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.