Saturday, August 15, 2015

May I please be excused?

When I was a kid, dinnertime was sacrosanct.  Every evening my mother prepared a meal while my sisters or I (whichever one was "Kitchen Aide" for the night) set the table and poured freshly brewed iced tea into tall, ice-filled glasses.  By the time my father got home from work, a piping hot dinner was served and we all sat around the table talking about the day gone by...how much homework had already been finished...what television show we wanted to watch that night.  Unfortunately, my place at the table was tightly wedged between the wall and my mother.  A flip-top garbage can sat behind me, so I was stuck fast until I asked permission to clear my plate.  Most of the time that meant I had to wait out my parent's post-supper cigarette while struggling to finish a plate of spaghetti or broccoli and baked beans. 
Like most kids born in the sixties and early seventies, I didn't think twice about my parents' smoking habit, for it seemed almost every adult lit up after a meal, while sitting on the porch at twilight, or while driving to and from the office.  But I truly hated it when I was trapped at the table inhaling their secondhand smoke all the while trying to eat.  I often asked to be excused before I was done and was told that I had to clean my plate first.  That's when the garbage can came in quite handy, for all I had to do was covertly toss forkfuls of whatever food happened to be lingering on the Corelle and beat it to my bedroom pronto. 
My parents kicked their habit more than two decades ago and since 2006, public places in Toledo, Ohio don't allow smokers.  Except for a few people who choose to light up at Wildwood park, I've been able to steer completely clear of second-hand smoke.  And yet, I find that breathing in a host of pollutants at the dinner table is not the only kind of toxic behavior in which I can find myself these days. 
As of this weekend, I'm ready to be excused.

There are many times (nearly every time really) when I pull out of my garage and think, It's an act of courage to get in this car and drive.  I cannot tell you how many times I've been on the road with people who can't remember the dashed line divides the street into two lanes or others who think that texting, smoking, and driving are activities that can be simultaneously and safely executed while behind the wheel of a car.  I've been cut off, nearly side-swiped, and made to endure rattling windows while the car next to me at a stop light blares his bass at a dangerously high decibel level. 
I've been in a grocery store where a man abusively yelled at his preschooler while dozens stood by and perhaps, like me, wondered what he would do his child in private if that's how he speaks to him in public.  I witnessed a woman at the park who stood by while her five-year-old fell off of her bike on a dangerously steep slope.  While the father was quick to scoop up his daughter, the woman angrily berated her for not using the brakes.  I had to put a serious brake on my desire to chastise the mother for assuming her little one would remember how to do so while anxiously speeding down an incline I wouldn't feel safe going down on my mountain bike. 
In the past week, my city has seen a rash of horrific crimes that include gang related violence, a wanted criminal killing a police dog, and a mother charged with aggravated murder in the death of her six-month-old son.  It's left my friends and me wondering what this world is coming to...and what we can to do to try and cope in a world where human behavior becomes more extreme.  I often feel as helpless as I did as a child.  I'm not the one smoking, but I'm still forced to inhale the second-hand energy of those with whom I'm sharing the road, the neighborhood, or the community.
As a child I didn't get to choose.  My parents dictated the boundaries, the rules, and the guidelines.  But as an adult, I know I have the freedom of choice.  I follow driving laws.  I pay my bills on time and file my taxes.  I take responsibility for my home and my health.  While I know I can't completely cut myself off from the world, I am consciously choosing when and where and how I interact with the public at large.  In the past I had to ask permission to be excused from an uncomfortable situation.  Now I politely excuse myself or decline an invitation that I know would leave me depleted and exhausted. 
These days that seems to be most anything beyond a walk in the woods.

I suppose it's the nature of being an introvert, or maybe I'm just ready for a more peaceful, spacious life away from the incessant noise and commotion of the city.  In any event, I've been excusing myself from a lot lately...and find that it's very healing to sit in my silent house for a few hours each day with no television, no radio, no phone, and no contact with the outside world, save an email here and there.
          I'm reminded that even though we're being bombarded with times like these, there have always been times like these, so a break is necessary from time to time.  So I'm thankful for the opportunity to take a "stay-cation" (instead of a vacation) where I'll hole up in my little house and hermit for a while.  I'll be readying the house for a spring listing.  Reading the stack of books on my bedside table.  Rocking in my backyard swing at twilight, mesmerized by the sound of crickets and watching for hummingbirds and butterflies that flit around the blooming trumpet vine.   
It's sacrosanct, this time alone...and something I look forward to every summer.  It's a precious week when I can excuse myself from the world for a little while in order to find a stronger sense of balance, a deeper place of peace.
          And return once more to that which is most sacred.