"'He has spent his life in idleness,' we say; 'I have done nothing today.' What, have you not lived? That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations...To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great an glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most.
--Michel de Montaigne, "Of Experience"
I am writing this as I sit in a seminar full of Urban parents—it's a class called "Urban 101" in which we share a taste of what our students get in the classroom. We've read Montaigne's "Of Experience" and are convening on a warm April night to write and talk about the essay. I love this essay. I love reading it, and re-reading it.
Here's the prompt I gave the parents (and myself): What's the story in your life that makes a passage from the text resonate with you? Write/ramble in Montaignian fashion.
I think of my yoga teacher, and her lessons on the tantric way of thinking about things. Montaigne is a tantric master, it seems. "When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, I bring them bak to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitutde and to me." Montaigne's urgent message to focus on the moment is tremendously appealing in a world that has too many distractions, so much of the time. (And of course, he's hardly the first to come up with this idea!) How many times can you cycle through website after website? How many times can you check your email? Why not go for a walk in the orchard? Why not pause to savor your morning coffee? Why not just stop and listen to the crying child instead of trying to shut off his emotions? (And can we talk about reasonsmysoniscrying.tumblr.com and how that kid is not being listened to? Even if it's really cute and funny, it's sad, too.)
My commute is long. What can I enjoy about it? The sunrise in my rearview mirror, the constant shifting of the clouds, the way the light gleams on the water and the sky shines cerulean.
The nights are long again. What can I enjoy about lying in the boys' room listening to them snore, when they wake up if I try to leave? The trickle of water on their sound machine, the blue glow of the night light? They are so small. This time is so short.
I made a two-minute video of Dash narrating his block-play to himself. Who will watch that? I will, when he's twenty and gone. And I will cry, missing his younger self.
This ramp. Car go up ramp see puppet show. (Yes, that blue thing is a puppet show.)
This is the thing about toddlers. Everything they do is done to the fullest—talking, sleeping, laughing, turning in circles, thinking about trains. They don't know about Facebook. They don't know about bills, or career changes, or moving across the country. This is what they know: snails. Grass. Trees. Looking at the bay. The wind! The sun is bright. Mommy is great, or frustrating, or going to work in the blue car. Daddy is amazing. Life is a neverending adventure. Savor it.