[Quiet Thoughts] The Challenge of This First Month

Photo: A moment from the only purely blissful moment that I had this month. I took Ursa Minor to the Paul Revere Capture Site in Minute Man National Park one morning earlier this month while Ursa Major was in preschool. Ursa Minor and I had gone to Starbucks first (a rare treat) and then I just decided to pop over to the National Park because it was a relatively warm day and I wanted to be outside. What I got was a little bit of time to read up on some history and what my child frolic. The history didn’t matter to him. What mattered to him was that he got to run around and play, he was outside, he got to see some cars and trucks, and he was with mommy. It was a really joyous moment, one that I’ll always cherish, especially because it was the only time this month when I was totally relaxed, unabashedly happy, and fully unburdened.


A younger me, after being scolded for doing sub-par work in a  high school math class: “I just want this to be easy. Why can’t this stuff just be easy?”

My father, impatient with my foolishness: “We don’t do things because they are easy. Never seek easy. You should seek to do the things that you know to be hard.”

He made me find the original Kennedy quote, write it out, and stick it in a prominent place in my math notebook. I passed the class (barely), but more importantly, I found a motto that has stuck with me. I often tell people that I don’t do things because they are easy. I’d rather do the things that are challenging. But in this time of extreme challenge, I’m not going to lie, my motto has turned a little stale. I just haven’t been able to glean the same motivation from it. Indeed, it has made me angry at points (when father has chosen to remind me of it over the phone recently, for example).

It is funny how thing talismans of childhood and adolescence fall away as you grow into adulthood. The ones that somehow manage to stay with you often evolve into even more beautiful and powerful things. A new thought and theme has emerged for me in the last few week, distilled into a single sentence:

“Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

The thought came in an email that I sent to a good friend informing him that we’d successfully closed on our house. I had titled it “Nothing is ever easy.” He, wisely, corrected me:

“I believe that the full aphorism is ‘nothing worth doing is ever easy.'”

What neither of us could know is that the journey, from close to (stuff) move-in and (actual) move-in would present just as much of a challenge as the actual house acquisition. What he couldn’t know is how much I took that little line to heart. There have been times over these last months when I have had to stop and repeat it. When men weren’t coming to my house to work for whatever reason, I’d look in the mirror and say “It’s worth doing, so it isn’t easy.” When the boys were being crazy and I thought I wanted to leave motherhood behind, I’d put my hands on my hips and look at the ceiling huffing, “This isn’t easy. It’s worth doing. But damn, it isn’t easy.” And as I’ve worked all month on this short story that I want to submit to Lightspeed, after I received some encouraging words from my sister, I wrote: “This is the challenge I chose. It’s going to be so worth it to press the ‘submit’ button, even if the process isn’t easy.”

Today is the last day of January. I don’t know about you, but I can honestly say that this month was wasted on survival and not thriving.

Let me be more blunt: January straight up kicked my ass.

I started this month with a task-list for my year. I’ve accomplished very few things on that list. Some things are, admittedly, long-term projects. But others, (reading 25 books, learn to knit, be a better friend and neighbor…) have gone by the wayside. I’ve been working on the same short story for a month–I’ve probably dedicated some 20,000 words to it–and I still haven’t been able to make it to the end of Draft 1. That thing is due February 14th. My first submission ever, and I probably won’t make it…

I want, very much, to sit here on the 31st of January and just tear my task-list to pieces (or, really, delete that post). It was foolish to make myself such a list. Life happens and I have no control over it.  But the universe has seen fit to send me ample signs to check my attitude.

When President Obama spoke during his State of the Union address about Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg and his story of service, suffering and now unbelievable recovery, he chose to quote the young hero directly:

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

The entire chamber stood to honor him with the longest ovation of the night. The quote gave me (and I’m sure many others) goosebumps, and as the President concluded his speech with reminders that, indeed, “America has not come easy,” I thought about how powerful it is to tackle my challenges as an individual while also focused on the challenges that we face as a collective. I thought about how easy it is to lose patience when the challenge is seemingly insurmountable. When life is good and the living is easy, we forget about all of the labors that it took to get there. So when things get challenging again, we lose our patience and focus, and we also start looking inward instead of accepting the kindnesses and support of the community around us. Sometimes, when it’s hard, we just make it harder.

Today is January 31st, and I admit that I’m a woman who lost her patience and focus this month. Despite my efforts, I did not meet my goals and I did not find ways to thrive.I forgot that we are never alone in our labors. We are always part of a community. I made it harder for myself.

Tomorrow is February 1st. A new month, a new opportunity to do well, to create a sense of accomplishment, to check some things off of this year’s task list. To start up on a resolution that you really and actually wanted to keep. Tomorrow is the great big reset button after reality (and the polar vortex) smacked you all up and down the month of January. Tomorrow is the best day of the year (so far).

Tomorrow, I’m going to wake up early, open up the novel that I wrote in November and December and begin the process of editing it. Because I’m pressing the publish button in September. After an hour of that, I’m going to open up the short story that I’ve been working on for a month, and I’m going to keep on pushing…because I haven’t failed to meet this deadline until February 15th. If I fail, I want to say that I worked my ass off until 11:59pm on February 14th and just didn’t pull it off. Tomorrow, I’m going to send an email to Rose thanking her for the coffee we had on Thursday and then proposing a plan to see her again this week or next for some knitting during preschool. I’m going to email three former co-workers and make plans to see them within the next month, too. I’m going to unpack some boxes, look at my house and pick two things to organize. Tomorrow, I’m going to finish The Orchardist (a book I’ve decided I didn’t like after all).

Because I want to get to February 28th feeling like I made a dent in the challenges I put up for myself.

My Quiet Thoughts are, as my President so beautifully stated, planted firmly in today but cast toward tomorrow. Today, I know that I’m a woman who is tired but has some fight left in her. Tomorrow, I have plans to get a jump-start on my ambitions.

My hopes are that you can do the same. That, if you need it, you too can restart and jump-start your ambitions first thing tomorrow. We are often worthy of the challenges we choose to take on, and to abandon them after a month is foolish indeed. Stay focused. Keep going.

On this cold (but not so cold) Friday, I wish you the opportunity to take up a plan, take a deep breath (or exhale if you’ve been holding your breath all month) and press the reset button. I wish you the calm of a pretty sunset over a winter scene, or the serenity of a good cup of tea in a favorite chair. I wish you a moment to revisit about a talisman of your life, from childhood or adolescence, to feel its warmth and remember its lessons. I wish you the joy of knowing that you may have had a bad month (or day) (or moment) but that tomorrow is just what you need to be better.

Take Care. If you are partying for the Superbowl, be careful (and responsible!) out there. If you are in a warm place, can you please send some of that nice warm air to Massachusetts? I’d be grateful.

See you Monday.


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