I’m not sure when I became one of those people. For years, I’ve followed those people on Facebook, mystified by their myriad posts about how much they had done, how hard they had pushed themselves, how exhausted they were. They were doing it all: going back to school, home schooling multiple kids, growing their own vegetables, running hobby farms, working 9-5 jobs, free-lancing as photographers, writing books, rescuing animals, teaching yoga, heading up church functions, attending business conventions–you name it, they were doing it. All these women, all these moms. So many pictures of handmade crafts, homemade jams and jellies, elaborately decorated children’s bedrooms, hip themed birthday parties and expensive family “vacations” that looked more like work than fun. Also, there were pictures of friends standing sweaty but triumphant after running many miles, or after the kind of workout class that has been known to induce vomiting (this is, apparently, a good thing?) “Before-and-after” weight loss pics. Diplomas. Children’s lives meticulously documented, milestone by milestone. Everything on display, saying, “Look at me! Look how busy I am! Aren’t I a worthwhile person?” I used to smile and shake my head at those people.
Of course they’re worthwhile, but not because of their achievements, I told myself. A person’s worth lies in who she is, not in what she does, was my deeply held belief. I thought of myself as a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of person, not a type-A kind of person. Living with my parents after my divorce, I spent about six years smelling the roses, daydreaming, going for long walks in the woods, breathing deeply, killing time with friends, laughing. My soul became quieter, my spirit more at peace. I had found myself, I thought; at long last I knew who I was and what my place was in the universe. I was going to teach others what I had learned about not sweating the small stuff, living in the moment, being honest and introspective and kind and gentle.
So my question now is: when did I lose touch with the “me” of 2 or 3 years ago? When did I become one of those people?
I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the line, I became the kind of person who would cuss out a bunny rabbit.
Yes, you read that right. I cussed at one of my two pet bunnies today. The circumstances that led up to this ignoble event are as follows:
I don’t have the hardest job in the world, but it is busy. For those of you who aren’t in charge of a classroom at a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities…imagine that you have a full-time job as a day care teacher. Then imagine that you also have a full-time office job.
Now imagine that you have to do them both at the same time. And in the same place.
Usually I juggle my paperwork duties and my direct care duties fairly well, I think. It’s become second-nature after so many years. But every January and July, I have the bulk of my meetings, each one of which requires that I do quite a bit of extra paperwork. This is OK in January. I stay late after work every day until the work is done, and I don’t think twice about it, because—well, what else is there to do in the Northeast in January??? But July? Ah, July, the time when coworkers and Facebook friends are reveling in their summer vacations. In July, it’s hard not to be bitter about being too busy to take time off, or about putting in lots of extra work when so many other people are playing. But I deal. I get through it. Then I take my vacation mid-August. This July, though, I was slogging along just fine when I got sick.
I came down with a bad cold on the Fourth of July weekend, and just to make my return to “crunch time” at work just that much better, on Sunday night I slept a grand total of one hour. And every other night that week, I got 5 hours of sleep or less. And every day, I felt sicker and sicker. And every day, I just pushed myself harder. By Friday evening, I had a full-blown sinus infection, and I was exhausted. Saturday and Sunday, I babied myself; I did little but lie around and watch TV. And cough, and blow my nose, and take my temp, and take medicine. I got up this morning, still not feeling well, but it was Monday, time to PUSH MYSELF again no matter how I felt. I muddled through my morning routine, getting ready for work. Ten minutes before it was time to leave the apartment, I turned to look at my bunny, Tribble, and what did I see but Oreo, my other bunny, sitting outside Tribble’s cage!
Now, Tribble is a very well-mannered rabbit with (usually) good litter box habits, and he never chews on things he shouldn’t when I let him out of his cage. When I let Tribble out of his cage, I can go about my business in another room for a while without worrying about him.
Oreo is another story. Oreo is new here. His manners are not quite what they should be yet, and he likes to run behind or under the furniture and stay there, resisting any effort to return him to his cage.
I spent ten minutes chasing him around the living room as he ran behind the couch, popped out for a second, then ran back. I tried bribing him with treats. I tried calling him. (For those of you non-bunny parents, imagine trying to call a wild rabbit. The result is about the same.) I even tried begging him. And, when it was time for me to go to work and Oreo remained behind the couch, I lost it. I yelled, “Get over here, you little —-!” (Insert not-so-nice name here.) “You’re going to make me late for work!”
