I’m sitting on a couch, blanket on my lap, watching snow falling outside and skiers winding their way down uncrowded slopes. Yep. We’re in Steamboat again. Steamboat Springs is our home away from home because, well, we have a vacation place here. We share it with family (so it’s not technically solely ours, per se), but it’s definitely a luxury and it’s definitely home. I can’t explain it, but somehow I am more relaxed in this townhouse than I am nearly anywhere else, including our home in Denver. So, sitting here, enjoying the stillness of the scenery, I am struck by how my need to move and go and do dissipates when I am here. I could sit here and enjoy the view and just relax all day and not “do” anything. And that is huge for a non-stop squirrel like me.
At home in Denver, there are always things I think I should be doing. “Should” is such a dirty word, and it’s difficult to escape. Laundry, dishes, and cleaning greet me at every turn. Obligations to school, neighborhood, family, and social events constantly murmur for my attention. I spend hours a day in my car, negotiating traffic and attempting to get as much done as possible during my short time for solid accomplishment while the kids are in school. I’m pulled in every direction by oodles of things I need to finish in a brief period of time. In Steamboat, however, there is very little of that, which is why I relax. The options for things to do are endless, but I don’t have anything I need to be doing. I can choose what I want to do instead of fighting to accomplish things I think I should do. I’m here to exist as a human BEing and not a human DOing. How refreshing is that?
Last night we went to enjoy the hot springs pool. Today we’re going to the Winter Carnival, an event where the local children compete in timed events on the snowy main street in town. The kids are on skis or snowboards, pulled by horses down the street, while they try to throw rings into boxes. The Winter Carnival raises funds for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC), a group that trains local children in winter sports events. Because of their dedication to training children, Steamboat Springs has produced more winter olympians than any other town in the country, sixty-nine to be exact. After the events this morning, we’ll be heading out with friends on our snowshoes for our own winter wonderland adventure. And, tonight when we’re at the Night Extravaganza watching future Olympians weaving their way down Howelsen Hill carrying lighted torches, we will revel in the small-town pride that makes Steamboat so great.
A while back I added one of those vinyl sayings to the wall here. It’s a Chinese proverb that explains, “Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are.” There is unbelievable truth in that statement. When I’m here, the tension is gone and the relaxation seeps into my skin until eventually it overwhelms me and oozes back out my pores. I’m genuinely able just to exist, enjoy, and be myself without pretension, stress, worry, tasks, or those rotten, dirty “shoulds.”
I need to find more places like this. I need to find places of stillness in our home in Denver, in my car, in the everyday places that I frequent so I can live more authentically as myself and spend less time trying to be who I think I should be. After all, I am already who I should be. I just need to relax more and be myself.
It’s cold here today and getting colder. The projected daytime high for tomorrow is a whopping -2 degrees before windchill. I know I’ve already written about how much I hate to be cold, but I can’t emphasize that fact enough. Oddly enough, though, when the weather gets like this it changes me. It freezes the apathy in my heart and suddenly I care more than usual about things I generally forget.
So today, as I sit in my heated home (wearing a cozy sweater and the Ugg boots that are so-hideous-I-cringe-as-I-put-them-on-but-so-comfy-and-warm-I-won’t-live-without them) and watch through insulated windows as the snow swirls and the outdoor temperature plummets, I can’t help but think of those who aren’t as fortunate as I am. On days like this when I’m such a baby that I whimper as I warm up my car and fire up its heavenly, heated leather seats, my mind turns to the multitude of homeless men and women I see on Denver’s streets each day. Denver, despite all its positive, noteworthy distinctions, also is in the top ten cities with the highest population of homeless individuals. Most days I manage to forget about the homeless. I tuck them neatly into the recesses of my mind so I don’t feel too uncomfortable about my cushy life. But, on days like today, I can’t stop thinking about them and hoping that they will find somewhere to be tonight so they don’t freeze to death.
It’s easy to become complacent about difficult things these days. There are so many of them (diseases, violence, natural disasters, political unrest, etc.), and they are constantly in the news. If we focused on the dark, scary things that come at us in this continual barrage of information, it would be hard to be positive, get out of bed each day, and live our lives. I have chosen to stop watching the news because I can’t deal with the negativity. I read it when I make the time. Otherwise, I often go about in happy oblivion because there is enough drama in my life without worrying about things out there that are out of my control but not outside my realm of concern.
