The most romantic moment of my winter this year was on New Year’s Eve, standing in the bathroom watching my husband try out his new nose hair clippers. And this not to imply that there is no romance in my life, or that the moment itself wasn’t romantic. It really, really was.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve with my sister-in-law and her husband by getting dressed up and doing karaoke downstairs in the family room, which was more fun than I can say. And one of the things I love about being with my sister-in-law is that she has the ability to made life feel like an occasion. She makes the effort. She wears red lipstick every day. She uses her best dishes on a regular basis. She pays attention. The big difference between the two of us is that I am a “Why bother?” person, and she is a “Why would you not bother?” person. It’s very refreshing.
I have no idea how or why this even came to be a subject of conversation, but one of the things she happened to pay attention to was that Martin needed new nose hair clippers, and she reminded me to buy them when we did our ritual Target shop together. Somehow buying them together made them, and his using them more special. So as he and I were getting dressed up to go sing karaoke in the basement on New Year’s Eve, I had this moment of standing and watching the man I spend my life with do this little personal grooming ritual with such good intentions and such good cheer that I felt filled with love, and quietly, gratefully happy. As Anne Lamott wrote, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.”
I was thinking about this winter moment today because winter is definitely over, and in some ways I’m very sorry to see it go. Hibernation is so much easier than blooming. One of my least favorite character traits is my tendency towards hibernation, and my inability to give myself over to blooming unless there is some degree of magical thinking involved—unless I have the right medication/therapy, the fabulous all-consuming new interest, the perfect, guaranteed to succeed exercise routine, whatever wish-fulfillment star I’m trying to follow. Living life on life’s terms is not a skill that comes naturally to me.
I firmly believe in the value of depression as a life experience; I do not believe in it as a state of mind. I do not believe that God intended anyone to live, as Parker Palmer called it, “a living death.” But the courage that it takes to let depression go when it is not acute anymore, when it is residual, or habitual, when you ultimately have a choice, is enormous, because staying asleep can feel incredibly seductive.
But life is announcing that it’s spring; things are changing, moving, opening. And I’ve been thinking about life and projects, even though I don’t quite know what this means yet. I know it’s not in a weird Martha Stewart-y way, but in a way that involves considering what you’d like to see or do more of in your life and then trying to see or do more of that. I know this sounds so simplistic, but to me, it seems like a completely radical idea.
It feels completely radical because the same character traits or habits of mind that draw me towards hibernation are the same ones that whisper, “loser,” or “irresponsible,” or “why bother?” in my ear whenever I ruminate on why I am not a happier person (and if there is a bigger waste of psychological time and energy than that, I’d love for someone to write in and tell me what it is). Again, in the words of Anne Lamott—the radio in my head is tuned to KFKD, especially when some little shoot of green starts making like it wants to poke through.
Also, it feels radical because deciding to participate in shaping your own life when you, with your pessimistic mindset, know that nothing might work out as you want it to, seems a little ridiculous. And arbitrary. I could allow my self to tell me something that would make it happy, or happier, and then try to do something about that? Can that be right? I thought that decision should have been made by now, because I’ve already made a whole slew of decisions—a marriage, a degree, three children, a job, and also a bunch of other stuff that turned out to be really bad choices—and I still don’t feel like I am the one who decides anything about my life.
But maybe it really can be this simple. Maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe these are our two choices: 1) give up; 2) don’t give up. Or: 1) don’t try; 2) try. Maybe on the most fundamental level, regardless of the nature or intensity of your difficulties, that’s what it comes down to. Not to say that the inevitable, “What do you have to lose?” question is simple, because obviously, if you have never had confidence in your own ability to shape your own life, the answer is, “Everything.” Everything that makes you feel protected, armored, safe, under the radar. Everything that you count on to keep you from getting hurt. Everything that keeps your life very, very, very small.
But here’s why this all matters, despite the prosaic language, despite the things that sound like simple and easy answers. It matters because YOU matter. You are here, and the world needs more people like you, people who will care enough to be brave and be themselves. When I was driving into work the other day I thought, “What if we just shifted our mindset to the belief that we are not ENTITLED TO ANYTHING, not happiness, not good health, not security, nothing, and everything, everything, everything we have is a gift? If you are still breathing, you are still blessed. And what’s more, what if not only are we not entitled to anything, but we come in to the world obligated to it, obligated to SHOW UP and do whatever we are able to do?”
I heard an interview today with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and she talked about the “social courage” it takes to be enthusiastic about something. She talks about how happy or optimistic people make easy targets, but that optimism and happiness should really be protected and nurtured. You can have this same debate with yourself—standing up to the parts of you that want to keep you small and armored takes courage and wholeheartedness, and you can become your own easiest target. Today I’m here to say, “Don’t.” Say goodbye to winter, at least until it comes around again.
For my sister-in-law for being a blessing in my life, thank you. For my husband for telling me it was okay to write about his nose hair clippers, thank you. For people who call or email or comment or send me the perfect piece of information at exactly the right moment, thank you. For the world when it steps in to keep me going even when I don’t want to, thank you. And to quote Garrison Keillor, one of this country’s all-time greatest writers, “Thank you, God, for this good life, and forgive me if I do not love it enough.”
Today’s poem is from Wordsworth and is called “If Thou Indeed Derive Thy Light from Heaven.” And if we do derive our light from heaven or some source of divinity, which I happen to believe we do, then with all that light has bestowed upon us, we need to figure out how to shine in our places, and be content. I will if you will.
If Thou Indeed Derive Thy Light From Heaven
If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven,
Then, to the measure of that heaven-born light,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content:–
The stars pre-eminent in magnitude,
And they that from the zenith dart their beams,
(Visible though they be to half the earth,
Though half a sphere be conscious of their brightness)
Are yet of no diviner origin,
No purer essence, than the one that burns,
Like an untended watch-fire on the ridge
Of some dark mountain; or than those which seem
Humbly to hang, like twinkling winter lamps,
Among the branches of the leafless trees.
All are the undying offspring of one Sire:
Then, to the measure of the light vouchsafed,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content.
William Wordsworth, 1832