A few weeks ago, my 6-year old son Gabriel asked me if stories were made or made up. I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but I decided that he meant were stories “created” or “built.” Well, this got my little writer’s heart beating faster and I immediately began imagining an in-depth and brilliant reply that 1) touched on the power of words to create things, 2) extrapolated on the biblical “And the Word became flesh,” and then 3) ended up with a pleasing recitation of Pablo Neruda’s stunning poem “The Word.”
“I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you.
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
‘Cause tears are going nowhere baby.”
Apologies for not being here yesterday, but I have dreaded “technical difficulties” with my laptop and I know I’ll be spending a long time on the phone with Dell this afternoon. Now, this is actually something that someone else could do for me. Someone could buy me a new computer, too. Someone else could clean up my living room, make my meals, my bed, my kitchen floor visible under all the grime.
I believe that my husband would argue that no one can garden for you, take care of your home for you, mow your lawn, fold your laundry. I believe that he would argue that no one can do anything for you because it is your life, that you are not interchangeable, despite how small or trivial the tasks. And I get that, but it’s only one way to consider this philosophical question.
During the conversation with my colleague about things no one else can do for you, I said, “You coud just say that no one else can live your life for you.” His reply: “That’s what you say when you want the conversation to be over, when you want to stop thinking about the topic.”
So here’s my first attempt at a list of things no one else can do for you (me). I hope you’ll add to it, comment on it, and share, as Cynthia did in her comment about her father-in-law’s death, the perfect example of the truth of this belief that there are things that only you can do.
- No one else can learn for you
- No one can suffer for you
- No one can grieve for you
- No one can love for you
- No one can be faithful for you
- No one can tell you truth for you
- No one can tell your story for you
- No one can die for you, be born for you, give birth for you, be present exactly as you can be present
David Whyte says that human beings are the only corner of creation that can choose not to show up, not to be themselves. A crow must always be a crow, but a human being can choose not to be him or herself. Viewed through this lens of there being things that no one else can do for us, how sad and wasteful it is when we choose not to show up, fully, as ourselves. We forfeit the truth that everything we do matters.
What have I left out? What would you like to add to this list? Let me know! And have a great weekend!
And I’ll add with a quotation that Ann left as a comment a few day ago: “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world” (Brandi Snyder).
Some time ago, one of my colleagues told me that he kept a list of things that “no one else can do for you.” The example he gave me was “no one else can kiss your kids goodnight for you.” I’ve thought of this many, many times when Gabe is already in bed, one of us has done the elaborate bedtime routine, I am so ready for my day to be over, and he comes out of his room for “one more hug.” Or he sends a message downstairs to where I am already snuggled up, pillows perfectly arranged, book at the ready, that he wants me to come back upstairs to say goodnight. Again.
And I always go, because every time, I remember what my colleague said. No one else can kiss your kids goodnight for you.
At the beginning of this year, I had to attend one of those perennially unhelpful workshops on work/life balance. I strongly despise the whole concept of work/life balance, partly because it implies that your work is not your life and your life is not your work, and partly because balance is a static position that doesn’t last. (For more useful ways of looking at this issue, see David Whyte’s The Three Marriages.)
In the days following Gabe’s birth, six years ago on November 28th, I listened often to Carrie Newcomer’s CD “Regulars and Refugees.” Gabe is our only winter baby, and lying in bed, holding him, with a clear, clean light coming through the big windows, I listened to that CD over and over. The first song has a character named Gabriel Thomas in it and that is Gabe’s full name. The music on that CD helped me find a part of myself that I recognized again, which was really welcome after the life-exploding event of giving birth to another human being.
The 2nd Sunday of Advent has come and gone, the amaryllis’ that I wanted to plant by December 1st are still in their boxes, and last night we just didn’t have the energy to decorate the tree that Martin put up in the morning. But! This morning in the shower, I decided that it was not too late to do another Advent blog. I’ll explain how this came to be in a moment, but know that I’ll be doing my very best to post every day until Christmas, and I would love it, as always, if you were here.