Grace Period


Oh, how I love Thanksgiving time.  To me it’s the most wonderful time of the year.  It combines all the elements of a great gathering – the sights, the smells, the tastes, the textures, solitude and space mixed with friends and family – and it has the good grace to last no longer than necessary.
I especially like it because by this time in the academic year, this small break is the grace period that allows students and staff alike to refresh, rejuvenate, and refuel for the final stretch before beginning the whole cycle again in January.  
This year I was fortunate to be able to add on a couple of vacation days to the Thanksgiving break. Ironically I learned the value of structure by allowing myself to operate without it, relationships by seeking solitude, and home by being away for a few days.
A couple of days in Galena served as the perfect get-away.  Because of its proximity to Chicago, the population of this small art town swells on weekends the way Best Buy does on Black Friday.  Consequently, my strategy is to visit during the week when I can have the place pretty much to myself.  
For me the whole world feels different when I’m not rushed or crowded.  Things are much more manageable when I do not feel the need for speed to get through the day, return phone calls or endless emails, or acquiesce to another’s agenda .  
I feel much better when I have some breathing space, some room to pause, ponder, play, sleep in, write with exquisite new pens discovered in my favorite stationery store, watch movies, read a book, explore a new town, enjoy an amazing strawberry salad at the Desoto House Hotel, swim laps unobserved, and soak in an over sized tub with a roaring fire in the fireplace.  
Having time to indulge in a few of my favorite things for even a few days makes me a much happier camper at family functions, holiday parties, and when the time comes to return to work.  It’s like following the flight attendant’s instructions and putting my own oxygen mask on first.  Despite my best intentions, I can’t save anyone if I can’t breathe. 
Too often I feel swept along on this frantic journey to “do, do, do” leaving the part of me that wants to “be, be, be” pleading for peace and quiet.  When I was telling my friend Tom about this conundrum, he reminded me that perhaps Sinatra was on to something when he sang, “do-be-do-be-do.” I’m sure there is a  right balance that’s unique to each of us.  Knowing this and honoring it when possible makes life less stressful.
So today as I tackle the task of decorating my home for the holidays, I am acutely aware of the gift of being able to move at my own pace.  I realize to others this pace might resemble someone who has  alternately had too much turkey and too much pumpkin pie, which would explain the stops and starts, the nap (tryptophan!), intermittent  internet shopping between blogging breaks, and the competing calls to action.
Tomorrow I will be on another schedule as I head over to Prophetstown for a bustling day (Small Business Saturday) at my sister and sister-in-law’s new shop, Beans and Burlap.   I already know the day will have its way and my schedule may not be entirely my own, so my intention is to let go and flow.  Otherwise, I fear what the magnet I found in one of those great Galena shops states will come to pass.  Let go or be dragged.”

Times Change

Today is one of those days when times literally change.  Unless you are in Arizona or Hawaii, you’ve miraculously gained an hour and are probably more discombobulated by this event than traveling across multiple time zones. 

As a child I dreaded this day.  I could not figure out why the light would concede to the dark and allow it to run the show for the next six months. 

This fact fueled my decision to move to the Southwest where I could experience more sunlight in 365 days than I could in two decades of living in the Midwest.

The light is different in the Southwest.  Even if its hours are limited, the sun makes no apologies for rising and shining as impressively and consistently as possible.  During Iowa winters, the sun often seems hung over, as if it were having way too much fun Down Under to make an appearance here.

Despite repeated recitations of the Serenity Prayer, I railed against this perceived solar slight upon returning to the Midwest.  In an attempt to follow the first two suggestions to accept what I cannot change and have the courage to change the things I can, I purchased a Happy Light to combat SAD  by serving as a substitute for the sunlight I was so sadly lacking.

This is when the wisdom to know the difference, the third part of the Serenity Prayer, kicked in.  Or maybe it was that song from The Byrds that played like an earworm every time the seasons changed reminding me for everything (Turn! Turn! Turn!) there is a season (Turn! Turn! Turn!) and a purpose under heaven.

It’s that purpose thing and possibly all that turning that had me befuddled for decades. But the great thing about midlife is what really matters makes itself known, the same way the exact location or precise name of everyday items makes itself an enigma. 
All those u-turns, detours, and other distractions that were not mentioned on the map to Success City are what brought dimension, depth, appreciation, and ultimately illumination to the one I’m destined to follow, which frequently looks like a map to Funkytown.

With age also comes the realization that we can never change a person, place, or thing by loathing it.  Dissing it – whether that be disliking immensely or disrespecting it – binds it to us like superglue.

So at the risk of sounding clique, as the days get shorter and the nights grow longer I’m attempting to embrace the idea that all I need is love… and a super-sized side order of grace.

After all, if these were pleasant people, places, or things, they’d be easy to love or forgive.  The reason I wrestle with them is because they push my buttons.  And not just one button occasionally.  Within a 24-hour time period they can easily get on my last nerve.
 

This is why having a Happy Light – or your own personal equivalent – is essential.  There are situations that require nothing less than a miracle.  Left to my own devices, I’ll sit and stew in the dark for ages. 
Even though I know better, I still find myself forgetting to shed a little light on the subject simply by asking for help from my Divine Assistance Team made up of any and all deities, patron saints, good dogs who’ve gone to heaven, mythological figures, loved ones, and favorite authors. 
My first step is  to no longer blame the light for conceding to the dark.  The sun has a big job to do.  But so does the night sky.   
My work requires a good deal of hunkering down and hibernating before it can ever see the light of day.  So today I fall back, grab my Happy Light, and look forward to harvesting the ideas that germinate as soon as the sun goes down.