Embracing Personal Space and Boundaries
we went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.” From Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol share
Lunching with two good friends last Spring, our conversation turned naturally to house and home. Spooning gobs of guacamole into Baby Heath’s happy and very large mouth, I bemoaned the fact that I was sure our house was too small for my two big strapping boys. They are both in the 99th percentile in each age bracket for height, weight, and head size. I mean, are we going to have to get a meat locker to meet their ‘feed-me-Seymour’ style appetites? But the thing was, I said, we really did not have a true third bedroom, so obviously we would need to move. Right?
Both of the women laughed and spoke in rapid Spanish that I couldn’t follow. This was, they explained, one of the American attitudes that were a particular puzzle to them, having grown up in Mexico. They could not understand why Americans were so determined to have every child in a home have their own room. It wasn’t because this attitude was privileged or spoiled or ridiculously luxurious that they took issue with it. They just thought that putting a child in his own room seemed so very lonely for the children.
They went on to tell me that in Mexico, even in grand and large houses, the children would naturally all come together in one room, sleep together, tell stories, sneak sweets – in short, do all of the things that children like to do. They would not dream of being isolated in their own rooms. After that lunch, I went home and a few days later my husband and I spoke to our eldest. We could, we said, look for a bigger house so that each boy would have their own room or we could stay put in this house and this neighborhood that we all loved, but Jasper would have to share his room. Jasper, in turn, looked at us with a mixture of incredulity and amusement that only an 8 year old can muster, rolled his eyes, and pronounced that OF COURSE, he was sharing a room with his brother, DUH. Considering the conversation over, he then went to his desk, got out his art supplies and replaced the “Jasper’s Room” sign on the door with a “Jasper and Heath’s Room” sign. David and I looked at each other, a little stunned it had been so easy and also thinking – Well, hell. Why didn’t we do that sooner?
Over the past week, three synchronicities have made me think about this story again and again. The first was a newsletter that contained an enthusiastic exhortation to soulful seekers to share with each other — their ideas, inspiration, favorite people and teachers, the best art and pieces of writing and magic making that stirred their souls. The author claimed (and had a good amount of evidence to back the claim) that online advertising was and always had been DOA and that as a result when we find someone or something that enlivens and inspires us then we have a responsibility to share that with others because that is really the only way we find each other on the internet any more. Sharing is how we make the web work.
The second moment was in an email with a friend who was distraught about a conversation she had had with a couple of her friends. They had wondered if she could marry them and she told them that she did not do wedding ceremonies. They were super disappointed and she felt horrible that she had to say no – bad to the point where she was thinking maybe she should do wedding ceremonies. I asked her if there was any part of her that was interested in doing wedding ceremonies, and she said: “absolutely not”. So then I asked her if she knew anyone who did wedding ceremonies. It turned out she knew three people! She went back to the couple and gave them the names. They were thrilled to have some leads and she was thrilled that she was able to support them after all.
The final situation centered around the shooting at Saugus High School in California two weeks ago. A few days after the shooting, I started receiving private messages and emails thanking me for a specific stream of posts I have shared on social media, hashtagged as #findthehelpers (these posts are about people and animals who help in one way or another). One of the reasons I left social media earlier in the year was because I grew so frustrated with the communal hand-wringing that seems to always happen when tragedy strikes, followed by (what feels to my sensitive soul at least) business as usual in the next few days. This latest tragedy was accompanied by the tragic chorus, but I was also hearing from people who told me that the things I had shared (mind you, I didn’t DO anything, I just SHARED some things) gave them hope when everything felt hopeless. One woman told me that the thread allowed her to overcome her anxiety enough to take a shower and wash her hair. A dad told me that after reading some of the posts in the thread he was able to get it together enough to talk to his son about school shootings. Someone else said that the posts reminded them that there really were good people in the world still and this knowledge allowed them to move through their depression enough to buy groceries and cook dinner. These may seem like extreme examples, but I saw the same theme repeated again and again. And they made me realize something. When I decided to return to social media, I knew I wanted to be a force of positivity and a voice for what is possible. I started looking for helpers – all kinds of helpers who are helping in all kinds of ways, even without really knowing why. When the latest school shooting happened, I understood why. It was because one of the things we are told after these all too common tragedies is that we need to “look for the helpers”. That’s what Fred Rogers advised. I realized I wanted to have a medicine cabinet for our community full of stories of helping so that when the tragedy strikes, we have a place where we can find the stories that might just give us enough juice to make it to the shower or to work, or to the grocery store, or to school. This whole story is to illustrate what the power of sharing can really do. It can restore our hope and keep us tender, both of which are probably the hardest things to come by nowadays. Embracing Personal Space and Boundaries.
As we enter into the holiday season we will be told, cajoled, and commanded in every possible tone and tune to “share”. In both of these cases, the idea of sharing loses something, loses a lot. It becomes flat. It’s a have-to, not a want-to – a duty, an obligation, a responsibility. Buy the presents, get them wrapped, give money to the Santa with the bell on the curb because I’m a good person and that’s what good people do. I think that kind of sharing sucks. I actually think that kind of sharing is a travesty against real sharing and discourages it more than anything else. So I am going to say: if that’s how you share then maybe you should just give yourself permission to stop and not share anymore! True story: you don’t have to share.
But…if you are interested in pleasure, dare I say hedonism, then you probably want to share, like a lot. Share what you love, what brings color and depth, scope and breadth to your life. It is the most pleasurable activity because everyone benefits – the person who shares and those who receive the sharing. Like prayer, sharing can be done in a million different ways and like magic, our lives are not quite complete without the pure pleasure of sharing what matters most.
I know this was supposed to be a Hearth and Home so here is a quick check-in: Jasper dressed up as the Phantom of the Opera for Halloween and played the piano in front of his entire school. Heath was a baby dragon and those of you who have met him in person know that this was perfect. Dia de Los Muertos in town and at home was beautiful, quiet, still, and powerful. Making Magic is still going strong and I’m about to celebrate its 6 month birthday (if you loved it, please share that!). David and I just completed the Whole30 which is a whole newsletter in itself and we are feeling pretty strong and sassy. You too can #findthehelpers and see all of the ways that #magichappens on my Facebook feed. Star Stories is officially wrapped and soon will be sent to their owners (each one has to get a final proofread) and then I am diving into the next book. Embracing Personal Space and Boundaries.
Oh, and another book I contributed to, The Karma of Cats, is out and has a trailer featuring me reading part of the essay I wrote – so I am sharing that (a fitting ending to this letter) and wishing you all a blessed week!
Embracing Personal Space and Boundaries.