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Lost in thought (05/25/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns
People travel far and wide to marvel at the wonders of the earth, mysteries of the mammoth sea, the steady course of rivers, and to entertain deep thoughts about the impenetrable sky, but they shy away from themselves without wondering, without a clue.

"Zeitgeist!" The spirit of young motherhood has abandoned me to sketchy memories and sentiments beyond nostalgic reach.

So often I've longed to remember, beyond faded photographs in frames and musty picture albums, certain moments with my children, long since adults. I reach to recapture words and emotions, the scent of her hair dusty with sand, the boys' giddy laughter over some foolish prank, the way a touching, childlike act stirred my sentiments to tears, a firm little hand in mine - a timeless bond.

Pictures may not lie but they speak superficially, from faces since transformed by years in time. What incidental occurrences shaped each life as they moved on? What was inside the crudely wrapped birthday gift on my lap as the three children and their father gazed upon my face soft with emotion? When have I felt that way since?

Considering the masses, one life can be reduced to a mere glimpse and a shadow. Paul Bowles said this, "We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."

A happy, productive life that makes a positive difference doesn't have to be a huge production. I think of those I enjoy being around, and feel buoyed by exchanging thoughts as we share our day -to-day experiences and encounters with optimism and good cheer. Warm and fuzzy"¦you know, the kind of day that when you get home hubby asks how your day went, and you grin and nod with satisfaction, "Great, really great!"

Oh, the enigma of adolescence! Home from a day at school, the kids are bubbling over with gushy stories to tell one day, and the next day may return your enthusiastic greetings with, "Alright I guess," "Nothing much," "Bummer," "I'm starving!" Go figure!

Why do we Americans complicate our lives with desires for everything money can buy, and then some? The sincerely "simple life," as I understand it, takes us back to the "warm and fuzzy," "a great day," and "Kodak moments," when nothing out of the ordinary happens.

The title of a recent Utne article by Michael Neill, "Have an Average Day: Enjoying the Ordinary is Extraordinary," caught my eye. His thoughts seemed, well, too simple at first.

His story tells that when Lyndon Duke analyzed suicide notes it led him to the conviction that the enemy of happiness is "the curse of exceptionality." Say what?

Neill surmises, "When everyone is trying to be exceptional, nearly everyone fails because the exceptional becomes commonplace, and those few who do succeed feel isolated and estranged from their peers. We're left with a world in which a few people feel envied, misunderstood, and alone, while thousands of others feel like failures for not being good, special, rich, or happy enough."

Duke seems to be suggesting that our expectations should be more down to earth, before we start butting our heads against outlandish goals with each effort, never to achieve satisfaction. (That's what you call "bummed out!")

I guess there is virtue in "average" - average days, average family, average grades in school, average height, average desires, average achievements, average failures, average daydreams, average memories left behind.

Our present moments are tomorrow's reminiscences. Don't skimp.

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Winona County. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 


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