I wake to a cardinal singing at my window after a semi-existential crisis dream #cardinal #parenting #midlife

Image by Chris Chow from Pixabay

I had been dreaming about being at school. That is not unusual for me. Last night I was back at Bowdoin College, but it really wasn’t anything like the Bowdoin I attended nearly 25 yrs ago. Instead, it felt foreign and strange. I was enrolled in four classes, yet hardly even attended the lectures. I couldn’t seem to remember where my classrooms were, let alone the room number of my dorm room. The dream was filled with angst, reflecting the, well, let’s just call it a semi-existential crisis I’ve been battling these days: What the heck am I doing here and where the heck am I going with my life?

Yep, I know that sounds extreme and dramatic. And, quite frankly it’s something I circle back to from time-to-time. I’m now at the stage of life when my kids are nearly ready to head off to college. As they get ready to embark upon life outside of their childhood home, I can’t help but think about what that means for me.

Once again, I’ve found myself circling back to the idea of returning to school, myself. It doesn’t matter that I’ll be 50 in less than three years, I seem to have a passion for life-long learning. The only thing that tends to hold me back is the money. Which is an underlying block in my current semi-existential crisis.

School seems a foolish thing to think about for myself when my own two kids will be heading out the door in just a few short years. Even though our household income is higher than most, it’s not enough to pay for 4 yrs x 2 kids’ college tuition costs. When my husband recently announced our current rate of college savings and how he had hoped that I would have been able to contribute more through my meager income, I felt a wave of panic and guilt set in. Every dream and hope I had for my life, and our shared life as a family of four, began to dance in spectral forms around me.

I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but I wonder how many other stay-at-home-parents feel the same way and are haunted by similar ghosts of a future that could have been, but never was…

Even though I wouldn’t trade back my time at home with my kids, if I could do it over again I would have a plan in place for this time in my life. I would have thought long and hard about a career that could be picked up again after a long absence, or one that could be nurtured part-time as I nurtured my children full-time from home.

I don’t life in a society that makes it easy for mother (or fathers) to return to the workforce after long leaves of absence, at least not in careers that honor higher degrees of education beyond the high school level. Nor does it assign monetary value to the work that is done by a stay-at-home-caregiver. It is, for the most part, an unpaid and thankless job.

Yet, despite this, I would not trade in my time with my children. I also know they are grateful for my presence in their lives. As the saying goes, it’s nearly impossible to have it all. So we must instead as ask what is enough?

In my present state I have come to realize that I tend to define my own worth too much by monetary values without allowing myself to accept how much value there is to the unpaid work that I do. That’s where my friend the cardinal comes in.

After a night of struggling with my inner-demons, I woke to birdsong. Mind you, it’s the middle of February and temperatures are below freezing when I wake most mornings, including this morning. I am not used to hearing birdsong in the middle of winter outside my window.

At first I was a little annoyed. I rather liked the idea of a few more minutes of sleep on a day when an early rise was not needed. But there was no further sleep to be had. The bird was insistent, and soon after I pulled the plugs from my ears I had a good idea of what type of bird it was. I wasn’t, though, quite expecting it to be so bold.

The cardinal was the first thing I saw as I pulled aside the curtains. Its crimson coat, a bold contrast to the snow-brushed hemlocks as it peered back at me and sang. It was eye-level. The only bird in sight. The only bird singing. Fine, I told it, I’ll look you up in Ted’s book later.

I should not have been surprised by what I read, but somehow I had not recalled that particular bit about the cardinal as a messenger. In the last sentence of Ted Andrew’s description of cardinal in Animal Speak, you will find these words, “…remember that everything you do is of importance.”

I am sharing them here, because if I needed the reminder, perhaps you do too.

#Inspiration #3.2.1 Me Challenge

Sue Vincent of The Daily Echo kindly nominated me for the 3.2.1 Me Challenge, giving me the word “Inspiration” for my topic. Thank you, Sue. Do check out her response to the challenge, “Time.”

 

IMG_9782.jpg
The seemingly inert forms of rocks inspire me, even those found in New England. In this photo, taken at Acadia National Park in Maine, I can see dozens of faces, each with a different story to tell.

