Time Out for Thanksgiving

My favorite holiday hands down is Thanksgiving.  Not only is there a magnificent feast of food, family, and friends, but also an amazing gift of time.
The older I get the faster time seems to go.  The thing I relish more than anything lately is having a few unclaimed days before me to metabolize my life through writing, walking, or having long conversations with dear friends.
When I took a job four years ago at Clinton Community College the tempo of my life shifted from a spacious and relatively solitary existence to one crowded with information, people, places, and challenges.  I now interact with more people in one week than I previously had in a month.  I will admit I was a bit of a hermit compared to socially acceptable standards.   But as a writer, the silence fed my soul on a deep level.
Of course having a job feeds my body on a very practical level.  Accepting a “real” job was nothing if not a testimony to my ability to have my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.  Consequently I am extremely grateful that this particular job allows me to have holidays plus a few extra days off. 

A stretch of days that demand nothing more than minimal interaction with the outside world is what my mind, body and spirit consistently crave.  Yet for most worker bees, that stretch of days is usually accompanied by a holiday or two. 

Since holidays are notorious for bringing out bad behavior, the trick to negotiating these potential stress fests is to have stress reducing strategies firmly in place.  Several years ago I came up with my  Top 10 Tension Tackling Tunes to Keep You Humming through the Holidays.  (Click on the link and I’ll be delighted to email my list to you.) While even I find it hard to follow my own advice on occasion, I do find that knowing myself helps a great deal. 

If I move and I write every day, I will feel better.  If I speak the truth, even if it isn’t popular or preferred, I will not have to carry around the guilt of betraying myself.  If I say no to requests that aren’t important, I will have more time and energy for those that are.  If I don’t pluck something from every party platter that parades across my path, my physique may no longer resemble that of Mr. Claus.  If I can focus on what I can give instead of what I might get, I can be more present in relationships.  And if I can keep my wits about me, I may see the humor in it all.
Of course knowing and doing are two different things.  As I mentioned in the last post, regular practice is required to defy gravity.  It is also required to get through the day.   If I am too busy, too traumatized, too distracted, or otherwise engaged to plan a healthy meal, squeeze in a little exercise, write a thank you note,  or simply stop instead of snap, it’s unlikely I will default into forgiveness or gratitude.
That’s why time outs are so necessary.  Even in sports that thrive on edge-of-your-seat action, time outs prevent that action from being chaotic or even disastrous.  Like a GPS, time outs remind us of our destination and give us a chance to recalculate so we might spend our time and effort wisely.
Whether you have the opportunity to rejuvenate this weekend or just manage to muster up a moment in the middle of midnight shopping, may your time out bring you clarity, a spot of grace, and remind you of reasons big and small to give thanks.

Defy Gravity

Earlier this month I finally made it to Wicked, the musical about the lives and friendship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West.  I had heard a few of the songs long before I had seen the play and was not surprised that Popular was so, well, popular.  It’s funny and cute and something we all can relate to at some time or other. 
But my favorite song was Defying Gravity, sung by the well-intentioned but deeply misunderstood green girl.  I had tears in my eyes as Elphaba ascended to new heights belting out her battle cry to be yourself despite all odds.  
Of course not everyone who hears the call can heed it.  The unsuspecting and highly suspicious citizens of Oz assumed the worst.  They could only see the flying phenom as the villain the people in power had made her out to be to hide their own wickedness.  Not once did they consider the rest of the story.
History seldom records the whole story.  If we’re lucky, one day it will find its way to light.  That’s when a prisoner can become president and change the world.

A few weekends ago I watched the Kennedys miniseries.  Even though I was born in the 60s, I was too young to really grasp the extreme changes that swept the country throughout that decade.  It was fascinating to put events in context and try to comprehend the courage it took to lead a nation through such turbulent times.  It seemed like everyone who tried to do so was assassinated.  It’s enough to make me think twice about leading a revolution.
Yet every era has a need for visionaries, leaders, courageous men and women who are committed to doing the right thing.  Every organization needs someone with a moral compass at the helm or somewhere in the ranks to blow the whistle should things go horribly wrong.  But how many of us, really, want to be the whistle blower?  It’s not a popular position.  At least not until Hollywood makes a movie about you

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
I say midlife is nothing if not a daring adventure.  Anything that may have seemed secure – relationships, jobs, finances, familial roles, or institutions – can and will come up for questioning.  Avoiding the danger of dealing with these issues at the first sign trouble is not a good strategy.     Just ask the Pope or the officials at Penn State. 
While it may seem easier in the short run to sweep these inconvenient truths under the rug, we all know they will come back to bite us or someone or something we love or hold dear.  We don’t have to be Glinda, Elphaba, Nelson Mandela, John or Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Erin Brockovich, or any public figure to live a courageous life.  We are asked to do so every day in a million quiet ways.
In order to do so we must activate our latent midlife superpowers, the most powerful of which may be our ability to defy gravity.  By rising above it all like those hot air balloon characters in the Macy’sThanksgiving Day parade, we can do what’s necessary and right and good, even if our voice shakes or we lose popularity points.
What do you think, shall we dust off the broom and take it out for a spin?
All it really takes is regular practice.