Three Percent


Megan over at Having Enough linked to a video called Miniature Earth. Since you’re reading this post, I know you are one of the 3% of the earth’s citizens who have internet access. Given that, why not take a look?

A theme seems to be emerging for me this week. Something about perspective. Just when I work myself into a lather about what is or isn’t working, what I should or shouldn’t do ( me, me, me, me), I come across one video after another about the earth, the whole planet, this precious ball of gas and chemicals that for some reason supports life – our lives, the lives of every single person and creature you know, along with the millions you don’t.

**

Sitting in my first-ever silent retreat yesterday, I realized just how obsessed with money I am, just how entrenched my mind’s habits are around class and money consciousness, in ways that I don’t like but that obviously take up more than their share of head-space. It’s hard, just noticing. But easy, too, freeing. The temptation is great to judge or berate myself for being ridiculous (i.e. am I really wasting moments on this earth thinking about how I stack up?). So habitual to feel uncomfortable or guilty for privilege, rather than simply aware, humble.

**

If blogging had been around (or the Internet for that matter) when I was a teenager, lord knows I would have written about this. I will never forget the day, sitting in front of the Amherst Regional High School, when Pete DiNardi made this comment about my parents’ house, which is just across Triangle Street from the school: “Jena, your house is like a small shopping mall.”

Amazing, that these words are still with me, twenty years later. They hit a nerve. At the time, I was studying the Holocaust with an amazingly gifted history teacher, Mark Gerstein. I was, for the first time, asking hard questions about privilege, about blessings and gifts and obligation and equity. I have never really stopped asking them. Answers have come and gone; the disparities only grow, the chasm deepens, and I realize that I can’t do any good for anybody if I fall in it myself.

**

I’m in a tricky place these days. Well, let me say this: I’m in a tricky place today. That place has to do with the balance of motherhood, family, and work; with identity; with how we measure our contributions; with career; with money; with fulfillment and earning and all of the choices that women in this country, in this thin slice of privilege, have to make. And it is a thin slice. Not a day passes when I don’t at least carry that awareness. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a fine line between authenticity and whining. But this is not about self-flagellation or guilt; it is about a fierce belief that each of us deserves to honor our experience, while also maintaining some perspective on it.

I’m aware that my last couple of posts feel heavy, to me at least. I share them in the spirit of honest disclosure, of reflecting on real life as it unfolds. I read and write to make sense of my reality, to process my experience in words, to witness each other’s discoveries and struggles, to see myself in your stories and perhaps to give you a glimpse of yourself in mine, and to cultivate awareness and compassion in general.

**

I am not a “stay-home-mom” nor am I pursuing a traditional career path; I am a mom, a wife, a poet, a writer, a blogger, a yogi, a coach, a success, a failure. Perhaps I am beyond measure. I am privileged. I am uncomfortable with some and comfortable with others, yet wish it weren’t so. I am not tall. I am not skinny. I am not hungry. I am not wondering how I will pay the gas bill.

I am, however, grappling with how to make my living when I have abandoned the 9-5 grind and am hard-pressed to imagine going back. That in itself is privilege. Yet when I read a recent editorial in Brain, Child magazine – of which I am a subscriber – I cringed at what sounded to me elitist and self-congratulatory: “Brain, Child’s 36,000 readers are highly affluent, well-educated, and astute consumers.”

**

So, the earth lies in the balance. A friend asked me once – I may have written about it here, can’t remember – what would make me feel I had been “successful” looking back on my life. All I could think to say was that I wanted to be able to say I had been awake. Not affluent, not well-educated, not astute. Just awake.

Tonight, I reluctantly meditated for ten minutes next to the bed, where Aviva was looking at books and taking comfort in my presence. Afterwards, I leaned in close to kiss her goodnight. “Thank you,” I said to her.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because it isn’t always easy to stop and sit still, and you helped me tonight by asking me to.”

Print: “Humility” by Kadir Nelson

9 thoughts on “Three Percent

  1. Meg Casey says:

    Oh Jena–Yes. I know. Me too.
    I loved the last four paragraphs and how our children call us to be still with them. To often I lie next to Max, hoping not to fall asleep, figeting and waiting until he finally drift off waiting to get on to the next thing without realizing the precious gift I’ve been given-these moments of stillness. So thank you!

    Like

  2. marta says:

    Your house-like-a-mall comment reminded me of when I was in the 4th grade and my step-sister (at the time) would get off the school bus and walk up the drive way of the nearest house–a huge fancy house. She wouldn’t turn around and walk towards our real house (and wouldn’t let me) until the bus was out of sight. When the other kids realized we didn’t love in the Big House, she pretended shock that they could’ve misunderstood.

    Your comment about not being tall reminded me of how people perceive height–since I am 6’1″. I’ve always had a mixed relationship with my height.

    To me a life is successful if you never give up on yourself or your children. The rest of it disappears in the end.

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

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  3. bella says:

    “each of us deserves to honor our experience, while also maintaining some perspective on it.:
    These are such simple powerful words.
    You are asking questions that will likely never have absolute answers. And yet they are important questions, bringing us awake, to not judge but notice.
    I come from extreme poverty, and there are times now when it is odd for me, uncomfortable for me, to have the abundance and choices and material luxuries I have.
    I appreciate your honesty Jena.
    I honor your courage to quest and seek, desire and question, stop and sit still.

    Like

  4. Mere Mortal says:

    soft, beautiful musings.
    your words awaken me, awaken so many. thank you.
    oh, how i need stillness. your heartfelt comment to your daughter gave me chills.
    and i am in that heavy place now too, struggling how to balance the life of a mother and passionate, light being…
    xoxo

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  5. Shawn says:

    So much here; clearly the silence rung out to you and is working.

    I think to question all of these things is to be woman. No matter how much money any of us have or want or need, we’re all questioning, and trying to find that balance of what makes us feel fulfilled.

    I know I do. I am. It’s when my questioning becomes too much when I know it’s time to sit still, and let go and just be. To say, this is it, this is my life.

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  6. Chloe says:

    Jena- I’m really glad you wrote about this. I frequently have mental conversations with myself (big surprise there) about similar issues with feeling privileged in my current situation. Even though I try to honor the experience for what it is and keep it in perspective there is still the guilt of having what others may not (even though my situation comes from hard work and sacrifice). I enjoyed reading your perspective.

    Like

  7. Jena Strong says:

    Meg – we resist them, and then give in, and it’s a gift.

    Marta – I love this philosophy of yours on a “successful” life. Thanks for sharing it here.

    Shelli – It’s amazing, these mirrors we create with words.

    Bella – To not judge but notice, that’s a life’s work there. I too appreciate your willingness to delve into your whole past and present, claiming the future as your own…

    Leigh – Oh, how I know that struggle. And am always looking for those slivers of light and space where I can lay it down and just be, all of it, all of me. You, too.

    Shawn – I agree, there is something deep here about being women who ask such questions. And yes – the questioning can become too much, a relief to set aside. Thanks for bringing your thoughts here. Glad you love the heavy stuff!!

    Chloe – Guilt. Ugh. It doesn’t serve us, but there is something to be said for befriending it, being curious about it, learning. I also appreciate your comments so.

    xo Jena

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