Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Essentials

The Essentials

It wasn’t as though I’d been caught by surprise.  The colours of the morning had pretended no cheerfulness, all sparrow shades of grey and brown.  Rather than invite me outdoors, they seemed to hold up an exhortatory palm, mossy damp and cold, silently, firmly, pushing me back inside the warm house.  But I had to brush past them, for I had a list of errands to complete.  So, raincoat thrown over shoulders, handbag on arm, I hit the pavement with the rest of the afternoon throng, most of whom I noticed wore the mopey faces that often populate a dreary Monday in early February.  

As I steered my little green Fiat somewhere between the cleaners and the grocers, a few lines of a poem I’d read the previous morning drifted under the lens of my mind, lines I found illuminating in their wise sadness.  Written by poet Brenda Shaughnessy the poem is meant to address one’s younger self -

“You’d pass me on the street
As well, a “normal,”

Someone who traded 
In her essentials for

A look of haunted 

Ouch.  If those words don’t stop you cold and plunge you into introspection, nothing will.
Sitting at a traffic light, I stared at the faces in the cars moving past my window,
 one by one by one, and I had to admit, “haunted responsibility” is a well-coined phrase. 

 For the rest of the day I indulged myself in a little game I like to play.  With each person I saw, I tried to imagine them at about seven or eight.  Was that child, that essential person, still in there somewhere, trapped perhaps, under responsibilities too heavy to shift - constricted by expectations or frozen by duty?  With some people, it takes no great stretch of imagination to see the essential person they’ve always been.  He is there in the smile, she glimmers in the eyes that meet yours as you pass each other on a crowded street.  With others, it’s harder.  I wonder, and hope, the distracted weariness they project is nothing more than the result of a grey Monday.  Nothing more. 

I have always thought the worst emotion one can possibly feel is great regret.  It must be sharper than loss, deeper than fear.  To wish to change something one cannot, to long for more time when the clock has run out, must be an incredible pain.  It’s difficult to conjure a more crushing regret that the loss of those essentials that make us unique, but I rather think in today’s rapacious times, it takes much care and attention to hold on to ourselves.  But hold on, we must.   Like beauty, like faith, if we hand over, or worse, ignore, those things essential to our uniqueness I fear their light will continue to dim till one dark night, perhaps when we need it the most, we see it no more.

Recently I unearthed the little pale pink diary I kept as a child.  Amidst the rather humdrum entries about sleepovers, crushes and spats I found one that caused me to laugh right out loud:
 “I can’t wait till I grow up!  Wearing lipstick... sigh.”

So, this was adulthood to me at seven.  Wearing lipstick.  No mention of the legion of responsibilities that attend adulthood like stern ladies-in-waiting, irritable and accusatory, tapping the shoulder, rapping the knuckle.  If only being “grown-up” were as simple as just “wearing lipstick”.  I smiled at my own younger self and realized anew how vital it is to retain a clear communication with that voice we had as a child, to indulge those childhood dreams and hopes - the carefree fun, the grand plans.  It’s important to protect those things that make us happy and connect us to the person we’ve always been, lest we lose something special, or tragically, something essential.  

 I happen to find my true self in books and fresh flowers,
 in a soul-enriching relationship with a big white dog. 
 I’m there on rainy London pavements, in the mists of Glencoe.  
In music, in forests, beside a wild sea.
In old houses with creaky floors, 
in gothic churches of golden light....
There are so many essentials that make me who I am, 
and I’m determined not to lose a one of them to “haunted responsibility”.

 What are the essentials that you refuse to lose? 
 What connects you to your unique self?


  1. As I go through my days, working with a marginalised population in institutions, I often see the child in the troubled adult. Every one of them, at some point, had that clarity, that eagerness, that trust that is the birthright of every child.
    Me? I indulge my unique self by telling the truth, telling the ones I love that I love them and by forgiving myself when I slip up.

  2. Ahhhh, regret. I know that well. If only I had done what I knew I should do. Living years in ways you hated, but felt too much fear to change it. Now I know I had the power to change everything. My regret is that I didn't know it then.

  3. Splenderosa's comment makes me feel sad for her and hope that she's happier now. I have to make a change this year, or I think I might end up the same.

    My essentials are a love of books, a healthy curiosity and appreciation of times gone by, and a playful whimsey. What connects me? That smell of musty dust (or dusty must) in old buildings and books. Being amongst trees and friends. Standing in front of beautiful paintings. Listening to classical music and the sea. Climbing a hill and turning around to soak up the view. Lots of things, really. :)

  4. This post is exactly what I needed, thank you! Waking this morning in a depressive state while recovering from surgery, it revives me to think about and point out my personal essentials. Making a plan to get back to them...my beloved seashore, redwoods, and cathedrals. Art museums, 15th-16th century history, and creating with color & pattern. Thanks for the wake-up!

