Sunday, December 19, 2010


or Letting the Dust Settle

The two least restful words in the English language are "should" and "ought."  They nag at you, they poke you in the conscience, they tug at the sleeves of your awareness, they rake fingernails of unease down the chalkboard of your soul.  They are little linguistic chihuahuas, yapping and yapping and yapping for your attention.  (I'm having fun with this one.)  Even when you take a well-earned breather, they whine in the background of your rest, preventing you from gathering the refreshment you need.

This past week, "the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang [sorry, I don't know the past tense of gang] aft agley."   Because of a CFS flare, my beautifully planned,  gently paced schedule of Christmas preparations—the one that was designed to manage my illness while getting things fully ready for the holiday—still looks a little too pristine, with no satisfying "X"s next to most items on the list.  The shoulds and oughts are piling up, and I don't see how I can fulfill them all without sending my health into a nosedive.

One of the hardest and most valuable lessons illness teaches is that at some point, if you want any of the healing rest your body demands, you have to shut the door on those two words.  Unfortunately, for me, at least, it seems to be one of those lessons that has to be relearned every time a new "should" comes up.

We had rain and snow in Albuquerque this week—about an inch of rain, and a couple of inches of good, wet snow.  We were parched for it, and even though the snow has melted again, the earth is moist, and everything looks fresh.  Some winters we don't get much moisture at all, and then the grit blows in the streets, and the evergreens are dusty and dirty and drab.  For now, however, the dust is settled, the streets and leaves rinsed clean.  With the sun diffused through a thin scrim of clouds today, the catmint, yarrow, and oregano leaves in the garden look spring-green; the boxwoods gleam in the soft light.

An inch of winter rain can be a mixed blessing out here, as roots that like to fight for their moisture resent having to take long baths in it instead—we'll see how happy the rosemary is come spring.  But for now, the garden is wearing an air of ease, as if it is enjoying a moment's respite from the constant struggle with drought.  As I sit on the patio this morning, soaking up the atmosphere of freshness, a tension that I wasn't even aware had been riding my spine begins to let up.

Walking along the path, I notice that some of the newly planted ipheion bulbs have started sending up their fall foliage—one (1) spindly, grassy leaf apiece.  (Next year they will be a thicket.)  I kneel to look more closely and catch a sudden whiff of tarragon from the neighboring bed.  The tarragon leaves themselves are nothing but a wet, soggy mess of compost that still has the misfortune to be attached to the stem, but the moisture and mild sunshine are enough to bring out the herb's clean, anise-y fragrance.  It is a moment of pure loveliness, and I rest in it, free of shoulds and oughts.  The dust settles.  In that moment of ease, I remember what is important.

My family is coming for Christmas, and I am blessed.


  1. Those "should" and "ought" Chihuahuas do seem quite persistent about nipping at one's heels this time of year. Even when I pare my to-do list to the bare bones, I am usually down for the count for at least three days following Christmas.

    Such a careful balance between enough and too much. But I too am fortunate that I will not be traveling long distances and that I will not be alone.

  2. klbrowser--I am nodding my head emphatically about the balance. Holidays are a real tightrope walk. I hope you manage to keep those pesky Chihuahuas at bay and enjoy a Christmas celebration that at the very least makes the days afterward "worth" it...