OK. Realities. All within the span of this weekend. Bill’s car needs $3,000.00 worth of work and is in the shop as school begins. When I dove into Katie’s box of curriculum on Friday, both the math textbook and the language arts pack were not the correct grade level and have had to be reordered (school for Katie begins next Tuesday). There was an infestation of maggots in our kitchen—yes, I realize this is not a socially acceptable thing to admit. The maggots were followed by troves of ants.

Our garage door handle broke off.

Up until yesterday, the kiddos were on a squabble-about-everything-with-each-other bender. Since I find all negativity to be soul-eating, that squabbling really got to me.

And, oh yeah, it is really hot.

I have heard people say that I am happy all the time, and some have even asked me personally how that can possibly be so. I certainly experience a range of emotion in any given day, so I have never been sure that “happy all the time” is the proper descriptor for me. I am joyful and content a large portion of the time; other moments, not so much. I would certainly say that I am grateful almost all the time. The one tool I do have, usually, in spades is this: perspective.

Perspective. I know that everything passes. I know the difference between annoyances and true sadness (death, loss of someone we love). I know that life always continues. I know our experiences are most definitely not a matter of “fair” or “unfair.” I know everyone bears his or her own burden, and it is never for me to judge or to be judged. I know that I have been blessed with a comfortable life that does not in any way warrant any complaining, taken in the context of all the horrible things that happen in the world.  I know that we are more than our material objects, more than our incomes, more than our petty vices. I know that many things are not worth getting angry about. My Nana taught me that.

Any one of the stressors I experienced this weekend, when taken alone, would have been easy enough to keep in perspective. The truth about stressors, though, is that when they come “not in single spies but in battalions” it is difficult to keep a broad, philosophical view. Hamlet finds that out. The basic problem is that we are humbled when we don’t want to be. We remember that life makes us take our knees every once in awhile. The rosy, beautiful world we work so hard every day to make for our babies and our husband can be infested or wobbled off course. We can’t, it turns out (repeatedly turns out—when will I learn?), control everything or make everything good constantly and forever just by our sheer will. Though it is not for lack of trying…

I regret to say I was in a bit of a funk on Monday night/Tuesday morning.

A mentor in my young, teenage life was fond of an Aristotle quote: “We are what repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” How funny that when I was in high school, I thought that this applied mainly to my schoolwork. It turns out, when we’re thirty-two-years-old, that Aristotle entreats us to cultivate our whole lives in this way. Really, he is giving us a suggestion for how to make it through the hard times.

I am far from excellent, personally, but I can at least try to order my behaviors—my habits—so that when I am feeling weary, I have something on which to fall back. Aristotle is the ultimate pre-planner.

On my run this morning under the moonlight, I thought about the other times in my life when I have started to feel overwhelmed. How about those moments at Stanford when you have 30-something books plus course readers to read and know in a single quarter? While working anywhere from one to three jobs? (I always worked at least one job at Stanford since my frosh year, but at one small point, I had three jobs going at once plus a full course load—it was my philosophy to do whatever I could to make myself less of a burden on my parents).

What about giving birth to two children without pain medication?

What about that year when I taught five periods every day and went to school until 10:00 PM three to four nights a week plus some weekends? That was a crazy year, but I wanted to pay for my credential myself and to have the dignity of working.

Those were all points in my life when I wondered whether I truly was tenacious enough to meet those challenges. Those were all moments when I had to work through the feeling of being overwhelmed.

This morning’s longer run cleared my head. I thought about my habits, developed over many years, and I remembered that I can rely on them now and just have faith that they will work. That’s the beautiful thing about habits:

* Work hard, and if that doesn’t yield results, work harder

* Exercise

* Count my blessings

* Look for the silver lining in the bad

* Try to turn a stressor into a joke (My mom helped with this yesterday when she called to ask how my “kitchen biosphere” was doing)

* Take the focus off myself and figure out ways to help others who need it more

* Go into Nature to rejuvenate (everything about the outdoors is designed to remind us of perspective)

* Write, or do something else soul-filling with my hands

Now, to have my Earl Grey and see how my biosphere is doing…

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