After lunch on Sunday, I said I was sleepy.”Lie in the hammock, Mom,” the kids said. “It’s Mother’s Day. You should relax.”I took their advice. After scooping up my pillow and an old flowered comforter from my bedroom, I headed through the living room, where I snagged a bag of books on my way to the back yard. I spread the comforter over the ropes and then hopped onto the hammock. It swayed for quite a while, then slowed. Once I was relatively stable, I reached into my bag and pulled out a book: Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.All afternoon, I lay in that hammock, reading that book, sensing situational irony.In the book, Miller describes the process of working with two guys, a filmmaker and cinematographer, to edit his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, into a movie.The idea is that this memoir must be revised from a series of thoughts and essays to form a somewhat fictionalized narrative, complete with compelling characters, a storyline that sustains interest, and a theme (and resolution) that satisfies.The three guys struggle to get started, to find the story.The filmmaker, Steve, explains that in a story, “there is a purpose in every scene, in every line of dialogue. A movie is going somewhere.”The cinematographer, Ben, says, “What Steve is trying to say…is that your real life is boring” (25).I certainly couldn’t depict a scene from my life to better represent that statement. At that moment, I was a suburban mom of four wrapped in a floral comforter, swaying in a hammock.Your real life is boring.Unlike my life, Miller’s real-life storyline certainly picked up. He shifted from sleeping in with no particular purpose or plan for his life, to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, cycling across the nation to raise money for clean water, hiking the Columbia River Gorge, and kayaking up the Jervis Inlet in British Columbia. He contacted his dad, whom had never known, and met up with him in Indiana, where he forgave him for leaving the family. He started The Mentoring Project, serves on the President’s task force on Fatherhood and Healthy Families, teaches a course designed to help people understand and organize their lives using the elements of story (similar to his personal journey chronicled in this book). He speaks, blogs, tweets, writes.He does all that. Oh, and he managed to finish that movie script, too.I guess he pretty successfully edited his life.After reading the last lines of A Million Miles, I stuffed it in the bag and stared up at the tree branches. Late afternoon sunlight streaked over the roof of the house and hit the upper branches of the tree.My husband came out to check on me.”Our lives are boring,” I said.”Are they?”I stared at scraps of blue sky visible through the leaves. “Look at me!” I exclaimed. “I’ve been lying on a hammock all day by myself, reading a book.””Did you enjoy it?””I loved it.””Then it’s not boring.””But…”My husband opened the porch door and came out to the hammock. “And four kids? That’s an adventure.””I suppose.””I just dug out the garden so we can plant.””That’s not an adventure.””I know. But it’s good, isn’t it?””Yes, it’s very good.”He grinned and left to go jogging. I stayed in the hammock and stared a while longer, wondering.
As one of my daughters works on a leaf collection for her biology class, I’m remembering how much I enjoyed collecting and identifying leaves when I was young.Her assignment inspired me, so I decided to start again as an adult. Instead of pressing and mounting leaves in a scrapbook, however, I plan to display them digitally—a virtual leaf collection.The only problem so far? It’s harder than I remembered to figure out the precise species. This oak, for example: what kind is it? And this cedar. Instead of giving up identifying the trees in my area, I plan to ask around. Because I’m curious.And I like to learn.
While walking through the neighborhood snapping pictures of leaves, I noticed all the flowers in bloom.Just as I am attempting to create a virtual leaf collection, it’s kind of fun to assemble some virtual bouquets, as well. Love these cheery, casual daisies. But the peonies? Spectacular!
Last week I described a writing exercise called a “Comment Box Essay.” I intended to post one on Monday, but the week expanded, filling like a sponge, squeezing out my good intentions. Next thing you know, I wrote a long response to an article at The High Calling and left it in the comments.And then I realized, “Hey! I think I just wrote a Comment Box Essay!”(See the essay—kind of a personal, reflective essay, I guess—below, under “Reacting”)
Bradley’s post on Tuesday at The High Calling reminded me of my first job as a library page.My work was to shelve returned books, “read” the shelves (which was to ensure that books were in their proper order so patrons could find them), and check out books at the counter. While reading shelves, we were expected to pull all of the books to the edge and line them up straight, making them easy to reach.The library was like heaven to me: free access to all those books, all that knowledge, all those stories. I was delighted to do the boring tasks of getting those books in the right place, pulling them to the edge, reorganizing to perfection. During that job, I was helping people like me, who were always on the prowl for a new title. I served people. I appreciated the work of a library.For that brief time in my life, my work as a library page was both job and calling: I was tickled to get a paycheck, so I appreciated that it was a job; but I understood how I was serving the community. I loved it so much, I almost pursued a degree in library science.I think it met all the criteria mentioned in the article to qualify as a calling: (1) I emphasized service; (2) I focused on excellence and “craftsmanship” in my work (not sure about the craftsmanship of library work, but I occasionally got to repair books with thick, clear tape, and I took great pains to do a good job so that the book got a second life); and (3) I de-emphasized money.Even today, when I am nothing more than an everyday patron, I have reached up to straighten chaotic shelves at the library. Sometimes, while I’m browsing, I reach in and pull the books to the edge, making sure they are all lined up, easy to access, nice and straight.
* * * * *
Notebook image by Ann Kroeker. All rights reserved. You may “pin” in a way that links back to this post.