In the early days of this blog, I used to write a ‘Saturday Jess’ piece to strike a lighter note. I want to bring that back, but the more I pondered, the less light it seemed my thoughts were. I will go with the thoughts all the same and see where we get.
My father liked Leonard Cohen. Some of the lyrics stuck in my brain, one of which comes to me with increasing frequency. It’s from a song called “Famous blue raincoat”, and the lines are ‘I hear you’re living for nothing now, hope you are keeping some kind of record.’ I am not keeping a record, but there are times when the first part of the sentence occurs to me as a description of what I do.
From being a woman who defined herself by what she did, I am a woman who if she chose that definition would really be living for nothing. Long before the pandemic pushed many into enforced leisure, my own inability to cope with the pressures I put on myself had done that to me; or, I had done it to myself. Either way, ‘Othello’s occupation’ was gone.
The temptation was to transfer my measure of who I was to my marriage. At the risk of scandalising someone or other, I like being a housewife if that means staying at home and ordering my day by meal-times and what I want to do in between them: I like cooking; so I cook. I like making clothes; so I make clothes; and I really, really like cleaning; so I clean. But that’s not who I am, it’s what I like to do.
The other temptation was to define myself in relation to my other half. I have always like those who have an ‘Alpha’ character. I have found I fit in comfortably as a helper to those with ambition, charisma and drive; I like to help, they like me to help; it works. I could have done that in my marriage, but one failed marriage showed me, if it showed me anything, the danger of that. What do you do when they find a woman younger, prettier, sexier, more accomodating? It’s not a good idea to define yourself in terms of someone else, even if you love them to bits and they’re the most loving and wonderful person you ever met. It’s not fair to them, apart from anything else.
As I approach forty, quite fast now, I know that one of my dreams, being a mother, isn’t going to happen and I have accepted that. In this context, that means that I won’t be able to define myself in relation to another. Maybe I don’t need to define myself? What if I am already defined?
We tend to treat life as something we are given and in which we have to use whatever gifts we have to do the best we can. We all define ‘best’ in our own ways, but the urge to identify by what we achieve comes, I think, thence. Then it occurred to me (I know, I should just dye my hair blonde and be done with it) that life is a given thing, lent to us by God. That makes sense of all the parables about stewardship. God has already defined me, he knows me and if I follow him then perhaps I will get to know myself better?
I have found that regularly praying the Offices of the Church has changed my idea about why I pray. I always thought it was to thank God for all his blessings and to ask him for things. The more I do it, the more I realise that it is about providing a space where God and I can be together and I can learn more about what he wants from me. By being with him in the quietness and regularity of the prayer cycle, I begin to see who I am, not as others see me, but as he sees me. And I see, also, what it meanbs to say we are all children of God.
The sheer wonder of what God has done for us through Jesus sometimes overwhelms me. At those moments all I can do is stop and hear the beating of the blood in my ears. I don’t think I need to define myself, I am defined – by him.
So the love I have in my marriage, and the joy I have in my friendships, the quiet pleasures of the ‘common round and the daily task’ are all gifts from him and to him. It works for me – how about you?