This weekend, as I sat struggling between end of the semester deadlines and wanting to write a particular blog, I became aware that I suddenly had guests in my apartment. The warmer weather has woken up the ladybugs. Every room I went in one of them seemed to be following me. Since ladybugs are a sign of good luck, and as someone who tries not to annoy the Universe whenever possible, I’ve found myself talking gently to the ladies and ushering them out the window or guiding them to one of my plants on the windowsill when it seemed a little cold out.
At the same time I was also trying to write a blog that just wasn’t happening. Every word seemed forced. Nothing flowed together. I need to remember, that when this happens it is almost always a sign that this is not the piece I am meant to work on this week, that there is something else I need to say instead. The essays that I write that get the best responses, the ones that have people writing to me telling me how much they needed to hear what I was saying; those are the pieces that are almost no work at all. Those are the pieces that just flow, if I can just be patient and open to what’s happening around me.
So the ladybugs reminded me once again of one of my favorite movies of all time, Under the Tuscan Sun! If you’ve ever experienced a certain amount of unexpected heartbreak in your life, and you’ve seen that movie, then you just nodded your head in agreement. Almost four years ago when I found myself very unexpectedly divorced and living in a tiny apartment in downtown Bangor, that movie and a bottle of wine got me through some rough nights. (Yes, an entire bottle, don’t judge me, they were small bottles)! While sitting here in my little apartment, (in a building which oddly does contain a large number of middle-aged divorced people), the dream of running away to Italy, purchasing a villa, and starting over was just what I needed at the time! Or course the part about the brief love affair with the tall, dark, handsome, young Italian man didn’t hurt either!
The story was, by the way true! It is the memoir of writer Frances Mayes, which only goes to prove my theory that those of us who write personal stories are really on to something because truly you can’t make this shit up. Don’t get me wrong, fiction is wonderful and entertaining and all that. However for me, truth, real stories, our stories, are much more amazing, and damn scary, than any work of fiction we could ever imagine. Which makes sharing them with you, as vulnerable as that makes us sometimes, always worth it!
The lesson in Mayes’ story that stuck with me, however, that I couldn’t seem to shake to write the blog I was going to write, is about the ladybugs. If you have never read the book or watched the movie I’ll fill you in. Frances, the lead character, is at a crossroad in her life. Her marriage is over, her career is stalled, and she’s lonely and looking for love. She is trying so hard to force a life, to make it her way, but she meets with frustration at every corner. Her new eccentric friend Katherine tells her a story. She tells her that when she was a little girl, she used to spend hours chasing ladybugs in a field and never catching them, then one day she stopped chasing them, she relaxed, she fell asleep in the field in the warm sunshine and when she woke up, ladybugs were crawling all over her.
This is the lesson that so many of us have such a hard time learning, and it continues our conversation about learning to let go, about giving up control. We think, we plan, we come up with back up plans and then we expect the whole damn world to cooperate with our plan. You know what, they almost never do. Spouses, children, bosses, friends and lovers never fully cooperate with our plans. It turns out they have plans of their own! Our trying to insist that this is the way life is supposed to be only results in tension and heartbreak for all of us. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t control everything around me and I don’t need to. I can just let go. I can stop focusing on the “what ifs” and the “if onlys.” I can be open to new, unexpected things. I can be patient and just see what happens. I can wait for the ladybugs.
I needed that reminder lately. The last few months have been more than a little overwhelming. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they have also been wonderful. I have a new job I love and a circle of people in my life that are more amazing than I could have ever dreamed up on my own! Yet, it’s also been a time of great change. Some days I am inpatient, I want to be further ahead than I am, I want to move faster, find out what the ending is and I want it to be the ending I wrote! Why I get that way I don’t know! Experience has shown me over and over again that if I can just wait it out, if I can take it one day at a time, the unexpected experiences are always the most rewarding, the most rich, and the most satisfying.
The ladybugs reminded me this week that I can’t force my future, that things worth having, and people worth knowing, are always, always worth waiting for.
What’s so amusing to me lately is that if someone had told me, back when I was heartbroken, newly divorced and almost without hope, what today would be like, I would have laughed. If someone had shown me my life, the way it is right now, I would have never believed it. I would have never expected the people, the places and opportunities that have come along. It would not have made sense to me at all, but right now, right now it makes perfect sense. Even on the days I’m not all that happy, when things aren’t always going my way, I am at least satisfied, I am at peace. I can be content wherever I have landed.
So this week, the ladybugs and I will be hanging out in the sunshine in my apartment, practicing our patience, waiting for warmer days and appreciating the surprises that life has in store for us. Life, like writing this blog, is so much better when I don’t try to force it, when I just let it flow. By the way, the title of this included some stuff I may not have actually mentioned. Well, I learned a long time ago that if I put something catchy in the title, you’re more likely to keep reading. That doesn’t necessarily mean I lied to you, or that it’s not in here somewhere, if you read between the lines. It just means the ladybugs and I have decided we’ve got to keep some secrets, after all!