Measuring

February 2, 2013

“Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise.”
— Mary Baker Eddy

I don’t pay attention to birthdays or discuss my age much, because I’m generally inclined to take Mrs. Eddy’s advice and maintain my “vigor, freshness, and promise” without regard to dates on a calendar.

Last night, I ran across one of those Facebook memes where you click “Like” on somebody’s post, and they give you a number, and you have to answer a series of questions about where you were at that age, then answer the same questions as they apply to you at your current age. I don’t usually click on age-based memes, but this one appealed to me as an opportunity to reflect on growth and experience.

I have always understood age in strictly experiential terms. I’m only interested in people’s age to the extent that it helps me extrapolate whether they were around for a particular historical event. If you’re a Baby Boomer, I want to know your thoughts on Vietnam, Watergate, and Dylan’s decision to go electric. If you’re older than the Boomers, I want you to tell me what it was like to watch Jackie Robinson on the basepaths. I need to know these things.

Left to my own devices, I’d establish a new system for expressing age. Instead of basing it on the amount of time that has elapsed since someone’s birth — which has a tendency to “measure and limit” — I’d base it on cultural experience, which prompts conversations about shared experiences.

How old am I?

I have a near-Pavlovian response to the Cheers theme song.
I conjure up images of British ice skaters when I hear Ravel’s “Bolero.”
I watched the Sandberg Game.
I think Sesame Street was better before Elmo moved in.
I feel warm and fuzzy inside when I hear the sound of an Apple IIe computer firing up.

Try measuring your age in terms of pop culture rather than years. How does your pop-culture age influence who you are today?

Emily


Magic Mirror

January 19, 2013

To the thieves I am a bandit
The mothers think I’m a son
To the preachers I’m a sinner
Lord, I’m not the only one
— Leon Russell, “Magic Mirror”

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the notion of identity, and it occurs to me that there’s a huge disconnect between who we are and who we appear to be.

Our identity is God-given, a multifaceted thing, with a wide range of talents and interests and concerns and priorities, many of which we reveal only when the occasion warrants. We all express divinity, but we express it in different ways and to varying degrees, and it’s in those differences that we find our individuality. As Mary Baker Eddy puts it on page 477 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love.

The full range of that individuality is apparent to God, but in the human experience, our relationships tend to be context-driven, which means our perceptions of each other frequently present an incomplete picture.

Example: My guitar teacher, Zaphod, is one of my dearest friends. In the five years, we’ve known each other, we’ve worked together, laughed together, commiserated together, and weathered various crises together. He’s basically the big brother I never had, and I truly didn’t think anything that came out of my mouth could surprise him at this point.

I was mistaken.

Last week, I’d been dinking around with the chord chart for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and I mentioned it to Zaphod, who wasn’t familiar with the song and asked me to sing it so he could learn it. He was shocked to discover that I had a decent set of pipes, because he’d never heard me use them for anything but reprimanding unruly sophomores, icing down impertinent consultants, or raising questions in faculty meetings.

Zaphod knows me primarily as a teacher, beekeeper, and Route 66 enthusiast. Others know me in different contexts: To the journalists, I’m an editor; to the roadies, I’m an activist; to the vet, I’m Song and Riggy and Walter’s mommy. All of those are accurate descriptions, but none is a complete picture.

In “Magic Mirror,” Russell muses:

Magic mirror, if we only could
Try to see ourselves as others would

Seeing ourselves as others would can temper our words and actions and make us more compassionate. But I’d like to go a step further. One of the keys to healing is to see ourselves as God would: as complete, perfect expressions of divine Love. Once we see ourselves that way, it’s easier to act accordingly — and to see others with the same healing sense of wholeness and harmony.

Emily


Every human want?

December 21, 2012

Mary Baker Eddy assures us that “Divine Love (God) always has met and always will meet every human need.”

I’ve always loved that statement, but what really impresses me is when divine Love meets my human wants.

My life is not perfect. I fight with depression sometimes. I get frustrated. Sometimes I lose sight of my blessings. A healing is slow to appear, or plans fall through, or some unexpected crisis pops up and throws me for a loop.

But I’ve started to notice a pattern in my life: Conditions will seem unsettled for a while, and then out of nowhere, a completely frivolous gift will land in my lap, and within a few weeks, the bumps will smooth out and I’ll settle into some wonderful new adventure I never could have imagined on my own.

As I mentioned the other day, my life has been feeling rather unsettled in recent months.

I expect that feeling won’t last much longer.