A few years ago, however, I decided that I needed to do something to make a positive impact in a world. I wanted to gain some control over the negatives I hear about constantly, so I started doing athletic events that are fundraisers for charities. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s infinitely better than inaction. In 2006, I did my first two-day, 40-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I raised $1800. The following year, I did another 40-mile walk and raised $2200. In 2009 I raised $2500 walking 50 miles for MS. Last year, I did 150 miles on my bike for MS and raised another $500. This year I will do another MS 150 ride and I hope to double what I raised last year.
I wish I could say that these events, including the hours upon hours of training and fundraising, were labors of love. Truth is, though, that there was nothing laborious about them. I got nothing but good things from my investment. I was working towards fitness goals, and I achieved them all. I got to spend time with people I genuinely like while training and participating. I was overwhelmed by the support I got from family and friends, both through donations made and by the people who actually showed up to cheer me on. Through the events, I made new friends and met many inspiring people. And, I got to feel powerful for a few minutes, knowing that my effort was a contribution to something much bigger and far reaching than myself. In the past few years, MS has become my chosen cause because of the increasing number of people I know personally who suffer because of it. Anything I can do while healthy to help them in their fight is a blessing to me. It reminds me how lucky I am. I walk and ride because I know people who can’t, and I can’t live with that.
So, today as I sit here enjoying the view of the snow from my warm home, I remember how lucky I am. And, I try to think of ways I can make a difference for someone else. It warms my heart to know there are others out there tonight, working in shelters and on the streets to help someone who is homeless because they care. Find something you care about and do something about it. You might change someone else’s life, but I know without a doubt that you will change your own.
Do you ever get caught up in useless thoughts about how you envisioned your life would turn out versus where you’ve actually landed? When we’re young and the world seems full of possibility, we dream big because there’s nothing standing in the way of our potential greatness. I had dreams of having an impressive career, making oodles of money, and carrying business cards with an incredibly important-sounding title. I never once imagined that my business card title would be “Stay At Home Mom.” I planned to be too busy being fabulous and brilliant, traveling the world, and decorating my impressive home to have time to be so humdrum. Well, lately those old school dreams for myself have reared their ugly head far more than I would like them to. I suppose it’s happening more frequently because I’ve reached the dreaded middle age. (Oh how I hate saying those words. Seems like just yesterday that I was doing too many shots on my 21st birthday and spending the next morning with my face in the commode. But, I digress.)
I had a conversation today with a good friend. I have a love/hate relationship with my friend because he appears to have everything I thought I ever wanted for myself. Although I am genuinely happy for him and for all he’s been able to achieve, I’m afraid I am a bit of a baby when I hear details about things in his life that I wish were part of mine. I wish I could be above it all and not be envious, but that seems a Sisyphean task. I would like to the successful friend with the gorgeous home, world travel stories, and academic letters after my name. But, that’s not my life, like it or not.
I’ve been trying to be adult about the whole thing, but I’m afraid I’ve failed miserably. It’s impossible to be positively zen when you can’t stop considering that you might have realized more with your talents if you had applied yourself. I do know that it’s useless to comparison shop in other people’s lives, but it’s human nature. We always want the things that we don’t have. The grass is always greener elsewhere, right? It’s especially greener where we envisioned ourselves but were unsuccessful in securing property rights.
Today, though, there was a point in our conversation when my friend held up a mirror and asked me to look into it. I’m often entirely wrapped up in how others appear (or at least how their lives appear from the outside) and I fail to contemplate how I might present to others. I figure that everyone sees me as a common, stay-at-home mom because that’s how I see myself. I drive the kids to school, get to the gym, do laundry, clean house, run errands, schedule appointments, and at the end of the day settle down to help with homework, make lunches, and tackle other minutiae. Frankly, I bore myself to tears just thinking about it.
But, maybe my thinking is skewed? My friend contends that to others my life might appear to be anything but lackluster. He pointed out that I am always going and doing something. Riding my bike on long treks. Participating in athletic events. Heading up to the mountains to ski or snowshoe with my boys. Learning new things and taking on new challenges. Raising money for charities. And, while I may not be a globetrotter, I have traveled some. I live in a comfortable home, drive a nice car, and have a plethora of amazing and fun friends. I guess that if I were to step back from my disappointment in things I have not achieved, I might be able to recognize that I’m still something more than ordinary. I might not be rich, famous, or important on a grand scale, but I’m quite lucky just the same.
So, today I resolve to stop berating myself for not becoming what 21 year old me envisioned I would be. I will remind myself that 21 year old me was immature, unwise in the ways of the world or even in the ways of herself. I will remember not what I am missing but rather how I am blessed. I will stop comparing myself to others, no matter how wonderful their lives appear, because I have no idea what their journeys are about. And I will focus on my true reflection in the mirror and give myself the Stuart Smalley speech: “I am good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it…people like me.”