Meet a friend for coffee after work. Do it. Sip it. Savor it. Let it wake you, warm you. Yesterday I did—and I felt like a person! Not a stressball, or an adding machine, or a petri dish growing every kind of unpleasantness. Of late, I have tried to restore some of those long-suspended activities that remind me of my personhood.
I tried one new one, too: painting my nails! The idea is not so much to look fashionable as it is to simply be cheered by color. Every few weeks I discover a treasure in a cardboard box labeled “toiletries,” and painstakingly affix this rare, vibrant gem to my body.
Eating fruit is restorative. Sure, an ice cream chipwich can be more helpful than a screwdriver or even, dare I say, a car–but plopping the second half of an apricot into my mouth will briefly complete the cycle of life that has hung suspended since Sandy. For fifteen seconds, everything becomes all of Earth spilling back into me. Local flash flood warnings and local math assessments become irrelevant.
I am considering another antidote for such person-eating stressors: temporary avoidance. What if, for one day, I did not answer every 1-800 call, hoping for New York State Sandy Help and getting Free Initial Chimney Cleaning Service?
What if I didn’t check my balance, pay a bill, call a company, organize a folder, write a report card, watch weather warnings, or fruitlessly attempt to clear more space in our one room—for one day? What a person I would be!
Even without a storm such as Sandy, there have been times I’ve allowed myself to be marred by minus signs. So much can be taken away by work, money, and technology if I let it—and these can and should be positive additions. In school today I taught the “function machine.” To operate this exciting addition/ subtraction contraption, you (1) record a number to be deposited into the tube-like input extension at the top of an illustrated box, (2) label the box with a command such as -2 or +10, (3) shriek a series of ridiculous scrambly-sounding machine noises (optional), and (4) breathlessly ask giggling children to determine what number must come out the bottom. Before too long they understand that no matter what kind of crap comes in, if you change the function, you change the outcome.
I think from now on when something enters I cannot change (like the new regulations causing us to sacrifice a clothes closet or pantry because we are not permitted to install any utilities lower than FOURTEEN FEET above base floodplain level), I will risk startling and unsettling everyone around me by making slightly hysterical machine sounds in an attempt to switch functions and emerge in the plus column.
One of my kindergartners did his research project on sharks. He was delighted to report that cookie cutter sharks earn their (literal) living by tearing bite-sized chunks from bigger sharks’ flesh. When he shared the drawing, I longed to raise my hand and shout, “I have a connection! I have a connection!” like my kids do. The picture showing the mean little hollows in the bodies of great creatures—it gave me shivers. So many people I know, love, and respect wear open sores of pressure, loss, betrayal. The mottled flanks of those sharks, so like ours, seemed terrifying and sad.
Until I realized—the poor fish that were forced to provide the sacrificial cookies were still swimming, eyes wide open.
In the past months, my friends and I have had so much promise gouged out by illness, tragic loss, abusive partners, greedy companies, stingy relief agencies, or rigid, ridiculous, and unreflective requirements imposed upon eager students and passionate teachers. Our love, though, cannot be subtracted. Even in the deepest darkness we search for ways to change the function. A new method, a new job, a new partner, a new house. Yoga, therapy, coffee with a friend. Nail polish. Just nail polish. Yesterday, I took a bath.