This is where my mind is today–in New Zealand. Alas, my tired little body is still stuck in Colorado, wondering how I’m going to get the 896 things done today that I need to. A little challenging when you’re walking around looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Which explains why I cut out of work the other day to go get an emergency massage. I’d been meaning to do it for weeks–ever since I’ve been getting these nasty little hunchback-inspired headaches. But I’d been operating under that stupid little I Can Do it! I Can Do It All! I Just Need to Try Harder! mantra, which always gets me into trouble.
So today, I’m advocating for letting ourselves off our leash, and giving ourselves permission to take care of ourselves and our bodies. To start, anyway. Now how about some down time? Huh, what’s that? You don’t remember what free time is? Of course not, silly! That’s because we’re American. Everybody knows we Americans don’t have down time, right? Not when we can be using it to Work More! and Get Ahead!
But here’s the silly little problem with all of that. We push ourselves past the breaking point, wait until we fall apart to ask for help, wait until we’re sick to take a break.
I recently read a piece in MORE magazine that reminded me of just how crazy our American lives really are. It was an excerpt from a memoir written by Krista Bremer. She writes about visiting her new Libyan in-laws in Tripoli six years before the current crisis. In particular, she’s struck by the difference between her and her sister-in-laws, who hang around the house for hours on end. “Curled up on floor pillows like cats, their low laughter a contented purr, they were far more relaxed than my fit and toned girlfriends back home, who needed at least one drink to unwind this much.”
Of course, the whole Libyan slow-down-and-relax thing drives her crazy, too. Unable to access internet, much less tour the country in the fashion she’d hoped, she spends much of her time inside visiting relatives, eating gigantic meals and…not doing much else.
Which is exactly how my trips to Serbia unfold. I spend an enormous amount of time sitting around with my relatives, drinking cups of Turkish coffee and talking. Then, after we’ve taken a nap, we get up and do it again. I’ll be honest–I have a love/hate relationship with this kind of travel–I enjoy it for a while, but eventually, I start foaming at the mouth. (At which point, I usually strap on my running shoes and head out into the 99 degree heat, much to my relatives’ chagrin.)
But it can also be kind of nice, this kind of do-nothing vacation. Because, really, no one’s expecting anything of you. Nobody cares if you’ve completed a gigantic report or whatever it is that usually floats your boat in “real” life. In fact, my relatives look at me in horror when I describe the crazy hours we Americans work. Why, they wonder, would anyone submit themselves to such torture?
Why indeed? Why is it that we only allow ourselves off the hook for a few hours every year, when we’re forced to take our vacation time before it dries up and disappears? Why can’t we lower the bar each and every day, when our hearts and souls (not to mention bodies) really need it. Give ourselves that much-needed R&R before we hit the wall.
As Bremer writes in her piece, “Libya: What I Wore to the Revelation”:
Seeing the faces of my sisters-in-law crowed around me, I was overcome for the first time with envy. I could not imagine living as they did, confined mostly to their homes and subject to the will of their husbands–and yet I ached for the intimacy they shared, for their selfless generosity, for their abiding faith and the slow pace of their daily lives, devoid of my typically American concerns: balancing career and family, saving for retirement, trying to stay fit and thin. They would never experience the freedoms I enjoyed, but neither would they have to correspond with one another by e-mail from thousands of miles away. They would never negotiate six weeks’ maternity leave with a boss who viewed that arrangement as generous, or leave their tiny babies with a stranger for eight hours while they sat in an office across town, taking breaks to pump breast milk in the employees bathroom….They would never know the persistent sense of inadequacy or the creeping exhaustion that comes from doggedly chasing the elusive dream that women can be everything at once: sexy and youthful, independent and financially successful, extraordinary mothers and wives. (MORE, June 2011)
So let’s take a break today, my friends, and give ourselves permission to lower the bar, not be so perfect. We deserve it. Our families do, too.