Routine and Flexibility

I confess, I’m a creature of habit. I like having a daily routine. I’m not exactly a slave to any routine I establish. It’s just that routine provides structure, a motif I can embellish.

And that is the challenge of living in limbo, in that place between jobs. Apart from sitting behind a computer for hours on end, wading through lists of job openings and completing on-line applications, what am I supposed to do with myself? How am I supposed to know when I get to the end of the day that it was a well-lived day.

That’s important to me, living each day well. Once upon a time, I was focused on the future, on getting an education and starting a professional career. Then, I ran smack dab up against a reality check. I had two children in elementary school, was working full-time and trying to complete a Master’s degree when my gynecologist used the “C” word during a consultation. My menstrual cycle had gone wacky, but I thought a few fancy pills would solve the problem. I wasn’t prepared for anything more serious; I was wrong.

I knew how quickly cancer could decimate not only the person whose body became the battleground between abnormal cell growth and modern medicine, but also that person’s whole family. My mother went into the hospital shortly after I started my senior year in high school and died less than three months later. The experience shattered our family and created in my life a void I tried to fill for nearly a decade with behaviors that were unintentionally self-destructive.

I wasn’t ready to revisit that kind of tragedy. I wasn’t ready to introduce my children to that kind of tragedy. I did not intend to leave my children motherless. Period. Non-negotiable.

For a year, I battled the condition my gynecologist warned was a precursor to cancer. He had recommended surgery, a hysterectomy, but I was a single parent with neither family nor friends to care for my children while I was hospitalized and recovering from surgery. I asked if I had any other options, and he outlined an experimental approach. I opted for that.

Medication intensified hormonal mood swings to the point that I was suicidal during the low points. My gynecologist brought in another specialist — a psychiatrist — to deal with that side effect. More medication was prescribed. Through it all, I had to continue supporting my family and provide my children with a modicum of stability at home. The medication and responsibity and uncertainty tied me in knots. I turned to the counselor who had supported and guided me when I had left an abusive marriage a decade earlier, and she helped me once again to traverse a difficult passage in life.

Eventually, the gynecologist was satisfied with the test results and treatment ceased, but during that long year, I had to decide what was important and focus on that. I didn’t have the energy to deal with more, but I also didn’t want to waste any of the time I had left. I knew that if the therapy I had chosen didn’t work, I could still have a hysterectomy, but I also knew that by the time we recognized the need, the cancer could have spread.

The Master’s degree fell by the wayside. If I died, I did not want my children to remember — if they remembered anything at all — a mother who was too busy to spend time with them.

The dreams of a professional career fell by the wayside, too. Growing up in an abusive home. Losing my mother when I was young. Being sexually violated on more than one occasion. Being so confused about relationships I couldn’t tell the difference between a good man and a jackass. Cancer. It was too much for one person to bear.

So, I shifted the measure of my life. Instead of striving for dreams, I was going too strive to live each day well. Instead of sacrificing the present in order to achieve a future goal, I was going to make choices that resulted in rich days. And while I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful in living within the paradigm I choose for myself — I’m by nature a workaholic — I think on the whole I’ve lived a good life.

I somehow managed not to botch parenting too badly; both of my daughters have grown into young women I can appreciate and admire. I have managed to develop a few skills — like painting and scrapbooking — that have provided me with enormous personal satisfaction. My spiritual life has deepened with each passing year so that now I can live authentically only by living the gospels. And, every so often, God has given me a glimpse of the way in which he has used me to help someone else on their journey, and that has been a special blessing, a gift of grace.

But, now I’m embarking on a new phase in my life. It’s so new, I’m a little disoriented. I have tried to bring some normalcy to it by establishing a few routines. In the morning, I shower, kiss my daughter and grandgirls good-bye, and then spend some time in prayer. After this, I paint for about an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, before sitting down behind the computer by 10 a.m. to find jobs in the area which interest me and for which I’m qualified. Late in the afternoon, after putting in several applications, I put it all away so I can enjoy a little family time with my daughter’s family.

But, sometimes I have to be flexible. Today, I edited an article for a friend before starting my search and my grandgirls arrived home early with my son-in-law. Oddly enough, this variation in the pattern of my life feels good.

Maybe that’s enough right now — that I have brought my penchant for organizing things to the uncertainty of the situation by establishing an arbitrary routine, but that, when necessary, I can let go and flow with the currents of life. Yes, maybe that’s enough. But, that being said, a job would be nice!


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