Starting Your Day With Intention

My grandma went for a walk nearly every morning until she was 92. She would leave when the sun came up and stroll around the neighbourhood for an hour or so every morning. She’d say hi to passersby and to neighbours working in their gardens. She’d stop to watch the leaves fall or the flowers blow in the breeze. She’d spend a whole hour enjoying the sounds around her, waking up with the world, watching it rub the sleep from it’s eyes. Then she would come home, hang her jacket on the coat rack, make herself a cup of coffee and sit down to read the paper.

I loved this about her. And I respected the fact that, no matter how much she loved me and enjoyed my company, I was not welcome then. That was her time, no questions asked.

When she was finished with her morning routine, she would go about her day in her characteristically sweet and unflappable fashion – working in the garden, making wool, patiently attending to her overly curious granddaughter. That was the case, at least, on the days when she went for walks. On the rare days she couldn’t, we we all felt the difference. She was easily irritated and cranky. Her sweet demeanor remained, but it was tinged with a hint of passive aggression, leading to snarky remarks and mutual frustration.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised the power of these morning routines in her life – the serenity and perspective they provided her – and the emotional consequences she suffered when she couldn’t start her day the way that suited her. I realised it because my own morning routine was completely obliterated by our move last year and it wasn’t until I lost this part of my day that I saw how essential it had been to my emotional well-being.

As my grandmother’s granddaughter, I too find morning walks the best way to start my day. In London, I would walk most mornings in the cemetery behind our house. I loved watching the fog roll in, I loved playing with my dog friends, and I loved watching the seasons change – seeing the old flowers die off and the new ones take their place. It was as nourishing to me as a full English breakfast, if not more so.

Muscat, however, is not a pedestrian friendly city. Sure, we live near a gorgeous park where I could walk in the morning, but to get there I have to cross some busy roads where I will inevitably be honked at by taxis trying to save me from the drudgery of experiencing the world on foot. That’s neither peaceful nor serene. I could go for a morning swim at the nearby beach, but that involves gear and sun cream and extra showers. It’s a lot of work, which offsets the relaxation element of the whole exercise.

Without the option of my ideal morning routine, I found myself growing grumpy and irritable, just like my dear old gram. I felt a profound difference in my ability to handle the day. Everyone annoyed me. Nothing went right. I felt like I was chasing my days instead of navigating my way through them. I rushed around being busy, trying to justify the loss of that time by being hyper “productive.” I lost my perspective and let little things get to me in a big way.

I realised I had to find a way to get that serenity back in my life. I needed to find a way to start my day in a slow, purposeful, nature-filled way because, without it, I was simply not myself.

It took some time develop a non-walking morning routine, but I have finally settled into something that mostly scratches that itch. Every morning now, I get up with the sun and sprinkle food on our windowsill for the wild parrots. Then I write, do some yoga and meditate while I listen to them eat breakfast and bicker over pecking order. I only spend an hour doing these things, but by the end I feel rejuvenated in mind, body and spirit. I begin the day feeling centred and intentional about what I want to do and why. I’m nicer to everyone, myself included.

Building this routine has made all the difference for me. Just like watching autumn leaves fall in the crisp morning breeze was essential to my grandma’s soul, watching parrots eat on my windowsill while I do yoga is essential to mine.

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Have Your Own Agenda

Ira Glass wrote something that stuck out to me. Have your own agenda.

We all want to work for ourselves. That’s the dream. But even when we are working for other people, we can still have our own agenda.

I used to do this all the time. I saw my jobs as tools that I leveraged to get the things I wanted. I got a nearly-free Bachelor’s degree from one, cheap hotels from another and all the chocolate I could eat from yet another. I always took jobs that  gave me more than a paycheck. Even my application decisions were calculated. I didn’t see any other way of doing it. If I was going to give them my time and my energy, I wanted to get things back that added to my life as a whole. Free books. Free public transport. Whatever it was, I always had an agenda. There was always an angle I was working. And why not?

Now that I am not working in a traditional way, however, I find that I am all over the map. I throw out energy hither and thither with no real reason or purpose. I have things I want to achieve, yes, but I seem to latch on to anything that promises a little bit of money in the short term and I no longer weigh big picture factors as heavily.

I haven’t had as much choice in my jobs lately, so much of it has been a matter of survival. I get that. But I realised today that even in the midst of this situation, even when I really need a job just to pay the bills and save up for the future, I still have a choice. I can still find ways to get more than a paycheck out of the jobs I am doing. And if a potential job doesn’t match my agenda, I can say no to it and use my energy more effectively, putting it into things that serve the bigger picture, not just the next paycheck.

