Remember when you were a little kid and you thought to yourself, as you gazed into the abstraction that was the future, "gosh, in the year 2000, I'll be (enter age here--for me, it was 29) years old. I wonder what my life will be like then!" And you'd let yourself drift off into a day dream of whatever it was you expected your life to be like at that age; for me, it was sitting around all day with college students in a small New England college town, waxing poetic and imparting knowledge about Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare, then returning home after a day of feeling intellectually stimulated, to a loving husband and two or three kids, and maybe a half a dozen cats (in my ideal world, "crazy cat lady" profile fits in perfectly with "well-adjusted wife and mother-of-two" profile, although I know in the real world, those two ideals rarely meet).
Well, I bet you know where I'm going with this one, especially given that it is now nearly ten years after 2000, and I am 37 years old, sitting in a Panera bread on Ventura Blvd in Los Angeles, currently career-less and completely disillusioned by the education field. I did manage to swing the "loving husband" part, but several years off schedule. And my "two or three kids" count is currently running 1-2 behind expectations, and the house has not one cat in it.
I point all that out not to seem disappointed with the way life has turned out thus far, because I truly am not; aside from the intermittent homesickness that can, on a bad day, sideline me, I am really pretty content with the way my life is these days---I have an amazing husband I love, a child I love so much it makes me hurt sometimes and friends who make me laugh and feel well-loved, both here and in every place else I've lived.
But realizing that my initial "fairly tale" expectations of life have, in their entirety, not come to fruition, has given me much to think about lately as I contemplate the coming year and those which will hopefully follow. Having seen this question somewhere out there on the interwebs in the past couple of days, I have found myself wondering, "If I had to describe what I hope for the coming year in one word, what would that word be?" And I've come up with one word that I think speaks to how I hope to live, and that word is: "Mindful"
I remember hearing that word a lot when I was practicing yoga back in New Hampshire in the late 90's, and reading a lot of books by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn and the Dalai Lama. To live mindfully is to be fully present in your daily life, in the little moments, to find purpose and let that purpose drive your actions towards others, yourself, and the world around you. I believe that embracing that idea is part of what drew me out of a serious depression after an awful break up in the mid-90's and took me to the path that led me to Washington, DC, where so much of the happiness in my life was generated.
But day to day life is full of mindless routine and distraction---schedules, predictability and responsibilities all create the opportunity to throw it into "autopilot" and move through the days and weeks without really seeing the world around you. There are moments of clarity, of course, when I'm driving in a particular direction and see the snow-capped mountains in the distance--I'm breathless for a moment at the beauty of it. Or Ethan will smile a certain way that makes my heart swell to the point of busting and I realize that I've never been happier than in that very moment and I want to remember it forever. Or Husband will take my hand while we are walking and I'm suddenly conscious of how deeply I love him and how fortunate I am to have him as my partner in life.
I think to some extent those routines that rob us of the ability to constantly be overcome with the beauty and the love surrounding us serve as a defense mechanism--to be always aware of these things on that intensity level would be exhausting, I think. But there's also the danger of just going through life without ever taking note of the "why" in our actions or the "wow" in our feelings.
So this year I am hoping to live a more mindful life--I hope to be more aware of the motivations behind my actions and to appreciate the beauty and love in the little things that happen every day. I hope to be present emotionally and mentally for Husband and Ethan, as I've not always been in this past year. I need also to be more mindful of myself and my health--there are pounds to be lost, yoga to rediscover and writing ambitions to realize. There is also a community to embrace and new adventures to plan and enjoy. This year I've done a lot of "woulda coulda shoulda" and there's little mindfulness in beating yourself up for all the things you've not done.
My first step will be in the coming week when we open our home to foster kitties. I have long wanted to do something to ease the suffering of homeless, friendless animals (see "crazy cat lady" fantasy above). Now that Abby and Penny are gone (and sorely missed, at least by me), I feel like I can do something for other kitties in need of homes, without trying to replace my little old ladies.
Husband made me promise not to take action until after the New Year, as he really was enjoying those cat-litter-and-fur-ball-heaving-less months from October on. But alas, crazy cat lady can only be contained for so long. And it just so happened that a couple of weeks ago, as Husband, Ethan and I were at Santa Monica's 3rd St Promenade, a place we rarely ever go, we stumbled across a table set up by a no-kill shelter looking for donations and foster family volunteers.
It would have been easy to feel the pang of sadness and longing, throw a couple dollars into the bucket and move on, but I didn't feel like I could. Given the rarity with which we find ourselves in that location, and the haphazard way in which the table was set up in our path, I felt as though it was, (crazy lady alert! crazy lady alert!) the universe giving me a nudge. And so I found myself talking to the woman at the table about fostering cats (she really kind of was a crazy cat lady) and we agreed on two little boy kitties. Brothers who are 2 years old. They arrive next week, and "beside myself" doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling.
I know it will be different from adopting kittens who are cute and cuddly and have never seen a tough moment. I have little to no idea what these guys have been through, how they've been treated in their first two years, or what behavior or health problems they might show up with. I know it could be a challenge; and I know that I'm probably the only one in the house who's really looking forward to the challenge (poor Husband is lamenting, albeit quietly, the return of the litter box and scratched furniture, I know). It would be less work for me to say, "eh, Husband would be happier without cats, so let's just not bother," but that would be a mindless move on my part--having cats in my life and feeling like I am alleviating the suffering of a homeless animal is part of my fiber (it's why I drove to the Manchester, NH Humane Society immediately after seeing Penny, at 8 weeks old, on their public access TV show @ 5pm on a sleety, rainy February afternoon back in '95). Living mindfully would tell me that this is what I should be doing. And so, I am.
Life, thus far, hasn't turned out exactly as I had suspected it would back in those days when the year 2000 seemed like a lifetime away and I had eons to make my dreams come true. As I greet this new year, and as I can see the approaching "middle age" in the not-too-distant future, I'm realizing this year that there are two things of which I am certain: I have the most important element of that long-ago fairy tale--love. And that from here on in, being present and mindful in my daily life will ensure for me that everything else that truly matters will come to fruition, in it's own time, so long as I stay open to it.
Happy New Year.