Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Body thoughts

I am churned up by competing thoughts. Well, not thoughts really, more those amorphous senses or emotions that are thrown up by my heart and my guts. They are body thoughts, ideas and words floating around somewhere below my neck. They're not head thoughts. Writing about them is difficult, because writing begins in my head and only sometimes manages to send its roots down and draw from the rest of my body.

And these body thoughts are at war. On the one hand, I am tired of being thoughtful, responsible, hard working, a good girl. I'm tired of being the adult around here. I'm tired of cleaning up the mess, and reading the labels in the supermarket, and sitting on my temper. I'm tired of looking after everyone, and cooking for everyone, and doing the dishes afterwards. I'm sick of analysing, weighing things up, trying to make every choice a good choice. I'm fed up with the critical Protestant in me, whose black clothes are tightly buttoned up to her chin, and whose black umbrella jabs me in the guts in constant reproach. I'm sick of being modest, and self conscious, and nice. I don't know what I want; maybe it's just a week to myself; maybe it's something else. Something larger, something more like generosity to myself. Which, to a good Protestant girl, feels a lot like selfishness.

After feeling like this for months, I broke out and bought an obscenely extravagant pair of red high heels. I think it was a good decision; I couldn't bear to wear any of my sensible shoes to the wedding of friends, and celebrating marriage is a wonderful thing. Finding a safe outlet to feel outrageously selfish is another. Now I sleep with the shoes in a box on my bedside table. I love them madly; they've invaded my dreams, and I'm wondering if I've entered the fairytale where the red shoes will dance me to my destruction.

So there's that.

On the other hand, the question Why not? swirls around too. This question, this invitation, rises up and asks me: Why not become the person you want to be? And that person is a woman in her forties who knows herself, who is calm and faithful and powerful. I want to grow into one of those radiant people, whose faces shine out with love and hope and generosity. I want the self-assurance to be assertive and gentle - the assurance that doesn't need to prove itself, but which comes with self-knowledge. I think of Kathleen Norris's comparison of the committed life - monasticism or marriage or, I would add, parenting - to a rock tumbler. It may hurt like hell, but you come out beautifully polished. And that is what I want to be - beautifully polished at the end of this life.

Somehow, the two gut senses feel at war. One part of me wants to run away, to stop being so responsible, to get selfish for a while. Another part of me wants to become the sort of person who is graceful, generous, loving. And I feel like doing both is impossible.

But lately it occurs to me that perhaps they are not exclusive. Perhaps, just perhaps, I wonder, could they be different faces of the same coin? Because if I lose myself too completely in the mundanity of jobs and responsibility and parenting, I forget how to play. I become puffed up, thinking the tasks at hand are more important than they really are. I become boring. I forget how to laugh, how to analyse, how to criticise myself - and worse, I begin to judge others. Soon I resemble that pointy-faced Protestant with a sharp umbrella.

But if I get selfish, in a good way - take the time for myself to listen, reflect and pray; shut the study door and write, ignoring the cries of children who are being looked after most capably by their daddy; do what I can to live well and accept it as enough, for now; even buy those outrageous shoes to celebrate a friend's wedding - then I come to know myself better. And I have no doubt that a growing self-knowledge has already enabled me to become a better parent, wife and friend.

So perhaps the body thoughts aren't at war; perhaps they're inviting me to take what I need to look after myself and not just everyone else. Perhaps they're suggesting that I can be generous to myself, and that might lead to a new generosity towards others. If I listen to these gut feelings, and, consistent with my commitments, trust in them, then is it possible that maybe, just maybe, I might one day become that polished person I so long to be?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent as always. I wish I had better more thought-provoking comments. This is all I can muster right now!


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