Walk in the Park

One of the things I miss most about living in New York City is the seasons.  I know that sounds crazy, especially to so many non-Californians who daydream about the idea of 75-degree weather every day, but it’s true.  I rarely bother checking the weather anymore because it’s the same 99% of the time – I have a theory that the staff at were getting bored writing “Mountain View, CA – 75 and Sunny” every day, so one enterprising employee busted out the thesaurus.  Some days reports “abundant sunshine” other days it’s “plentiful sunshine” or “bountiful sunshine.” The English major in me really gets a kick out of it.

As much as I do love the consistently sunny Bay Area days and the outdoors-year-round lifestyle that goes with them, I miss the rhythm and cadence of the seasons in New York.   I remember the airless, humid days of summer, the heat shimmering off the asphalt and wanting to take a shower 5 minutes after stepping outside – but also the nights so warm you never needed a sweater, the feeling of freedom and endless time running around in shorts at midnight.  I remember the crisp days of Autumn, strolling through Central Park with coffee in hand and and being awestruck at the foliage, vibrant and alive.  I remember the first snow of the season, the magic of the feathery white snowflakes blanketing the city almost making up for the numb toes and sludgy puddles.  I remember that first spring day after a winter that seemed endless, the first time you didn’t need to hunch over and hurry to the subway, when walking outside felt bearable again – like a new day had come.  

I was talking with a friend recently about life – in all of its ups, downs and sideways –  and at one point she said “It sounds like this is a tough season.”  That turn of phrase stopped me in my tracks – this is a season.  I needed so desperately to be reminded that the current snapshot of my life is not etched in stone, that the only constant in life is change, that this is a season – and the nature of seasons is that as one ends, a new one begins.

There is a tall, sweeping tree across the street from my apartment, framed by the window of my second-story loft, and I have watched every day over the last few weeks as the leaves have turned from bright green to rich auburn.  That tree leaves (pun intended) no doubt – Fall is here!  The funny thing is, last week we were hit with a heat wave and it was 92 degrees outside – not exactly peacoat and Pumpkin Spice Latte weather.  Looking out my window at that magenta tree seemed so odd and incongruous as I sweated in my tank top and shorts, pressing a bag of frozen peas to the back of my neck in an effort to cool down.  It felt like nothing had changed, that we were still in the heart of summer, but that tree was a stubborn reminder – that Fall is coming, come heck or high water, that a new season is upon us even though on the surface everything looks the same, feels the same.  

There are signs, if you know where to look, that change is in the air, that the winds are carrying away the warm, lazy, hazy days of summer and ushering in the crisp, clean air of Fall.  There are signs that a fresh start is coming, that a new season is coming.

It helps me so much to be reminded that no matter how bitterly cold and dark and seemingly endless the winter, no matter how improbable and unlikely it seems that the sun will ever shine again – spring comes.  It helps me to remember that no matter how long and hot and oppressive the dog days of summer, all of a sudden one day you’ll  find yourself shivering once the sun sets, and reaching for that long-forgotten sweater.

Sometimes the change is imperceptible -a slender stalk of plant inching upwards from the ground, struggling to find the light.  Sometimes the change comes in a flash – a riot of fall color bursting forth, lush and vibrant, fully alive.  No matter how and when and where, change comes.  Somehow knowing that this season won’t last forever makes it easier to bear – more than that, to look for what is good and beautiful and worthy of deep gratitude and celebration in this season, and treasure it all the more because it is fleeting.  It makes me want to stop and pause and soak up this moment, this day, this season, knowing that a new one is just around the corner.

A Bad Case of The Shoulds


I vividly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with my therapist, a kind, grandmotherly woman who wears cardigan sweater sets and speaks zingers of wisdom, truth and grace into my life.

**[Sidebar]** I have very few universal proclamations that I think apply to everyone, but this is the one I hang my hat on – everyone should go to therapy.  Every-one.  I don’t care if you are the most even-keeled, well-adjusted, so-zen-you-radiate-sunbeams person on the planet (or perhaps more accurately if you think you are).  Having someone who can make astute observations about who you are and how you operate in the word is a gift.   Someone who cares, but isn’t biased and affected by you like your friends and family are.  Someone who can say hard truths to you about how you’re clearly carrying baggage from your relationship with your parents, you care way too much about what other people think and are the poster child for co-dependency and wrap up the conversation with “That will be $150, see you next week” as they usher you kindly but firmly out of their office.   Imagine those same hard truths being spoken to you by your (very brave) friend or family member, who gets to end that same hard conversation with “So, did you want to get pizza for dinner tonight or…?”

