Thursday, August 18, 2016

Discipline, Empathy and Grace

Every January for the past fifteen years, I've made an intention collage. It's an excuse, once a year, to do a crafty project and anticipate the year to come. What do I want to bring into my life? Most collages include pictures of glasses of wine, books I want to read and short phrases about friendship, the future or financial goals.

About five years ago, I simplified. I spent my long, four-hour afternoon paging through magazines for large, beautiful letters to the words discipline, empathy and grace. The experience of making this different kind of collage had a more Zen-like quality. Instead of anxiously looking among all of the possible pictures and words, I skimmed calmly for exactly what I was looking for. The result hung on my wall for years.

I have never been more true to these intentions than in the two months I've been living with Sonia. So we may still be in the honeymoon period; I'll grant you that. Nonetheless, there's no denying the fact: I'm happier, calmer and more productive when I'm partnered.


Getting up early has been a struggle since I was a teen. I always have grand plans, which when I lived alone meant setting my alarm for 7:00am and then dozing for at least an hour. That's the worst kind of sleep. I've read the articles, but that didn't stop me from hitting the snooze button half a dozen times. It was a rare day that I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off.

When Sonia and I first moved in together, she was studying for a test that required her to get up at 5:30am. I got up, made breakfast, made the bed. I even motivated her many mornings. When she was finished studying for the summer, I continued rising early. Drinking less helps, too. Sonia doesn't drink, and giving up the weekday brews is good for my waistline and health. Now, I'm getting up by 6:15am to write before work, something I've been meaning do to for years.


I picked this trait at a time when I realized I'd broken a woman's heart because I'd allowed the relationship to go on for far too long, even though I knew my own heart wasn't in it. I knew I'd hurt her deeply, but was completely detached through the entire breakup. We weren't able to stay friends. Maybe this is normal, but I carried a lot of guilt. Maybe if I'd broken it off sooner, it could have been less painful.

It's always been easier for me to empathize with a stranger or acquaintance than with someone close to me, but that is changing with Sonia. Daily life together, and two years of dating before that, have helped me to understand what she's thinking and feeling about a situation, even before we talk about it. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop nudging her to be a little more social (like me!), but it has taught me when to back off and let her be Sonia.


I have never been particularly graceful. Like many aging women, I look back at myself as a teen or twenty-something and can't believe how lovely I was at the time. But I didn't feel beautiful; I felt overweight and awkward and insecure. There's a lesson in there. Now when I look in the mirror, I try to imagine myself at seventy, looking at myself now. I will regret it if I don't revel in my youth and vitality, so I'm learning to toss the self-criticisms aside.

How does Sonia support my gracefulness? Well...she encourages me not to be such a klutz! When we first moved in, I think I stubbed my left, second-biggest toe on every single new piece of furniture we brought into the apartment. Thankfully, I've gotten more used to where everything is in the new place. In all seriousness, I'm working out more -- and more regularly -- than I have since my early 20s, and it feels good. The clothes are fitting the way they should.

One day soon, I'm going to use discipline, empathy and grace to build my own set of Commandments. But for today, I'm just grateful, and yes, happy. This is what it looks like.

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