Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Land of All Good Things

by Ruth

My friend Ashley calls Thailand “the land of all good things,” and she’s right. Right now it is the middle of January and the weather is warm and sunny. The trees are a lush, full green and there are birds singing. In the past week, we have eaten Mexican, Thai, Mediterranean burgers, sandwiches, pizza, donuts, ice cream…there is so much variety. We get to see people we know, people “like us,” who say strange things and don’t quite fit in anywhere.

Of course, Kevin has to go to classes during this time. Go to classes, read articles, work on group projects, write papers. I’ve already taken these classes so I am just hanging out and dabbling in a distance learning course I’m supposed to be working on. And reading. Did I mention that Chiang Mai also has several used book stores full of books I haven’t read?

The strange thing about this time is that just hanging out and not having to do a lot has been hard for me. I don’t think I’m one of those crazy driven people who feels happy about not having a spare minute of the day. But I’ve realized this semester that I don’t relax very well anymore. When I have free time, I get antsy and invariably end up using it to work ahead or clean or waste it in a non-relaxing way. I feel nervous when I’m not accomplishing something. In other words, I feel driven to prove my worth by doing a bunch of stuff.

I visited Kevin’s class last week (about “inner growth,” so to speak) which was taught by Dr. Gallagher, the same professor we had in the summer. He is a really good professor whose token phrase is (in an Australian accent), “Take it easy.” He talked about some of the same things I have been thinking about: slowing down, focusing on “being” instead of “doing,” and setting aside time for God, for family, and for taking care of yourself. He reminded us to follow our passions and consider our limits.

I view my limits more or less as a personal enemy to be overcome. I keep coming up against my physical, emotional, and spiritual limits and getting frustrated. My personal expectations are much higher than my limits. Our culture is all about breaking limits and says “you can do anything if you try hard enough,” so I don’t like to accept the fact that I can’t. Sometimes I try harder and just fall apart. Athletes must push themselves but if they push too hard, they’ll end up with injuries.

Last summer, Dr. Gallagher said that many of us act like we are in a sprint. We do and do and burn out by 30. “You are not in a sprint,” he told us, “You are in a marathon. If you don’t take care of yourself now, you will take years off your life.” Just the other day he reminded us again, “Some of you still have 70 years ahead of you!” And I thought, “Oh my gosh, that could be true!” I have several relatives who are in their mid-90’s. Sometimes I forget how young I am. Our culture is so youth-oriented, I have the idea that if you plan to do anything useful in life, you better do it by the time you’re 30 or 40. Obviously, most people live far beyond that and do all kinds of meaningful things into their 80’s or 90’s even.

So really, I do need to “take it easy.” I’ve got so much life ahead of me. I need to pace myself and take care of my health so that I can still be doing useful things at 80 and 90. Hmm, seventy more years. That kind of takes the pressure off.

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