Dear Last Tuesday Me

Dear past me,

You’re sitting there right now freaking out about what is to come later today. It’s  a frightening and ookey prospect and your fear totally makes sense. But I am going to talk to you about what it means to be on the other side of that. About how remarkable it is that you have the option for this in your life and what it will mean to you after you go through the gross part. You’re going to be amazed.

So sit back and listen.

A few hours from now, you will get in the car to go to the eye clinic. You will be nervous, anxious, excited and unsure of what to expect. That’s totally normal. When you arrive, there will be forms to fill out, ones that talk about lots of horrible things that can go catastrophically wrong. You’ll take a deep breath and sign them. You’ll have quick eye exams to sit through and a brief visit with your doctor who will answer all your last questions, see that nervous glimmer in your eye and tell you it’ll be okay. You’ll only sort of believe him.

You’ll be whisked to a sterile waiting room – booties placed on your feet, hair nets slid over your locks – and sat in a large, soft recliner in a small glass cubicle. You’ll wonder if they would notice if you stole this chair. It’s a really comfy chair.  Your nearly bare feet will touch the cold tile floor and it will calm you.

The nurse will put drops in your eyes, numb them for the operation, and then wash them in a complicated way that will leave you perplexed but which she clearly does every day a million times. You’ll decide to trust her.  She’ll rinse your eyes with a stream of slightly cool water. You won’t feel the water on your your eyeballs, only on the thin lines of your eyelids and down your face where it flows cool and wet. You’ll look up into the stream of water, right up the middle of it – the drops bubbling over and around each other, the stream sparkling in a steady flow down onto your eye – and think you’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

You’ll be wrong.

Tomorrow you’ll see.

You’ll be escorted into the operating room and situated on a table where the nurse will adjust your head in such small movements that you’ll worry a slight shift will be the ruin of you and your eyeballs. It won’t. Your doctor will walk you through all the steps, letting you know where to look, letting you know what you’ll see, talking through numbers you don’t understand with his assistants all the while.

He’ll do a lot of different things and you’ll feel a little weird about the fact he is touching your eyeballs, touching them a lot, and your eyes don’t seem to care. You’ll start to care about them not caring, start to care immensely, and you’ll worry that you should care and then instantly worry that you shouldn’t care and in the end you’ll decide to breathe deeply and let it be.

It’ll last longer than you expect and be done faster than you expect. Time is weird.

You’ll be accompanied once more to the small glass cubicle with the big soft chair and the nurse will wash your eyes one last time. She’ll give you a pair of ridiculous but kind of awesome new goggles that’ll make your now delicate eyes feel a whole lot safer.

When you walk out of the sterile room, you’ll see Chris and, realising you are safe and it’s all over, all the adrenaline you kept at bay during the surgery will come back in a wave of general ookey-ness. You’ll feel shaky, a little weak and not opposed to the idea of vomiting. It’s okay. You’ll be home soon.

You’ll sit at home for a few hours in a dark room, listening to some podcasts. Chris’ idea. Genius. It’ll take your mind off the surgery. Your eyes won’t hurt, but you’ll be aware of them, all the while trying not to be. When a few hours have passed, you’ll try to test out your new eyes, see if they are fixed, but realise it is too soon to expect any results.

At some point, you’ll turn your head and look down the hall where the only light is coming from and see photos on the wall. They’re photos you see every day, photos you took, photos that look exactly like they always do. You’ll do a double take. They’ll look exactly like they always do….with your glasses on. But you’re in your bed with funky goggles on. You’ll start to feel a weird feeling of excitement mixed with confusion mixed with a little remaining nausea. Why can you see those??

Chris will call you for dinner – fajitas – and you’ll eat by candle light. You’ll start looking around and see that you can actually see things, but you’ll wonder if you are just seeing what you always do and filling in the gaps, making up the details because you know them so well. You’ll tell yourself you are exaggerating, that you can’t possibly notice results when your eyes are still fresh out of surgery.

Then you’ll see the package of tortillas across the table and realise you can read some of it. Chris will put it up to the candle, a low, soft, yellow light and you’ll tease out the white text from the red background, reading it clearly from across the table. You’ll freak out a little both inside and out. How is this possible?? How can that be?

The next day, you’ll wake up and see the world differently.

After a quick trip to your doctor you’ll take the long way home and find yourself by the sea. A new sea. A different sea. A sea full of so much detail you don’t know how to process it. You’ll sit on a rock overlooking the waves and find yourself completely humbled, totally in awe of the change that has just taken place. You will see the bubbles on the waves. You will see the feathers on the birds. You will see the perfect reflection of a sandpiper walking along the surf. And you’ll cry and cry at the thought of it. The beauty of it. The magic of it. How is this possible? How can you not see one day and see so perfectly the next? How can humans be capable of such incredible precision? How can we do something so miraculous?

