“To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass--seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.”
- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
In a previous post, I said, “I’m not sure if this current journey (living on Green Acres) is a comedy or tragedy. I think it all depends on where I point my lens.”
If it is true that the unexamined life is not worth living, my examination of these past few weeks is clear—my lens has been pointed toward my own private pity party with a shallow focus.
At breakfast this morning, in our trailer, my daughter gave me a hug and started crying, “You’re just so stressed out.” I held her tight. I wished she was mistaken.
It wasn’t just the donkey’s broken corral or the four trips I had made to the barn to get eggs, then milk, then bread, then juice from our remote fridge. It wasn’t only the mystery sting last night that sent me screaming in pain. It was not the ongoing battle with a leaky toilet or the septic tank overflowing or the new road mud puddles or the four failed attempts at building sun shades or the broken tractor or the tree guy disappearing before he finished his job or the fact that bugs are back and making their way into our Spartan trailer.
As bold and brave and courageous as it appeared to lead our family into this adventure of living small on land, I am like a boxer against the ropes with his gloves over his face—beat up, overwhelmed, and near defeat. Even as my family is thriving in our new natural environment and enjoying the wild flowers and spring birdsong, I am wandering the field like Eeyore with his head slumped as the Charlie Brown sad song plays.
Being so stressed out that your daughter gives you tearful hugs at breakfast is not the “simple, sustainable, spiritual” life I want to be living. After dropping the kids off at school, I spend a moment with my newfound pastime of judgmental-yelling at an iPhone every time I see an Insta-rational “LIVE THE LIFE YOU’VE IMAGINED” tagged photo. “Works very well in hipsterslackergramville when you don’t have bills, and fire ants, and a family and two mini-donkeys to feed!” I scream before realizing my window was down in my office parking lot. My have-a-nice-day smile only further freaks the startled couple now walking faster than their dog. My face still burns: Frustrated. Faint-Hearted. Furious.
And then came the lump in my throat.
A second MRI for a herniated disk found a 3 cm lump in my thyroid that sent our family doctor into game day mode. I thought a steadicam was going to start following us around the office like an episode of ER. Blood Tests, Ultrasound, and a Biopsy Neddle-in-Your-Throat test were all scheduled before I left the office.
As I stumbled to my truck with the news heavy on my heart (yes, “my truck,” I know. The Volvo 240 wasn’t very land savvy) I was in a bit of a daze as my phone was buzzing in my pocket.
You have to see this to believe it, a text at that very moment from an out of town friend who I hear from maybe every few months:
What do you do with that?
When Kirsten called me, I was still crying in the parking lot. She was brave and encouraging and continued to tell me, “Deep breaths, everything is going to be all right in this season, we have so much to be thankful for.”
Thankful indeed. The tests have now come back benign and cancer free, so I can get back to my regularly scheduled program of feeling sorry for myself because my new movies don’t have distributers yet, I need a paying project, and I have to re-trench a gray water line that was messed up.
Beyond pathetic, I know, coming from a guy who just got a text from God. No doubt I need to point my lens in a different direction, or at least switch from a zoom to a wide angle prime to join my healthy family in wildflower smelling and songbird enjoyment.
The water line leading to our trailer was broken by the road guys and left to flood unattended. I asked the kids to help me dig so we could find the leak, watch a YouTube how-to-plumb video, and drive into town for supplies. The kids were getting muddy as it was getting dark.
The job remained incomplete with two false starts when we stopped for dinner. We always do “High, Low, and Unexpected” to talk about our day around the trailer table. Before I could share my broken-pipe low for the day, Mei Li stole it from me with “My high for the day was getting to play in the mud with Dad and my brother.” Wow. Same event; different perspective.
As the kids were getting ready for bed and unable to brush their teeth with the water still off, I was going for round three of rookie water line repair. Kirsten yelled out the door, “Mei Li says this is good.”
“What?” I yelled. “How?”
“Mei Li says now we can understand what it is like for those around the world who don’t have water.”
Uber-Sobering lens swing. This self-sabotaging view ends now.
I need to take the gloves off my face and pull a rope-a-dope with Green Acres.*
*In the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman (before he got into the grill business), Ali provoked Foreman to attack and force him back on the ropes. While Ali was being publicly pummeled, he was actually saving up his energy in the beating to wear down Foreman. In the end, Ali came back with a surprising counter-attack on a tired opponent and won the match employing his “rope-a-dope.”
Game on. I can no longer view what is a blessing through tilt-shift glass and think it is a curse. No more pity party.
Cue the “Eye of the Tiger” music and give me a mouthguard.