Open the Window

It’s already the middle of May, and I haven’t really felt, as the saying goes, that spring has sprung.

I’ve already transferred my warm weather clothes to my bedroom closet. In anticipation of picnics, I put a few bottles of sauvignon blanc in the fridge. I got tickets for several baseball games (and have kept them in a very visible spot to remember I had something to look forward to).

I considered that many springtime events had taken place, but it didn’t quite feel like spring.

I know my surroundings are greener, but it’s rained so much these past weeks and has remained cold (I still hear the furnace kicking on at night). I haven’t spent much time outdoors and don’t feel the spirit of the season.

I don’t know why this has been disheartening, but I’ve been so hungry to get some Vitamin D into my skin, to spend time outdoors.

It’s humbling to be reminded that each year is different and maybe it’s ironic, now that Mother’s Day is upon us, to see a demonstration of how Mother Nature will not be hurried. A warm temperature takes its own time in becoming an everyday forecast.

An unexpected impulse came over me as I looked out my living room window and saw the top of the maple tree just outside. It was as if I heard a voice inside saying…

Open the window…

Ah, when did WINDOW come to mean a set of options graphically displayed on my computer screen?

Acting on this impulse became a sort of ritual.

I adjust the blinds in my living room every day to let sunlight into my home, angling the slats to let shadow and light paint wide horizontal lines on the walls. But I haven’t pulled the blinds up and haven’t unlocked the hardware that kept the sliding casement tightly shut since last September.

Oh my God! Is this what it looks like OUTSIDE?

I could see down the block. Parked cars, in a colorful and random order, seemed like metal blossoms amid low lilac and forsythia bushes planted between the sidewalk and the street.

Then I ran my hands over the top of the white frame of the window. I had to unlock it before sliding it up. This slowed me down. It was as if some voice inside me wanted me to take in the moment. I heard, Do you know what you’re about to do?

I can’t say that an overwhelming scented breeze, happily avoiding the stairs, entered my apartment. It was more like the air that was inside the room, static for so long, moved out of the way. The air from outside and the air from inside my living room started mingling.

Boundaries were removed. A playful rebelliousness, a sort of freedom, filled my home.

As I took a couple breaths, I sensed that the air molecules from cooking last night’s dinner and the accumulation of chimney dust from my downstairs neighbor’s frequent winter fires represented a smaller percentage of the air inside me.

I naturally found myself making room for something new. To breathe in the moment — OPEN THE WINDOW.

Letting the outside in is no small thing.

Anomaly

Years ago, I read a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that discusses black swan theory as it applies to financial markets and to historical events.

A black swan is an event that cannot be predicted from current or past conditions, has a significant impact, and, after the fact, is treated with a variety of rationalizations to explain it.

Last weekend, persuaded by the rainy weather, I decided to take on some serious cleaning projects; the kind that called for gloving up.

I looked under my kitchen sink, where I store my household cleaning supplies, and started pulling out yellow latex gloves, molded to fit either a right or left hand.

One by one, I found myself calling out Right…Right…Right. I had four or five right-handed gloves and absolutely NO left-handed gloves. (Believe me. I looked.)

How could this be? I bought the gloves in pairs. Maybe I lost one or two gloves from tears and they had to be thrown away.   But I couldn’t imagine the odds of having four pairs where early retirements were imposed for same hand.

Maybe this event is not significant and would not qualify as a black swan. Maybe this was just an anomaly –- but I felt compelled to try on different explanations.

I looked under the sinks in the bathrooms. I considered that gloves were separated from their mates as past household chores took my plastic bucket and diluted Pine Sol into other rooms.

I considered recent repair chores. Did I re-hinge any cabinet doors where I was more likely to get my left-hand glove caught on the hardware?

I couldn’t come up with a good explanation.

I started laughing.

OMG, I guess I’m not supposed to do any cleaning today.

Looking for excuses, this was the first thought crossed my mind.

I laid out the gloves and just looked at them. They looked so silly, like rubber chickens, stretched out next to each other.

Then I started thinking about how I would use what I had to do what I wanted to do.

I thought about doing my heavy scrubbing just with my right hand. I picked up each glove and examined them for flexibility. I looked at the possibility of wearing a right-handed glove on my left hand.

I filled my bucket a quarter way high and dropped in heavy splash of gold colored cleaner. I tried not to breathe in the fumes.

I thought about the surprise and the strangeness of the situation; how my first reaction was to look for explanations. Maybe I wanted to find a way to blame myself for the anomaly. Then I laughed at not being in control. Then I set my mind to thinking of ways to work with what had been given to me.

I probably spend too much time and energy, in all sorts of situations when something really unexpected occurs, mentally re-hashing how the situation evolved and ruminating on whether I should have done something differently.

I guess it’s human nature to seek out a certain level of predictability in life, to make plans, to seek out preferred outcomes.   A certain period of loss seems reasonable to indulge in. It takes a while to regain your bearings and get over things.

But it seems important not to be taken in, not to fall into whining or regret. It’s important to face the unexpected with humor and humility. It can be energizing to use anomalies or unexpected circumstances as motivation for invention or for adaptation.

Feeling the hot water as I wring out a sponge while wearing two right-handed gloves is no small thing.

Perspective

One day last week, while on errands, I made a stop at the local Jewel grocery store. I was probably driving a little too fast when I pulled into a parking spot in between a couple shopping cart corrals.

As I unbuckled my seat belt, my mind was fixated on remembering my plastic tote bags from the trunk. (The local stores started charging 7 cents a bag in February.)