You will want to thank the person who made this possible, the people who gave you this gift. Thank them from the bottom of your heart, from the most grateful part of your soul. But who are they and how would you do that? Who would you even thank?

You’ll start thinking of all the people who are involved in something like this. You’ll realise that at your clinic alone you met people from Venezuela, Columbia, India, Oman and more – that even your small part of this story links in with so many other places and people. Then you’ll start thinking about the scientists, the doctors, the lawyers (because they’re always somewhere in these things), the tinkerers, the engineers, the manufacturers, the transporters, the testers, the repairmen, all the people who are involved in this one piece of machinery and you’ll feel like a whole town dedicated itself to this pursuit so that you could sit by the sea and appreciate tiny bubbles popping on the sand.

You’ll cry more. And you’ll worry that all the tears will do something horrible to your new eyes (oh the irony!), but you can’t stop crying because the joy is welling up and out of you and it always finds its way out through your eyeballs. Those new eyeballs that can now see it all so clearly.

Today’s the Day

When I was eight or nine years old, I went to a children’s museum in Utah where they had one exhibit that was neither colorful nor noisy and therefore all but abandoned by most of the kids. Being a curious person, though, I had to check it out.

In the middle of a big room stood a small house. It had all the rooms – a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room – all squeezed down to kid-sized proportions. I can’t tell you what any of it looked like, though, because inside the house it was pitch black. Really, truly, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face darkness.

This was my first encounter with the world of the blind.

I knew blind people existed, of course, and I had, in my childish attempt to understand their lives, walked around my house with my eyes closed and my arms out zombie-style. It didn’t seem so bad. Stairs were annoying, but I could always cheat slightly by looking down for just the briefest second. I could totally handle being blind, I thought. This is not such a big deal.

That’s what I thought until the day at the museum, that is.

When I tried to navigate through this house, I couldn’t cheat. I couldn’t peek for just a second. I had my eyes wide open, hoping for some kind of light to penetrate the room, but it never did. The only way to get through it was to use the rest of my senses.

It was slow. It was awkward. It was clumsy. And I never thought about blind people and their experience of the world the same way again.

I love my eyes. I love them a lot. Knowing they are possibly temporary and seeing for myself what that would look like made me seriously respect my other senses and diligently hone them from that day forward. Just in case. But I would really love to hang on to my vision as long as I possibly can. It’s for this reason, this respect for my eyes and how much value they add to my life that I have put off today’s events for as long as I have.

This afternoon I am having lasik surgery. I am told that by this time tomorrow I will be able to look out my window and see individual leaves on trees. I can, of course, do this just fine right now with my glasses on, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But yes, the idea of not looking for dropped contacts on blue tile floors does appeal. As does no longer having face grease impede my vision as it slowly creeps across my glasses during the day.

There are are a lot of great things to look forward to from this surgery, but the surgery itself is not one of them. It is the leaves and blue tile floors and face grease I will try to keep in mind as I allow someone to slice my cornea open with a laser and burn little bits off of it (just typing that made my stomach flip – apologies to any sensitive folk out there). I’m very much not looking forward to those ten minutes of fun. It doesn’t seem like the most respectful way to treat eyes that have worked hard for me for nearly 33 years, but them’s the shakes.

The benefits of seeing the world without the aid of contacts or glasses (or tiny diamonds made between my forefingers and thumbs) sounds pretty spectacular  though – as does diving without fear of losing a lens, not carrying a whole bag of solution and cases and lenses and glasses with me on camping trips (or any trips!), not choosing a new pair of frames at the eye clinic (though I’ll miss my red ones!), and not taking off my contacts only to realise I don’t know where my glasses are. Those all sound pretty great. So great that I will face my fear of losing my sight in the hopes of gaining even better vision.

Today’s the day. It’s going to happen whether I’m ready for it or not. Here we go!

I’ll see you on the other side!

It’s Important

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Remembrance Day is one of my favourite British traditions. My first year here, I went to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and the experience is still one of my most cherished memories in London. I can still feel the cool mist on my face, the silence of Westminster Square and the goosebumps I got from the chime of Big Ben like it was yesterday. I love when poppies start blooming across lapels every autumn because it reminds me of that moment and of what it meant to me.

I never thought much about Veteran’s Day in the States, and I certainly never took time to observe it on purpose (a fact that is particularly shaming as my brother is a veteran). It is a day that is normally reserved for military bases and cemeteries, where they stop for a moment of silence and a round of Taps, far away from the public eye. There’s something different about it in the UK though: everyone participates. Continue reading