Pray that the road is long

One common symbol for the motto "Festina Lente"

I was walking down the street a couple of weeks ago and a book was lying on a bench with a sign that said, “Free,” on it. In keeping with my “If it’s free, it’s for me” life philosophy (aka freganism) I picked it up and was delighted to see that it was a dictionary of foreign phrases. A lover of languages and a former enthusiastic albeit underachieving Latin student, I was thumbing through it later that evening, trying on my most outrageous French and German accents, when the following phrase caught my attention in the chapter of Greek phrases by way of Latin:

Festina Lente: ‘Hurry Slowly’ or ‘More Haste, Less Speed'”

I was reminded of it this morning, as I sped through the house trying to be ultra-efficient, being sure to always walk from one room to another with something in my hand to put back in place, to pick up the bathroom as I got ready, to fold laundry as I got dressed in my bedroom. After 45 minutes I had made little progress other than to give myself a major case of the jitters, all while my daughter yelled from downstairs while she waited for me, “Mom, what are you doing up there?” In the name of being faster, more productive, more efficient, I was none of them. Barely dressed, definitely stressed. The opposite of “Festina Lente,” for sure.

It’s easy to be aware that I’m rushing-yet-getting-nothing-done, but hard to change the habit. In this journey as a parent of a child with special needs, it’s tempting to want to believe that we will be happier and more content if we could just hurry up through this particular stage/challenge/meeting/doctor’s appointment/tantrum and get it over with.

The rushing isn’t just in the small moments, but in the big arc of the story too. Telling ourselves things like: “When we get this out-of-district placement, everything will be great.” “After this surgery, I’ll be able to relax.” “If the insurance company would just approve this treatment, everything would be fine.” It rarely turns out that way, but it too is a difficult thought pattern to break.

I can see from my flailing this morning rushing — whether rushing to get the hell out of a yucky emotion or place of powerlessness — rarely gets me thing other than stress. I’m determined to ease up, live in a “less haste, more speed” kind of way.

In that vein and in the spirit of these last lazy days of summer, I am reminded of a favorite poem by Greek poet Constantine Cafavy. If you’ve read this far, you might enjoy it too.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Pray that the road is long. Festina lente. “The days are long, but the years are short,” as a wise woman wrote in a response to my last post. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I hope I remember to enjoy it.

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Let’s all go to the lobby and get ourselves a snack

Things have been silent on the blog front lately, not for any particular reason other than that I’m taking a little break from trying so hard. A time-out of sorts — a pause, a respite, a recess. Dead air, as they say in television.

As Mother Nature unabashedly does her thing, pouring out verdant lushness, ripe peaches and tomatoes spilling out over bushel baskets at the farmers’ markets, I’m taking a moment to stock up on sunlight, fresh air, sand between my toes.

It’s not just on the blog front that things are quiet, but on the whole special needs parenting front too. My family’s needs aren’t pressing right now and there is space and ease for hanging out. After a year of steady diligence on many fronts — academic, behavioral, medical, psychological, social — I have declared myself off duty, off the clock, off the hook and goofing off. I’ve got my feet up. I’m letting the piles pile up for a while, letting go of needing to make progress, letting go of striving — the compulsion to be moving toward something, anything, away from here and now. It is deliciously restorative.

And yet there is an undertone.

Without wanting to seem pessimistic or dramatic, this break has a quality of a cease fire, a deliberate yet temporary break in the battle. It’s not that I consider myself at war with anyone or anything in particular; though it is tempting to allow myself that black-and-white self-righteousness of seeing my life as a fight against the enemies of a flawed healthcare system and an underfunded special education system, I’m capable of more complexity. But walking this path, regardless of the fact that I wouldn’t change it for the world, has its costs: fear, exhaustion, avoidance, denial, grief, frustration at not being in control, embarassment that I haven’t yet learned that no one can be.

This intermission to me is like those late afternoons Homer wrote so often about in The Iliad when Greeks and Trojans agree to put down their weapons so that they can clear their wounded off the field, bury their dead and patch their soldiers up for tomorrow. Each evening they would return to their ships or their walled city, roast a sheep, sing songs or play games, but fully aware that the next morning they’d get up and do it all over again, if they were lucky.

With this intermission I’m not just goofing off — I’m taking stock of the costs that have been made so far, awake with the knowledge that soon enough the troops of patience, compassion and courage will to suit up and be mobilized again. There will be IEP meetings, eligibility interviews, calls to my state reps, and long waits in doctor’s offices for very few answers.

Just…not today. Tonight after we put the kids to bed my husband and I will meet out on the deck for a drink and we’ll put our feet up. I’ll show him this video of vintage movie intermission clips, and we’ll talk trip to the beach for later in the month. And goof off.