“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ― Rumi
We came home from camping a few days ago, and this week I return to work for the upcoming school year. Summer begins to fade into a new season, and during a time typically marked with mixed feelings and return-to-school anxiety, it feels especially daunting with surging COVID cases and knowing we are about to step into more uncharted territory.
Big, deep breaths.
Speaking of camping, I freaking hate it. Yet I go back. Year after year. I’ve gone as a single woman. As a new mom. As a mom of toddlers. Now they are children who are more independent. It doesn’t matter. At all stages of life, I inevitably find myself sitting at a dirty campsite wondering, “Why did I do this again?”
But the children love it. And you know what? Camping is likely one of the only places I can go off the grid and unplug. Just for that, I think I will continue doing it. It was kind of nice not having to think about what was in my inbox, even though I obsessively checked it all with the fervor of a crack addict as soon as I got a signal– a sign that something is definitely wrong with me.
I also have a love/hate relationship with the tediousness of camp life. Washing dishes is a total pain. Lugging items to and from bear lockers. Setting up camp. Refilling water jugs. Getting dirty. Waking up with a knot in your back after sleeping on rock hard uneven ground. It gives you a renewed appreciation for creature comforts at home. But it is also a distraction. In the thick of camp survival, you hardly have time to ruminate over the things plaguing your thoughts back at home. So, I’d say that’s another perk to camping. You’re too damn busy trying to survive to think about the nonsense you previously had time to dwell on.
Unfortunately we had something more problematic than the county-wide ice shortage to deal with at the campground. The park was infested with yellowjackets. They were a constant, persistent nuisance. Yellowjackets are aggressive and will sting you multiple times with their lance-like stingers in pursuit of food and defending their territory. They are nicknamed “picnic pests,” so you can imagine every time we tried to prepare food or eat, they were all over the place landing on us. For two days we tried to be calm about it. Just ignore them. Relax. Our group collectively got four yellowjacket stings with that method of just ignoring them.
I learned that yellowjackets get more aggressive when they are running out of food. They don’t mean to be jerks. They’re just desperate for something they don’t have. That made me think about humans.
How often do we get aggressive in our behaviors when we are running on empty?
Recently we were driving home from art class and my daughter begged for French fries. I wasn’t keen to stop for junk food, but her cute smile and unrelenting arguments as to why she needed them were too persuasive to deny. We got in the drive-thru line that moved ridiculously slow. I noticed two cars ahead of us getting into an altercation. One car tried to cut in front of a van to avoid waiting in the long line, and the van wasn’t having it. The van accidentally hit the car in front of it, and the cutting car hit the van. People got out of their vehicles with puffed up chests and started yelling profanities in every direction. Bystanders came out to watch. I got out of the line and I took off, unable to stomach what I was witnessing.
A full-on fight (with moving vehicles!) over a McDonald’s drive-thru line. I couldn’t help but wonder– what’s wrong with these people? Was it a long day at work? Was the person in the van tired of being cheated? Was the cutting car trying to make a point? Did they simply lack social skills? Were they clueless? Hungry? Did it have nothing to do with food?
Whatever it was, I sensed a lot of anger and anxiety.
One city over, the drive-thru was empty, and my daughter got her fries.
“Sometimes being right doesn’t matter,” I said to my children. “The van hit an innocent car and got hit by the cutting car. Over fast food. Nobody won.”
On another day, I was driving my daughter to a class, and a van got angry at me because I had the audacity to merge into his lane as I came onto the freeway. I know, I know. I should have just rammed my car into the block wall to avoid inconveniencing the stranger.
This literally happens every day. Somebody mad at a complete stranger. We had a local child shot and killed in a road rage incident a few months ago. Why are people so angry?
I’ve certainly been guilty of it too. In line at a store. At work. With people. At home. We all have bouts of being short-fused.
What emptiness are we carrying around that is causing us pain?
Sometimes I snap at my children when I am tired or hungry, or if I’ve gone too long without time for myself to write or exercise. Sometimes I get snappy when there is a lot on my mind or something stressing me out. Other times I find myself snapping when I feel like the other person isn’t listening or being supportive, or if I feel unappreciated or unwanted.
As I start the new school year, I keep repeating to myself how important it will be– with particularly stressful extenuating circumstances above and beyond the already existing stressful conditions– that I need to make sure none of my tanks go on empty. The health tank. The rest tank. The creative tank. The professional tank. The caregiver tank. The human being tank.
I’ve started to brainstorm the fuels I will need to make it through the year. But not just this year. Any year. What are the things I lean on for comfort and inspiration? What brings me joy? Where are my boundaries? What do I want, and what do I not want? Where do I draw those lines?
I saw something that resonated with me. The author is unknown:
“It’s okay to say…
NO, if you don’t want to do it.
NO, if you’re already overscheduled.
NO, if you don’t have the time.
NO, if you feel forced to say “yes.”
NO, if it doesn’t make you happy.
NO, if you’d rather relax.
It’s okay to say no.”
This is something I have to work on. In a society that values workaholics and productivity, where we bargain away what is really important in our lives, it is something to contemplate and plan. We have to be prepared to defend our peace.
Once again, I don’t have all of the answers. All I know is that it’s never a one-and-done. This work requires constant reflection and re-calibration. I have to know my triggers. I have to be strategic with my time and energy. These are more important than money and all of the accolades in the world.
American gymnast Simone Biles has had to deal with a myriad of opinions about her decision to step away from various competitions at the Olympics, citing mental and physical health concerns. But she is also quickly rising as a national hero to a country that doesn’t have a history of prioritizing well-being. For an ambitious person, stepping back and saying no is not an easy feat. If I’m even 1/1000 of who Simone is, I can tell you it is agonizing and soul-wrenching. The idea of letting others down is emotionally crushing. But the only other choice is to let yourself down. At some point, we have to stop letting ourselves down.
This is our journey.
Don’t do it on empty.
You’ll be a better human because of it.