It is a beautifully blue June day with sunbeams graying the black floorboards, a slight breeze cooling the afternoon heat, children’s playground calls ringing out, and me, sitting on my chair, looking out / in. During this season of travel plans and gatherings, the ease of sitting and thinking without concerns and complications feels as luxurious as a Caribbean beach. It is not that I have had enough of seeing the sights of the world, but the solitude of mind is far gentler on my couch than meandering cobblestone paths alone while passing couples and families.
There is a way, I am coming to understand, to make insularity feel like the best alternative and not the only option. I rearranged my balcony to feel less rustic hut and more vacation bungalow. A rose plant, on sale because it needs TLC, is giving that to me by adding its brilliant red blooms to my assortment of practical herbs. The rhythm of a home-based retreat enables me to find only comfort and avoid those confrontations of self that, inevitably, call forth wonderings of lackings, and I realize, suddenly, that it is strength that I have crafted. Why wander lonely when I can sit comforted?
The other day I read an article that stated that it is better for one’s long-lasting sense of self and self-preservation to be content than to seek happiness, which, I assume we all know by now, is transitory. Sounds about right, but it does take a long time of seeking the high to realize that it is too dependent on others to ever be of intrinsic value. It also takes a long time to realize what one needs to be content.
A job I enjoy, at which I’m good and want to keep improving. Vacation time long enough to focus on what I need, which has narrowed down to time spent with words. Volunteer activities that I expect to bring me fulfillment and not just a pat on the back. Friends, in emails, on the phone, down a path, on the other side of a table, with whom my life has been woven into an enveloping fellowship. Body acceptance that finally enables me to go sleeveless. Family, essentially the three women—daughters and mother—with whom there exists a spirit of independence and dependence that makes me feel just the right amount of needed.
But still (and this has taken more days of introspection since that blue June day to understand) there is an emptiness. Does being content mean accepting the present for what it is and what it is not? Getting to this calm point has involved two major relinquishments: love and vanity. No expectation to meet a man and no expectation for writerly recognition. Two hard things to accept. But life does feel easier, even if that acceptance is, at times, overlapped with loss and regret. True contentment, then, must not be guided by willful ignorance, but by forthright acknowledgement.
I wonder why it takes half a lifetime to stop crying about what will not be. The power of wanting what we learn to want. The time it takes to honestly assess one self. It is hard, isn’t it, to realize that you are not who you want to be, but are merely who you are. Change is not always possible, and even if it were, who would you be—and for whom? Half a lifetime gives you time to look around, time to realize that you could not be another, time to nod we got this to the self, time to try stilettos and revert to flats. It takes time to fill a space with what seems necessary and to empty that space of what is not necessary. It takes time to sculpt a soul.