  5. A thing I needed to be reminded of today....
    as your posts' so often are.


  6. i'm finding the funny thing about being old ~ if 67 is old ~ is that i'm looking out at life with 7 year old eyes. i have grown of course. yes! but i still see the world from a much younger perspective. i don't know if that's good or bad. it simply is my reality. rather like always seeing doris day through silk. LOL.
    the pain and regrets are in the mist of time and i seldom visit them. i seem to know more and more moments of joy. why i cannot say.

  7. What a lovely post! And thought provoking in that it made me stop and think about what I feel makes me unique. In so many ways we are all connected, yet each of us has our individual "spark", something that is special only to us. A wonderful read! Thank you.

  8. Another wonderful post ~ Thank you.

  9. I regret nothing because my life has made me who I am today and I really like....love...her. A cousin sent me some DVDs taken from old movies of me when o was around six. I loved watching that little girl that was...is...me. It was a great reminder to stay connected to that sweet child who is still alive inside of me. What connects me to her and my own unique spirit? Playing with my grandchildren and being in Nature.

  10. Although I'm really a very practical sort with my feet well stuck in the Carolina clay, I've always been drawn to the mystical and mysterious and the beautiful. I've never had the patience or persistence of the scholar, nor the will of an initiate, nor the righteous assurance of a particular religious faith. But I've wished for a deeper awareness and connection. What evokes this feeling in me? Deep green forests, rocky creeks and waterfalls, blue mountains, wonderful books, ancient buildings, certain music, flowers and fragrance, beautiful sunsets (like I'm seeing out the window now), and, naturally, canine companionship. Sure, there are many things I like and say 'oh that's so me!' but these are often tastes I've acquired or ephemeral pleasures. I'm drawn to the beauty and the mystery.

  11. I wish I had foresight many times.
    Try to make the best of every day,
    like what did I accomplish today,
    did I tell Renee I love her?
    As far as doing errands, I feel like Doctor Zhivago - what a cold winter.
    Sending warm wishes.
    beautiful post.

  12. You have given me much to think about. I tried to write a response but my thoughts would not coalesce. Let me sleep on it and I'll get back to you… Thank you for another beautiful and thought-provoking post.

  13. Ah Pamela - we are into 'Road less travelled' territory here. Would my life have been happier if it had taken another path?
    From my advanced age (80) I am not sure that I still have characteristics from my youth and I don't know what my unique self is.
    Perhaps, if I really think about it, I have always been a glass half full kind of person - I have had a long and happy life, fulfilled, although not taking the course I intended to in the first instance. Health, happiness, peace of mind, love - what else really matters Pamela?

  14. I loved the poet's phrase 'haunted responsibility'.

    As always Pamela you have got me thinking...and in a nice way as I am thinking of my 'essentials' and I shall definitely write a piece or try a poem on those lines. Thank you for your inspiration and the beauty of your words, as always.

  15. I love that poem and the glimpse of you as a child, longing for lipstick. Precious! I don't think the inner me has changed that much. I still love books and the outdoors.

  16. Such a wonderful post and almost equally thoughtful responses. I do believe our essential qualities remain in us.....and when the adult responsibilities slip away we revert to what we once were....
    well, maybe I'm making this up...
    Tammy expressed exactly what I feel. (Will visit her blog immediately.)
    Pamela, you do have a gift for thought provoking topics. Cait's response poem on her blog was wonderful too.

  17. The privilige of being around my adorable and enthusiastic young art students is what keeps me feeling extremely young, somewhat silly, and highly adventurous...they keep the haunted looks at bay (at least I dearly hope they do...I'll have to look in the rearview on my next errand outing).
    Lovely, thought provoking post...
    xo J~

  18. My family, my independence, my love of France, my energy, my enthusiasm and inquisitiveness...
    These are the essentials that i cherish...
    Happy weekend Pamela... and thank you for a thought provoking reflection... xv

  19. I couldn't wait to grow up, wear flowy dresses, put my hair up and go dancing the night away. My mother was a beautiful young lady and I picked up this fancy idea from looking at her picture albums.

    I'm determined never to lose my sense of humor, my ability to laugh and my habit of smiling at total strangers.

    xo Amelia

  20. Bravo..great post! Beautiful written..Thank you for this on this Monday morning..There is a pale sun shining on the Hilltop..:)


  21. Pear Cider . What a decadent knitting circle !


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!