We spend most of our lives searching for answers. The right ones.
” conundrum. noun. 1: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun. 2a : a question or problem having only a conjectural answer. 2b : an intricate and difficult problem.” Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
I rejoiced for our dear friends as they showcased their decor; five years in the making. I admired the Phillips Collection Origins table; the sustainable planks and reclaimed beams. I gazed at the artistic ironwork upon staircases and vintage fixtures. My hands trailed upon the fossilized quarry stone of the fireplaces and bar. The effect was simple and beautiful and I effusively told them so.
But they do not see it. They see the endless projects still yet to be done. The hubs fretted as the boys played around the custom built pool table as I commented on the view. The owners barely acknowledged it.
A house can be beautiful. But it doesn’t make it a home.
I think of my area of cracked tile; growing larger each day, in my kitchen. The floors are worn and well-traveled. As I stood in this picture perfect home I envisioned the walls of my own. The Sharpie mark drawn by my youngest son at age two; the rubber soles on the base molding. I blanched when our friends volunteered the cost for reclaimed wood and considered the worn edges and doors of my own home. Dingy in comparison I couldn’t imagine inviting our friends over for dinner anymore.
It is at this thought that I paused. I stopped contrasting and blinked. I know where these two came from and how far they’ve come. They do not see it; lost in climbing the ladder of success; of amassing more. I wanted to tell them to enjoy what they have; to see the beauty of what is already accomplished. The pot calling the kettle black.
Silently I watched as our sons shot pool with the hubs and caught the longing on our friend’s face. He, too, wants this with his sons someday. Our boys invited him to play in teams, with them, and he acquiesced. His wife murmured that this was the first time he has had anyone over to play pool. I felt a twinge in my heart. All of these beautiful things with no one to share with .
I sat half-awake in the pew, this morning, stifling a yawn. It was a miracle our family of five were present; conversing until the wee hours after a fun-filled Friday and Saturday. The visiting priest held a parishioner’s young infant and shared the story of a young boy telling an old man how he felt small, unheard and forgotten by grown-ups. The old man understood his sentiment and grabbed the young boy’s hands. Two of my very favorite children’s books came to mind.
The congregation laughed aloud as the priest noted how adults coo at young infants but if done to a teenager; the child’s reaction is to slap at the adult to go away. I caught my older sons’ laughter upon the altar behind him. Just this weekend I cooed at my boys and that was their exact response. Father Rich questioned how Disneyland was the happiest place on Earth when all he heard within the park were kids crying and parents yelling at their children. No! Don’t touch that. No! You can’t have that. No. No. No. It’s easy to say No. To control.
It’s hard to give that up; the control. To think I can command my own destiny and find the perfect answer to make my life full and complete. It is a foolhardy goal.
As my kids grew older I began to say yes to requests from other adults; for all the wrong reasons. Those yeses took time away from my family. I thought I was doing these tasks for my children but really; they were only for myself. To contribute. To feel valued.
Most of us, women, don’t get that sort of affirmation from our children or husbands. We feel taken for granted or unappreciated. We, as women, long to tell and share our stories; hence the popularity of blogging, Facebook or Instagram. But it is rare to find someone to really listen to them; face-to-face. When women haven’t seen one another in a while they tend to try to talk louder to have their own story heard. They don’t really want feedback; nor do they care to listen. Some like to create more drama to have a new distraction so that they don’t have to face the reality that lies before them.
People don’t really want to hear answers.
I don’t really want to know the answers either. Because when I finally discover them I find they are not the idyllic solutions that I envisioned. Why? Why is there always a hidden agenda; usually in accruing the almighty dollar or higher status and recognition?
The day I arrive at all my answers will be when I stand before the pearly gates. The purpose of my life, I am learning, is the quest for answers. The Common Core of State Standards (CCSS) in educational reform are supposed to help our children to critically think. To understand the why of how they reached their answers and to show proof for their reasoning. To step outside the norm and find alternative solutions.
This is life. Curiosity. Exploration. Discovery. Self-growth.
One of my favorite memories with my mother, four years prior to her untimely death, was the trip to the local mortuary as she chose her very pink, Virgin Mary, casket. It was the most ostentatious, velvet-plush item in the room and in morbid fashion, we both giggled at her choice. It was this memory that I carried with me; the one I willed myself to remember as the casket lowered into the dark, loamy earth. I, too, chose my wooden casket with my two toddlers while carrying my youngest in his carseat. I had printed the email from the aircraft carrier on the other side of the world; with the question my husband had had me ask the salesperson. Do they offer a military discount?
I ponder what I would want my obituary to actually say; to discern what is important for those left behind, mainly my children, to remember me by. Will they remember the pet names I called them, the list of accomplishments on my life to-do list or the beautiful floors in my home? I surely hope not. I want my sons to remember our inside jokes, the smiles and the googley eyes I make at them to let them know they are my little baby bubs. It was this overt gesture that I had made during the weekend to the exasperated whines of Mom! We are not babies!
When I held my babies in my arms I gazed lovingly into their brown eyes; my heart bursting. The hubs and I would sit across the table from one another and hold hands; happy and complete. I tried to remember the last time I gazed at my boys and husband with those same sentiments; before life intruded with its to-do lists and time schedules. I am always aware of the passage of time. But am I just spouting words? Do I really take the moment and stand fully present; staring across at another person and hearing their own words with big ears?
So when the youngest asked to decorate for Halloween I quelled my desire to leave my house in autumn colors. The hubs groaned. His least favorite thing to do is to move the boxes in our garage’s overhead storage. But Dad, Halloween is my second favorite holiday after Christmas. I want to decorate.
I want to be able to say the yeses in the right places. To expand my heart’s spaces.
Those spaces in my heart that will never get enough of unexpected belly hugs from the youngest, opened doors from my middle-son or apologies from my eldest for being stressed. I want to discover all the ways my heart can be filled by those who will quietly listen to my stories and reciprocate with their own. To surround myself with those who don’t feel the need to compete or criticize and instead want to comprehend; to feel compassion and camaraderie.
The conundrum still presents itself but I am slowing starting to get it; the why? The leaves crunch beneath my feet; Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” my guide.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I walk on my path to self-discovery; enjoying the scenery and seeking answers. I blaze my own trails now to create better yeses. Freidrich Nietzche got it right.
All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
The ear buds are in and I crank up the volume to Karl Jenkins’ Allegretto from Palladio. I trailblaze and seek alternative solutions; my pulse steady as I step out. I make the vow to gaze lovingly into my family’s eyes, often; to not let death be the next time I really see who they are and hear their stories. I am rediscovering who I am by saying no to artifice and yes to transparency. I embrace the change in season; full-heartedly.