Be a turtle today

business, health & wellness, meditation, mindfulness, thoughts for living

turAt the dog races, the rabbit is the animal picked to entice the greyhounds along. Speed certainly has its advantages but in this scenario I think I would rather be the turtle. In the world of the big dogs, rabbits better be fast.

But maybe it’s not necessary to race the big dogs to have a satisfying life. And frankly, the stress of that particular race doesn’t feel very satisfying when you look at the unhealthy coping strategies some people use to deal with it and the related illnesses they create such as addiction, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Don’t overlook the turtle in the race. She’s still in it and at the end of it she still has her breath.

My Wabi-Sabi Volvo Life

creative non fiction, meditation, thoughts for living

My heart sank as I sat in the group room with my 10 clients on federal probation. I was working as an intern for a mental health practice leading substance abuse recovery groups for people who were reclaiming their lives after serving drug trafficking sentences. As we discussed the triggers that caused them to use, we heard the pelting of hail. We anxiously shifted in our chairs wanting to bolt out and take our rides to shelter. Instead, we talked about honesty in submitting our insurance claims the next day and my clients shared tales of acquaintances they had that they knew would drive their car across town just to have it hit by hail so they could collect money. We mutually agreed before we left session that our hail-damaged vehicles would not be a trigger to use drugs or drink beer.

The Volvo I aspire to drive.

The Volvo I aspire to drive.

I had just bought my 2006 Volvo a few months previous. I was proud that I spent a conservative amount of money on what others judge as a luxury model of upscale liberals who want to make a visible statement of their political views.   I wanted to drive the European-branded car because of its reputation for safety and durability, perhaps fulfilling another aspect of the Volvo-driving stereotype. I was working part-time as a member representative for a small business lobbying group and I traveled long distances for the position.  My husband and I purchased my Volvo sight unseen from Texas Direct in Houston and had it shipped to the eastern New Mexico town where Republicans are as common as the tumbleweeds that rolled across the region’s desert highways.

As a second-hand car, it required a few minor repairs that we addressed. But the pummeling of ice rocks gave the Volvo a forlorn look all the way around. Within a few days of the storm, I stood in line with my clients at the insurance adjuster site. I knew, though, I wouldn’t be using the funds to replace the trunk lid, the hood, or the roof. Instead, my husband and I decided to use the money to pay off the loan we had on the car.

The Volvo I actually drive.

The Volvo I actually drive.

If circumstances had been different, we probably would have made sure my Volvo was gussied up to its original sheen. But at the same time I was finishing up my graduate school internship, I was also moving to another house so my mother could live with us. A bankruptcy listing, the house needed even more attention than my Volvo to bring it to a tolerable working condition. Paying off the Volvo freed up several hundred dollars each month to pour into the house which we bought on faith that we could afford because we were following the fifth Biblical commandment of “honor your parents.”

The Urban Dictionary satirically characterizes Volvo owners this way:  “Although the cars are pricey to buy and maintain, Volvo drivers see them as works of art–well-made machinery that protects their passengers, other drivers, and even pedestrians from the hazards of the road.”

I do see my Volvo as a work of art and I have had difficulty wrapping my mind around how all the dime- and quarter-sized dents all over the car have added to its beauty. To console myself, I have embraced the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi which declares beauty to be all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

Wabi-Sabi is a frame of mind I continue to develop for the tenuous aspects of my life which refuse to fit in the picture frames I constructed for them. My Volvo is a material manifestation of how my illusions are shattered by the reality of pell-mell running through the world.

Since the initial introduction of Wabi-Sabi through my Volvo, I’ve had other episodes of it. I parked under a tree where birds did their business on it right before I was to meet with a woman I wanted to impress. Recently, I chose a side road and a stranger’s driveway to turn around so I could be headed in the right direction. The driveway’s incline was so steep it tore off the right side of the front bumper. My husband wrangled it back into place. But repairing the bumper came several hours after driving my Volvo around town, me oblivious to the damage, and included an exhibition in the car pool line of my son’s school where many parents drive shiny BMWs, Lexuses, and Mercedes Benzes. None of those cars have hail dents or bird poop that I’ve noticed.

According to an Utne Reader article, “To discover Wabi-Sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly. Wabi-Sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through Wabi-Sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Today, when I drive my Volvo I realize I have put on the full armor of a Wabi-Sabi life. If I encounter people who are only living life on the surface, then they may look at me in one of two ways: either enviously or derisively. They’ll experience envy if all they see in me is the status sign the Volvo represents or view me derisively if they judge me for not repairing the external skin which betrays the fine mechanics of the interior.

Sometimes I react to the judgment and I’m tempted to say “wait, you don’t understand. You don’t know everything I’ve been through.” Then, I realize explanations make no difference to people who live on the superficialities of life. And then I remember that this desire to connect with people who aren’t capable of deep connections is also Wabi-Sabi.

And I let it go.

It’s a big job but it can be done

creative non fiction, Iowa life, thoughts for living

Tucked away for the past 30 years is a letter my high school English teacher, Mrs. Esther Grosvenor, sent to me after I graduated. On a daily basis, I rarely remember of the letter’s existence. But the letter has usually resurrected itself whenever I’ve been about to embark on a life-altering change. This week was no different when I came across it, tucked in its small cedar box in the third decade from when it was originally written.

Mrs. Grosvenor taught the Colfax High School seniors their last English class before they graduated and embarked upon the world to conquer whatever it was they thought lay before them. While the 17 and 18 year old students in her class spent more time counting the days until graduation than they did counting their verbs and nouns, Mrs. G. (as we affectionately called her), nevertheless, persevered in her job in assigning the task of diagramming sentences and drilling the rows of pimple-faced boys and girls on the difference in meaning between affect and effect, lie and lay, and simile and metaphor.

If she was inpatient with the impertinence of us she didn’t show it. After 40 plus years in the classroom, Mrs. Grosvenor had developed enough equanimity about her job that not much fazed her in her interactions with children disguised as adults.

When I finished her class and Colfax High School in 1984, I also left the town for the bright city lights of Des Moines. Six weeks after I walked across the gymnasium stage, my parents had sold the-old-Miss-Byal house where we lived and packed up the green Chevy pick-up and moved us off to the town where both of them worked for the city government.

After I moved to Des Moines, I wrote to Mrs. Grosvenor. I don’t remember the details of my letter to her; likely, I thanked her for attending my graduation reception and made mention of my move. Based on her response to me, I must have had questions about the role of women in the work force.

It’s because of our move for my husband’s promotion for work, that I had the chance to reread the letter. In this move I am following my husband for his work and I am unclear as to what my professional place is. Mrs. Grosvenor’s words are more apropos now than when she originally wrote them. Her perspective on women in the workforce was formed from her own life experiences and long before feminism became a topic of conversation and debate in our popular culture.

As I settle into a new phase in my roles as wife, mother, daughter, and employee, her words provide a gentle reminder of the importance of finding the right balance. The past few years were rigorous in tending to all of my family members and embarking in a second career as a mental health counselor.

We are in the beginning stages of our family’s transition. Many details have yet to be decided upon. But just like they were 30 years ago, Mrs. G.’s words are encouraging to me. I’ll keep hanging in there and like Mrs. G. vowed for herself as she expressed her apprehension about the change she was about to seek for herself, “maybe I’ll finish that novel I started some years back.”

Mrs G page 1

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