“Its meaning is in the doing.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer—
Oh, this book. It’s on another level. It’s strange, and . . . I like it. When the mayor says these words to our narrator, Hiram, it’s one of those moments that make us pause. We know something big is happening. I’m still working my way through the book (only on page 93 right now), and there are these little wisps of smoky magic throughout. I’m intrigued, and hopefully my 9-month-old will allow me a window of reading time more than three minutes at a time.*
(*Note: NOT a recommended reading strategy, but if it’s all you have, you take it. I hear people tell me — ad nauseam — that they simply don’t have any time to read. And as I look at them with an ever-so-slight eyebrow raise, I think to myself, “Wow, to not have five or ten minutes in a day. That’s something.” And I would wager that something is in fact not true. Turn your phone off. Try again. Goodbye.)
But aside from my sentiments on reading (and how if you’re a human you better be figuring out how to do it — hint: open book, look at words, turn pages), I love this quote because of its — you guessed it — simple truth.
Meaning is in the doing.
We’ve heard it before: don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk; actions speak louder than words; practice what you preach; etc. But what these familiar phrases lack is meaning. And that meaning element is good. Really good.
So what is the meaning of your life? Simple. Look at what you’re doing. I don’t care what you believe or what your Enneagram is or even what you say. What do you do?
Do you believe in God and/or the Bible and/or Jesus but find yourself gossiping with co-workers, holding onto grudges, dwelling on and perpetuating negativity?
Do you look for the cutesy-tootsie Enneagram infographics on Instagram and immediately post to stories OMG? It’s real life if it’s on your stories. We all know that.
Do you say you want your kids to get the best education when they never see you reading (but instead see you as a screen-zombie to your phone)?
Do you want a happy life but go to bed each night exhausted and drained, wondering when the next weekend/break/hiatus/sabbatical will be?
I’m a teacher, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of living for the weekend (and the random government days off and Thanksgiving break — ON IT!! — and Christmas break and spring break and summer break). But, hello — what am I doing each weekday to be happy?
Sometimes I like to sit down and think about what I do in a day. I suggest you do the same. So let me walk through a typical “school day”:
- Wake up a little earlier than I need so that I can enjoy a quiet few minutes with my cup of coffee and a book.
- Do all the necessary personal preparations for school. I have a simple wardrobe, so dressing never takes a long time. I don’t wear much makeup or do much of anything with my hair, so, again, less time. I think the key here is not worrying too much about how I look.
- I ride my bike the almost-mile to school. As I ride down my street, I often see the beautiful sunrise and thank God for the morning greeting. I see a couple of folks fairly regularly that I wave to and say “Good morning!” Rick is my regular walker, and we’ve actually stopped to meet each other since we see each other nearly every morning. When it’s cold (in the 40’s — I don’t bike under 40 degrees fahrenheit; I have standards, people), my regulars and I exchange the knowing nod of it’s cold and WE OUT HERE.
- I get to school with plenty of time to spare so I never feel rushed in the mornings.
- I enjoy chatting with my homeroom students. They’re ninth graders and crazy. And I love them . . . almost all the time.
- I write my curriculum based on what I love. So classes are never dull. (Does it get tedious doing the same lesson again and again in a day? Sure, but the students are so different that even with the same lesson, the variation still prevails.)
- I enjoy my lunch with adults. This is a time I get away from the students. Some teachers let students eat in their rooms, but that just isn’t for me. I need a balance of teenagers and adults in my day, and chatting with adults at lunch is a needed respite. (This year has been a little different because I actually bike home every day for lunch to nurse my baby. But I always get to chat with my husband, and he is — I would say, for the most part — an adult, so it counts.)
- I try not to stay late at school. I’ve found that if I’m absolutely overwhelmed with papers to grade or lessons to write or fill-in-the-blank to do, I’m actually not being efficient at my job. Even if you’re not a teacher, see if this applies to you. Work smarter, not harder. (Hey, just because you’re that person who stays super late every day at whatever job you’re at doesn’t mean that you’re actually a good employee. WE HAVE GOT TO STOP THE MADNESS OF EXALTING THE RULE-FOLLOWING ROBOT-OVERWORKER.)
