Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison – Susan’s Newsletter September 2016

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September 22, 2016 Susan’s Thursday Morning Note The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison Changes.  Letting go.  Finding who we are. Regrets. Children growing & leaving home.

Good morning!  The only sounds I hear are silence and clicking of keys and crickets.  Stars still shining.  Relativity of time.  If I could somehow hold the clock to this stillness and stars for another hour in the seeming loss of time, rather than five more minutes until light.  I know if I train my mind to look at the good of morning in only a few minutes the birds will start their off-tune morning warm-ups.  The crickets will strengthen their sounds, and the mother squirrel will be kicking her energetic early risers out of their trees to run around and give me my morning movie scene.  Constant changes already behind the curtain of darkness almost making their debut.  Constant changes for what my own script is for life on this side of the curtain.

This week I reread words from a book towards the bottom of my bookshelf.  The jacket I see in the mornings and remember the words inside my mind.   Following are words written years ago when I first read this book.  In this author’s case – change with her children entering adolescence, then leaving home.  Change on who she is…finding life after “loss”.  The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison.  I have found her to write similarly to Anne Lindbergh, but adding more personal stories to go along with her thoughts on changes, letting go, finding who we are.  We are all dealing with change.  Constantly.  I have often thought of our relationships and our own personal selves being like a pot of soup.  We begin as the ingredients first placed into the large pot.  We simmer…we change…life is added to the ingredients.  Change.  Birth.  Death.  Fun.  Pain.  Disappointments.  Mistakes.  Memories.  Contentment.  Excitement.  Staleness.  Elation.  Grief.  Growth.  Change.  Constant change.  And because of the constant change of ingredients the soup changes.  The taste changes.  The essential elements are the same.  Who we are.  But we are never the same and we can never find who we used to be, for once ingredients have been added, they cannot be removed.  The soup is made up of what is now blended in.  So who are we?  We are still who we were in our youth, but not that person.  To say we are finding ourselves is not possible – for we are only who we are today, with what has made us who we are today…..the soup.  Not in the least spoiled, just changed in chemistry.  And changed chemistry then causes changed relationships.  Friendships. Marriage.  Parent/child.  We all are constantly changing what is in the pot.  And when we find that the ingredients are causing staleness or unpleasantness, then we have a choice….let who we are…and who we are blended with go bad….or continue to find ingredients that change the taste, but still have the beauty of the initial recipe.  I’ve thought of that analogy for years & ready to finally put it into print to go along with what I’ve underlined so far in this book.  I hope you find her thoughts to be worth thinking about as I have…

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.  Henri Bergson

Change, it is said, always goes hand in hand with opportunity.  Growing older, I begin to see that finding fulfillment in this next stage of life will demand a kind of surrender that seems beyond me now, a new way of being and caring that I can barely begin to imagine.  I suspect I have a lot to learn about letting go.

Instead of mourning the passage of time, I want to live with a sense of abundance in the here and now, knowing that what we have is exactly enough…a gift can only be received with an open hand, and in order to find out what life was about to offer us, we would first have to release our hold on what was already over.

It occurs to me that perhaps I don’t have to push at life quite so hard after all, that sometimes the best thing we can do is allow our lives simply to take us where we need to go.  The truth is, I don’t have any idea what goals I should be focusing on or how I ought to compose my life at this juncture…All I can really do is give in to the moment at hand – then pause, consider, and take one more step forward into the unknown.

On finding our “new identities” once life changes.  But as all the identities I worked so hard to construct over the years begin to slough away, I feel myself reconnecting with my own quiet center.  It is as if I am, at last, catching a glimpse of myself not as I might wish to be, but as I am.

Inside, the child I used to be is still alive, as ardent and eager as ever.  The little girl who loved swimming in lakes, eating three kinds of ice cream at once, and buying new shoes is still, amazingly, me.  Yet the lines in my face, my softening belly, the new, spidery red veins in my legs, give no hint of her existence.  What is visible instead, I suppose, is the humility bestowed by marriage, pregnancies and parenthood, time and experience, sadness and joy, unrealized dreams and hard-won understanding.  I’m still shocked, sometimes, when I catch sight of this person, this new-old me, in a mirror.  Looking at recent photographs, I have wondered lately,  Where did I go?  Yet just beneath the surface of the middle-aged woman, rarely glimpsed now, the girl within still dances, an inner, secret self whose existence sometimes surprises me.  She is as real as the outer me, still patiently awaiting my acceptance and recognition.

