Friday, August 15, 2014

knowing my questions

I find myself in a weird place: rather busy—sometimes annoyingly so—and yet on the cusp of a lull. I can feel it coming, the slipping into cozy comfort, the sweet routines, the ordinary ebbs and flows, and while I love it, I also have an underlying need for more, more, more. A new project, maybe. Something to challenge my mind. It’s like a craving, this pulsating need to produce, stretch, experience, delight, thrill.

***

A dozen-plus years ago, I invited some high school girls to come hang out in my house to talk. Actually, I wrote about this in my (unfinished) book, so here. No need to write the same thing twice...

And then there are my high-schoolers.  The idea simmered on my back burner for quite a while before I sent out invitations to the girls at church to come to my house to talk.  I promised I would answer any questions they had.  I was open to all topics:  religion, family, eating disorders, and the hottest of all concerns, sex.  The girls started flocking to my house every other Wednesday night.  Very soon they dubbed themselves the Milkmaids because they were drinking large quantities of milk with my homemade snacks. 

The nights everybody descends on our house for our loud and hairy gabfests, I dim the lights and pile pillows around, and as the lone semi-mature adult I hear out their ecstasies and sorrows.   A single votive candle is my one attempt at order; the rule (quite loosely followed) being that only the person holding the candle may speak.  I throw out a question or an idea and they respond to it, taking however much time they need, passing the candle when they’re finished.  Much of the time is spent laughing hysterically, but it’s a rare evening that no one weeps.

I share this now because nearly a decade later, this group has reformed. It’s kind of funny how it started. A few weeks back, several of the girls came over to see the puppies. We sat in the yard drinking mint tea and ended up talking for three hours. In passing, I mentioned how it’s amazing that so many of the original Milkmaids are living in the Valley after all these years, and one of the girls said, “Yeah, we should do Milkmaids again.”

I laughed off her suggestion—that era is long gone—but that night in the shower I did a double take. Milkmaids again? Could that even possibly work? After a bunch of pondering and some consultations with my husband, I sent out an invite. A couple weeks later, Milkmaids 2.0 (until we come up with a better name) was in session.


In some ways, the group is different. We drink wine instead of milk. They have husbands, babies, and jobs instead of sports, homework, and youth group. With ten more years of experience under their belts, there is greater depth to their insights. The conversation is richer.

But in many ways the group is exactly the same. They all look just like they did ten years ago (they say I do, too—aren’t they sweet?). Tears and laughter bubble over willy-nilly. The nights run late. And I still open each gathering with a guiding thought.

The last time we met, I opened with one of the teacher’s precepts from Wonder: It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers (James Thurber). After the candle had made its way around the circle, they asked me what my questions were. I confessed I hadn’t given it any thought and proceeded to bumble around for a bit before mercifully falling silent.


***

Since that night, I've been mulling over that precept. I think I've finally come up with my question:

How do I know when to practice contentment and when to push myself beyond my comfort zone? And what if contentment is beyond my comfort zone (oh no!)?

Maybe my constant desire for More is an addiction, a distraction technique, a hindrance to true joy. But maybe this aching itch means that there is more of me to be uncovered. Maybe it is My True Potential yanking at its collar, begging to be unleashed?

Discovery is what I want. Sometimes I dream about being discovered, but I think that would be, ultimately, unsatisfying. What I really want, I think, is to discover. To discover a good recipe, a new insight, a skill, a friendship, myself.

Most times, I feel like a walking cliche. Take it one day at a time! Know thyself! To every season there is a purpose! Think of others first! Love wins! Dare to dream! 

Perhaps it’s silly, this constant turmoil. But hey, it is what it is.

Do I practice contentment or do I push?
Do I do both?
And how?

This same time, years previous: not your typical back-to-school post, a piece of heavengrilled trout with bacon, lately, our life, kill a groundhog and put it in a quiche, and fresh mozzarella.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for these words and for your commitment to these women - then and now. What a wonderful model of mentoring.

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  2. Though I don't know that I could have put words to it, I've been grappling with that same question. I think the other question I've added to it is, how do I let myself be okay with the possibility that I could fail, and that sometimes the only way to reach contentment is to put myself in situations where I'm so aware of that?

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  3. Oh yes. I feel your question too. Thank you for putting it so clearly.

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  4. Lil brother: duh ... call your group the WineMaids now

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    Replies
    1. Yes, obviously....but it sounds too negative, me thinks.

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