I don’t remember if I wrote about this recently or not, but I have heard a very helpful distinction between self care and self comfort. Self comfort is intended to anesthetize, numb us, when we are in overload. It’s easy to figure out mine: snacking, and not snacking on healthy food, either. Self-care is more actively finding the things that will give us a sense of ourselves, of our agency, of our capacity to keep on keeping on, even when the impulse is to crawl into bed and pull the covers over our head.
I woke up and quickly got overwhelmed, listening to the news. I definitely had a choice since today is my day off: get in the easy chair with a book and goodies, or get going. I’ve had a busy morning. I cleaned out my closet, something I hadn’t done since I moved here in the summer of 2014. In some respects, doing that work made me sadder. I’ve gained way more weight than I should have since I left Florida. I play that weight game with myself: I’m going to hold on to my skinnier me clothes because, by golly, I’m going to lose that weight! Today, it seemed so much more obvious that it really is just that: a game. So one by one, I took skirts and blouses and dresses and pants I can’t use and bagged them up to take to a clothes closet in one of the churches in Montgomery.
I started going back to my vegan ways with the help of a good friend a couple of weeks ago. It’s been both energizing and rocky going, especially in the last week. But it’s a start; my intention is to be back in a largely vegan food plan moving forward. I’m also doing a bit more exercise. That too is a start. Cleaning out my closet meant confronting the shame and the disappointment in myself. And asking myself what I can do differently that is not gamey, or unrealistic, or unsustainable, in an effort to choose self-care over self-comfort.
That closet work was hard but it is done; I fit in all the clothes I kept, and my closet is sparkling clean. While I was at it, I realized it was the week I wash our sheets. That bit of work brought me enormous joy. A few years ago, my brothers and their spouses, my dad and I vacationed on one of the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden. We stayed in a cottage with a lovely umbrella clothes-line outside in the garden. Though it was cool, the sun shone for so long each day that the clothes dried quickly. As I’d pick them off the line and bring them in, memories of how laundry smelled when I was growing up, because everything was line-dried, came flooding back. The smell is simply glorious.
As we got settled here, I asked my spouseman to put up a clothesline for me, and it went on his to-do list though we both struggled to figure out a good place to put it. Then one day, the solution came to Sherod and he buildt this contraption that folds up when we are not using it, and gets let down to allow us to hang our laundry in the sun and breeze on wash days. Today I used clothespins to hang the pillowcases and got the Mallowman to help me with the sheets. We “wrassled” them up on the lines together and there was this exquisite sense of shared purpose and camaraderie. The sheets have since all dried and I’ve remade our bed so tonight, we will slip in between sheets smelling of light and gentle breezes. A very small way, but none-the-less a way, to make our carbon footprint smaller. Self-care.
This Sunday, the Gospel reading ends with the story of the Canaanite woman who importunes Jesus long enough to make him change his mind and respond to her and her needs. I’m preaching and am both deeply disturbed by the passage with its confrontation not only of what’s happening in our country right now, but also of my own hardness of heart, and grateful. There is wisdom and hope to be found in that story. I’m trying to hold on to the realization that the kind of willingness to open the doors wider, to be more generous, to see myself and the Other in a new way as the Gospel suggests even Jesus had to learn to do, requires self-care, while self-comfort makes it far, far easier to simply look away. I can’t look away.