…it seems I am peeling away not only paint, but the layers of my own carefully constructed person.  Until at last I myself am stripped, taken all the way back to a being I barely remember, a person who seems surprisingly young and hopeful and tender.  I make room for her.  And then, without judgment for a change, I take a long frank look at a person I haven’t seen in a while.  Me.

Regrets: There are many things I dreamed of once that I know now I’ll never do.  So many opportunities I missed, situations I failed to grasp, mistakes I made that will never really be righted.  I carry some baggage, old ratty parcels packed with disappointment and regret.  I’ve wasted too much time worrying, backsliding into fear, when I could have loved and lived more boldly.  I’ve skimmed the surface of life when I could have been diving deep.

Opportunities: Yet there are also qualities of mind and heart in me that I am grateful for.  I recognize, emerging slowly form beneath the layers, the optimism than has always made me me.  My faith in other people, my eagerness to trust their motives an extend the benefit of the doubt.  The sense of wonder that dawns as fresh in me each day as morning.  The idealism that is both my nature and my gift.  The creation of self, it seems, even at this late stage of the game, is more a process than a project, more about opening and allowing than forcing and doing.  Perhaps it does not have to be such hard work after all.

Real life is not going to begin when we move into our own house at long last, or when I figure out what to do with myself, or when we’re out of debt…Real life is now.

None of this was ever part of the plan, but life so rarely unfolds according to plan.  Real life is just where we are, in this moment, and the only mistake we’ve made so far has been not to pause long enough or often enough to realize that even this odd in-between time is precious, fleeting, and worthy of our attention.

Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things.  It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places we’ve loved and left anyway, all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, even as we live on in the here and now, knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone.  It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings.  It means, too, keeping faith in beginnings.

When her children finally left home:   (She discusses high school/college…but I find the same rings true as my own children move into new stages…)  I’ve known for months now that the hardest part of letting go, at least for me, is not just about my grown children leaving home, emotional and momentous as that milestone will be.  The real challenge is how to relinquish with serenity the role I’ve cherished for so long, to stop identifying myself so completely with motherhood and allow for a new, more mature self to be born….I was programmed for nurturing.  After years of striving, caring, trying so diligently to create a family life, to make a home, to tend our hearth, the end of all that labor is in plain sight…how I’ve poured myself into the work of raising children…I must remind myself these days that life is what it is, wonderful and heartrending all at once…

“Mend the part of the world that is within your reach,” Dr. Estes writes….I am so often tempted to cast a wide net, to get overly invested – in my children’s lives, in the way things ought to be, in my goals and their outcomes – that I end up not doing the small tasks right in front of me really beautifully, joyfully, or well.  Now, life is shifting.  And all I really need to do is welcome the change and shift along with it.  How glad I would be to move through all these transitions and challenges with a lighter heart.  Perhaps it really is as simple as those words:  “Mend the part of the world that’s within your reach.”  It’s all I can hope to do anyway.  It may just turn out to be enough.

How gracefully will I be able to step aside and allow them to become the adults they are meant to be.  For the first time, I’m beginning to think I can do it.  For it seems that there is a road map to guide me on this part of life’s journey after all.  The landscape is drawn in bold, beautiful colors by all the valiant, loving women who have preceded me into this unfamiliar country called surrender.  If I listen carefully, I can hear them calling back to me.  “Let go,” they say.  “Let go, let go, let go.  And then, trust.”

So our “soup” changes….what we are cooking.  Shall we simmer awhile to let some things go, thereby finding who we now are?  Getting down the the basic ingredients…the stock.  Our soul.  The unchanging creation God made?  Do we need to add?  Do we need to read, learn, set goals?  Do we need to do nothing?  The soup will take on flavor after flavor after flavor.  Constant collaboration with the chef.  The chef is us.  I can not cook literally, but I can work on my inner self.  My soul.  My pure stock.  That others may then take a part of the stock of who I am and use what I give to their advantage…..today.  What we know we have. This moment.  It’s hard to even type after watching the news as I think for all of you.  Haiti.  Grief.  What is in our reach?  Mend the part of the world that is within your reach.  Our prayers are within their reach.  That’s what we can do.  Make today count.  Work on your pot of soup…..if you notice stagnant or unpleasant consistencies do something about it…change…let go….work hard.  Look others in the eyes.  Be kind.  That’s within our abilities.  Thank you for letting me type for you.  Have a day that is worth writing on your epitaph tonight.  Even if what you write is that you were privileged with “an ordinary day”.  Susan

Latin for this week: chef de cuisine, the “chief” or “head” of a kitchen multum in parvo – All things change, and we change with them. Work Cited: Kenison, Katrina.  The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir.  New York.  Hachette.  2010.