In my last post, I noted that I thought my physical flexibility was lessening somewhat. I am not happy about that, but my chief concern is that I remain (or maybe the correct phrase is become more) mentally and emotionally flexible.
I like to think that, at least sometimes, I embody definition #3 for flexible: “characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements….” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flexible) This is not just some random idea I picked up on the Internet. I did once have an actual mental health professional called me flexible (and, for the record, resilient also). My family seems to expect me to be flexible and I think they are more or less satisfied with me on that point. I was going to write that my coworkers have generally thought I was flexible, but I don’t think that is completely true. However, many of my coworkers/friends have found me friendly, cooperative, and non-doctrinaire. Anyhow, back to considering my flexibility quotient:
How I have become or tried to become more flexible:
- I now like to listen to opera. This is not because I’ve changed my bourgeois Midwestern spots. It’s just that our parrot friend Phoenix enjoys opera and I trust his instincts.
- I used to despise eggplant. I don’t blame myself. I think when I was young, I only had tasted horrible school-lunch style eggplant parmesan. I mentioned this dislike to an Afghan student. She said that she would change my mind when I tasted her eggplant dish. She was right and between the baba ganoush and that Chinese dish of fried eggplant with lots of garlic, I am now a dedicated fan. In fact, I am growing four Japanese eggplants this year (a huge crop when one gardens on 1/20 of an acre as I do).
- Time was—back when I was a new gardener—just sighting a slug was cause for loud complaints and gross-out noises. There was the time I ran barefooted to answer the phone and stepped on a giant, spotted, end-of-summer specimen. I washed off my foot in the tub for five minutes. The thought of slug slime on my foot was just too much for me to bear. It’s been a rainy spring and early summer here and just last week, I flipped a page of The New York Times Magazine, which had been out on the patio, and found a slug making itself comfortable inside. I took the slug outside and, with Tom’s help, we liberated it. I don’t usually even sprinkle my diatomaceous earth around the vegetables to tear the slugs’ little bodies. Life’s tough enough all around already without it.
- About five years ago at one of our Deep Creek, Maryland family meetings, one of my sisters-in-law introduced me to Sudoku. Not only introduced me, but left her puzzle book for me to finish. She told me that, to begin with, it was okay to fill out a few of the squares—using the answers in the back—to help me get the idea. Well, it took me more time than I want to admit to figure out the logic involved in Sudoku, and I still cheat on every game I play. At first, I kept playing because the puzzles were fun and because I love my sister-in-law and her book. Later, I played compulsively to help me through a tough patch or two. Also, at the back of my mind, I remembered that pop culture tells us that doing this stuff (crosswords, playing bridge, etc.) is supposed to help keep our cognitive functioning up to snuff—flexible, that is. I have about a fifth of the puzzles in the book yet to complete, so I guess I will see whether my slow and unsteady pace wins the prize of maintaining well-oiled cognition.
- I was the youngest of five children and so I never spent too much time alone when I was growing up. I had roommates in college and at my first jobs away from home. Then, for two quarters—maybe one—when I started graduate school, I lived alone in a cellar—more or less—in Salt Lake City. Some things happened there. A figure crouched at my window in the night staring down at me in my cellar. A thief robbed me of my Zuni bracelet, my mother’s brooch, and the Swiss Army knife I kept by my bed for safety. Many early mornings a greasy crone greeted me when I stumbled from my little space through the laundry area to my even smaller bathroom. I was not a success first time out alone. So, later on, married with kids, I used to worry when my husband would go away on business trips. I don’t know what I expected. We had nothing much to steal and, by this point, we lived in nice neighborhoods. When the children got a bit older and life became—let’s say—complicated and, maybe, not easy, I learned something new. The scary things were no longer separate from me crouching above my bed the way they had been when I was young. I realized that the fear, insecurity, and pain were inside of me. I became flexible (and resilient) because I had to do so. And I keep trying most days.
Note: My husband read these words and mentioned that I haven’t actually explained why I became flexible. I guess that’s because a) I don’t know why and b) it’s not totally true. Maybe it’s because as the youngest child and the only girl, I fit naturally into the already well-developed family structure: not too much complaining or crying or I couldn’t tag along; once a brother deemed me able to walk home from kindergarten by myself, I just had to find my way home (I did); don’t flinch when the hardball comes at you–hold your glove in the right place. As an adult, I have sometimes taken sips from the cup of bitterness. Happily, I never gulped. Instead, I would remember the Bob Dylan lines, “Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now” (from My Back Pages) and it has seemed true for me, whenever I shook loose of the bitterness. Also, I am a stick-in-the-mud about many things–from how I put dirty dishes in the dishwasher to my politics. Furthermore, I am becoming less flexible and resilient about driving.
I don’t know whether or not my examples have convinced you or me that I am flexible.However, when I have been writing, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about some words from a W.B. Yeats poem that give me comfort. Here they are from “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”:
I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
From The Winding Stair and Other Poems, 1933