Leaves and Twigs

I wrote this about a month ago.  It rang so true that it scared me, so I didn’t post it.  The scene along Kings Parade has changed with the passing of the month, but not my sentiments.  

4th April, 2012, late afternoon

I’m looking at the Senate House of the University of Cambridge as people pass by on Kings Parade.  I see strolling day trippers, meandering cyclists, wandering gaggles of French and German students on holiday.  During term time this promenade is filled with urgency and bustle.  But this is the week before Easter, and the pace is easy, almost languid.    For many who visit this city on a break from their busy lives, who walk these ancient streets gazing with wonder at its spires and grandeur, finding delight in its unexpected sundials and gargoyles, it is dreamtime.

Yet I sit here and let go of dreams.  I set them down like leaves and twigs on the river Cam, watching them float away.   I bless them and release them.  They do the same to me.  Namaste, we nod to one another:  the divine in me salutes the divine in you.

And what are some of these visions that, with the breath of kindness, I am gently blowing away?

A desire for some kind of established and obvious profession.  An easy answer to the question of ‘what do you do?’ so often mistaken as a substitute for the infinite and impossible question of ‘who are you?’  The high profile, the catchy tagline, the snappy elevator pitch.  To all that – adieu and adieu.

A certain version of myself – a naïve and breathless innocence of always looking forward, looking forward.  So much of my life I have been easily intoxicated with the happy anticipation of what is coming.  This is bittersweet to release.  But I take comfort in exchanging the giddy excitement of ‘what’s next?’ with a deepening awe for ‘what is now?’

A habit of second-guessing and the urge to justify.  There is very little to justify.  There is very little I can justify.  Instead, I am more willing to shrug and proceed with a strong, if not articulate, instinct.

The need to be good, to be virtuous, to be seen as such.  The need to be discovered, to be praised, to be followed or read.  In truth, I simply need to be.

To each of these dreams, I whisper:

I bless you. I release you.  You have served me well.  I have served you well.  We have grown together, we have grown with each other, and now we grow apart.

Later I stand on a bridge with a handful of leaves and twigs.   I drop them over the edge and watch them drift with the current, twist in the eddies, and disappear around the bend of the river.

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11 Responses to Leaves and Twigs

  1. elainepilates says:

    A lovely, brave post. I think the more talented your are (and you are a very talented physicist and musician) the more there is to lose when we cannot reconcile our ambitions with our children’s needs. High achievers are more likely to grow up gaining their self worth from success (because it is so easy to come by), so losing these dreams means losing a sense of self too.

    Although I share your sentiments, I think we should retain an element of righteous anger at the “system”. It seems unfair that we are still bound by traditional assumptions that men are the best people to follow their dreams whilst women are the best people to see theirs slowly drain away. More depends on individual personality and talents than on gender.

    I have learnt much from letting go of my ambitions, and this self knowledge will be fantastic when I again get the time to apply myself. It would be even better if we routinely shared parenting and work between partners so that both parents could learn from the new outlook on life that the sacrifices of childcare bring, whilst still having time to pursue their passions.

    Traditions will only change slowly, but we can chip away at them, and bring up our children to see things differently.


    • Lucy Carl says:

      Thanks for your comment, Elaine. I agree that more depends on individual personality and talents than gender. And I count myself lucky to have a partner willing to do quite a lot of shared parenting. But systems and assumptions that are bigger than any particular family still seem to have a lot of unexamined influence. Imagine my surprise when yesterday, at a job interview, I was asked the following question: ‘As a mother of two young children, how do you think you can cope with the travel demands of this position?’ Swallowing my shock, I patiently explained that, like anyone with a lot of obligations, if given notice, I could make plans, as most working people do. I wonder if the same question was asked of the male candidates who have children.


  2. elainepilates says:

    Agreed – it is not just a family issue. Men are very often willing to do their share, but there is the unexamined assumption that workers either have no obligations or a wife at home. Not great if you are the wife. Good luck with your job search, I’m surprised you were asked that question too….


  3. CJ says:

    I agree with Elaine — this is a beautiful post. I hadn’t read it as a subtle critique of the system, but both your comments certainly resonate. I’m about halfway through Elisabeth Badinter’s book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. It’s packed with depressing statistics about how women are still penalized in the workplace for having children. Lucy — I’m staggered that you were asked that question in your interview but it reveals the inherent expectations of that employer (and most others) that your dual responsibilities make you a less capable employee than a man or a childless woman. Grrr, I’m gnashing my teeth on your behalf. As for the things you’ve allowed to disappear around the bend of the river, I wish you the best of luck. To live in the present sounds like an antidote to much of what ails us. I hope you’ll keep us updated.


    • Lucy Carl says:

      Thanks CJ and Elaine. I’m not familiar with Elisabeth Badinter’s book – sounds interesting, if maybe a sobering. I’ll be curious what your thoughts are on it when you finish it, CJ. As for what lies ahead for me – I’ll happily keep you updated. Keep reading. 🙂


  4. pokey mama says:

    I’m so glad you stopped by Pokey Mama so i could in turn come here and read. I love this post, and found so much of what you describe familiar–the letting go of deeply held beliefs and ideas that are so much a part of us we’re hardly aware of them anymore. Time to look, time to let go.


    • Lucy Carl says:

      Hello Pokey Mama – Welcome! I’m pleased you stopped by and also really enjoyed your site and finding the Christina Rossetti poem there. Thanks for your comment.


  5. Rachael says:

    Thanks for this post.

    Good and bad — that’s what I’m trying to give up. They seem to pervade my view of everything, though.


  6. Becky Shankland says:

    Finally reading this about 8 months later–hmm, nine months after you birthed it. It’s wonderful–and just so you know, no matter how old we are, we’re always asking the same questions of ourselves. But the leaves and twigs (reminds me of Poohsticks) image is perfect for how to exorcise them.


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