Navigating the Crowd

I have always been fascinated by how things move. Even as a young child I was one of those who played on the beach by building dams and waterways in the sand, watching the different gullies being etched away, detecting the ebb and flow of the tides, following the eddies in the lee of the jetties, trying to predict how it would all flow together. And sure, this is part of my greater love of water, but it has also deeply informed how I watch other things move. Especially crowds. 

I don’t know exactly when I started, but by the time I was hitting puberty, I knew how crowds worked. I can predict their movement. I am easily aggravated when I know the best way to do something and the designers clearly do not. (Don’t get me started on bathroom design…) Probably the first time I remember really being aware of crowd disfunction was at a women’s conference and all of us were trying to get to the exit, and none of us were moving. Everyone was putting themselves first and so keeping anyone around them from going where they needed to go. (Is it irony that this was a Christian conference? I’m thinking so. We have so much to learn.) 

Since then, I’ve watched crowds at theme parks and ball fields, traffic patterns on hi-ways and parking snafus, people who are oblivious in conferences and airports, and the thousand other places I’ve been since. I get annoyed at people who don’t understand that they shouldn’t block an entrance, but simultaneously recognize that I have been thinking about the crowd around me while the individuals in the crowd are concerned with other things. On some level I know that I am over-thinking how the crowd moves, but I also want each individual in the crowd to know the best way for the crowd itself to move. I don’t believe that is ever going to happen. I’m not even sure it should. 

When I was in Tokyo my sister informed me that the cultural pedestrian right of way is passing people on the right (always take the left side of the sidewalk when facing oncoming walkers). I religiously adhered to this in the same way that I always take the right here in the United States. Sometimes I would forget, and it would cause a pause between the two of us. But, because I was a visitor in a new culture, I always corrected to fit the culture norm. I consider it one of the most important things about travel, observing and respecting the culture of those with whom you walk, both metaphorically and literally. Don’t walk into people seems like something that shouldn’t have to be said, but I am constantly surprised of the number of times this feels like a relevant reminder. 

When I watch crowds, it is always a dynamic observation. I know how to interpret these people in each individual place, and each group can move slightly differently depending on whether they are hungry, scared, joyful, tired, friendly, cautious, or anxious. Interpreting on the move can have advantages, but it also means that sometimes I leave people behind. I’m learning how not to leave people behind, but instead lead those with me so that we all get to the same place at the same time, together. It’s taken me over thirty years, but I have learned that getting somewhere together, with your people with you, is more important than getting there first. It is all about learning how to navigate the crowd. 

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Perfect Happiness

I don’t think there is such a thing as perfect happiness. There are times when I am incredibly happy and times when I am nearly completely happy and times when I am perfectly content. But I don’t think I strive for perfection in happiness. If only so that I am not evaluating the level of my happiness. When I am happy, I am happy.

This morning, my daughter came and snuggled with us in our bed in the early morning, cuddling cozy between the covers, one of the last few times that it will be just the three of us. It was a happy moment. Part of what made it all the more sweet is that it was fleeting. Soon it will not be possible to have a moment like that, with just the three of us, because there will be four of us. (Also, we had to change the sheets afterwards, because she left us a “gift…” which takes away from the perfection, but does not detract from the sweetness of the moment in the slightest.) It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

I suppose that in my happiness I do have levels of closer and further to complete, but happiness doesn’t really seem to be something that should fit into a category of perfection. I quibble with the idea of evaluating levels of happiness.

Things, times, and situations that make me happy: my daughter’s giggles, hiccups in utero, early morning solitary cups of coffee, fresh sheets on my bed, sunrises at the ocean, weather perfect for wearing my silk skirts, new music that I can instantly sing along to, Rhapsody in Blue, snuggles and kisses, a good search in finding the answers to the three questions we ask after watching a movie, the smell of new books, the smell of old books, good walks, snow days, new recipes, happy lights, haircuts, naps, figuring out new spaces, learning a new town, finding new and old friends, ice cream, and Santa’s Favorites.

I am still learning how to be happy and simply rest in it. Perhaps in ten or twenty years, I will be able to tell you what perfect happiness looks like for me, but probably not. What makes happiness good for me is that it doesn’t have to be complete to be enjoyed. Maybe that’s what makes it perfect.

Growing in Change

We change. We grow. We collect scars. We mature. We make mistakes. We learn. We carry wounds. We heal. We build relationships. We burn bridges. We hurt. We ignore. We decay. We develop.

We change.

I believe everyone changes. I don’t believe that the change is necessarily healthy or good, but all of us change. We can change into people who become more and more caustic and hateful, or we can choose to be people that grow towards health and wisdom.

I believe people can change because I can see the change in myself and the people around me.

I have grown wiser, more cautious, more outgoing, and occasionally more judgmental. I have become a better parent, wife, and pastor. I’ve developed my patience. I’ve learned to center myself in something besides myself.

I’ve seen my relationship with my husband, John, change over the past eight years we’ve been together. We’re still learning how to communicate with each other. I’d have thought I would have gotten more of it down by now. Apparently we keep changing and learning about ourselves, and keep bringing more to the relationship than we are aware of. This has been helpful to learn and challenging to navigate.

