Friday, July 15, 2016
Moving the World
My mother always believed that sometimes (only a special sometimes and certainly never always) you had to reward yourself for a job well done because it would give you the courage to keep moving forward. She called it "an Artichoke for the Soul." My best and happiest memory from when I was little is about one of those Artichokes.
When I was in second grade, I was out of school for three months because I had German measles, scarlet fever, and the mumps one right after the other. At the same time, my sister came down with double pneumonia. Shortly thereafter, Mother caught the mumps from me and that kept her from working the three jobs that supported our little family of four (Nana, Mother, sister, and me). My grandmother Nana, who was usually in charge of the household and was not accustomed to having a job, started clerking at the local pharmacy to help out but money was in very short supply. It was months before we got back on our feet financially so we did a lot of doing without.
One night, my mother called a family meeting. We had caught up on the bills, so it was time for an Artichoke for the Soul but we had to choose: we could eat nice family meals for the week or we could splurge on a special meal at the Chinese restaurant and then have beans on toast for supper for the rest of the week. We chose Chinese, of course. I remember everything I ate that night. But I entirely fail to recall the beans that came in the days after.
You see, an Artichoke for the Soul means nothing unless you've labored for it, unless you are willing to make the hard choice to grasp it even though you know that there will still be more work to do afterward. If life is only a series of treats, then the treats mean nothing at all.
It's probably the best lesson my mother ever taught me.
Yesterday, I arranged something of an Artichoke for myself. Now, it wouldn't mean anything to anyone else. But I know what I did.
I've been working very hard to sort things out--moving furniture, trying to get so many things in order, trying to get my life in general in order. It has been a struggle, and I've been feeling panicked. The worst thing is that the whole house has become such a mess that I truly feared that I could never clean it up. I knew what I really should do next: get busy with business and let the house wait. But I felt strongly that in order to move forward with anything at all, I needed an island of peace more than I needed to work--that island would be my Artichoke and I'd earn it while facing the mess demons in my dining room. I could carry on working with a stronger will if I had earned that Artichoke.
The dining room is my favorite place in the house, and that's because I love my antique English oak dining table. The problem was that it was surrounded by a sea of debris (both good and not good) from when I had pneumonia this spring and from when I was helping my friend but I simply hadn't gotten around to digging it out. And it was really upsetting me.
When I moved the bookshelf into the dining room the other day, it changed the room in a way that excited my imagination. I have always had the feeling that kids used to do their homework at that antique table--it's about 150 years old so surely someone must have used it for their studies sometimes. There had already been one bookshelf in the dining room but now with two.....well, it began to take on the air of a sort of reading room.
Even though I felt distressed at the thought of just dumping all the dining room debris on top of all of the other debris that I had already dumped in the living room from the room change, I decided to go for it. At least the worst mess would be consolidated into one space where I could deal with it later one step at a time.
So I slid Arashi's Japonism into the CD player, put Tsutaetai Koto (the cheeriest-sounding song ever!) on repeat, and I got digging in spite of the fact that I absolutely intimidated by what I was taking on. It was hard work and there were quite a few moments that I really did not want to keep going but I refused to quit.
A couple of hours, several bags of trash taken out, and a ton of junk sent to the living room later, I have my Artichoke: a tidy dining/reading room that makes me smile.
I set up a table for my world globe--of course you'd want a globe in a reading room! (Looking at pictures is interesting--it makes me realize that I've forgotten to hide the electrical cord and I still have to vacuum.)
I put a dictionary and a little notepad on the dictionary stand. Even the teddy bear seems happy about it all--besides, I gave him a new bow for summer-wear while I was tidying up.
It would all mean nothing if it didn't require hard work and the willingness to overcome fear and frustration. When you work through a battle, it builds the strength to face the next hurdle that you're bound to face. It's worthwhile to do the hard stuff, and that's what makes the Artichoke so sweet.
Life is good.
But we have to remember that we are responsible for making it that way. Now I can just go look at the dining/reading room when I need a reminder or I can stay there for awhile when I simply need a moment of peace with a book.