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  • Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America's Favorite Humorist
    Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America's Favorite Humorist
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Julie's favorite books »

Friday
Oct262018

Begin Again

All our lives, we rework the things from our childhood, like feeling good about ourselves, managing our angry feelings, being able to say good-bye to people we love. 

– Fred Rogers

I love Mister Rogers.  I watched him growing up, and he and I were reintroduced again when I was a new mom, staring down yet another day with a one-year-old who refused to nap.  The early years are delightful and boring, beautiful and exhausting: they are the best and worst days of your life.  In a moment of desperation (and there were many moments of desperation), my mom suggested the non-sleeper watch Mister Rogers.  Because of my tendency to behave only as an eldest-child, rule-following lemming, I was hesitant, having been recently lectured by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding the screen time recommendations.  My mom simply responded, “Julie, no one gets ADD from watching Mister Rogers.”

And she was right (naturally).  You watch him change his shoes and jacket.  You watch the flakes of the fish food drift gently down to the bottom of the tank, and Mister Rogers’ shrugged explanation: “They must not be hungry today.”  It was calming and sweet and simple, and we watched episodes over and over again until the second baby came along (and, miraculously, he was a good sleeper and I finally knew what everyone had been bragging about).

Through his show, Mister Rogers came alongside me.  He shared simple truths (and Truth), and those truths loosed some of the tight thoughts that bound me in that time.  

It’s appropriate, then, that in a hard year, I find myself reading his biography.  As adults, it’s disorienting to find we must begin again.  Life is unpredictable and strange; it’s true that change is the only constant.  For someone like me, this is tricky.  I like to believe that I have things pretty well figured: I’ve carefully, painstakingly sorted all the pieces into their appropriate, color-coded containers over the last thirty-nine years.  I studied for the test.  So it logically follows that my careful organization and preparation should result in infallible wisdom and a general state of contentment and bliss for the rest of my life.  So when we found ourselves knee-deep in the unexpected this year, I was unsure and disoriented and discouraged. 

So I began again.  Back to the basics.  Spill out the containers and start from the beginning.  It’s serendipity that Mister Rogers found his way back onto my screen and into my books this year.  He was teaching me again what I had forgotten.  These are my three favorites (today). 

What’s mentionable is manageable. 

Being a human with feelings is so tricky.  It’s easy to convince ourselves that emotion can be ignored or over-managed: push it down into that box, use your knee if you must, put your back into it!  There: mischief managed.  But we were gifted with these beautiful, complicated minds, tied to our delicate, strong, mysterious bodies.  And they will not be ignored.  As children, we cry when we’re sad, we sleep when we’re tired, we eat when we’re hungry.  We scream when we’re angry.  But as adults we can easily lose touch with that intuition; we stop trusting ourselves.  We forget that feelings (all the feelings, the spectrum of who we are) are mentionable AND manageable.  But to be managed, they must be mentioned, because some thoughts are valid and useful, and some are just bouncing around in the busy echo chamber of our minds: we all need a safe place to sort them.  Our thoughts can bind us or loose us, chain us or free us.  But they’re just thoughts.  We need light to see which ones are ugly or worthless or out-of-date.  We need friends and sisters and spouses and teachers who pull those out into the light for examination.  My mind is a sketchy neighborhood: I don’t go in alone.  

Slow time is valuable time.

Watching an episode of Mister Rogers can be boring.  Listening to tinkling piano music as fish food drifts to the bottom of the tank doesn’t really qualify as scintillating television.  I remember an episode where Mister Rogers stood back to appreciate the details of a painting, silently examining the work and giving the viewer time to do the same.  The lesson is this: we need slow time.  We live in this insane idiocy, worshipping at the altar of productivity, attending to our phones and our jobs and our DVRs and our children and driving all the places.  And if you tend to be a Type A person (I’m not naming names, but I’m talking about me), this is a dangerous trap.  Getting things done is great; waiting to relax until all the things are done will crush you.  You and I were not put on this earth to be doing-machines.  We are here to love ourselves and others, to marvel at the harvest moon and the beauty of fall and the gift of belonging to the people we love: we can carve out these moments when we’re attentive and present and we aren’t putting pressure on ourselves to complete our to-do lists while also SAVORING THE MOMENTS and MAKING THE MEMORIES.    Slow time is easy time, and we all need more of it.    

People can love you just the way you are.

After nearly twenty years of togetherness I count it one of my greatest gifts that I still like my husband (in addition to loving him).  I like my kids, too.  In fact, I like a lot of people.  And it’s not because of what they do.  It’s because of who they are, who they were made to be.  And too often, I’m apt to forget the truth: that’s how my people love me.  We are all broken and messy and tired and trying to balance our lives.  I don’t need to focus on all my shortcomings, on my most annoying quirks or neediest moments.  I can love myself, just as I am, trusting that today finds me exactly where I’m meant to be.  There is grace and peace here, now, available to me in this moment of acceptance: I am loved just as I am. 

This has been a hard and often painful season.  But we don’t walk alone: as a cherished friend told me earlier this year, “the path is sometimes winding, sometimes straight, always with God.” 

And sometimes with Mister Rogers.