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day 71: new eyes

April 13, 2011

I had big plans on Day 71.  My “to do” list was fifteen items strong, and I pep-talked myself into an unflinching charge towards it.  After a morning of work meetings, I’d scheduled a trip to the grocery store and the dry cleaners, carved out time to organize my son’s birthday party, and left an hour to complete end-of-term evaluations for my student intern.

Midway through errand #1, I was overcome by nausea.  A prickle of cold sweat broke out on my forehead.  While I felt like curling up in the fetal position in the middle of the grocery store’s toothpaste aisle, this very unattractive image propelled me back to the parking lot.

As I sat in my parked car with the windows down and my eyes closed, willing the wooziness to pass, I thought about an encounter I’d had earlier in the week with another preschool mother.  K’s sons are exactly the same ages as mine, but in addition to 2 and 4-year-old boys she has a newborn baby.  When I saw her at the preschool, she was uncharacteristically disheveled, deep circles evident around her gigantic brown eyes.

“It’s just been a lot harder than I expected,” she said quietly, commenting about life with three children and a nearly-absent medical resident spouse.  Glancing at her again, I noticed how thin she looked.  “I don’t even have time to sit down for a moment during the day,” she continued, “and when I do, it is time to go to bed and start all over again.”

I should note that I have known K for two years, during which time I have never once heard her complain.  In spite of the fact that she has more demands on her time and less support from her hard-working husband than I, she doesn’t join in the self-pity litany to which I fall victim.  Elegant and articulate, I’ve watched her negotiate the challenges of motherhood with enviable calm.

Thinking of K, as I sat queasy and light-headed in my car, lifted my gaze a bit.  Thinking of K forced me to catalog just a few of the inspiring people who have crossed my consciousness over the last 71 days — Nathan and Elisa, my father-in-law, kind strangers, little children — and to remember to breathe in all that is good.  For a little while, car windows and heart wide open, I was renewed by their grace.

I thought of the famous Proust quotation:  “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

When I began my “a gift a day” project 71 days ago, I couldn’t have foreseen that it would give me entirely new vision.  More than just a change in perspective, in so many ways I am different now.  I have been made new.

On Friday, my children will have a playdate with K’s.  Day 71’s gift is an offer to watch her children while she leaves to do something enjoyable just for herself.  By herself. It is a small gift, but one I hope will provide her some restoring quiet.

Feeling much better last night, I stumbled upon this document while surfing online.  It is a replica of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule, which begins and ends with the questions “What good shall I do this day?” and “What good have I done today?”

I just love this.  Regardless of how interminable my “to do” list may seem, I want to begin and end my days with these same questions.

The sun is rising, and today’s is a new landscape.  I hope it sends you chances to do a little good.  Thanks so much for showing up.

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