- I ride my bike home, sometimes in the rain, and enjoy noticing weird and interesting things on the path. Like a huge spider in a huge spider web that I have to swerve to avoid smashing my face into. Sometimes students or parents or coworkers give a little honk and wave as they drive by. It’s nice.
- I enjoy my evening with my family. We try not to make plans so that our weeknights are open to our every whim. Whims normally include trips to Trader Joe’s, maybe a dinner out at Moe’s on kids night, the library, or — the craziest whim — staying home. The husband has a fire going in the fireplace when the temps get way, way down into the fifties here in sunny Florida.
No crazy tips on how to be happy except to say that my life isn’t crazy. I do my best at living life, and that includes spending the most time doing what I love and being with people I love. Being a mom and wife and teacher? Love that about my life. Reading lots of books and writing (on a mostly-weekly basis)? Also love that.
So my last blog post was about my grandmother’s lemon cream pie. Since today’s blog post is all about doing, I thought I’d update you on the pie progress.
PIE PROGRESS UPDATE: I made the pie. I made the pie on Wednesday night, chilled it overnight, and brought it to our friend’s Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday. I thought that I hadn’t whipped the cream long enough for it to set properly and was absolutely terrified that it would turn into a gloppy pudding mess as soon as it was cut into. You know, when you lift out the slice, and the rest of the pie just sort of oozes into the open space and globs it right up? Yeah, that’s what I imagined. So I downplayed my pie to everyone at the feast, and when it came time to cut, I prayed “DEAR JESUS DO YOUR WORK HERE IN THIS PIE.” As I ever so carefully lifted the slice out, the whipped topping just held.
AND IT WAS MAGNIFICENT.
In fact, when I truly beheld its magnificence (in my mouth), I was transported back to my grandmother’s table (with all her fine china and crystal because, you know, she fancy) in Palo Alto, California. And I said a little prayer of thanks, and scarfed that pie down.
The point is, I wrote about the pie. I found the pie recipe. I read the pie recipe. I thought about the pie. But it wasn’t until I actually made the pie that meaning glinted through (in the form of a crisp, buttery crust, a tart lemon cream, and a light and fluffy whipped cream with little shreds of lemon zest on top). It was nice to think about the pie and read the recipe and reminisce about my grandmother. But it was joy making the pie and sheer decadence eating it.
I also brought some of my homemade sourdough bread to the feast, in the forms of a fougasse and four baguettes. Again, I like to talk about bread. And I like to write about bread. But it’s the doing that brings the true satisfaction. And I think satisfaction goes hand in hand with meaning. Like my read-more-books-talks with adults and the I-simply-have-no-time syndrome, people love to talk to me about bread and how they’re “going to try to start making bread.” But then, inevitably, they catch themselves and admit that they “simply have no time.”
Really, could we all probably come up with *all the things* that *take up all the time* and actually not accomplish much in life? YEP. So figure out what it is you want to do in life and do it. Or figure out what you want your kids seeing you doing and do it. Case in point: There’s a baby on my back. Right now. As I write. That baby is just soaking in the writing vibes. Now in fairness, he is asleep in a baby carrier on my back. And that is not normally how I write. But my husband is *doing* a bonfire and campout tonight with first-born and second-born. (They’re in the backyard in a tent. Bless my husband’s soul.) So I’m on baby duty 100% tonight.
When I try to think about what I want to do in life, I try to think about what I’ll remember (for good reasons or at least some hearty laughs) later in life — or what my husband or kids or students will remember later in life. Bonus: Doing things that people will remember will create your legacy. And you will achieve immortality as your deeds will live on forever after you pass. Immortality? Level up.
Will this lemon-pie-making become a probably-yearly tradition? Yes. And I think my kids will remember the tart-sweet of those bites and think of me. Same with my weekly bread (minus the tart-sweet).
Will my writing live on after I’m gone? Yes. And maybe my kids will get a kick out of reading what their
silly little super cool mom had to say about life and love and sentences.
So what this all loops back around to is . . .
Really, though, it is. Do things. Do things that you (and partners and kids and students and people) will remember. And as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said (but because he has achieved immortality through his words, he still says — present tense), “Let us, then, be up and doing / with a heart for any fate.” If you have time, read the entire poem here. It is life-changing. But it might take a minute.
I wonder what you’ll do.