On Thanksgiving day, our five-year-old granddaughter Elizabeth wasn’t the least bit interested in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. She wanted to create her own parade.
First, she lined up my husband Bill, Pop to her, and me, known as Nonny, in the circle drive. She then placed her baby doll Bella in the doll’s small red wagon, working intently at balancing Bella’s wagon inside her own big red wagon. For another five minutes Elizabeth affixed over Bella her two pink parasols/umbrellas. (Not sure which, for it was neither sunny nor rainy that day.)
She motioned for us to begin, directing me to wave the bubble wands and hold my phone out so all could hear the music from Music Machine. Pop was to pull the wagon and wave his bubble wands.
Not satisfied, Elizabeth turned to me and asked, “Can you juggle?”
“No,” I replied reluctantly, sorry to spoil her parade.
“I can,” Pop said.
“Okay,” Elizabeth said, unimpressed, as though all adults should know juggling acts. She waved her hand to resume the parade. “You can juggle behind us.”
(Did I mention Elizabeth is a tad bossy when she’s in charge?)
Yet, I was standing, my mouth agape, watching Pop practice juggling three of the ornamental persimmons we had just picked.
“Can you walk and juggle?” I asked, imagining the pain of a hard persimmon knocking him on his head.
Bill shrugged. “I don’t know.” With more concentration, he took a step off the patch of grass, still juggling, and joined Elizabeth’s parade.
“Pop, you need to be front,” I said, decidedly, “so we all can see this feat.”
Days later, I’m still impressed by his ability to juggle so well. Not that I’m going to sign him up for the circus, just yet. However, it did remind me of one of the Sunday columns I wrote fifteen years ago about learning how to balance myself while juggling my life. It’s obviously a timeless and universal feat because it still applies to my life today, and probably yours too. And so it goes . . .
Balance . . . seems to be the keyword for survival and success in any stage of life. Every morning I step on my balance beam, arms flailing, body wavering, focus steady before me as I one-step-in-front-of-step edge toward the other end of the beam. I’m constantly hoping, praying, that I won’t sway too far to the right or left, lose my footing and fall on top of the mounting pile of unbalanced folks. Sounds sort of Olympic, doesn’t it?
It is a stringent daily process, one not easily mastered. Those who excel must continually concentrate on the intended goal. Eyes aimed at the target, going for the gold. Mid-nineties kind of people included it into Mission Statements, adding a contractual commitment to the projections in mind.
Nevertheless, even with my creative approach to keep my life balanced and focused, I would never attain true mastery until I added, that is, continually added, a variety of juggling acts to be performed in conjunction to the balance beam ordeal.
Juggling acts, one of the daily delights and dilemmas of “highly effective people.” This diversity of circus acts begins with the needs of our children, spouse, parents, siblings, great-aunts, friends, employers, colleagues, and for some like me, students. We then add additional balls to be juggled in the form of financial responsibilities, household and lawn care duties, and car/truck/boat/dog/cat/fish demands. With the alarm on the timer set, each ticking second challenges the true test of our abilities.
So it goes. We remain so distracted juggling these many facets of our lives that staying balanced and focused on long-term goals is no longer the task. Juggling becomes our priority for just that day’s survival’s sake.
In Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book of essays Gift from the Sea, Lindbergh termed the frantic life styles developing during the 1950s as fragmentation. She advocated, even before the complete immersion of the electronic revolution, simply simplifying. Simplifying, what a great word for a Mission Statement.
Even in the initial stages of electronics being introduced into our homes, Lindbergh observed a people constantly barraged with distractions. With televisions and radios playing, the airwaves were given no freedom for silence . . . no time for allowing creative thoughts to enter in or for moments of reflection.
I’m reminded of my mother’s poet friend who always intrigued me with her delightful personality. Even though Mrs. K successfully headed our high school English and drama department with the utmost professionalism, she had a way of drenching our home with laughter and awe as she unveiled beauty and intrigue in the most unusual personalities and places.