Trying not to kiss the blue metal station wagon door next to my car with my own car door, I looked up and saw a large dog with a cone around his head hanging out of the open back seat window.

I started laughing then I felt a well of empathy rising inside of me.

The sight of a dog looking so human because of his circumstances was funny. In that moment, I also felt surprisingly gifted with an image that could serve as a trigger for PERSPECTIVE.

I generally think of gratitude in terms of experiences that make feel connected to things I love or value. I don’t like to think about gratitude as a game of comparisons.

For instance, I don’t believe it serves parents to tell their kids how lucky they are because they are not working in a sweatshop in Malaysia. I believe there are so many things to be grateful about in your actual experience that you don’t need to muster up the feeling by reminding yourself that someone has it worse.

But at that moment, while I was opening my car door and saw this slightly bewildered, slightly bored gentle giant of a dog, I felt very fortunate.   I thought It must be awful to be locked up in the back seat of a car unable to scratch your head!

Wow, the image gave me plenty of perspective. In the scheme of things, not having the basic freedom of mobility and not understanding why seems like a incredibly disheartening experience.

The expression on the dog’s face said it all. It was funny because I could imagine it being worn on a middle-aged man or woman. The dog was somehow more than human. His feelings were so real and transparent.

I also smiled in the moment because the sight was unexpected.

I guess the words human, humor, and humility are connected.

I thought about the many times in my life when I would make a slightly dark observation or twist a phrase into something close to it’s intended meaning but make it much more memorable because it didn’t fit in a typical way.

That impulse has helped me find perspective. Laughing or appreciating the irony of a situation has helped me detach and not feel like a victim.

To me, something can be funny simply because it is unexpected. I get a lot of pleasure from hearing in the flow remarks in the course of an unscripted conversation.

Humility is often triggered in a similar way.

When I realize I can’t will someone to return a text to me any faster or can’t dictate the weather.… lot’s of things remind me that I can’t control everything. Rather than be upset, I recognize how these experiences create or sort of gateway for perspective.

I face my share of disappointments. They are real and deserve to be recognized. But, in general, I love to be surprised.

Those surprising sights and remarks are often funny. Being thrown off kilter can remind you of the vulnerability you share with EVERY HUMAN BEING (and dogs too).

Smiling while feeling empathy for a cone-protected Fido, locked in the backseat of a station wagon, is no small thing.

 

Supersize Me

I’m not usually one to espouse the bigger is always better philosophy.

I prefer shopping at Harvestime over Costco. (I’m definitely not tempted by the idea of saving two dollars by buying 30 rolls of TP only to create a storage problem.)

I would much rather drive to a destination in sedan than an SUV no matter how many cup holders and electronic device adapters it has. I would sooner go to hear jazz in a little club than go to a stadium event where you’re lucky to see the stage (and probably have to wait in a line to pee).

I don’t know why I succumbed to the allure of a promotional mailing I got in my in email box last week, but it became high on this past weekend’s list of errands. It was for $5 off a gi-normous bag of dry dog food.

In the brand I buy, there’s a 4-pound bag and a 24-pound bag. The 24-pound bag already costs much less per ounce than the same product in a smaller package, but buying bulk is not an automatic decision for me.

I hate the thought of lugging this heavy-duty, handle-less sack that’s always changing shape up the two flights of my winding back stairs then over my kitchen threshold.

I also don’t like the idea of paying for something in advance of getting pleasure out of the purchase.

I don’t like when the Illinois Tollway wants me to prepay $40 for tolls I don’t need often. (I don’t commute to work.) Even my subscription to the symphony -– I’m very glad when I enjoy a performance, but I bristle a little bit when I have to shell out cash in June for shows I won’t see until the following April.

When shopping for myself, I worry about waste. Yes, the giant tub of yogurt costs much less per serving than the small package, but I hate pouring food down the drain or into the garbage because I can’t consume something before it becomes a science project.

I realized that I might need to look at this in an expanded way; to let go of some hard and fast rules.

I’m apprehensive about habits that encourage gluttony. If I buy more of something I use, I’m more apt to over-indulge. I’ll fill my plate at a buffet-style restaurant if only to get my money’s worth.

But I don’t want to be miserly with myself. I don’t want to get myself thinking in terms of scarcity. I don’t want to think that things need to be measured out in very deliberate portions, whatever constitutes just enough.

I know what it’s like to open my refrigerator door and see only a carton of eggs, a block of cheese, and a bottle of ketchup.

I remember when I was about to go on an extended vacation in October. I was worried about my dog’s anxiety about being abandoned (which, as a rescue pup, she’s experienced at least once). I had a conversation with a pet communicator a week before my trip.

I had her explain to India how I will be gone for 12 days, but that she shouldn’t be worried because I would come back. I wanted to let India know that I made arrangements for a friend to stay at my home. I wanted to assure her that her daily schedule shouldn’t change.

The pet communicator reported India’s response; that my friend was okay but that she would miss me. Then India asked if there would be enough food in my absence for them both.

I laughed thinking about this because it would be so like India to wonder where her next meal would come from, but I also saw it as a lesson for me – to be FLEXIBLE, not to feel bound by past decisions or rules of habit.

It was okay to SUPERSIZE my dog food purchase.

More is not always better, but not being miserly with myself is important too. I need to remember I don’t have to follow one rule.

There may be times when lugging a big bag up my stairs causes me more anxiety than the cost savings is worth. And I need to honor that feeling. But spending less money over a period of time, having ENOUGH for LONGER, has its attractions.

I need to honor my dominant feeling.

Having a whole season of kibbles in ready supply for your favorite pooch is no small thing.