I think the stigma about therapy has definitely gotten better over the years, but I know it still lingers in many circles, which is why I’m super open about my own experience.  For me, therapy has quite simply been a gift – not a cheap gift by any means, but worth every penny and then some – like a gym membership or buying organic kale salads instead of fast food, it’s an upfront investment that pays huge dividends over time.  For me, therapy has been a way to have people of wisdom and faith speak truth into my life, a way to better understand who I am and what I truly want out of this life I’ve been given, and a pathway to becoming my healthiest, happiest and most whole self. **[End sidebar]**

I jokingly refer to my current therapist as my “mentor whom I pay” – because over the last three years of seeing her, that’s what she has become.  She and I co-led a grief recovery support group at our church together and (in what was probably a violation of some therapist/client rule but also a pretty great story) she set me up on blind date, which I took as a huge compliment – because of all people, if your therapist who sees you at your very worst still thinks you’re a catch, that’s pretty affirming.

So – back to our conversation from a few years ago.  I was trying to decide between multiple options (that seemed do-or-die at the time but I literally don’t remember today, which is good perspective for us all) and my verbal processing sounded something like “Well I want to choose option A, but I feel like I should choose option B… or actually I really should choose option C…”

After some extended classic therapist listening and head-nodding (I assume there is a class in therapist school dedicated exclusively to the proper soothing rhythm and cadence of head nodding) there was a pause in my monologue, and I asked her what she thought I should do.  She sighed, adjusted the collar on her sweater set, smiled at me and said “Well Mary, I think you should stop should-ing all over yourself.” [if you don’t get it try saying it out loud…yep, there it is.]

I laughed so hard, and also felt that zing of truth when something resonates deeply in my heart and soul.  

Stop should-ing all over myself – got it.

For as long as I can remember, I have had lots of ideas about what my life should be like – ideas formed from a potent and diverse cocktail of advice given to me by authority figures, images from popular culture and media, and words spoken to me by everyone from my mom to my closest friends to that nice lady I once chatted with in line at Chipotle.  These words have formed a Frankenstein-esque tapestry of expectations, rules and ideals that I tell myself I should live up to, often without probing deeper to question their validity or application to my life, who I am and want to be.

So many of these “shoulds” are tied up in this idea I have of what it means to be a responsible adult – that adulthood is about having a shiny, settled, put-together, in control, wrinkle free, hospital corners life.  That if I just try harder and apply myself I can achieve this utopian state where every aspect of my career, relationships, finances, and health is buttoned up, settled, sorted, in control.

I know, I’m laughing too.

The shoulds are like a virus in my body, lying dormant for long periods of time until they flare up when I least expect it – just when I’m starting to think I’ve made my peace with a healthy amount of uncertainty and messiness in my life, when I feel healthy and adjusted and shoulds-free.

Recently I found myself talking through the pros and cons of different next-step life decisions with three of my best friends, and I heard myself say out loud “I mean, I want to do A but I feel like in order to be a responsible adult I really should do B” – WHOA, warning sign, red light, get into bed with a cold compress on my head and call the doctor immediately before this turns into a full blown case of the shoulds.

I don’t want to start walking down the path of other people’s expectations, of fragments of advice that I’ve picked up along the way from varyingly reliable sources.   I want to listen to the still small voice in my own heart, to align my decisions with what I deeply value, what brings me life and joy and peace.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better about recognizing the symptoms when a bad case of the shoulds is coming on, and fighting them with some  self-reflection, words of truth from trusted friends who know me well, and most of all reminding myself that God’s list of “shoulds” looks very different than the worlds’. **

Knowing my personality, I doubt I’ll ever be 100% shoulds-free, but I’m getting better at fighting the flares, and I hope as time passes they will get fewer and farther between.

**He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8