This past weekend my husband and I went on a tour of (mostly) historic homes all decked-out for Christmas in Frederick. I “ooh”ed and “aah”ed at the lovely decorations, he puzzled over the architectural details, and we both admired the beautiful spaces, generally.
In one of the houses, a volunteer answered our compliments with something like, “You’ll get home and look around and everything will disappoint in comparison.” I just grinned at my husband, because I knew what she didn’t: We too have a historic home, and a pretty fancy one to boot.
But really, she was right. Because as much as I love our beautiful old home, walking into it is not like walking into a home carefully prepared for hundreds of paying visitors. I open the door and trip over boots and boxes and toys. I maneuver around backlogs of dirty dishes and laundry and trashcans waiting to be emptied. I sigh at tabletops covered with papers, which represent a to-do list that seems miles long.
Real life is real life, no matter the home in which it plays out. And of course real life – and the real world in which it plays out – is usually pretty messy.
Right now it seems especially so.
Lately I feel like a failure at pretty much everything I try to do: mothering, managing my household, blogging, being a good friend and an involved member of my extended family. (I know I’m not actually a failure, but it sure feels like it at times, especially as the holidays multiply our obligations.)
I feel like I’m a failure at being an attentive and engaged citizen. My post-election sense of being overwhelmed has not gone away. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with the competing news stories and the competing narratives of single news stories. I haven’t weighed in on anything. I haven’t gotten my little “let’s get people of different political stripes together to talk” project off the ground. (Status: information gathered, dates not yet set.)
I feel kind of like I have writer’s block, except it has to do with the thinking of the whole thing, not the writing. As I become more consumed with events at home (some of them pretty stressful), I pay less attention to news from the outside. And as I pay less attention to the news, I feel increasingly less capable of any sort of mental and emotional wrangling with the world.
But I’ve been trying, when I think of it, to rely on a strategy from an earlier point in my life: putting aside my worries about what I’m not achieving and instead focusing on what I am doing in a particular moment. Usually (but not always), that “doing” is pretty constructive, even if it seems insignificant in the scheme of things.
“In this moment, I’m holding my baby close.”
“In this moment, I’m reading to my son.”
“In this moment, I’m working to ensure that my family has clean clothes to wear.”
“In this moment, I’m helping a friend.”
“In this moment, I’m smiling at a stranger.”
“In this moment, I’m holding open a door.”
“In this moment, I’m exploring the veracity of a story that came across my newsfeed.”
“In this moment, I’m praying for a friend / a cause / a beleaguered population.”
The strategy helps. I figure that if I can’t manage an overarching, coordinated, obviously-constructive way for going about my life, I can at least move forward in small ways. And I can rest in that knowledge.
Small things are worth doing. Constructive things can move you forward even when they’re not well coordinated. Something is something. Moments matter.