Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coffee Spoons and Castles

In one of T. S. Eliot's poems, he writes "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons." I could not now tell you the title of the poem, but that phrase has remained in my mind for many years, in quite a melancholy fashion. My impression at the time I read it, way back in my college days, was one of regret and futility. The line seemed to say that the speaker had wasted his life in metered trivialities and endless mundane details. Maybe I remembered it for such a long time because I was determined to avoid that kind of rueful fate. It summed up for me death by banality.

Today, as I continue to pack up all my spoons and most of our other worldly goods, I have a slightly different perspective on those long remembered words. Yes, they could still mean what I thought they did so long ago, but, then again, how else is anyone meting out his days? This morning, waking in someone else's house, to which I must (and I know I will) adjust, I found myself missing those small measures of my former everyday life--my own smooth-handled spoons without the edges that pressed ever so slightly into my hand as I ate breakfast today; the hand-made French cup for my morning tea that was a gift from my beloved; boringly healthy cereals in the cupboard.

I would not want habits to be the sum of my existence, else I would not write, but I am reminded now that the little routines of our daily lives arise for a reason. They are comforting. I'm used to knowing when I'm going to eat breakfast and what I will be eating. I'm accustomed to a hook for my bathrobe, socks folded neatly in the drawer, and a schedule that gets us out the door without thought. Patterned action keeps us from having to think out our each next step. Who wants to do that every bleary morning?

It's odd and enlightening to feel this way because, for the last few years, I have been craving change, movement, adventure. I have chafed against doing The Same Old Thing while my inner voice called out for action.
Go to work, eat, go to WalMart, go to bed. It seemed no way to truly live a life. That discontent was one of the reasons I decided to go to culinary school. In my excitement at finally making this latest change, I forgot about the bumpy transition phase. But that's all it is--a transition. In a very few days we'll know who's going to shower when and where the clothes live now. The new normal will unfold as naturally as the disturbance of changing. I've been through new starts before, which have taught me that humans have an amazing capacity to adapt. I choose to trust it.

Part of my changing perspective on that haunting line is because of my current circumstances, but part of it is because of age and experience. I was nineteen or twenty when I read that Eliot poem. Like most young people, I wanted to do something big. At forty two, as my friend Wayne once said, I try to do a few small things well. I'm also learning to find contentment in every day just as it is, just where I am, doing just what I have to do, rather than living for a future that is not guaranteed. Even the little items and chores of life can be rich if we make space to enjoy them. We can avoid the basics of life or we can aggrandize them. ( Flea market antique coffee spoons, anyone? )

The truth is that I want it both ways. I want my soothing routines and soul-stretching adventure. I want to floss my teeth religiously every night and start a brand new life in the country. I want to eat the same thing for breakfast every morning and cook a different dinner almost every night. I want my coffee spoons and a grand experiment. I insist on believing that we are meant for both. The trick is not to short change either. Act toward the big dreams of tomorrow, but honor the little duties of today.

I'm deeply glad that, at this stage of my life, I have begun dreaming big but have learned to be happy with being small as well. Here in the ripe middle is where I can be brave enough to build castles in the air, but wise enough to enjoy laying the bricks one by one.

1 comment:

Dave_Flora said...

You know, I'm living though this whole crazy thing with you, but reading your post, I feel like I'm seeing it for the first time.
I love you!
-Dave