 

Did you know “inspiration” not only means “that which spurs creativity and action,” but also the “intake of breath?”  I rather like the link between these two definitions. What inspires you to breathe life in? Fully and completely, capturing its essence as you do so? Connecting your life to its life…Your form to another’s…

I think, perhaps, the key is a connection. Finding that which sparks the synapses to fire across the bridge of singularity. That moment when we inspire the breath and say to ourselves, “ah ha, there is a certain something here I need to explore,” and in that exploration don’t we inevitably discover something about ourselves? A deep-seated longing, perhaps, that we now cannot ignore?

While looking up quotes on inspiration, I came across these words attributed to Bob Dylan,”Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.” I find this rather sad and tend to disagree with it. Are we really that disconnected from life, and, one could extrapolate, the source of the air we breathe?

Mr. Dylan seems to be implying that inspiration is an elusive object, which is hard to obtain. I tend to think of it as just the opposite. Inspiration, I find, is everywhere, waiting for us to take notice. To take in the deep inhale of its life into our cells and allow them to spark fresh awareness. It’s a sad thought to think most of us spend our time breathing stale, shallow breaths without any sense of wonderment, but maybe Bob is onto something here…

While searching for actual quotes on inspiration (rather than “inspiration quotes,” which seem to occur in abundance), I came across this an interview with Ray Bradbury that appeared on Fresh Air, where he stated, “It’s lack that gives us inspiration,” he said. “It’s not fullness. Not ever having driven, I can write better about automobiles than the people who drive them. I have a distance here. … Space travel is another good example. I’m never going to go to Mars but I’ve helped inspire, thank goodness, the people who built the rockets and sent our photographic equipment off to Mars. So it’s always a lack that causes you to write that type of story.”

Again, I find myself in partial agreement. Lack of oxygen quite literally causes us to inspire, adding more air to our lungs. Bradbury, though, seems to be talking about what spurs creative inspiration. The lack of knowledge, causing us to seek. I suppose if we were full of all life, of all the answers to each and every question out there, there may, in fact, be nothing to inspire us. Why draw the breath in if the lungs are already full?

A full brain has nothing else to learn, but really, is that ever really possible? I may think I know the mechanics of driving, having driven for nearly 3 decades, multiple vehicles, with automatic and standard transmissions, yet I was still inspired to drive recently in England and found there was much to be discovered in this adventure of driving on the wrong left side of unfamiliar roads.

The ordinary became extraordinary, as I pushed past fears to find wonderment. Yet one need not, I believe, try driving on the opposite side of the road in a foreign land to find inspiration, one need only look with a little more depth at familiar surroundings, or breath in a little more air.

I often say I travel to England to find magic. In this ancient landscape, there is much that inspires me. It’s virtually effortless to find inspiration there, for me. Yet, here in New England, I find it is easy to fall victim to the mundane, or the Bob Dylan syndrome if you will. Yet, I realize, that is my fault, and not that of the landscape. There is magic in each blade of grass if you are willing to look at it more closely and marvel at the intricacy of its creation. Even the rocks here have much to offer, even those not aligned to the stars.

The key lies in the word itself. Allowing myself to inspire life, and breath deep its essence, even if that life is seemingly inert, there is always something new to take in and discover. Endless layers…endless molecules of air. The lungs always seeking more breath after exhaling that which has not been absorbed by the body.

While writing this post, a male cardinal appeared outside in my Rose of Sharon bush. It created quite a scene, as it flew in and out of the blooms and around the nearby foliage, as though it was trying to get my attention. Later, I thought about the cardinal feather I found years ago and had studied closely in a meditative state as part of a lesson with the Silent Eye School, discovering the feather was not merely red-orange, but filled with all the colors of the rainbow. “Now that’s something to write about,” Sue replied to my discovery.

One might say it was a joy to discover the rainbow in the red feather, and so I’ll leave the post with this word, “joy,” as the next challenge for three nominated bloggers if they choose to accept: Andrea Stephenson of Harvesting Hecate Julianne Victoria of Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and Colleen Briggs of Fragments of Light. Please write a post about “Joy,” including two quotes on the subject and nominate three other bloggers to blog about a word of your choosing.

Thank you again, Sue, for the “inspiration!”

 

IMG_3994