What Would You Do With This Turkey?

One day when I was in college I entered the kitchen to find my grandmother looking at an uncooked turkey on the counter.  She looked at me and asked, with that most beautiful twinkle in her eye, “Marisa, if you were to come home to this turkey, what would you do?”

Without a trace of irony I replied, “I’d put it back in the fridge.”

Nanna’s laughter and shaking her head made it clear that this was not the sort of answer she was seeking.  She wanted to share a moment with her granddaughter, passing on culinary knowledge.  I was concerned that the family might get food poisoning if the bird stayed out too long.  It didn’t occur to me to be interested in cooking anything.  Even spending time with Nanna was not enough to convince me that preparing a meal was more worthwhile than reading a book.

I thought back to this conversation tonight while I was cooking dinner.  Admittedly, I was only half present. Even as I was aware that there was sacredness in making soup for my family, I had a bunch of other tasks that I had wanted to accomplish.  I was composing this post in my head, cursing my garlic covered fingers that made jotting down my fleeting ideas impossible.

As I remembered Nanna, I was also thinking about yesterday’s open letter to our mothers, the women who “forgot” to tell my generation how phenomenal motherhood could be.  There was no doubt that Nanna adored being a mother – almost as much as she adored being a grandmother. By the same token, I know that my mother loved being a mom to my sister and me.  And when it comes to Mom’s take on being a grandmother… well, that tremendous love is apparent to anyone who has been in the same room as her and Moira.

I’m guessing that the signs were always there.  Nanna and Mom were constantly sending out signals that most casual observers could quickly decipher: motherhood was/is a huge and brilliant part of their identities and they would recommend it to anyone.  Several women responded to my post, describing how much they have loved motherhood and how they have made it a point to share this with their daughters.  When my own mom reads it she will probably say the same.  Will my mother tell me that she tried to describe motherhood to me many times but that I just wasn’t listening?

From the outside looking in, I think mothering can look like monotony and drudgery much of the time.  How do you explain to someone that changing a cloth diaper every two hours is not a relentless chore but an amazing chance to be barraged by a dozen new infant giggles and coos?

What if my generation’s perceived lack of interest in, or, perhaps more accurately, lack of knowledge of mothering springs not because our moms never mentioned it but because the whole world programmed us not to hear what they were saying?

The planet seems to be spinning faster and faster.  Everything is driven by productivity and performance.  From my ten weeks’ experience as a mom, I can tell you that being “productive” has never been so difficult (hi, I brushed my teeth, got out of the house in less than an hour and a half, and managed to write an Epiphany or two – give me a medal!).  As for performance… many of us try to mold the experience into something readable, but, for the most part, motherhood for the sake of show is a fool’s errand.

When you’re in college and living off of beer and bagels, measuring success by how many hook ups you’ve had and how many books you’ve read, cooking can seem ridiculously dull.  So much energy expended for something as un-sexy as a square meal.  And motherhood… well, at nineteen that is even more un-sexy to most girls.

Mothering and cooking a decent dinner:  both take more time than you have; you’re always a little afraid of screwing up; you most likely will need to improvise because you’ll never have all the ingredients; your mind is often flying in several unrelated directions at the same time.

But, oh the rewards of a meal well prepared and a baby curled up peacefully beside you at the end of a long day!

Graffiti Philosophy: Everything Will Be Alright

Everything will be alright”

This phrase is written in tiny letters on the bathroom wall at work. Assuming that the staff has not taken to expressing themselves through gentle vandalism, I can only guess that a student plagued by looming deadlines or a broken heart that might never mend took it upon herself to share her affirmation with the rest of the world.

I cannot help that smile that I am lucky enough to work at a liberal arts college library where the graffiti is dedicated to such sweet, pure wisdom. It is one more thing that helps put into perspective the world of work in times like these.

Heart in the drive

For all that I loved the scholarly life when I was in school, all the emotional turmoil that sprang from too many hormones and too much beer and too little sleep and too few quiet moments are still vivid. I would never discount whatever drove that student to express herself in that hastily scribbled line, but I cannot help but think of those of us who already have our diplomas and who live in the “real world.” What do we think when we read “everything will be alright” each day?

This phrase hold special significance to me because it makes me hear Stephen Cope‘s voice every time. This aptly named author a few great books on yoga employs this phrase often (though to be exact, I think he says “everything will be OK”). He uses it to bring the scattered “puppy mind” back to stillness, to stop that constant monologue spurred by fear and regret that plays constantly in our heads. It isn’t Sanskrit, it isn’t much of a mantra, but what else do you really need when you are looking to create a moment of peace for yourself in the midst of chaos?

“Everything will be alright” is such a simple phrase, almost trite and probably over used, but why complicate things? Julian of Norwich gave us “all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” Her line is little more like fine wine when it rolls off the tongue, but it is the same idea. We can wrap it around ourselves even when things seem to be at their darkest.

If the bedrock of capitalism starts to shift and a sanctuary like an elite college begins to feel the tremors when the greedy beast of our economy stumbles under the weight of its own foolish gluttony, is “everything will be alright” going to be enough?

If jobs are endangered and mortgage payments start to loom too large are those four little words going to protect us?

I think my answer to that is: they will have to.

We have always lived in an uncertain world, for all that it was not so obvious until this latest rash of bad news. It seems likely that all of our spiritual practices and all of our work to be centered and whole will be tested in new and powerful ways. I know I worry that my lovely little coping mechanisms might fail in those moments when “real life” in all of its insistent ugliness comes to call.

Again, I think there’s a simple answer: make sure those coping mechanisms are more than idle strategies you play with when life is smooth. Find a way to love yourself enough that you can gather your power and hone your strength and begin to truly believe, come what may, every little thing is gonna be alright.