I’ve especially seen my daughter change. It’s easier to see: she adds a new word to her vocabulary each day. Her change is in greater increments. But when she reaches kindergarten, puberty, high school, college, or adulthood, she won’t stop changing. I’ll keep having to get to know her as we each keep changing.

I’ve even been able to tell that the daughter I am carrying is changing. Her kicks are getting stronger. She moves within me and listens to me sing. She grows.

I had a terrible migraine this past week thanks to Hurricane Irma that lasted four days. I cannot remember the last time I had a four day migraine. It was before I started trying to conceive our first child. The bonus is that I cannot take the usual medication I take to handle my migraines. I had tylenol and the ability to relax my body. After three days I got a rescue dose that knocked me to sleep and kept me out of the emergency room. When I am in the midst of a migraine that long, I have a hard time believing that I will never not have a migraine. I know, logically, that this is not the truth, but I feel like I will hurt and be exhausted forever.

What amazes me is that I lived through a season of migraines like this for a year and a half. I survived them hitting me in waves every single week.

What astonishes me is that it has been over three years since that season. I’ve gotten twice as far past that time than the time I spent in the midst of it. I’m far healthier now. I know my body better. I am more resilient. I enter centering prayer more easily. I am more able to relax my body through the pain, so that it doesn’t hurt as much.

As I spent hours upon hours mindfully relaxing my shoulders, jaw, hips, and neck, I realized I was receiving a small gift in the midst of the pain. Relaxing through an unmedicated migraine is not unlike relaxing through natural childbirth. The technique I use for coping with the pain of migraines is the same that I used for my first birth.

However, the pain itself is different. The experience and purpose of it are radically diametric. Migraines hurt because they hurt. Birth works the body in order to deliver a child.

Birth ushers in a radical change. The labor of childbearing, though intense, is productive.

Change in our lives will hurt. It either hurts because it is producing something new, or because we are caught in a cycle of trying to stay the same while change happens around us. I often get a migraine when a major weather system blows past. My body struggles to catch up to the change in the pressure around it. The weather eventually changes, and I eventually stabilize. But I am changed.

Every day, I change.

Shadow

I took my daughter out for a walk at the state park a couple days ago so she could run and investigate freely. She likes to come back and touch base with me every so often; we were walking together when I noticed that our shadows were walking ahead of us. I waved my hands and she waved hers, both of us watching our shadows following our motions.

I’ve gotten better at paying attention to what I am doing and whether I am being copied because I’ve got a shadow that comes from the light above me and I’ve got a shadow that is the light beside me.

Are we both awake and in the house? If so, we are in the same room and playing the same game. She follows me everywhere, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, the den, and the laundry room.

She’s becoming a fabulous helper, in her own way. I have to watch myself to make sure that what I am doing is safe for her to copy. She even stretches with me after our walks together. (And then I become momma climbing toy as she balances on me in a final stretch.)

She’s learning new words everyday now, and I’m more aware of what I say and how I say it. I’m tending to my own grace as I share grace with her. Sometimes everything is wonderful, and sometimes nothing can go right. Sometimes the shadows seem stronger than the light. She speaks of the dark as an existential presence. When it is dark, it is Dark. She does not fear the dark, but she names its power.

She lights up my life like the moon lights the earth at night. She revolves around me and tugs me towards her like the moon pulls the tides. She shines and grows dark and always shines again.

I love my little shadow.

Laughter and Boundaries

I’m having a hard time finding joy, recently. I read a reflection today by my friend Sarah who had encountered wisdom saying that joy flows from compassion. I wonder if I am not finding enough compassion, either for myself or for others, right now. Or maybe I just see the great need for compassion and feel that the task is far too large to take on myself.

Joy is a big deal and I want to do it right.

My daughter has started a new game where she laughs and then does something that she shouldn’t do, such as hitting me in the face. I tell her no, and she does it again. Laughing again.

I love my daughter’s laugh.

I do not love being hit.

I do not want her to hit me, or learn that hitting is how we do things.

She laughs again.

I tell her not to hit. I take hold of her hand. I tell her not to hit.

I let go. She hits me again.

Still laughing.

And so I put her down out of my lap. I put space between her and me, so that she cannot reach me to hit me. She doesn’t like the space.

Nothing stops her until I do it. Saying no has not really become effective, even though she loves repeating the word.

The hitting stops.

So does the laughter.

But then she hugs me. And we are better together until she decides to try a new boundary again.

I’m wondering how she interprets the joy I share with her. Does she remember me laughing more than she remembers me teaching her a new limit?

And then, does God rejoice when I find a new game to play but is let down when I turn the game to my own destruction?

I believe God wants what is good for me, and that God wants to celebrate joy with me. I don’t believe that God is watching me to seek out an opportunity to punish me.

I am not a perfect parent. I lose my temper and get frustrated when my daughter keeps on doing what I have already asked her not to do. I have the feeling this tendency is far from over. Yay exercise of free will!

However, God is a perfect parent (among other things) and though God can and does get frustrated, God is more saddened by how I turn away from what God wants because it hurts me more than because it hurts God.

God wants what is best for me (and you) and goes out of the way to show love in whatever way possible. This is the compassion I long for in each of my relationships no matter if they are fleeting or forever.