Monday, June 14, 2010

The New Gift of Gratitude, in All Things

Yesterday in our first workshop session, our instructor asked us to introduce ourselves and share briefly why we're here.  When my turn came, I explained that I'm home raising my kids, that I started a blog here in Iowa last summer, and said, "I'm here because my husband is wonderful, as is my mother-in-law who's watching my kids this week so I can be here."  A wave of understanding and appreciation went through the group, acknowledging my fortune.  I am blessed.

I drove 800 miles yesterday from Evergreen, Colorado, to Iowa City, Iowa.  Every summer, the University of Iowa hosts a Summer Writing Festival offering week-long and weekend writing workshops over the course of six weeks.  I attended a blogging weekend last summer on a whim, and when I returned home raving about how amazing the time was, Josh suggested I try a longer one this year.

So here I am.  I spent twelve hours in the car yesterday--in my little red Mini-cocoon of solitude.  I spent the first four hundred miles searching out the road through the rain while thinking, reflecting, processing, and feeling genuine appreciation for a husband who would support this very inconvenient endeavor and for in-laws who would give up a week of their lives to enable my absence on the home-front.  In my long stretch through Nebraska, I saw billboards for the University of Nebraska: a photo of investment mastermind Warren Buffet gracing the corner with his graduation year below, and his thoughts in giant, white letters on a red background: "My advice: invest in yourself."  It seemed an appropriate sign for my journey.  This is a week I've been given to focus on my writing, my passion, me.

But I do hope it is an investment in me that reaps dividends beyond myself, though I don't always know where I'm headed in this investment of time and resources toward an activity I feel compelled to do.  I walk through bookstores and see thousands upon thousands of titles on everything from the state of American politics to organic gardening.  Unless a book appears on Oprah or the tables at the front of the bookstore, how many people actually read most of them?  Publication is not my end-game, or at least not my primary motivation (though I certainly wouldn't turn-down J.K. Rowling's gig).  Earning some money doing something I love certainly would be ideal, but Josh has told me on several occasions that he doesn't care if I ever earn a dime writing--he loves that I do it for writing's sake, or, more accurately, for my sake.  I love this about him.

Still, write I must, for reasons that are beyond my comprehension at the moment.  In some mysterious way, writing quiets the whispers of doubt in my mind.  It heals my soul, this confession and acknowledgement of short-comings and fears.  It renews my hope that all things are being made new.  It helps me cling more securely to the possibility that what I see is not the sum total of what is occurring around me.  Plots far greater than I can conceive are playing out in and around and through and in spite of me. And perhaps this clarity is the gift not only to me but to those around me who have less of my insecurity and fear to wade through and deflect in a day.

I spent a lot of time with me yesterday as the highway stretched on and on before me.  I'm comfortable with that.  Me, myself, and I dialogued contentedly through the hours--at times absorbing the music I listened to, at times running through imaginary conversations I need to have with people I love, at times wondering about the characters and places around me.  I thought of the usual fountain of questions and commentary that accompanies me most of the time I'm driving somewhere, and I appreciated the quiet while simultaneously appreciating the small voices that are the soundtrack of my daily life for this fleeting season.  I remembered the very first cross-country drive I did when Josh and I were "friends," the drive that solidified our fate as life-long companions, and I wondered what we'd be talking about if he were with me.  But I accepted the time alone as a rare gift, one I accept with open hands.

Last year when I came to this Festival, I needed the time alone like a passenger on a crashing plane needs an air mask.  I was desperate for the break and the time and the stimulation, desperate to catch a breath from the daily demands of life with little ones.  This state of mind is hardly healthy when trying to be a wife and mother.

This year, I am grateful for this time, but I do not grasp for it like a dying person.  Writing has done that for me: brought me balance, brought me to an understanding of who I am in the midst of my circumstances, brought me the ability to accept all, or at least most, aspects of my life--in their challenges and their joys--for the time they are to be, brought me peace and joy.  So this week, life offers 1600 miles of driving, a week of writing and biking and existing alone with my thoughts, and days of limitless possibility.  Next week, life will return to the comfortable chaos of kids and puppy and company and the welcome companionship of Josh.  And today, after a year of musing in this space, I can say without hesitation that I am grateful for all of it.

Perhaps there will be other gifts afforded by this investment; indeed, I hope so.  But if this is all I ever get, it is enough.

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