Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Would Your Perfect Day Be?

(I am still interested in your thoughts on Sunday's post on listening. Please feel free to email me or comment. I'll come back to the topic as well.)

Today’s “Work-at-Home Wednesday” actually had me out of the house more than in it – worked at two different coffee places, both with free wireless access, and topped it off at our nearby bookstore the Tattered Cover where author Robert Fulgham gave a short talk before signing copies of his recently published book.

It so happens that the book was first published months ago, in the Czech Republic, but has just come out in the U.S. On one visit to Prague, Fulgham said his editor there gave him three folded scraps of paper and asked him to pick one; what it said would determine their entertainment for the day. “Go to the zoo” it read. (So did the other two scraps, he later found.) There had recently been terrible flooding in the city and the city zoo had been badly damaged, so many of the cages were empty, the animals gone. “That’s OK,” said the editor, “we will imagine the animals.”

That’s how it came to be that the Prague zoo was where Robert Fulgham saw his first saber-toothed tiger – his first unicorn – his first dragon – and his first pterodactyl…

* * *

Yesterday was the first meeting of the year for my church’s women’s Bible study. I have a hard time appreciating women-only events; they often seem to bring out or concentrate feminine traits that I don’t like to see concentrated! Well, this time I tried to put aside my preferences, and prayed hard: prayed to be able to enjoy these ‘ladies’ for their own sake – to believe they each had a story – and to listen. The group organizers had each person share what her perfect day would be. I tried to pay attention to and remember their stories, instead of letting my mind dwell on what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. The mother with young children longed for a spotless house and someone to make dinner; the empty nester just wanted her children back, no matter how loud or messy. One woman wanted to shop with her girlfriends; another to sit on the porch of the country cabin drinking coffee with her family. Some wanted a day with no alarm clock; others would take the early-morning walk on the beach with their husbands.

Well, it is a question I’ve been pondering lately. My pastor from Washington called me not long ago to remind me that if there was anything I’d always wanted to do, that they would stand with me, that as far as they were concerned I pretty much had a blank check… I suppose that’s true. My supporters are just so – supportive! I was touched just to realize that someone would WANT me to have a perfect day. But didn’t know how to answer. What DO I want - that I could have - if I could name it? What would be the kind of day (or week, or month) that would really refresh and renew me? Nothing really rose to the surface as I thought about it. I’m still thinking. If a fairy godmother or the Make-a-Wish Foundation or just a coalition of people who loved you offered to make a dream of yours come true, what would you choose?

When I told my co-worker Keith about this he mentioned that when Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry got out of prison in Afghanistan, their home church sent them and a couple friends on an all-expenses-paid vacation to someplace fun and comfortable. That it seemed like a weird thing to them, and to some others, but it was somehow the right thing to do.

I don’t know if I have any friends of the kind I could say “hey, let’s go to Hawaii!” to. Maybe. I suppose if I put it that way, if I said, “Hey, want to come to Hawaii, for free?” I would have no shortage of takers. But who would I really want for my companions on the vacation of a lifetime, if I could choose them? I’m not sure.

Would a perfect day involve travel, vacation? I don’t tend to enjoy those things as much as some people do. When I met with a financial planner last year she tried to see if I was interested in seeing the world, but I told her what I do – and got her to see that I’d probably be happier spending my retirement in a nice little house where I can write, and a volunteer job somewhere.

The trip to the Balkans and Greece was quite good, though, actually; I haven’t written much about it. But the time included a lot of things I really like. And S. and I are making a trip to Ohio for another friend’s wedding, in about 10 days, which I’m looking forward to as well.

Next month my mother and sister are coming to Denver to drive down to New Mexico. Meg’s wanted for years to visit Taos and Santa Fe, so we’re going to do it. When we were talking about it Mom said she thinks this is the first trip the three of us have taken together since – the 1980s? “We’ll make sure to do something like this EVERY 20 years!” she joked. I don’t know how the three of us will get along, spending, what is it, five whole days together, but I’m hopeful we can get to know each other on a new level and establish some good patterns rather than just playing out old struggles. I had that many days with my dad and stepmother a year or two ago, also setting a record for family togetherness. It had always been three, four days max, and often just dinner, overnight, or for a weekend.

I tend to think having a good time is more a decision than a set of circumstances – and believe I should be able to have something close to a perfect day just by enjoying the days I have – like Robert Fulgham. I’m not naturally playful, but more serious and moody by nature. The loneliness problem can be pretty fierce. But I do find the world an intriguing place, and its inhabitants quite fascinating! So it’s not that hard to make my own fun or find it in strange but everyday places.

I’m also not a methodical person, really: not a creature of habit. I don’t do things the same way twice. So that also made it hard to describe my ideal day. It should have some element of surprise, discovery, newness. So who could describe it, until after it happens? Might be easier to drop the idealism and say, what would be a good day – or week – or month – and not the ‘best’ one. I told the women’s group that, and mentioned my recent reflections that happiness seems to require each day having some balance of purposefulness and meaningless – that a steady diet or even just a whole week of just one or just the other – is too much for me.

Little things like Work-at-Home Wednesday and the chance to sit and drink coffee and listen to stories at the Tattered Cover tonight do a lot for me. And I’ve also (strangely) become the party-organizer at the office. Wouldn’t you like to join us for this week’s event, with its appropriately corny name, ‘Flapjack Friday’?! Yes, breakfast together before staff meeting. I knew my co-worker Matt saw pancake-making as something of a specialty, and sure enough when I suggested it he was quick to volunteer!


I Was Just Thinking.... said...

I'm with you about the women's study thing - even though I'm starting ours up tonight.

Perfect day for me, being somewhere, not traveling (because that usually takes up the day and arguments over who sits where, who drives, directions, etc.) but simply being and doing whatever comes to mind, no responsibilities (other than the necessities of life), no phone calls. And no thinking about tomorrow. Unless I'm daydreaming about it.

Marti Smith said...

Yeah,'being somewhere' definitely has more appeal than the getting-there part. But some of the same dynamics continue: 'where do you want to go for dinner / I don't care / why don't we _____? / No, I don't feel like _____! Where do you want to go then? I don't care...' On research teams, in particular, I've found that excursions on vacation or days off can be particularly stressful. Unless you really are alone it's hard to get away entirely from responsibilities, planning, communication, leadership!

Paul Merrill said...

I miss those pancake breakfasts - at least one was at the Carltons' house. Sigh. Sad that those days are over.

Unknown said...

Thinking that the seemingly meaningless activities become meaningful as they feed the soul.