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Friday, August 27, 2004

Peeling back the layers

The house is quiet except for the hushed whir of the fan that is always on in my bedroom and the occasional groan from the dog as she stretches and flops position. I’ve conducted my flurry of cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, opening the blinds and hanging up towels (something my boys have great trouble remembering). This is the moment I’ve been craving … the kind of quiet you only get when you’re physically alone.

My desk is a mess since I’ve worked so many nights this week, including a virtual all-nighter on Wednesday, trying to make it through some intense deadlines. Though I still have much to do today, I’ve got to take a moment to straigthen up and refocus my brain. And the quiet, the contemplation, is just what I need.

Finished a book my sister loaned me a while ago called “Bread Alone,” by Judith Ryan Hendricks. I’m not sure how to describe it other than to share this little excerpt near the end of the book:

“If I were writing a story about myself, it would begin: ‘In her thirty-second year, she discovered her Right Livelihood…’ Or as CM would say, I’ve discovered what I am. I’ve peeled off the outer layers one by one—my father’s daughter, David’s wife, a divorcee—and I find, at the core, a baker of bread. A woman who likes working while the rest of the world sleeps. Who enjoys living alone, who doesn’t own a car or a house. Who’s happiest in jeans and a flannel shirt. Who chooses friends for the pleasure of their company, not their usefulness. Who’s open to love. Or would be, if she could learn to recognize it.”

Maybe it's just an awareness that comes with age, but I find myself peeling back the outer layers of all those labels we accumulate over time. It's so easy, particularly for women, to become their labels, to subsume to a culture that says "a wife does this," "a mother does that." What can get lost along the way is a woman's individuality, all those marvelous qualities that made her, her. It's just that loss that causes a woman to wake up one night and say, "But I was going to be and do so much more!"

What I seek is authenticity in life. I believe the authentic me, my "immaterial essence," is still there, she's just swaddled in the many layers of being wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend that all comprise my life. Certainly I am all those things and more, the trick is conveying that I am not just a wife or just a mom or just a daughter. It's becoming increasingly necessary for me to ebmrace all those elements while also remaining true to the woman within.

The journey of life is always full of surprises and opportunities if only we're quiet enough to listen to what is calling. Somtimes it takes courage, other times tremendous strength of will. But the spiritual satisfaction that comes from pursuing what you were called to do holds within a peace unlike any other.

Maybe you knew what you were meant to do, but you weren't listening to its power. You were busy trying to be something else or to fulfill someone else's dreams or expectations for you. If I can teach my sons anything at all about life it would be this: to find something you truly enjoy doing in life, even if it's unconventional, and pursue it faithfully and authentically. We owe the world and ourselves nothing less.

There’s so much static in life, interfering with or mixing up signals trying to reach our hearts and brains. The only way to hear what our heart desires is to build in enough quiet moments to listen. And that's why I'm enjoying the peaceful quiet and solitude of the house.

Call it prayer, call it meditation, call it reflection, but just make sure you take the time … to listen, unclutter your mind and discover what's in your soul.

I don't bake bread, I search for the meaning of life in words. And I find this quote a good recipe for living from one who knew herself so well.

"In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways." — Edith Wharton

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