Every year I have the great privilege of spending a long weekend in the majestic Yosemite with nine of my nearest and dearest personal mentors. We started out as professional colleagues almost 15 years ago when this annual retreat began; over the years we’ve evolved into a safety net of strength and courage and laughter for one another. Their love humbles me, inspires me, and never ceases to teach me something about myself.
As we began to plan for our upcoming weekend the emails circled about who was going up, when, and with whom. Round two came with the division of who would make which meal which day. Tovi spoke up and said she was so busy right now she’d love to take a pass on meal making and do dishes instead. Good for her, I thought. This is a woman never afraid to speak up for what she needs as often as she can be counted on to be generous for the sake of others. I admire that as much as I admire her.
The Elders of our group, now retired, decided to give one more pass to the Youngins, trading cooking for cleaning. Many of them have come to a place in their lives that they no longer do things they don’t want to do, cleaning among them. Good for them, I thought. In their sixty-plus years they’ve learned “have to” doesn’t have to be a part of how they live anymore. I admire that as much as I admire them.
When I read that last email with the offer of a cooking pass, it didn’t occur to me that maybe I should take it. I’m the kind of busy right now that is so busy and has been so busy for so long that it’s become a new kind of normal. I take a perverse pleasure in the oft-asked question, “How do you do it all?” I think it’s become a part of my narrative, the narrative that tricks my ego into feeling important and strong. So I keep on keeping on, go to bed, and start all over again in the morning. When I get stretched to the point of sheer fatigue someone is right there to prop me up with, “You are some kind of super woman, doing all this!” and then my ego is fed and I start again.
Maybe it comes from being such a skinny child, never physically strong or outwardly powerful or driven to compete. Maybe it comes from being a sensitive child, quick to weep, open-hearted enough to often find my heart broken, worrying about the well-being of all living things to the point of not eating eggs for fear I was preventing a chicken from being born. To others it seemed a double whammy of weakness: outward and inward. The message I got over and over was that I had to be handled with care because, if I wasn’t, I might fracture. It was a message sent not maliciously, not necessarily overtly, and maybe not even the message that was intended; regardless, it was the message I internalized.
I think that’s part of what’s driven me, that desire to prove I am strong. I am capable. I am powerful. I don’t need help. You have something you need done? Give it to me, I’m strong. One more thing? Bring it on, I’m strong.
What am I not? Vulnerable. If I’m vulnerable, then it could be perceived as weakness. And weak, no matter what people say, is something I’ll never be. Dependent on someone else? Double never.
So why would I think I should have that cooking pass? I’m just doing my thing, every day, just like everybody else. Glenna is working like a crazy person. Sharon is traveling all over the state. Stephanie is the most thoughtful and intentional teacher I know. One of them should take the pass. I’m fine.
So I’m answering the email about said cooking pass and I type, “I’m fine,” when this question comes to me: Is “fine” my aspiration? One day, if one of my sons was working as hard as I am right now and was offered even the most minor of breaks, would I want him to say, “No thanks, I’m fine?”
Absolutely not! I don’t want my sons to tolerate mediocrity in the pursuit of showing everyone how they don’t need help. I want them to reach out and accept the hands that are offered so they can ascend to even higher heights and fill their own cups in order to use those gifts to serve others.
So why don’t I think I’m worthy of the same kind of helping hand?
I erased “I’m fine” and typed, “I’ll take it if no one else needs it.” Passivity, I thought, that’s worse than mediocrity. Erase.
“You know, I have so much going on with …. And….. and…” Why are you justifying why you’re worthy of this? You don’t need to prove to everyone how hard you are working. Desperation is worse that passivity. Erase.
“I’ve written this email three times and instead of doing this again let me simply say, I’ll take the cooking pass and would love to do dishes instead.”
And then I cried in relief for finally allowing myself to be worthy of a pass. I had a four-page paper due for grad school last week and I wrote twelve. I had 36 kids in my AP Government class last year and I took four extra. These are the kinds of decisions I make almost every day and yet, today, I decided instead to take a pass. I won’t have to find time to plan and shop for my meal. Instead, I can drive to Yosemite and allow others to cook for me. My cup will fill and then I will do their dishes.
When I do, I will know I am worthy of that pass. Not because I work too hard, or because someone wonders how I do it all. I will be worthy because I am. Just as you are.