Letting Go Of “Lack”

Ugh. Whenever I avoid writing about something, all my other topics go cold until I tackle the one demanding expression.

It starts with Umpqua.

See? I don’t want to type any further than that. Umpqua Community College and the shooting there on October 1.

All of the mass shootings, going all the way back to Springfield in 1998, have been horrendous and left my gut and heart aching, but Umpqua almost felt like it happened in my own living room. I taught English at a community college for 12 years, so my brain replaced any images from the Umpqua tragedy with my own beloved colleagues and students. Seeing them terrified or harmed left my physically shaking for days, and I stopped writing.

It was just too much.

But then, a month later, friends and family came out in droves for my Carrot Condo launch party, and I felt restored and buoyed by friendship and love and camaraderie.

Then Paris happened.

Then, something I’ve been pondering for a few years came more into focus, but I’m afraid I will sound entitled and foolish describing it. Nevertheless, it’s what’s demanding to be written:

When I think of Umpqua, of Paris, of all the refugees displaced and homeless, I think: I must fully enjoy my life! I must stop fretting about tomorrow or striving to improve this and that. I must be right here, fully engaging with the life in front of me, whether I’m sipping a cup of coffee, changing a diaper, or washing dishes after a long day.

These day-to-day moments are what make a life, and the attitude with which we embrace them determines our quality of life. It’s these moments that have been stolen from so many people terrorized at a cafe, driven from their homes, or killed in a classroom.

If I imagine my life as I know it today taken from me, how I would regret the hours I’ve spent worrying about the paint peeling on our ceiling instead of celebrating the fact that we live in a cozy little house. How I would lament the energy I’ve put into wondering if I ought to lose a few pounds instead of savoring the chocolate chips cookies and fresh apples dipped in peanut butter.

I used to let worries about the possibility of calamity erase the very real comfort of the moment, but not anymore.

Here’s what I mean — a 12-year-old Syrian refugee named Hana has spent three years in a camp doing hard labor as a result of her family seeking safety. “Why, Hana often wondered, had she not appreciated school back in Syria?” The November 8, 2015 New York Times Magazine published images and stories of three of the 30 million child refugees around the world. What they miss, what they long for, are the things I used to only half experience because I was so distracted worrying and striving and straining to be something else.

Sitting at your own kitchen table in your own kitchen with a friend or by yourself with a cup of coffee should not be a luxury, but it is for far too many people right now, so I will start treating it as a luxury.

I don’t mean I’ll be a glutton, only that I am going to savor the simple things as much as I can because they are the things I would miss if tragedy struck.

Fear makes me stingy and uptight. I turn down the heat and shiver all day because I’m afraid there won’t be enough … enough what and for how long? Enough heat to last my life time? Enough money to pay the heating bill?

More than twenty years ago, a friend shocked me by saying disdainfully, “You come from such a place of lack.”

I pondered that for years. She was right. I’ve often been so focused on what I lack, that I completely negate what I actually have.

But then–Umpqua, Paris, refugees homeless worldwide, homeless camps right here in Portland under bridges and highway overpasses.

I will continue doing the little things I can to help ease the problems — reading Street Roots, for example, has given me quite a lot of hope. It’s easy to hear news about all the horrific problems in the world, and Street Roots tackles these issues too, but it reports about the people and agencies and communities working to improve and solve issues. I did not expect a paper focused on homelessness to leave me so encouraged.

But I’m also going to enjoy my life. Appreciate what I have rather than trying to improve it. Notice abundance rather than deficiency. Turn up the heat. Eat the cookies. Read a good book. Watch a good movie. Stay up late because the conversation’s so great. Try to never, ever, feel sorry for myself because my little discomforts are mild and manageable compared to the loss of all the little things that make a life good.

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9 Responses to Letting Go Of “Lack”

  1. Deb N says:

    Wow. I think I’ll go turn up the heat. ☺️ Great piece.

    • TRISTA says:

      I still feel both guilty (taking more than my fair share) and worried (can we pay the bill?) when I turn it up, but I’m doing it and enjoying the moment.

  2. Laurene says:

    Thanks, Trista! I needed this!

  3. EcoCatLady says:

    I love, Love, LOVE this post.

    One of the things I worry about the most is climate change. Sometimes I fall into a depression of sorts, thinking about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations. It just seems like such a tragedy that we’re destroying the planet.

    But when I really think about it, what seems like an even bigger tragedy is that we’re trashing the planet so we can sustain our “way of life” – but our “way of life” doesn’t even seem to make most of us very happy! And it’s not just that we whine and complain about first world problems – it’s that we live in a world that doesn’t want us to accept our own humanity, an economic system that quite literally depends on discontentment in order to survive.

    Anyhow, I’m sort of rambling here. I guess I just think that we spend so much of our lives wrapped up in a big blanket of suffering… and so much of what we try to do to “fight back” against the craziness of our society involves taking on an even heavier burden. We try to hold ourselves to higher standards, do the “right” thing, shop local, buy organic, bla, bla, bla…. But the great irony is that the single most powerful thing we can do is to live every day appreciating the incredible luxuries that are all around us, and to truly experience the simple joys of our incredibly privileged place in history. I think if people were really able to appreciate the amazing gift of this life we’re leading, they wouldn’t feel the need or desire to “keep up with the Joneses” or buy a Hummer, or any of the other ridiculous things that fuel our wasteful society.

    • TRISTA says:

      So great to hear from you, Eco Cat Lady!!!! As usual, I love what you have to say. Yes. The more I shut out certain things from my life (magazines, consumer websites, lots of advertising), the more I discover how little I need to feel happy and content and fulfilled. And actually, how little of that is anything material (except home and food). However, as soon as I stop in a shop like Target or swing by the mall for one thing, I’m drawn to nearly everything: new tops! new shoes! a dress! (I never, ever wear dresses, and yet, there I am, caressing the pretty hemline.) But, when put against the backdrop of so many horrible situations people are enduring, I know none of that stuff matters at all.

  4. heather says:

    This was a very timely post for me too… I’ve been thinking about all this as well and, especially approaching christmas, thinking about how (when asked for a list of stuff i want) there is nothing for me to list – I’m so fortunate already and truly – there is not much I want for and certainly nothing i “need”… I feel this incredible need and pull to get back to basics – to enjoy the simple pleasures, to pare down our life and realize how lucky we are and – you hit the nail on the head – ENJOY what we already have. Truly appreciate it. All the comments above are spot on too. I’m so glad you posted this and spoke candidly – no better timing.

    • TRISTA says:

      Right–first, at weird as this sounds, it takes noticing what we actually have, what’s right in front of us, just noticing it. Then appreciating it without thinking about how it could be improved. Nothing wrong with improvement, but that can overpower sweet moments of simply appreciating and, like you said, peeling life back to simple basics that offer deep and lasting happiness. (Maybe this is why you and I both like to cook … no matter what else is going on, it’s a relief seeing how water, some veggies, spices, a grain, and maybe just one pot can make a great dinner.)

    • TRISTA says:

      Oh, and there’s this from UPPERCASE magazine about why we need craft during trying times: These simple things reconnect us to our humanity and remind us of the goodness and potential of people. (http://uppercasemagazine.com/blog/2015/11/17/why-we-need-the-softness-of-craft-during-hard-times)

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