Last week, I told Ron that I really wanted to learn to play acoustic guitar. This is not something I need to do; I’d just like to be able to play a few chords so I can accompany myself while I’m singing old folk songs. Ron said that would be fine, but given the pay cut I took when I left the classroom, I wasn’t sure shelling out money for an instrument and lessons was the most responsible idea I’d ever had, and I was a little hesitant about going through with it.

Yesterday afternoon, a friend I hadn’t talked to in several weeks called my cell phone, apropos of nothing. He said he was just worried about me, as I hadn’t seemed like my usual self the last couple of times we’d talked, and he wanted to make sure I was OK.

During the course of our conversation, we discovered that while I was thinking about buying a guitar and hiring somebody to teach me to play it, he was thinking about hiring somebody to edit his dissertation.

He has a spare guitar and has played for years. I have a degree in English and have edited copy for years. If all goes according to plan, a few months from now, he’ll have a Ph.D., and I’ll have a nice repertoire of Woody Guthrie covers I can bust out for tips at open mic nights.

Every human need … and a few wants, just for good measure.

Emily


I’ve gotta be me

December 17, 2012

I’ve been feeling out of sorts for several months, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. It finally clicked for me the other night:

I’ve forgotten how to be me.

From 1984 to 2008, my life pretty much revolved around journalism. Then a pink slip sent me into a tailspin, and I landed at the front of a sophomore English classroom. Teaching wasn’t quite as worn-out-Birkenstock-comfortable as journalism, but it appealed to my sense of social justice and felt important enough to be worth doing, so I dove in and let it permeate my life in ways you can’t imagine if you’ve never been there. Done right, teaching is a 24/7/365 job, and if you are not very careful, you can lose yourself in it.

I wasn’t very careful, and by the time I surfaced four years later, I realized that in becoming Ms. Priddy, I’d misplaced Emily, in all sorts of little ways that didn’t occur to me at the time.

I wasn’t too worried. I landed a new job and figured I’d find myself at work.

I didn’t.

My new job is fine, but I’ve been accustomed to having my identity inextricably tangled up in my profession, and PR just isn’t the sort of thing that absorbs your soul and penetrates your heart, so for the first time in my life, Who I Am and What I Do were not synonymous. It was a little disorienting.

The farther I’ve strayed from myself, the more my health — physical, mental, and especially spiritual — has suffered, and a few weeks ago, tired and adrift, I broke down and called a friend of mine who has the dual advantage of being both a Christian Science practitioner and an incorrigible hippie, which was precisely the combination I needed to talk some sense into me. I don’t remember her exact words, but they made me feel better, and I managed to wake up from a long evening of sobbing without the sinus headache that usually follows such indulgences. That may seem a small victory, but given the number of headaches I’ve endured over the past five years, it gave me reason for hope.

Since then, I’ve begun finding scraps of myself here and there, in little things that seem trivial in and of themselves but collectively are much more important than they appear: a trip to a plant nursery to lift my spirits on a cold, gray afternoon; a jar of alfalfa seeds sprouting on my kitchen counter; a conversation with a colleague about our mutual fondness for Neil Diamond; a stroll through the backyard to daydream about gardening projects I might try this spring.

I’m still missing some pieces. But I don’t think they’re lost; I’ve just mislaid them, and I’m kind of enjoying the process of rummaging through my thought to find them again.

Emily


Stolen voices

September 21, 2012

“Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals.”
— Mary Baker Eddy

The other night, Ron and I bought a copy of The Exorcist and watched it for the first time in 12 or 13 years. Something about it reminds me of The Little Mermaid.

Stay with me.

In The Exorcist, a hideous demon takes over the body of a young girl named Regan. In its confrontation with the priests brought in to cast it out, the demon pulls out all the stops: It snarls. It growls. It shakes Regan’s bed. It induces her to commit all sorts of repulsive acts. And perhaps most unsettlingly of all, it addresses one of the priests in the voice of his recently deceased mother.

In The Little Mermaid, a mermaid falls in love with a human prince and trades her voice to a conniving witch for the temporary use of a human body. If she can win the prince’s heart, she becomes human permanently; if she can’t, she becomes the witch’s prisoner. Predictably, the witch disguises herself as a human and uses the mermaid’s voice in an attempt to trick the prince into marrying her.

In both films, error speaks with a stolen voice, and its opponents can’t defeat it until they recognize the deception.

This is one of error’s favorite tricks. It might seduce you with an attractive voice. It might use a relative’s voice to paralyze you with guilt. Or it might commandeer a trusted mentor’s voice in an attempt to manipulate you.

Error does not care whose voice it steals. It has no shame, and it has no compunction about turning whatever (or whoever) happens to be handy into a weapon it can use to hurt you.

