Little Things

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

This much-washed, charming little rug graces the floor in my son’s home near Seattle, Washington, a mere 2,991 miles from our humble abode in Georgia.

So. Far. Away.

Ret and I are visiting Kevin this week, something we’ve only been able to do twice since the Navy moved him here over a year ago.

It’s a bittersweet time for me; Kevin works on an aircraft carrier and spends a lot of time at sea. Being a worrier by nature, this just troubles me. When I’m at home, I miss him so acutely that the hole in my heart is huge; the longing to see him is physically painful at times. Being able to freely hug your child only one week a year is not nearly enough, no matter how tall, grown up or opinionated he may be. While I’m here enjoying our time together, there’s a part of me that is already dreading the next long separation and finding it hard to stay focused on the moment at hand.

Last year, Kev was new to the area and we spent a lot of our time together exploring this ultra-cool city. Seattle is a progressive, densely populated mecca for the tech-savvy, the artsy, the vibrant intellectual. Ret and I reveled in soaking up the culture that’s so distinctly different from the South. Plus, there’s a coffee shop on every corner.

Our visit this time has been a little more subdued. It’s rained a lot (oddly enough, it didn’t rain last time we were here), so we’ve spent more time relaxing around the house and just quietly enjoying each other’s company. I’ve been appalled at how few steps I’ve logged on my Fitbit this week. But it’s been nice. Several times we’ve found ourselves doing our own thing in companionable silence; Kevin’s playing video games or his guitar, Ret’s watching TV and I’m reading. It reminds me of the days when we were all living under one roof, along with our younger son Jared, four dogs, a cat and Louie the parrot. Well, no. This is much more peaceful, even with the commotion from his amazing singing Siberian husky, Anya, the original grand-dog.

I am reminded of how much of my life I spend regretting the past, worrying about the future and wishing to control the uncontrollable. I wish he didn’t live so far away. I wish things could be different. I wish the sun would come out today. Left unchecked, these intense longings eat away at my peace like termites. They’re a waste of energy and fuel the kind of ingratitude that poisons the soul.

Santosha, which means contentment, is one of the yogic principles of niyama. Together the ten principles of yama and niyama comprise the first two of the eight limbs of Raja yoga. They bear striking resemblance to the Ten Commandments of Christianity and Judaism and the ten virtues of Buddhism, all universal principles of morals and spiritual observances. Here contentment doesn’t necessarily imply satisfaction. The meaning is deeper and more subtle. To cultivate contentment, santosha, is the path to true joy, to be able to be just as we are without the need to seek or strive for anything outside ourselves. I like to think of it as living in the moment, wanting nothing else. It’s tough in our grasping, consumption-driven society.

It’s tough for me, anyway.

Counting my favorite little things

When I look back across the years and the miles, my most santosha-filled moments were the little ones, like:

Gathering around the kitchen table playing Monopoly: I had to be the banker every time we played so the boys and their dad couldn’t steal from the bank.

Staying up into the wee hours of the night reading a book: There’s something decadent about tucking the rest of the house into bed to steal a few hours for yourself. The allure of being a night owl is probably the reason I’m now struggling to become a morning person.

Watching the boys play with our dogs: A much younger Kevin taught Bear, our German shepherd, to catch treats in midair. True to his breed, Bear was known in his youth for his great herding abilities. When the neighborhood kids played in our yard, Bear could be found circling them, nipping at their ankles as he rounded them up. Every kid on our block loved him.

Sitting on the back porch watching the birds in our yard: Songbirds are one of God’s most delightful gifts to us. I’ve lost hours in this happy pursuit.

Sure, there have been moments of stunning importance in my life, like the days each of my children entered the world, and they occupy their rightful places on the stage of my memory. But the little things are no less special. They’re largely stress-free, harbor no expectations, cost very little, and their spontaneous appearances are a tonic to an overburdened soul.

Actually, true santosha permeates every moment of life, not just those we perceive as positive or even neutral. I can’t say that my first emotion is one of contentment when I’m stuck in traffic or writing a check to the IRS, but I’m working on it. Being mindful of the little things in everyday life is a start because it’s teaching me to recognize the feeling when it arises.

I know I’ll cry when we say goodbye to Kevin and board our long flight back home. It happens every time I leave my parents’ house in New Orleans, too. I’ve never gotten good at goodbye; after 28 years of living in Georgia I still choke up when the pilgrimage to my hometown comes to a close. Goodbye is even harder as a mother saying goodbye to her child.

One thing that helps me overcome this sadness is gratitude, not just for the time we spend together, but for the abiding connection we share that transcends everything else. And another is the only rule we set for our visits: at the end, we decide when we will see each other again. The plans might change, but somehow just making them allows me to not dwell on the future because I can feel secure in it. I can return home wrapped in love and go on to whatever happens next.

So we don’t say goodbye — we say “see you later.”

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