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Life Notes: Living Life Fully
In praise of the lost art of self-reflection
By Sally Friedman

There’s a joke in our family that goes something like this: If you want to make Mom happy, bring her your problems, your secrets or at the very least, your experiences.

And like most jokes, there’s an underlying truth in this one. I confess I tend to approach life with a bit too much curiosity. And life tends to shout at me, not to whisper.

So I plead guilty to the accusation that I’ve tried to impress each of our 3 daughters with the notion that they need to live fully, even if that sometimes means living painfully – and then to reflect on it. Is it any wonder that 2 out of 3 are married to psychologist types? And one is a psychologist herself.

I’m still troubled by modern life’s impatience with reflection. People seem to live the emotional equivalent of a fast-food existence. No one seems to ponder anymore. No one wants to just sit around, think hard, laugh hard or savor a new experience.

But then there’s my sister. Ruthie has been a phenomenal talker for as long as I can remember. I do not mean a chatterbox. I do mean a truly thoughtful woman full of interesting ideas with which I don’t always agree, but she is one fascinating person.

For most people, there’s less of a premium on talking things through. And email has given us a shorthand way to communicate that I think is problematic. When was the last time you actually thought something through or cared passionately about something, not someone, or felt your heart thump over an idea? I’ve recently had 3 arguments with old friends, not face to face, not even phone to phone, but screen to screen. It seems weird – and not reassuring.

“Lighten up, Mom!” my daughters will command when I tell them that I want them to be passionate about their ideas. I can see the looks they exchange when, on their periodic visits home, I routinely ask Jill, Amy and Nancy what they’re thinking.

“More!” I’ll alternately beg or demand. “Tell me more!” And sometimes they do.

I know they find it annoying, but I still try to instill in them astonishment, delight and confusion because life is often defined by those things. I keep telling them that when people run from feelings or anxieties, instead of towards them, no one gets away with it in the end.

The older I get, the surer I am that unfinished emotional business is waiting to pounce. I’m also a believer in seizing the moment. “Look!” I used to cry out to our daughters when they were small. The object of my attention might be anything from a flower to a frog to the sun dancing off the den windows. Whatever it was, I wanted my daughters to grab it and hold it. But those commands came so often that of course they were ignored after a while. Ditto for my orders to taste, touch and listen. But I persisted.

I like to think that today these 3 adult women will pause to look at a baby’s face or a cloud or a bud bursting into bloom. I want to believe they will allow themselves to bake cookies just for the aroma it gives the house or stare at a tank of tropical fish and empty their minds so they can get closer to knowing what’s in their hearts. I want them to chase after experience, insight and passion even at the risk of dropping from exhaustion.

And if and when they spill their unhappy childhoods to their therapists, I hope my daughters will say of their mother, “Well, at least she felt the world.” There are worse crimes.

November 2020
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