Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recipe for Stress-Relief: Scout Finch, Timshel, and some Bad Medicine

If I told you that these last several weeks have been stressful, it would be like me telling you that I sort of like coffee. Or that Sam Heughan (the guy who plays Jamie Fraser on Outlander) is mildly attractive. Understatements of the year.

Life has exploded with frenetic activity, and I feel like if someone created a time lapse video of us these past weeks, it would look like the hectic busyness of an ant hill in full construction mode. School is ending for the year and that means concerts, activities, awards banquets. On Saturday, Brie graduated from the University of Iowa. I still can’t quite absorb the fact that my baby girl is a college graduate. She’s also engaged to be married. Here she is with her adorable fiancée.


Just in case that’s not enough emotional kryptonite to bring me to my knees, Jake graduates from high school this coming weekend. There have been gifts to buy, parties to plan, invitations to create and mail, and poster boards to create and cry over. Speaking of which, take a look:

Fun way to spend a Saturday night. Pass the Kleenex!

Those are all of Jake’s birthdays. Talk about a trigger for a good, old-fashioned, sentimental ugly cry.

When we get through Jake’s graduation, we will have about 5 weeks before Brie’s wedding. I’m mostly ostriching that event for now in order to get everything else done. About a week after the wedding, we leave on Jake’s graduation trip to Europe. But I won’t complain about trip planning, because that makes me sound like an asshole. Just a few weeks after we get home from our trip, Jake will move away to college.

Stressful, yes. Just a bit. I kind of feel like a beach ball with a small hole in it. My emotions have been slowly seeping out of me gradually, and every once in a while, someone puts pressure on the beach ball and a bunch of them escape at once. That’s not a pretty sight. I’ve been coping the best way I know how, by being as organized as I can, prioritizing my tasks, eating well and exercising, and for some strange reason, going back to high school in my mind.

I recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird followed by East of Eden. Both books were favorites of mine in high school. I hadn’t read TKaM in 25 years or so, which made it like reading it for the first time. Except this time, I have a quarter of a century’s worth of additional life experience that made Scout’s story resonate with a vibration that nearly knocked me senseless. Harper Lee’s observations as told through the eyes of Scout about wrecked me. Case in point, this description of Mrs. Dubose:

“She was horrible. Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin.”

Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase? Have you ever read anything more perfect than that?


And then I read East of Eden. I can’t adequately describe how this book makes me feel. It is my BBF (Best Book Forever) and I read it every 5 years or so. The novel is about the internal struggle of good vs. evil as you might expect from the title. There’s certainly a biblical Adam and Eve/Cain and Abel theme that runs through the book. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about trying to squash jealousy like a spider, and building an image of someone that blocks your view of who they truly are. It’s about struggling with uncertainty, and wrestling with the thoughts of fate vs. free will. But mostly it’s about choice. Timshel. Thank you, Steinbeck, for acquainting me with that word:

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—'Thou mayest'—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if "Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.”

Reading these stories has been a welcome escape during this stressful time. It kind of feels like having lunch with my best friend. When lost in those pages, I am comforted, soothed, and my feet stay anchored to the ground. Which is important, because the alternative is for me to fly up into the sky like an untethered helium balloon.

I’ve also been revisiting music from my high school years. Yesterday was busy and I only had a little over an hour between work and Jake’s final chorus and band concert, so I threw on my running clothes and ran a few miles. I decided to listen to Bon Jovi’s album New Jersey. It was a hit in 1989 or so, and back then I memorized every single word of every song. Last night, as the physical effort of my run emptied my brain of its pinball machine thoughts, the music played loudly in my ears and filled it with a rush of feelings.

I listened to these songs so many times as a teenager. The lyrics are cheesy, and there’s nothing complex or impressive about the arrangement. My husband laughs at me, embarrassed at my terrible taste in music when I play Bon Jovi. I wasn’t listening last night because of the creativity or the technical musicality of the songs. I was listening because it brought me back to the time of my life when I was my son’s age: on the cusp of adulthood, waiting for my life to begin. I had so many ideas about what being an adult would mean. Some of them were spookily accurate. Others were naïve, missing the mark by a mile.

Last night as I ran to those Bon Jovi songs, breathless with the exertion of physical strain while the beat of my shoes synced with the rhythm of Tico Torres’ drums, my mind was, if only for those moments, clear and happy and at peace. My 17-year-old self gave 42-year-old me a high five, told me that I’m, like, totally rad, that I’m going to survive this, and that it’s ok that life is moving faster than a goddamn airliner. Because that’s what it’s supposed to do. I like that girl. She’s pretty rad, too.