Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.
-Henry David Thoreau
Two of my favorite writers are Henry David Thoreau and Kate Chopin. I love Chopin’s style—deceivingly simple, jarring. Her stories stick with me days after I finish them. I don’t re-read a lot, but I revisit Chopin’s Story of an Hour like I keep coming back to ice cream. And Thoreau—if I can’t take a year and live in the woods, then at the very least, wherever I am, I’d love to live deliberately. That’s his message. Granted, his messages have been stamped on Hallmark- and post-cards, but if I’m going to try to teach my kids anything, I’m going to encourage them to simplify their lives; I’m going to suggest that they move towards their dreams.
I’ve been in a book club for several years. During discussions we sometimes get heavy into character flaws and conflicts . . . then we stop talking about in-laws and start discussing the book itself. I recently sent my book club friends an email asking for something lighter—for them to jot down a few of their dreams and wishes. It felt a little funny, like I was talking politics at a cocktail party, but they got right back to me, and I have to say (as I wrote about in my piece Mad Skills), I learned new things about old friends.
Some were funny—Liz has been gluten free for a month, so she described a literal dream from two nights earlier of eating a grilled cheese sandwich, butter dripping from crisp bread.
Some read like letters to faraway places—one friend wants to host the Today Show, another to own a shop selling all things happy and handmade; another dreams of doing mission work.
Some were as distinct as photographs—I was at Carrie’s ranch, mountains on one side, flat lands on the other, weather perfect, crops yielding top dollar. I saw the large cabin, her boots and Wranglers. (No foolin’, this girl can dream—I’d put money down this one is going to happen.)
Most were compartmentalized. Tina sent a to-do wish list: run a marathon, cruise the world, learn another language. But being remembered as a good mom is her dream-of-choice. Liz, despite her hankering for bubbling cheddar, wants a backyard her kids can get lost in. Jordan—right now—is making the time for her family. It’s in the future that she would like to make a difference in somebody else’s life. It’s in the future that she’d like to re-learn the drums, have the chance to sit down in a solitary place and just hammer it out.
One of my dreams is fairly generic. You know the one: I’m at the Telluride Music Festival (or it could be Tanglewood) listening to James Taylor on the main stage when he invites me up to sing back-up to “Millworker.” It has to be this song because even though he recorded it with only one vocal track, it sounds beautiful with harmony, and, in my dreams, I’m just the girl to do it.
But I’ve got more: own a beach house, grow old like Diane Keaton.
And more: publish oodles, write pieces that will make my girls and Dave Barry laugh.
I could go on, but, what I’m finding these days is that I don’t. I really don’t spend enough energy focusing on my dreams.
You may assume, then, that I am successfully and purposefully living in the moment, attentive to The Now, but I am not doing that either. Thoreau writes, to be awake is to be alive, and in that Transcendental sense, I find I am barely keeping my eyes open.
I was obviously awake yesterday morning as I stood at the bus stop, but I will tell you I was not living deliberately in any sort of Walden Pond-way. I was not taking note of the blue bird’s faint silvery warbling, or the geese sailing, or the brooks singing glee to the spring. I was clutching my coffee mug like a life ring.
And later when Lexi and I arrived at the grocery store, I did see that nice lady in the produce aisle as she stood smiling at us while Lexi was chirping away about the Princess of Gardania. I did hear that same nice lady when she chimed, “Enjoy it now because it doesn’t last!” I smiled back, nodded, and thought to myself, I will; I definitely will. But right now I just need to figure out the difference between arugula and kale.
I left the grocery store, slipped a bit on my flip-flop because of a single, gentle rain that had fallen, and I was suddenly reminded of being in Cape Cod the summer before Caroline was born. As I loaded the bags into my car, I recalled a particular morning in Chatham, remembered the dog walkers enjoying coffee, and then – BAM – I was alive. I looked right at Lexi, told her that I would someday take her and her sister to the Cape, and my heart jumped a bit.
It’s funny how a dream can wake you up.
We have a lot to balance, obviously. Our families and jobs demand our attention. Of course it’s about balance. (The word, “deliberate” derives from “Libra,” the scale.) Even Thoreau knew that constantly being in the moment is reaching for something unattainable. Yes, he writes to be awake is to be alive, but he also writes that he never met a man who was quite awake.
Lexi will be in kindergarten next year. I wonder, have I spent enough time taking all of her in, playing Dance Party in the basement, lights off, watching her smile through the strobe-like twirl of a flash light?
And Caroline, almost finished one year of kindergarten—do I really see her now, the gaping gorgeous hole in her grin, and how she earnestly studies flyers, hymnals, street signs, catalogues, no printed word safe from her I’m-reading-now blue eyes?
Thoreau says, live the life you always imagined.
I say, I will. I really will try. But honestly, Henry David, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined these girls of mine.
Thoreau says, go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
I say, arugula looks like spinach, and kale is a bit darker and curlier.
Then I say, I’d like to raise great kids, enjoy good health and happiness, and spend as much time as I can outside in beautiful places.
Hammer it out.
Let life be long.