When we first moved into our home about eight years ago, there was a very petite, very elderly-looking woman who walked up and down the street every morning. She looked so strong and hardy for her obvious advanced age. I wanted to take my kids, ooch over, and flag her down to chat, but always just waved shyly and said “good morning.” The reason I was so hesitant? Plain and simple: I had no idea what to say to her.
Things that were readily apparent…..she lived alone, she had lived a long, long life, she seemed friendly enough, should have made it easy to strike up a conversation. Were you married once? Has your husband passed away? How long have you lived here? But where to start? What to say? What if I offended her? What if she couldn’t understand me well and it was painfully awkward.
Well one day, I did it.
My friend Elizabeth makes me think.
I’m pretty sure all truly good friends make us think; the kind of thinking that results in spiritual encouragement. A couple of weeks ago, she wrote something simple to me in an e-mail that hit me right away as just the truth I needed to hear. She said that my kids, my family, they are the community I spend the most time with right now.
And there it was. Truth I needed to hear and reflect on.
My husband was away for five days playing drums at a worship event out of town and on the day I received that email from her, the kids and I were at the end of our second day of not leaving the house. Two days of being cooped up together with temperatures over 90 degrees so the kids couldn’t go out and play.
Preface to what I’m about to say: I love being a mom. My kids bring me joy and fulfillment beyond words. We are overall a happy and loving family. That said, at the end of the second day, I had a headache and my two-year old, who is at the brink of several big breakthroughs (potty training and expressing complex thoughts and such) was particularly cranky. You know how they’re always unusually cranky when they’re about to do something big but haven’t quite grasped it yet. I was down and out. I had all these plans when my husband left; all these things I was going to accomplish. When he got back our toddler would be potty trained, the kids and I would have done several adorable craft projects, gone to the jump house place, spent time with friends, gone swimming, the laundry room would be cleaned and organized, I would have a clear homeschool plan for the school year….. it went on.
I know. Why would a person set herself up for failure like this?
You may have seen the viral short video made to accompany the commencement speech given by the very talented late David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College. (If Googling this speech, be aware that it has been removed from many sites due to copyright issues and may now be hard to find).
In his speech, Wallace describes a higher education graduate, now working at a challenging job in a large city, who is now officially a part of the rat race, whose principal challenge is not so much the exhaustion of a demanding job, but the tedium of daily existence.
(I’ll qualify here by inserting that I live in a very small town and am a homeschooling stay-at-home mom of three young children, so my daily struggles with finding meaning in tedium look different than those described in Foster’s speech; but nevertheless, I can relate to the frustration of monotony and seemingly small, though necessary, tasks.)
In the slow and maddening check-out line at the store after a long day of work, our graduate is surrounded by overwhelmingly annoying people talking loudly on cell phones, staring into space, screaming at their kids. The way to wake up and arrive at a better existence, Wallace tells us, is just this: to reject our “natural default setting” that the whole world and everything that happens is about us, that we are the center of the world.