The author William Martin wrote a book on parenting, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, and in it he shares the poem above. I’m not a parent, not yet, but I do suppose I’ve been parented (that’s a word right?).
Well I’ve seen the poem before and I’m sure I nodded along saying ‘yes, yes, those words make sense.’ This week I saw the words again, and they oozed into my being. I accept the lie that I am NOT extraordinary much too easily. My thoughts bounce and roll upon gritty terrain in my head as I beat myself up for not having the right career, not being travelled enough, not yet earning those expensive letters behind my name. I get stuck staring at choices and wonder if MBA, or LPN, or LCSW, or MFA would fit me best. Sure, sure, I can appreciate a great peach, but I haven’t published a novel and I haven’t been listed on the ‘thirty under thirty’ list of young, successful business leaders in my community.
When I come to the surface again, and can calm that pounding drum of a thing called my heart, I remember to reevaluate. Like Martin says, ‘striving seems admirable, but it is a way of foolishness’. Silly me, how foolish. No one wants the letters F-O-O-L-I-S-H on a resume.
The letters that suite me right now are as follows.
I’m growing into these letters and embracing the truth that these letters are a gift. Being able to eloquently communicate thoughts, observations, human emotions. What a beautiful thing.
I used to roll my eyes at the women who used those letters to define themselves. Psh – MBA is much better. Nope. Nope. Wrong again. This journey called wife is immensely extraordinary.
I am one sensitive stinker and sometimes this hurts. As I’ve written over and over, the world is a hurting place. Being empathetic, sensitive, and observant means you can’t ignore the world’s suffering. It like walking through sandpaper, always living with some level of texture in the air. The ever present grains of sand rub away at the calloused layers of pain that try to make your heart hard. I can’t do it. I refuse to turn off my sensors that allow me the ability to view other’s pain.
This sensational quality of being an E-M-P-A-T-H gives fuel to my other letters. It makes it easier to be a W-R-I-T-E-R.
Take off the smudged glasses of striving, and the world begins to be a remarkable place. Andy Rooney captures this so well when he says,
““For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are that you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”
Put on the hiking boots of extraordinary and you can travel well through all terrain.
This week I went to water aerobics for the first time. The youngest in the pool by twenty years, I walked the lanes, and did my lunges, and water rolls with a funny group of older people. Have you ever thought about the magic that is a swimming pool? Someone figured out how to get hundreds gallons of water inside, how to keep it clean (we hope) and a decent temperature, and some fitness instructor figured out that we can jog laps with low impact on our knees. I’m not sure if I’ll go back, but trying something new with people you’ve never met, while intimidating, can be a beautiful thing.
I also brought dinner to one of my friends from high school who just had her second baby. Meet Evelyn.
What an extraordinary thing that the people God gave you to be your friends can create tiny humans! No really, they made TWO babies! As I was walking around Trader Joes, picking ingredients for their dinner, it stopped me in my tracks to realize how extraordinary it is that we have the potential to bring babies into the world. I put a small bouquet of flowers in the basket, and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups too, because dessert. A beautiful thing. Tiny toes, and delicate fingernails, and baby snuggles, even more amazing. Let us walk together through all stages of life.
I go back to Martin’s poem and I reflect on the way I was parented. Sure, there was a large amount of encouragement to strive. I was an over-productive high school student with amazing amounts of ambition and extra-curricular activities. I remember sitting in a Harvard informational session at the age of 13. I blame Gilmore Girls for that experience.
Yet, as I continued to grow into adulthood, lessons of empathy and emotional intelligence and self-acceptance rose to the top. My parents were really good at getting me to calm down, to stay grounded, to keep my crazy striving in check.
Another set of letters that describes me is D-A-U-G-H-T-E-R. I have this horrible thought that because we lost my dad, I’m maybe half of that now. A daughter only to one parent, not two. Like maybe the letters should not be capitalized, or truncated to half of the word.
These letters sting a little. I became fatherless just over fifteen months ago.
Stop! The grandest of magnificent lies.
Yes, it’s true that my dad left this world.
However, I will always always be Roy’s D-A-U-G-H-T-E-R.
The lessons he gave me will always be extraordinary.
I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to honor him on this second Father’s Day without him. Last year I spent the day in tears – my sweet in-laws being amazingly supportive as I snuck away, not once, but twice to call my mom. I sat on the porch wiping my tears and snot on the grass (sorry Mike, the smears on your lawn probably washed away).
This year, I become green with envy every time I see an article that was published in a magazine about another W-R-I-T-E-R’s father, or loss, or grief, or missed chances with their paternal person. I’m not yet ready to submit my story to a formal publication (here I go striving again). I plan to stay off of Facebook, and will spend time with the best father-in-law a D-A-U-G-H-T-E-R-I-N-L-A-W could ask for.
I can, however, leave you this list of the things I ache for as my dad made the ordinary come alive.
- Waffles on Sunday mornings. He would shuffle into the kitchen in his nasty plaid pajamas and make beautiful, fluffy waffles for us. Chocolate chip for me, topped with strawberries and whipped cream. He was good at weekend breakfast.
- Fishing on the river – he always made us be enthusiastic outdoor adventurers. He would smile at us as my brother and I grimaced, lugging our fishing gear to some remote spot to put a fly in the water. He wouldn’t get too mad when we splashed upstream, probably scaring away all of his fish friends. Splashing brought joy. Casting did not.
- He taught me to follow through. When I was getting my driver’s license he made me drive up to Wyoming and back at night so I could get my night hours. “Most parents just sign off on these Dad,” I grumbled. “Well, I’m not most parents,” he replied, “let’s get in the car.”
- He drove me to junior high every morning. I’d be sleepy and cranky in the front seat, yet he always tried to have conversation. Not the best timing for connecting with a thirteen year old, but the effort was there.
- Toaster hash browns. My favorite breakfast for years. Morning routines were Dad’s responsibility and he kinda sucked at weekday breakfast. Over-cooked eggs and toast with peanut butter smeared with mayonnaise because he always forgot to wash the knife between making our sandwiches and our morning meal. It was hard for him to screw up toaster hash browns. I’m going to go find a box. Dad loved breakfast. Like Andy Rooney, he knew, happiness depends on a good breakfast.
Happy Father’s Day papa. I miss you so very much.