I haven’t said much recently. But our first “real snow” fell yesterday in Cincinnati and I figured I’d use the quiet and calm of the snowy days to finally put a few thoughts together.
The past few months have been rough. I don’t want to go into the specifics here because it’s already been processed and the funk is (hopefully) moving on its way soon enough. But the difficult days have led to a lot of reflecting and self-assessment and big questions about identity and calling.
For as long as I’ve been self-aware enough to realize it, my biggest identity “trap” has always been the question of achievement. This appears in the form of questioning my contribution to the world, how my achievements measure up to those of my peers, and what my career/art/lifestyle resume would say. The big questions come back to me every few months, it seems, and I’ve (mostly) learned to talk them down. I’ve learned the error in valuing myself based on these things alone. And I’ve learned to recognize the way it negatively affects my relationship with the people around me.
But I still want to know that I am “making a difference.” That my contribution matters.
My oldest child turned six last month. I am crazy about my son and I am really enjoying these years of devotion to him and his sisters. But when those questions of personal achievement creep up on me, it’s hard to quantify the value of these years.
My kids are healthy, happy, and thriving.
But are a few decent kids really enough of a contribution?
Will I let it be enough?
I’ve also been thinking a lot about public expression, about social media, about the things we say and do and show online and why we do it. Why do we take so many photographs of ourselves? Of our children? Of the hip clothes we wore today or our newest home gadget or the awesome meal we just made? Why do I feel the need to make an “official statement” about every news story and viral conversation? Does the world really need to know what I think about women wearing yoga pants? (The answer: no.)
This has all underscored, to me, how desperately disconnected we all are. The world of online validation does not make me feel better about myself, how well I executed our last meal, and how well I dress my children. It just makes me feel lonely. Because, you see, I don’t want to show you a picture of last night’s meal or a picture of my kids. I want you to share that meal with me at our table. To talk with me, in real time, about the news and the world and what I think about women wearing yoga pants. And I want you to know my kids. I want you to hear my son’s jokes and my daughters’ songs.
I want to learn how to experience life with other people–not just show them my life online. But I’ve noticed that digital prowess does not translate into social capital. And it doesn’t breed true community. I am not a better wife, mother, or friend thanks to my online persona. In fact, I am sometimes worse because of it. I actually find it harder to connect in real life.
Six years ago, I was staring a new baby in the eyes, amazed by how much I could love someone I didn’t even know. I’m learning that it doesn’t matter if the world of Instagram thinks I love him. It doesn’t matter how many pictures I take of him or memories I keep tucked in a box under the stairs. Time is short and things move fast. He needs to know that I love him now.
It’s the same with all relationships–my husband, my family, my friends, my neighborhood, and my city.
(Somewhat) related: I have a few friends who are trying to navigate the world of dating in their 30’s. And dating today is, apparently, quite a bit different from dating even twenty years ago. Men don’t call. Everyone texts. Relationships begin online and don’t transition well into real life and real conversations.
My heart breaks for my friends who are single and want a partner, but can’t seem to connect with anyone. And, yet, here I am. Married to a wonderful man. And I choose to disengage for the sake of self-preservation and emotional independence. It seems silly, doesn’t it? Silly and sad.
We are so blessed and we don’t even know it.
Have you been to Over-the-Rhine lately?
This neighborhood is alive, so alive that I sometimes feel like a kid watching the merry-go-round at the playground, not sure I move quickly enough to jump on.
I wonder if this neighborhood is leaving me behind. I wonder if there is a role for me to play, if there is anything left for me to contribute. For ten years I’ve loved and worked in this neighborhood. And for seven years I’ve lived here. And if I feel this way after living here only 7 years, how do longer-term residents feel about all the changes?
Do all relationships get the seven-year-itch?
Even our relationships to a place?
How can you love a city through its changes?
The past year has forced my husband and I to reflect a lot on our calling, specifically to this place. Did I ever tell you that we moved here to plant a church? Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you the whole story. (In person.)
So now we ask: is our call to a specific mission, or to a place, or to a people? Again, how can you love a city through its changes? Through the seasons? Through its growth and the ebb and flow of development and the insecurities born from watching the thing that you love walk on without you?
This city doesn’t need me. And that’s a good thing. Because, like I said above, I need to get over myself and my compulsive need to make a contribution. I need to love this city for what it is, not for what I want to make it. This has been an important lesson to learn.
In case it’s not clear, the past year has been full of questions for me.
How can I be a better wife? A better mother? A better friend, daughter, and sister? A better neighbor?
What if I never write another blog? Or another song? Or another smartass Facebook update? Will I feel like a lesser version of myself? Why?
Can I learn to appreciate the small influence I have, where I am, with the people that need me most?
Can I embrace the relationships I’ve been given, rather than the ones I wish I had?
Can I exercise my voice in small circles, with people who are actually listening and learning and teaching me, as well?
Can I balance my responsibility to the most important people in my life with my desire for a contribution to the world outside my door?
I know these things might seem (mostly) unrelated, but they add up to something significant. Namely: where do we go from here? How much of this story is still left to be played-out?
This year marks my tenth anniversary in Cincinnati. I’m hoping that it brings a renewed love for this place, stronger bonds with the people I love, and a little clarity about how I can contribute to making it all better.
Making all of it better, including myself.
3 thoughts on “(Mostly) Unrelated Thoughts”
Great contributions are sometimes measured over generations, which does not feed the modern social media ego very well. Random example that comes to mind is founding father George Mason, who was actually George Mason IV and came from a line of distinguished Virginia landowners and businessmen. His eldest son George Mason V was a militia leader in the revolution and Virginia delegate to the convention. All five men had a mother who shaped their health, worldview, manners, religion, etc. and progressively over generations they helped shape the destiny of Virginia. If we take stock of how many lifetimes our ancestors sacrificed to get us where we are now, it gives us perspective on how much we can realistically expect to influence the world in one lifetime, which in my example is that the founders of this particular country didn’t just magically hatch out of an egg and change the world in 10 years, they were the inheritors of 150 years of Anglo-American civilization on the east coast.
We need you in Middletown.
I’m no expert. I can’t even remember who said this. ‘the measure of stress is the distance between what you expect to accomplish and what is actually accomplished.’ In my own personal failures the stress distance was a pre warning for me to accept I had to invest more of my Christian Beatitudes and personality into the ‘distance’. Some challenges you have to ignore so you can concentrate many qualities and resources of your true inside life.