by Carol Snow
Near a shrine in Japan he'd swept the path
and then placed camellia blossoms there.
Or - we had no way of knowing -
he'd swept the path between fallen camellias.
Since my kids returned to school last month, I've been a bit bored. Well, not bored exactly. Being bored implies I have nothing to do, which is far from the truth. A better description of my status would be: in limbo. The kids still need me, just not as much as they used to, which means I have hours a day to myself. Hours. All. To. Myself. The rest of the time, I'm like a plane circling the airport waiting to land, waiting for someone to say, "Mom!" so I can touch down and be of use.
"You're life is so boring," my daughter said. "All you do is watch documentaries, listen to podcasts and read books all day long." To a 14 year old girl, my life seems like purgatory. So boring. Of course that's not all I do; it's just the part of my day I enjoy most. My house has never been cleaner, nor has dinner been more consistently on time. Our dirty clothes are cleaned and put away in less than 24 hours of wearing them. Amazing. I go to the gym, hike with friends, paddleboard across a lake, or shop for hours, and no one even knows I'm gone! And since I'm no longer in charge of selecting and implementing curriculum for my kids, I'm doing it for myself. In addition to cosmology and astrophysics (I even have a textbook!), I'm studying poetry.
My method is this:
I read a poem from a poem-a-day website (never mind that it's for high schoolers - I'm a teenager at heart);
transcribe it into a pretty composition book;
think about it's meaning (or google it's meaning if I have no idea what the poem is about);
and record my thoughts about the poem (if any).
Yesterday I learned that remora, the fish that latches onto sharks to feed on their leftovers, means "to delay" in Latin, based on the belief that fish attached to boats and slowed them down.
From today's poem, Tour by Carol Snow, I learned my life's purpose. Or at least my life's current purpose as a mother. "Today's poem reminds us there are two ways of looking at things. Note: This is such a short poem, it should be read twice," read the instructions preceding the poem. I read it several times and was inspired to sit down and write about it, and as I wrote, another meaning revealed itself.
On the surface of the poem, I can relate to the nameless, faceless "he", the sweeper of camellia blossoms, who I imagine to be a monk from the shrine. I too sweep the floor (almost) daily, but my work goes unnoticed; the floor gets dirty again. It's as if I've done nothing. The same is true for all other housework.
Or - my life is so tidy, organized and simple right now - my alone time nearly monastic, my home often quiet as a shrine. Is this just the natural flow of things? The sweeping between fallen camellias. Or - did I work really hard to set it up this way? The intentional placing of camellia blossoms: the years I spent fostering independent children, creating a peaceful home, an environment conducive to growth, and financial simplicity which affords me the time and space to stay at home... and ponder poetry and physics.
Either way, the path before me is beautiful and inviting. On the surface it's sprinkled with bright, dewy petals, and underneath, it's paved with intention. The behind the scenes effort to construct the current scene makes it appear effortless, natural, as it should be. Swept.
Life is like poetry: we don't have to know what it means to enjoy it. Perhaps there is no way of knowing anyways.