We always knew this year would be a year of transition. We knew change was coming, tasted it like rain on the air. We expected that Christmas trip to be a bookend of sorts, a farewell to one stage of our lives and a herald for the next. And all that has been true.
It’s hard to write about transitions, because they’re so amorphous. They’re not one thing or another. So much of it is about waiting, waiting for a door to open, for the future to come clear. But waiting doesn’t mean inaction. Waiting can be a time of fullness, of enterprise and activity. Each day we knock of the doors of possibility and listen for an answer. Each day we put our full selves into living our passions.
I love this quote by Howard Thurman:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.
And that’s what we’re doing. We’re waking up. We’re coming alive.
One task I’ve put my hands to lately is ripping out the old, rotten floorboards in the granny flat we hope to make our home one day. I’ve never done work like this before. Work that uses my shoulders and back, that wrenches every bit of strength out of me, that wrings me of sweat. I have bruises all up and down my calves, which isn’t terribly unusual, but these are bruises of purpose. I have scratches on my forearms from wood that has splintered under the force of my crow bar. I go to bed aching every night, I’m shrinking in my clothes, and I’m satisfied in a way I’ve never been.
So much of writing is thought work. I can spend hours, days, weeks, wrestling a plot point into submission, with little to show for my efforts. No one sees the work I do. No one knows. But this? I can work for just an hour and see physical, measurable progress. I can see a task coming to completion, a room bending under my will. I can see the muscles growing in my shoulders and smell the sweat on my clothes. However the rest of my day pans out, at least I have this.
I’ve been thinking lately about expectation. For better or worse, we become what is expected of us. Tell a child he can’t learn and don’t be surprised when he stops trying. Tell a girl she can do anything and watch her as she does.
This world expects so little of girls. I’ve been thinking about this as I lug lumber and use my body in ways I didn’t know it was capable. When something needs lifting, a boy is called to the task. When something needs building, a boy is expected to do it — or at least to try. Girls aren’t expected to try. They aren’t allocated work that uses their hands and their shoulders.
We have a hand in it, of course. These tasks are not always easy for pleasant, and it’s easy for us to avoid it by playing on these social expectations. But in doing so we rob ourselves of our physical potential.
I don’t deny men and women have different bodies and different levels of strength. But we never know what we’re capable of until we are tested. We never have confidence in our own bodies until we use them. And without that level of expectation, girls are at a disadvantage from day one.
Perhaps what I am seeking in this year of transition is balance. Balance between the physical and the cerebral. Between tasks that make me come alive and tasks that let me live. I am a writer. No matter how else I fill my days, that is the one thing that gives me a sense of meaning and purpose, that is the one thing that makes me come alive more than any other. But I’m other things, too. I’m a volunteer. I’m a believer. I’m a wife and a friend. A yogi, a runner. A hard worker, a homemaker. All this and more.
I’m a girl who is knocking on doors, listening for an answer, and believing that soon that answer will come.