One evening I overheard her sharing with my mother that she no longer struggled with washing the dinner dishes. (This was before dishwashers were noisily clattering and sloshing in every household.) Mrs. K had learned to use that time to get lost in her thoughts and simply daydream.
So that was her secret.
I began putting it into practice, and my day’s tension dissolved into the dishwater. I applied her approach to the other tedious duties strung throughout my day with great resolve.
How is it we’ve concluded that daydreaming is a waste of valuable time? What if we renamed it focus-time instead? Most don’t realize it’s a vital part of the balance beam training program. It’s during my daily prayer walks that I capture the heart of my purpose and gaze upon what I’m really striving towards. Only then can I clearly recognize the juggling acts I need to perform and the ones I never need begin. It’s when I’m not overwhelmed with my endless tasks, I can finally pause, refocus, and adjust my balance.
A typical day teaching high school students serves as a good example. Within the classroom and a half-dozen fifty-minute blocks of time, not only did I have to transfer the knowledge and application of English to 120 individuals with differing learning styles and assimilating abilities, but I also was required to keep my students disciplined and on task. Juggling acts–at least 25 of them within an hour. Yet, my ultimate goal was to ignite them to value the beauty of their lives and others as a child of God as well as for the school’s sake to become proficient in poetry, literature, oral communication, grammar and the mechanics of writing (just to name a few).
In my second year of teaching, I had a student I’ll call Domal who was in his third year of ninth-grade English. Domal wasn’t repeating the courses because he wasn’t capable by academic standards. He was more than capable. His behavior was the result of a chaotic home life that dumped him into the classroom on occasion to harass the students and teachers until his next suspension.
It took several months with his erratic attendance for me to finally win his trust. Domal came to understand that I was concerned for him as a person and not just in keeping his disruptive behavior intact. I had finally convinced him that as a gifted writer and poet that he should pay particular attention in class and learn to correctly spell and punctuate his sentences. He, in turn, could express this profound wisdom of his to its utmost.
I’ll never forget the day when Domal walked into class in a dastardly mood. He was resorting to the old Domal, disrupting the other students and bordering on disrespect towards me. I firmly beckoned him into the hallway. A hurricane of thoughts whirled through my head, prompting me to question how I was going to deal with this problem. Within that ten-second walk to the door, I convinced myself that he was obviously taking advantage of my too-nice nature. I must dole out my toughest lecture, I decided.
Stepping into the hallway, I closed the classroom door. I paused, took a deep breath and refocused. I then heard myself question in a calm, concerned voice, “Domal, why are you behaving this way? Are you okay?”
Domal stared at his feet nervously. “Today’s my birthday. Nobody’s noticed. Nobody cares.”
“Wow! What a special day! Let’s go tell the class.” Cheerfully I motioned him into the room. “I’m thinking that if we can take a whole class period to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, we certainly have time for yours.”
Domal’s face lit up, and I breathed a prayer of thanks to the Lord for helping me refocus on the real reason I was in the teaching profession. I almost dropped the ball that day and would have not only lost my balance, but I would have taken someone down with me–a precious someone whose childhood being had already been fractured by others’ constant imbalance.
With that I encourage us all to pull away from our three-ring circus and concentrate on “who” we have before us. Our busy schedules are an ongoing challenge, but, oh, so worth it. We get to increase our performance level for our juggling acts on this sensational balance beam called life.
This Christmas season I challenge you to hold those you love before you. Better yet, let them join in with you on the juggling and balancing mastery of life.
When in doubt, look up and heed Jeremiah 33:3. I once heard it called God’s phone number.“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” I love having Him on speed dial.
Be sure to read Inspirational Thoughts to read what can be learned on dreary days and Heavy Hurts for those who missed out on the innocence of childhood. The artwork is a simple expression I created for my grandmother–a woman who offered quality time and love, making a difference in my life. Something we all have the power to do, if we choose.