I once knew a girl who was an accessory. This twenty-one year old memory surfaced this morning as I ran through the squishy ground near my home, swirls of hardening mud from our recent flood beneath my feet.
The contrast was startling: A storm can mix the earth together, spit it out and make it look like a newly painted canvas, but when a storm is finished with a human? The scars always find cracks to grow through.
Her dad needed to appear like a family man to one of his clients, so he brought his daughter to the theater with them—a highly anticipated movie in which to delight. But the experience wasn’t meant for the daughter to take part. It was a shiny lie. She sat in the seat, surrounded by the darkness of her father’s ambition. It was her only memory of going to the movies with her dad.
She developed emotional problems. A low self-esteem—all the symptoms for immediate family members of workaholics.
I worked at the boarding school where her parents shipped her to. A true introvert, she was stuffed into a roomful of bunk beds, and suffered almost as much from lack of space as she did being separated from the parents who didn’t take the time to raise her.
On more than one occasion, I broke the rules and let her slip into a private spot for some breathing room. I’m in the same needs-space club, I get it. Determined to finish the program and get back home, she always reappeared at the right time. But, as she attended regular counseling, strict discipline, and held to a high behavioral standard, what she didn’t understand was that her dad was an addict and the problem wasn’t hers to fix.
The American dream comes with a high cost, friends.
Workaholism is called the best-dressed addiction for a reason, luring everyone from the career-driven to supermoms. Don’t let anyone ever guilt you into biting off more than you can chew. A few quality projects is better than a hundred rushed ones. Feel free to park the mini van and give yourself some breathing room, ladies. In fact, if you don’t chill you will suffer, your spouse will suffer, and your kids will suffer as much or more than families of alcoholics.
I don’t like losing my momentum, but I can’t help but pause my run to take a few photos. My eyes open wider with the question again. How can the land look so freshly renovated after a storm tears it to bits, but a human cannot?
While the same spirit that runs through the earth runs through us, provides us with the same oxygen and infuses us with the same minerals, humans were given the ability to make decisions. We were given souls.
We aren’t just torn down and re-formed like a patch of earth is, we were given wills and internal moral codes to navigate with. Choices. And it’s never all about the individual. We all feel the responses of the ones closest to us in this beautifully ravaged landscape.
I pass a stagnant puddle. It stinks. Bad. Complacency is no good either. When I was a young child and wasn’t ready to give up swimming when late August rolled around, I swam in stagnant creek water. I developed sores all over my scalp that sent me to the dermatologist. It’s the same with humans. Keeping your talents to yourself produces rot.
Without hard work and adversity, a creek can’t grow and bring water to the thirsty. But too much and it floods homes and drowns the living.
But it’s okay to lose momentum sometimes. The bubbling of a creek is soothing and beautiful. It’s okay to slow down and make less money. I just bought my kids an armful of school clothes from discount stores. They’ll learn the gift of balance (eventually), and their peers will learn to deal. Designer labels, for us, is nothing but a siren’s song.
Rest. Enjoy your family.
Did you see those details in the landscape today?