the morning after

when I woke up the first morning as Mrs. Hylden, the morning after our wedding, I came to a discouraging realization: I am still the same person I was yesterday.

I had this strange, unexpressed expectation that when I got married, I’d change–overnight.  I’d become a grownup and I’d brim with that patience and generosity and perspective that I’d always struggled to cultivate.

The morning of May 30th, I got up with an extra band of gold on my finger, a new name and a new commitment, but I didn’t really feel any different, and I surely was not magically oozing fruits of the Spirit.

Yesterday, I tried making gluten-free gnocchi for the first time.  Longer than forming the dough, rolling and cutting the individual gnocchi(s?), was the shopping–three grocery stores later, I only had to make one (not super effective) substitution.  As I was chasing down new ingredients and throwing myself into the deep end of gluten-free substitutions (having mastered gluten-ed substitutions awhile ago), I fought my frustration at the glacial pace and inefficiency of the whole process.  Scouring shelves, rereading recipes and searching google on my phone to find “substitutions for sweet white rice flour,” made me realize the same thing I’d learned when I woke up May 30th, 2011: Life takes time.

Earlier this year, a dear colleague from the cathedral took a new job; at a party, a parishioner asked her about the new work.  Reflecting on the joys and challenges of inhabiting a position with both promise and little preconceived shape, she said of change, “It keeps you honest.”  Rather than being lulled into complacency by certainty and repetition, changing circumstances encourage us to grow in uncomfortable but transforming ways.  We never wake up one morning having arrived, we (or at least I) rarely complete our to-do lists in one day, and no one–ourselves or others–change as quickly as we hope they would.  Life takes time.

Time to adjust to a new lifestyle–job, diet, exercise regimen, environment.

Time to heal from wounds–relational or physical.

Time to change our habits, learn new skills, be transformed into new people.

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night; so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord(Collect for Compline, BCP page 132)

Paying Attention

Another yoga lesson:

Letting go of expectations and instead paying attention to what’s happening now.  …and now.  …and now.

In yoga classes, we students are encouraged just to breathe–to concentrate on breathing in, and then stopping for a second, breathing out, and stopping for a second; noticing how our bodies feel when they are full of air, noticing how much air there must be in there because of how long it’s taking to breathe it all out, taking stock of how our necks, and shoulders, and backs, and hips, and knees feel–what hurts, what is buzzy and tight, and what feels okay today after feeling crappy for the last few weeks.

Many of the church fathers talk about looking honestly at ourselves, taking stock of our faults and our gifts and our struggles and our service.  Even more true today than when Orson Welles penned it in the 1940’s, “the faster we’re carried, the less time we have” (The Magnificent Ambersons–the opening sequence is the high point of the film; I couldn’t bear to finish it); we look less at ourselves in assessment–or in amazement–than we used to, and we suffer for it.

If our expectations are out of sync with reality, what fault is that but that we cannot accurately project what we’re capable of accomplishing?  (in other words, making superhuman to-do lists because we have lost a conception of time hits us twice–we don’t finish the list, feeling inadequate, and we can’t quite figure out why we couldn’t complete it)  That may mean that we should look a little closer at what on earth we’re spending all these waking hours doing, but it also may mean we should consider what we’re fighting through at the moment, or what our companions need from us in the current phase of life we find ourselves.

In a yoga class, we show up and do our best to focus on the task at hand, putting all our concentration and effort into breathing and stretching and holding and breathing–and explicitly not thinking about other things–for an hour (or so).  What if we showed up in our lives and did our best to focus on the task at hand, putting all our concentration and effort into whatever was sitting in front of us at the moment?  It would be vital to understand that our writing, or our conversation, or whatever it is that comprises our work may not always come as quickly or neatly or easily as we think it ought to, but letting go of the expectation that our work will look and feel a certain way allows us to find new, perhaps more effective and joyful, ways of approaching our tasks and our days.

“be safe out there”

Has anyone ever said that to you? Someone, probably many people, probably your parents, has expressed their love and care and concern by wishing for you to “be safe out there.”
Isn’t that a common sentiment of mothers to their children? (whether expressed in exactly those words or not) It’s a wish for protection that the proclaimer cannot provide, an acknowledgement of the uncertainty outside the walls of the home, a desire for the hearer to be surrounded by the blessing of safety.
When I recently heard this sentiment expressed by a fellowship breakfast regular (that is to say, the mostly-homeless crew of 10 or 40 who gather for breakfast Monday through Friday at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham) to another attendee, I was stopped cold.
It was the tail end of breakfast service, most people were getting up and leaving, or already had, and this man is one who usually helps to clean up by stacking chairs, wiping down tables and vacuuming.
He said, “Be safe out there” to a woman who held an infant. Some mornings when I’m running with my dog, I see her going to breakfast, pushing her stroller.
Throughout the day, I see a lot of the people with whom I share breakfast, waiting for buses, walking Ninth Street. “Out there” is the street, is downtown. Outside, in cold and heat and rain.
Friends of mine have recently had babies, and visiting them in their homes, I’m accosted with anti-bacterial gels before I cross the threshold. We talk in hushed tones, babies are changed into new outfits several times a day.
The mother and infant I know from breakfast have very different concerns. “Be safe out there” isn’t just “I love you”–which is what a patent might mean when speaking to offspring, or “don’t do anything stupid on your way home” –which is what one college student might mean, talking to another at the end of the night. “Be safe out there” is talking about much bigger, much more basic things here. If we have no sensible reason–because of where we live, how much food is in our cupboards, how easily we can bathe ourselves and our children, our access to electric warmth and coolness–to fear for our mortal safety, but our sister and her baby must face those questions daily, what luxury are we invoking when we wish each other “safety”?