Mary Beth Writes

Written 03/15/2002  

It was late a late afternoon in March and I was sitting at my computer, quietly tapping away. My son was on the other side of the table doing his homework. For several minutes we were both silently focused on our work.

Then my son looked up. I felt his eyes on me. I tried to ignore him.

"Mom?"

I sighed. "What?"

"When I'm done here, will you drive me to the lake so I can kayak?"

I briefly closed my eyes in that gentle, prayerful way parents know. It's March outside. The temperature is 36 degrees and falling. Its 4:20 already, the sun will be going down soon, not that it will make much difference since the sky has been a sullen grim gray all day.

I look at my son and I sigh so deeply my shoes move.

"If you can get the kayak onto the car, I will drive you over there."

"You're the best, Mom!"

Hah. I'm the best alright. Best pushover in three counties. I have no problem saying no to these kids when they ask me for new clothes, toys, and gizmos. But when they ask me to help do nutty and inconvenient things that seem connected to their very spirits, well, I figure this is why we signed up to be parents.

It took ten more minutes of Algebra, then nearly an hour of getting organized (the kayak hadn't been out of the garage since October) before he had it tied onto our car and his equipment tied onto himself. As I stood out there on our freezing driveway at dusk, I wondered why I couldn't have gotten one of those kids who like to hack computers. Those moms don't have to drive their kid to a lake in March.

The lake was not cheery. I parked the car, climbed out; let my son untie the kayak while I watched sloshing, frigid, white-capped waves. I was quite surprised at how much ice still clings to the shoreline. I saw seagulls that were shivering.

Just then my husband showed up, still in his office clothes. He helped my son carry the kayak down to the lake. After that we all stood around trying to decide which sheet of ice looked most promising for kayak launching.

My husband gallantly offered to stay with our son; I instantly gave him my hat and gloves. My hat is a brown velveteen cloche -- which I thought made my husband look very Dr. Zhivago. He said I better not put this in the newspaper.

They were back 45 minutes later. Our son got to paddle his kayak for about 17 minutes -- and he was very, very content. A content teenager is one of earth's most marvelous creatures.

What I loved about this whole goofy episode was this. It so clearly shows that what most of us need is simply to pursue the things that move our individual souls. We don't necessarily need to dazzle or triumph; we just need an occasional interlude to do the thing that reminds us who we are.

I was thinking of my writing and how inconvenient this was when our kids were little. I stayed home with them, money was tight, time was tighter, and since we never seemed to get the kinds of infants or toddlers who sleep through a night, we were always exhausted.

What an inane time to try to become a writer.

We found a neighborhood teenager (actually, Michelle found us, but that's another story) who started coming after school several times a week.

Those puny six hours per week were when I wrote. (If you want to read what I composed back then, there's an out-of-print book called "Reinventing Home." I'm one of the six authors.)

I barely made enough money to cover Michelle's wages, but I got to pursue the inconvenient thing that happens to nourish my particular soul. Now that I have years of perspective on that time, I can see that those hours were quite possibly the ones that made the rest of our lives work. Those hours are also why, when a kid says he needs to kayak, well, I know about cumbersome avocations that nourish the soul.

I think we need to honor our inconvenient passions. Too many of us have bought the message that we should spend our time doing only sensible, sane, and justifiable activities.

We don't take piano lessons because, well, why would a middle-aged person take up something that costs $15 a week and has "no future"?

We tell ourselves to not bother joining the church choir. Why make a commitment to something any international power-monger will tell you is a lame activity?

Why join an intramural volleyball team when you could be enhancing your career by learning business software programs?

Why write when it's so hard to get published? Why carpenter splendid wooden toys for your grandchildren when plastic ones will occupy them just as well?

Why indeed.

We need to remember that the human spirit is programmed to create, to explore, to discover. We need to connect our hands, our minds, and the breezy world around us in the blessed, squirrely ways that preserve our souls. And I bet you anything that these have always been the hours from which the rest of the best of our civilizations have grown.

It's just joy, 17 minutes at a time.

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