Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The gift of attention

When I was about 6 or 7, I was sent to a week-long, overnight camp along with my three sisters. Immediately upon our arrival to Camp Jo Jan Van, we were separated into our respective age groups. I'm guessing this was the first time we experienced that type of separation from our parents without our grandparents stepping in as surrogates.
There was a crack-of-dawn flag ceremony activity every morning. At lunch we were "encouraged" to eat at least 3 spoonfuls of everything on our plate. At night, we were told stories that involved creepy little girls and hatchets and we sung songs like "The Second Story Window" and "Shaving Cream".

There was a girl we all kept hearing about that was having a miserable time. It seemed that everyone's misfortune was consoled with a one-upper story about this poor girl. Chigger bite? She was covered in chigger bites AND it turned out she was allergic to them! Bug bite? She got stung by a scorpion! Hay fever? She has asthma and can't breath at night!

At the end of the week I learned this girl was not a story made up to make everyone feel better -- she was one of my sisters.
Many of these camp memories are likely based more on the stories my sisters and I told each other after we got back home than on direct recall, but there is one camp memory that is definitely my own. I had forgotten about it completely -- until something this last week dislodged it from the nook it had been hiding in.
A night or two before we were scheduled to go home, I lay in bed and cried; I just couldn't seem to stop myself. Since I was not the kind of girl that got homesick -- a fact I pointed out to my bunk mates through my non-stop sobs -- I clearly was not crying for that reason. But then why was I crying? The only explanation that made sense to me was that I was crying "for no reason at all". How remarkable! Note: this remarkable revelation didn't stop even a single tear.

Last Friday, I found myself explaining that I was feeling melancholy "for no reason at all". This happens sometimes -- hormones, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar, etc... can cause a temporary dip in ones mood.

I'd always considered it a strength to have the ability to recognize this type of mood dip and keep oneself from finding unhappy facts to slap these faux feelings onto. Yay me, right? Not really. It turns out that, this time at least, I was actually just being an out-of-touch idiot.
My sister Sonia was in town last week. (She had made a point of coordinating her trip to coincide with my birthday!) A friend she traveled with made deep fried pickles for my birthday dinner appetizer and Sonia made deep fried Oreos for my birthday dinner dessert. She got to meet some of my friends and we got to celebrate together. We hung out and laughed and laughed and talked and laughed. It was absolutely great to spend time with her.

She left Friday afternoon.

How could I have thought I was feeling sad for no reason? I was missing my sister. Clearly, I was homesick.


Have I been doing this my entire life?

Looking back to my time at camp, I think the possibilities offered did not jive with the image I had of myself. And perhaps what I was experiencing felt different than how I had imagined "homesick" would feel.

To give myself credit, I am often pretty on top of how I am feeling. But sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I am too invested in who I think I am to notice who I am today. Sometimes I am too proud to admit I have a petty side to me. Sometimes I am too self-critical to acknowledge I have an admiral side. Sometimes, in other words, I get in the way of my own seeing.


I'd like to make sure I am not leaving something overlooked out of laziness or worse, out of a fear of what that something would say about me (or how much work accounting for that something would require).

But how?

For one thing, I can drag my river of "unresolved issues" a bit more deeply and without predictions regarding what I will (or will not) find. If something is fished out, I can gently check its fit against my Cinderella foot of a feeling. And, if I come up empty-handed, I can go about my business but check the shore on occasion to see if anything new has come to the surface.

Sounds doable, right? Cross your fingers for me, I'm diving in.

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