I enjoy what he doesn't say about her, though, and of course this is only my own interpretation. But he doesn't seem to care why she's lived so long. Maybe it's her lack of worry, her ability to handle stress, maybe it's her body type. Who knows? Why give it thought? To him, as I see it, what matters is not why she is still alive, but simply the fact that she IS still alive, that she's celebrating with three generations of grandchildren, and still recognizes the pictures of her lost family in an album. It is not the long life itself that matters to her family, but the woman who lives it.

I wonder if she feels each year as a burden, like a slow-moving clock on the last day of school for a child, eager for summer vacation. She wasn't a worrier, so perhaps not. Perhaps, I hope, the real story to be learned from Mrs. Edna Parker is not in her genes, but in her spirit. She has lived for over a century, seen many wars, seen a country grow and expand to amazing dimension. She has endured the loss of everyone close to her and still continues forward in her life, forging new loves, new purpose, new reasons for each day.

Of course I do not know the woman, though I would dearly love to meet her. But it seems to me that she has managed to perfect the art of living in the moment; neither dwelling on the past or dreading the future. This is, to me, her real gift that should be studied and admired for future generations.

April 13, 2008

Discipline

The summer I turned 12, I discovered plums. I'm sure I had eaten them before that time, but that summer is when I really just fell in love with that particular fruit. I have this dream-like memory of the exact moment of discovery and delight. We were at an outdoors event, camping with a group of friends, and my mom had brought along a variety of snacks and nibbles. Sitting there in the sun, stretched out on a plaid blanket with the warm breeze on my skin, I picked up a plum.

Over the course of the next hour or so, without thinking about it, I slowly and deliberately polished the skin of the fruit with a napkin, buffing it in small circles up to a glassy shine. I was so intent on this process, so focused, the memory is still clear and small in my mind; the light and warmth and breeze, the feeling of the blanket under my legs, the coolness of the small fruit turning against my hand.

The moment I was finally ready to eat was full of anticipation. I even recall turning to my mom and trying to impress her with the shiny results of all my care, (though now, as a mom myself, her bored response of, "Yes, dear, how nice," is completely fitting. I mean, come on, I was holding up a piece of FRUIT, y'all.) That first bite, for me, crystallized all the good sensations of summer and family and carefree days.

I cannot remember the last time I took an hour to soak in to something so small and mundane and inconsequential. Most of my time seems to be spent in planning or reacting and, more recently, recovering. What focus I have now is directed to stay on top of all the things that must be done, all the tasks and roles that must be fulfilled.

However, this overwhelming sense of responsibility must have been learned. That 12-year-old girl of a summer long past wasn't bothered by what else she should be doing. I was completely encased inside that one sun-filled moment, lacking intention, guilt or anxiety. Watching my children now, I can see the same instinctive ability to simply live inside of a moment. It is a skill that I must have unlearned as I grew older.

The idea of discipline has always meant, to me, being able to buckle down and accomplish set goals and tasks. But I think what I need to remember is that sometimes, discipline needs to be focused, not on doing, but instead on NOT doing. On letting go of all the frenetic energy and minutiae of daily life and simply existing in one moment, however small.



On stillness.