Both The Exorcist and The Little Mermaid make profound statements about the power of discernment. If the priests can’t see through the illusions that seem to be controlling Regan, she is lost — and humanity, perhaps, with her. Similarly, if the prince can’t see through the illusion that seems to be controlling the mermaid’s voice, then she, and he, and all of the ocean are lost.

In the real world, discernment is often the key to healing. It isn’t always easy to distinguish between a person and the error that seems to be gripping him, but it’s got to be done, or the patient is lost — and perhaps all of us with him.

Emily


One month and counting

July 6, 2012

So … today marks a month since I stopped eating animal products (aside from honey and the eggs my own chickens produce, of course).

It isn’t a permanent change. I’m just doing it as part of a marathon training program. But it’s going really well — much better than any of my previous forays into vegetarianism — and I think I know why.

In the past, I’ve focused all my attention on what I wasn’t eating, then tried to come up with synthetic substitutes. This time around, I’m enjoying vegetables on their own terms and having fun developing recipes that highlight their natural flavor. In other words, instead of focusing on what I can’t eat, I’m enjoying what I can eat.

There’s a good metaphysical reason this approach is working. (You knew that was coming, right?)

When you focus on what you don’t have, you feel a sense of lack. It’s hard to appreciate things when you’re busy wishing you had something else. But gratitude breeds contentment. As Mary Baker Eddy put it:

Are we truly grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of it, and thus be fitted to receive more.

What better way to show gratitude for food than to “avail ourselves of it” by enjoying it as-is instead of wishing it tasted like something else?

I’m not saying there’s nothing I miss. You know how I love a good cappuccino, and it’s downright painful to pass a taco truck without stopping for barbacoa. But I don’t dwell on that. Instead, I concentrate on gratitude and enjoyment of what I have. Oreo cookies, for instance, are 100 percent vegan. The Lebanese restaurant right across the street from my office serves terrific falafel. And in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of great restaurants whose entire focus is made-to-order meals, which means you can order a wholly vegan meal without tying up the line or causing a hassle for the kitchen.

All of those things are reasons for gratitude — and gratitude, regardless of your dietary choices, is the best seasoning there is.

Emily


Whatever blesses one

May 2, 2012

September 2007. I’m driving along, minding my own business, when a question flashes across my thought, in second person, as if it’s coming from somewhere outside my own consciousness: What would you say if I told you I wanted you back in the classroom?

“Let me get back to you on that,” I choke, and for three days, I wrestle with the idea, remembering how rough my first year was and why I swore I’d never teach again.

I finally come up with a less-than-reverent response: “I don’t know how you think you’re going to pull this off, but you’re the omnipotent one. I’m not helping you with this, but if you’re bound and determined to do it, you just knock yourself out.”

Never, ever dare God to do anything.

March 2008. I get pink-slipped from the best job I’ve ever had.

September 2008. After a series of job changes, chance encounters, and offhand conversations, I find myself back in a sophomore English classroom. This time around, I’m ready for it, and I love it more than I ever imagined possible.

November 2011. I still love teaching, and I adore my students, but the constant demands of the job are wearing me down, and I can feel myself starting to burn out.

February 2012. Once again, I’m driving along, minding my own business, when another thought flashes across my consciousness:

You’ve done what I needed you to do. You don’t have to teach next year if you don’t want to.

Lovely thought, but I don’t trust it. I don’t have to teach next year if I don’t want to? What the hell is that supposed to mean? This is not how I understand God to work. People do not just get permission to make completely selfish decisions because they are tired. I shrug it off.

April 2012. We get word that our building will lose four teaching positions due to funding cuts.

I do the math. I’ve got enough seniority to be safe. But the most vulnerable person in my department also happens to be one of the best teachers in the building. He’s gotten through to kids I couldn’t reach, and he’s pushed kids past their own self-imposed limitations and demanded that they reach the potential most of them don’t even realize they have. We can’t lose him to budget cuts! My kids need him!

You don’t have to teach again next year if you don’t want to.

Suddenly it makes sense. I don’t have permission to make a selfish decision. I have permission to make the right decision. I need a break, and my kids need my colleague. It’s a no-brainer. I turn in my resignation, effective at the close of the school year.

Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, “Whatever blesses one blesses all, … Spirit not matter, being the source of supply.”

She was right.

I will miss my kids, but I’ve already lined up an interesting new job, so in the end, I get a graceful exit from the classroom, a friend gets to keep a job he loves, and my kids get the teacher they need next year.

We are all blessed indeed.

Emily


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