Oh, sure. Rabbits understand the value of a good work ethic, and of punctuality. He hopped right back into his cage with profuse apologies. Uh huh. Nope, what Oreo did was hide under the couch, thumping in alarm at the human who had temporarily lost her mind.
That thump crushed me. I’ve had bunnies thump to get attention, or when they are being naughty/playful, but this was an alarm-thump. I scared him. Now, when I got Oreo, I held all the other bunnies too, looking for the most docile one. Oreo was it. I deliberately chose him for his gentleness. Because there’s not much that feels better than gaining the trust of a shy, gentle creature.
And not much worse than losing that trust, even if just for a moment.
I took this as a sign. I had become one of those people. Getting to work on time is important, sure, but it had become more important to me than my own health, and also more important to me than being kind. It was time for me to pump the brakes. I had allowed the stress of work (and being sick, and insomnia) to consume me to the point that I cracked. I stayed home today, so that I can finally get well once and for all and stop being the crazy lady who cusses out bunny rabbits. And trust me, when Oreo did return to his cage—of his own volition, I might add, and soon after I gave up chasing him—I talked to him and petted him for a long time. He was his usual self, so I guess it takes more than a loud, crazy nut to faze a bunny.
After making it up to Oreo, I went back to bed with some herbal tea, a good book, and a lot of tissues. I rested for a couple hours. When I got up, I got a second chance to learn the lesson I was supposed to learn today.
A few weeks ago, I found a few black swallowtail caterpillars on the dill in my garden. I love my dill, and I love caterpillars, so I came up with a solution: I unearthed an old plastic “critter keeper” and put the caterpillars in it, much as I used to do as a kid with monarch caterpillars. I opened the lid daily and fed them wild carrot and fennel, and they grew and then pupated.
The first black swallowtail butterfly emerged Saturday. Her wings were dry and unfurled when I discovered her. I released her in my garden, where she rested on my butterfly bush for a while before flying away.
The second butterfly had just emerged when I looked in the plastic cage late this morning. He looked like I felt, all soggy and crumpled and weak. He could scarcely hold onto my finger, and kept falling off onto my comforter, upside down and nearly helpless.
I let him crawl onto my hand and tried to place him on several different surfaces, so I could take his picture as his wings unfurled. But every time, he showed a clear preference for my hand. Specifically, my right pinky finger. This was where he chose to harden his wings.
I was honored, and awed. As many times as I had similar experiences as a child, I haven’t lost that wonder that is peculiar to holding a butterfly. How to describe the delicate grasp of his feet on my skin, the tendril of his tongue curling and uncurling, the tip of this proboscis tapping tentatively across my skin, searching for nectar? I was delighted.
But being a perch for that butterfly was also an exercise in patience and tranquility. Since he had such a tentative grasp on my finger, if I didn’t want to drop him, I had to stay still. Since he was on my right pinky, and I am right-handed, I had to surrender the use of my hands for a few moments. When you are a person accustomed to near-constant movement, this is not easy. I have never really tried yoga, but I sat cross-legged on the floor, right hand aloft in front of my face, and I closed my eyes and breathed slowly and deeply, concentrating on the minute sensation of the butterfly’s weight on my pinky and the slight flutter of his wings as I exhaled. I felt calmer than I have in a long time. For a few minutes, I concentrated on a being other than myself, and on something other than work, money, bills, grocery shopping, or household chores. I forgot my “bad” hair and skin and waistline, and focused instead on the natural beauty I held in my hand.
I wish I could say that, after setting the butterfly down, I stayed serene, but immediately, it all came flooding back. The anxiety, the care. I started to flit about the apartment, straightening this and cleaning that. I always feel guilty when I call in sick, no matter how lousy I feel, and so I clean, as if doing penance.
But somewhere in the middle of doing dishes, it occurred to me: I’m supposed to write this. I resisted at first. Because, despite the fact that I have wanted to be a writer since I was five years old, writing is one of the hardest kinds of work around—especially honest, introspective writing. I’d rather stay busy doing the myriad trivial tasks that typical, Type-A women do every minute of every day, than sit down, quiet my soul, and write something that may have deeper or more lasting value. Why would I rather stay busy? Because, after so long without writing, I am way out of practice. So, chores are the easy way out.
But the ability to write is still in me. A bunny and a butterfly reminded me of that today. And as I write this last sentence, I realize something extraordinary: I am that newly-hatched butterfly, rumpled and struggling, but growing stronger all the time.