For many years, I put great store in my ability to “get things done.” I had to. I was a single mother (even when I was married) of four children, with a job. And, as the jobs got better and better and more and more demanding, I prided myself on keeping up. I set impossible goals for myself. I demanded that I become a better employee, housekeeper, cook, nutritionist, pianist – better and better at whatever was put on my plate. My value system was based on achievement. I was self-reliant, I was delivering, and my self-worth depended on it.
It didn’t help that I worked in Washington, D.C., that famous breeding ground of over-achievement and brilliant performance. I was in a place where I could watch others doing it up close, and when I could, I emulated it. No, that’s not quite accurate. I admired it. Sort of. But climbing that particular ladder required a healthy appetite for competition and the ability to thrive on conflict. I wasn’t wired for it. I was lucky in that, except for a few years in the competition pit, I worked for people who believed in consensus building. That I loved. That I believed in. Still, in the areas where I pitted myself against myself, I was relentless and driven. The more I could get done, the better I felt about myself. As a woman in a man’s field, I prided myself on outworking the boys, and I got a lot done. But no matter how much I got done, it was never enough. Nothing in Washington stands still. And at home, the clean house got dirty again, the full refrigerator was emptied routinely, the beds were unmade every night, and the kids got hungry three times a day. I had no help, and there was no conquering the unending work. Eventually, it became depressing and exhausting. Not because I couldn’t accept the impermanence of everything, but because I thought I was what I did.
It took a traumatic event to change my mind – the death of my child. Everything I thought was important faded into the mist in the face of this shattering experience. Winning, conquering, being right, being better, doing better, doing more, seemed trivial and insanely secular. Death will realign your perspective. The death of a child will reconfigure it altogether.
I write about this not because I can’t forget it – and I can’t of course – but because of the profound change it brought about in my understanding of life. It’s a long story, and it’s in my book, but the bottom line was – I had to learn something entirely new or die from grief.
I learned that I am not what I do. I am not the body that works itself into exhaustion and ages and dies anyway. There is more to me than that. I am life itself – never ending. I am a Spirit in a body, ageless and perfect. Nothing I do causes that or changes that. Everything else is ornamental. Window dressing. Costumes and makeup. A play. And all the world’s a stage. When I can remember that, “doing things” is much more fun, because the “things” are put into perspective. I was reminded of that this afternoon when I went shopping at Target. For my international readers, Target is a massive general store with supposed competitive prices. I was seriously intent on getting what I needed and getting back on the road (It’s an hour’s drive from where I live but why I was in a hurry I don’t know) when I passed the electronics department. There, high on the wall, on a gigantic screen, were little cartoon characters singing the Beatles’ song, All You Need Is Love. I just had to stop and laugh. Then I drove home slowly through Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most spectacular places on this earth, and let my Spirit take the lead.