Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Life of the Mind

I have an entire bookshelf devoted to my non-fiction books, most of which I gathered during college and graduate school. Which basically means they have been gathering dust for years.

Dusty relics of an earlier time
Last year when I cleaned my room, I found a few old papers and tests from graduate school days. I sat on my floor and flipped through them. I recognized my handwriting on the tests, identified my name on the papers, but could not for the life of me remember ever being able to pen such thoughts, to string together such complex ideas, to write in such sophistication. It was a bit of an out-of-body experience.

In those old days I studied, and received, a Masters degree in Theology. Pretty heady stuff. I lived a Life of the Mind. During those days, my work consisted of reading, meditating, writing, participating in heady discussions with my peers, contemplation, and prayer. 3/4ths of my time was spent in the Life of the Mind.

When I got married and started having children, I knew the Life of the Mind could no longer be my sole work. In fact, I knew it must be put off for a season or two. I determined to continue intellectual and spiritual reading, even for just 10 minutes a day.

10 minutes a day becomes a token 10 minutes when you have three children under 5 years old. There are multiple diapers to change, minds to grow, games to play, tantrums to quell, and life to live. When they are older, I thought.

Now they are older (not to mention #4 came along). And now my days are consumed with educating them, driving them, cooking for them, cleaning, and all the other million mundane things that make up the life of a wife and mother (add in the  usually part-time job to work and volunteer stuff to do). I know all about the "Domestic Monastery", and it is beautiful; but it is a stern taskmaster.

Earlier this year, I realized I was withering away in my mind. I never - never - had more than 10 or 15 minutes to spend reading something meaty or thinking or contemplating or praying. And this has been my way of life for 16 years.

Not that I am complaining - I willingly and freely chose my life. I love being a mother - it is the absolute best part of me. But for someone who enjoys thinking and learning and studying, it is hard to be separated from those things for so long.

I did some writing several years back. I published some magazine articles, one booklet, and many web articles. But, like everything else concerned with the Life of the Mind, I had to make the decision to put that aside, as well. It was taking up so much of my time. I had boys to teach and a house to run.

Earlier this year, I had a mini-epiphany - I need the Life of the Mind again. For me, this is important. It may only be a small part of my day, but it needs to become part of my day again. With no time to really think about things, to read and meditate, to learn and contemplate, I have been like a car with its engine revving for years. My mind is going 24/7, but with small things.

Right now I am working on lesson plans for my new Tolkien/Lord of the Rings class. This subject is one of my favorites. It is the third time I am teaching it. This time, I have several repeat students, so I am doing new lesson plans - a part two, if you will. In order to prepare for this, I do a lot of reading. I currently have ten books, 2 binders with supplemental papers, two spiral notebooks with notes, and a computer on my table - all of which I am using. I have spent several weeks just reading. Reading and thinking. And taking notes.

All Tolkien; All the time.

No - it will not all go to my class. This is the way I educate myself; the way I continue learning, so I can teach, so I can share, so I can have something to give.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day on one handout. It took that long to read, to fact-check, to organize my thoughts, to finish. Writing takes time. Even this blog has taken up a great deal of my morning. Of course, I stop to answer the phone, to take care of email business, to talk to the middle boys about robots, and to readjust the Ninja's face mask. All in a day's work.

How can I mind stopping for this????

And I love it all. I love my mundane life - I love taking care of my family (at least, in theory!), I love teaching, I love my little jobs outside the house, I love the business of family life. But, I also used to love the Life of the Mind. And I am ready to fall in love with it all over again.

Oh, the irony.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Legacy of Grief

This past Saturday, I attended the memorial service for a man who lost his battle with cancer. I did not know him personally, but, as with any funeral I attend, I learned a lot about him during the service. I loved what I heard, and sat there wishing I had known him.

I do know his wife. My sweet friend, Sherryl, walked this long, painful, bitter walk with her husband. She has shared her ups and downs, announced updates, and requested prayers on facebook, allowing her friends to walk this with her, even in a small way. I know she and her family have been in my daily prayers for a while now.

Sherryl is not grieving alone. In addition to all her family and friends, she has two young sons.

Losing a parent is almost always hard. Losing a parent while you are still a child yourself is unbearably difficult. And it never, ever leaves you.

The biggest gift a parent can give their child in a time a mourning is to show them how to grieve and, even more importantly, how to hope. Grief is terrifying for children. It is overwhelming and scary and loud and noisy and all-consuming. But worse is when grief begins to lose its stronghold. Then, life seems terrifying. Are you supposed to laugh? Is it okay to smile? Are you a monster if you make a joke? Do something fun? Will you lose your beloved if you stop concentrating on grief for a moment? What about when your memory of their face becomes blurred? The earth seems to shake when you can no longer recall their voice in your mind.

A child who loses their parent during childhood will only ever have a child's memory of that parent.

As I watched Sherryl on Saturday, she cried; she hugged; she smiled; she looked like she would die herself; she looked strong; she looked weak. Most of all, the love for her two sons shone through. Her younger son gave a moving testimony to his father. When he was finished, he returned to a loving embrace from his tearful mother.

And I thought - she has no idea what she is doing. She has no idea the gift she is giving her sons.

As Sherryl walks this long, difficult road of picking up her life again, she is leading her children. She is testifying to them how to be in pain, yet hope. How to cry, yet live. How to move on yet never forget. How to doubt, yet cling to faith.

I am sure Sherryl does not know this. I am sure she feels like she is stumbling through this whole survival thing, blindly. I am sure she feels she is making mistake after mistake. But, she isn't. She is being a gift to her children. One they will remember for the rest of their lives.

It is August - the month I always remember my father's passing, one week before my 11th birthday. It never leaves you.