Zufriedenheit

Zufriedenheit – Happiness:
Coming from happy – enjoying
pleasure and contentment.
Related words: joy, gladness,
feeling fortunate or prosperous.

The above was the definition offered in Markus Zusak’s 2005 YA gem, The Book Thief. German phrases are peppered throughout, some defined and others left for you to draw your own conclusions from the context.

[A special thank you to our neighbor, Sandy. The book mysteriously showed up on our dining room table one day. Three chapters in, I realized why. It’s a compelling read about innocence, accordions and love in Germany during the Holocaust as told by a kind, omniscient grim reaper.]

Something about zufriedenheit captivated when I saw it on the page. I was sitting on the back porch of my parents’ house at the time, enjoying the late afternoon shade. I liked the word so much I said it out loud twice more, looking up at the trees and smiling. Try it.

A month later I came back to it when I felt the full extent of my own zufriedenheit. 

Let me tell you about the chickens.

Living back in upstate New York, there are either more farms than ever before or I just never noticed them when I last lived here as a teenager. Of course given how often I was at the mall back then, maybe that’s the answer.

The other day I visited a new friend at her family’s farm. She also moved home recently, and is navigating what it’s like being up close and personal with loved ones as an adult. A kindred spirit. I met her in the garden, and not long after her cat strolled by wrapping her tail around my left calf as she passed.

It felt so peaceful there. Their pond, a field of wildflowers for the new bee hive, and a pretty farmhouse that must have a rich history judging by the worn white siding alone.

When we arrived at the bird coop with an assortment of chickens, geese, and ducks, several hens approached and waited patiently at our feet. They seemed to be greeting us in the way pets often sidle up to new visitors hoping for a belly rub or a scrap of food. I looked at my friend, curious, as she bent down in front of one of the hens.

“They don’t like to be petted, but sometimes I do anyway,” she grinned as she ran her hand along its silky maroon and black feathers.

If chickens can do the same full body shake that dogs do when their fur is matted, then that’s what happened next. The hen looked conflicted, clearly liking the attention since she continued to hover nearby and yet not knowing what to do about it.

I reached my hand down several times, but raised myself up again when I saw the chickens tense. If they didn’t want to be touched then I wasn’t going to force it, but I liked their presence a lot. I guess I was conflicted, too.

More birds strutted over and soon surrounded us in a semicircle. Just in case anything good was about to happen, they wanted to be part of it.

As my friend and I started to walk the dirt driveway toward my Civic parked by the old horse stable, all of them followed behind without a sound.

Her father met us near the barn.

“That never happens,” he said, nodding at the birds. “It’s something about you.”

I looked away, trying to hide my glee.

I’m sure it had everything to do with my friend feeding them out of her hand a few days prior, but I couldn’t help hoping her father was right. You see, I have a not-so-secret wish to be Snow White. The part about little birds landing on the end of her fingers as she sang to them. I would also like to be able to sing.

I left a couple minutes later, the birds dispersing as I said goodbye to them and hugged my friend.

As I drove away, I was reminded of a photo of my dad as a kid on his family’s farm.

This is what zufriedenheit looks like.

 

 

 

 

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Playing peek-a-boo

Sometimes I forget that I have a body.

As author Geneen Roth would say, most days I’m just a head with arms and legs attached.

In her book, Women, Food and God, she describes what’s underneath the fear/hatred many of us have of our bodies, and what to do about it.

These women, myself among them, are playing peek-a-boo the way young children do when they believe that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them. If I ignore my body, hopefully you will too, because if we all can see it we will all see what’s wrong with it…and nothing good can come from that.

If you’re thinking, “Why would you feel that way? You’re thin,” know that thin people have just as many body issues as everyone else. Often it feels like we aren’t allowed to, but somehow it’s okay for everyone else to have an opinion.

Case in point: a couple years ago at a networking event when I was lifted in the air by not one but two male friends as both loudly and jokingly guessed my weight.

At the same time in my personal life, the guy I was dating would make obnoxious pig snorting sounds whenever I went for seconds at dinner (after he had also portioned out my servings), or mentioned wanting to buy ice cream when we were in the supermarket.

This was not the first instance of overt and opposing viewpoints about my body, but it was probably the most glaring.

Maybe I learned to ignore my body, because I wished everyone else would. Maybe the real problem was how much I listened to them.

Two weeks ago, something changed.

My yoga teacher had decided that this was the day that our class would do headstands. I had last tried them years prior, and in addition to being intimidated, my neck couldn’t handle it. I gave up soon after.

Without hesitating, she explained how to position our forearms and head on a folded mat against the wall. Then we were told simply to throw a leg up, and have the other meet it.

Before I could protest, reminding her about my weak neck muscles, she was holding both of my feet in the air.

Ready or not, I was standing on my head.

I panicked that she would let go, and that my neck would snap. It wasn’t until I realized that she wasn’t going anywhere, that I started to pay attention to her directions to the rest of the class.

For a split second between the terror of falling and the desperate search for the strength to keep my legs in the air, I could feel my whole body, perhaps for the first time, and it suddenly made sense why I would want to take care of it.

As soon as my legs returned to the floor, a wave of emotion hit me. I wanted to run out of the room and cry my eyes out.

I stayed though, and as the class ended and I nonchalantly raced for the door, the instructor rested her hand on my arm.

“You did well today,” she said and took my hand in both of hers. “I could sense you were freaking out.”

Tears welling, I faked a half smile and hurried past her.

The next twenty minutes were spent in the solitude of my car in order to feel all of the emotion I was trying (not well, apparently) to keep hidden.

How terrifying it was to know that I didn’t have the strength yet and to be dependent on a relative stranger in order to keep me safe. How much work it must have been for her, that I was basically dead weight, and how I wasn’t progressing as fast as the others and I might never get there.

This wasn’t a thing I could figure out — the way heads attached to arms and legs go through life — and that made the thought of doing another headstand even more daunting.

Then I remembered what else she said: “Every time we do this, I’ll be right there with you. I’ll hold your legs as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable doing it yourself.”

I am not alone. What’s more, she can see all of me, and she’s still not going anywhere.

How wonderfully scary is that?
 

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May you surprise yourself

This quote by Neil Gaiman has been making the social media rounds lately, and I love it a little bit more every time I see it.

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First, it starts with Magic, one of my favorites. A word which conjures an image of it silently following me around like a friendly, surreptitious shadow. I kind of want to randomly wave hello at the wind and walls in case magic is hiding nearby contemplating when might be a good time to appear.

Even better, the quote ends with surprise. It’s empowering that I can surprise myself. I’m not waiting. Any moment I get to choose when to push myself out of my comfort zone, dance on my edge, leap into the unknown believing that I will glide to a soft, perfect landing. (If you haven’t noticed, I often play mix and match with metaphors. Go with it.)

While impressively articulate, Mr Gaiman hasn’t exactly cornered the market in new year wishes. Now it’s my turn.

May 2015 be filled with…

  • Silly words, belly laughs, and delightful happenstance.
  • Generous deeds done by us, and on our behalf.
  • Balance — work and play, lightness and sincerity, long walks and afternoon naps in the sun.

May 2015 find you, me, us…

  • Holding onto the good things, so when not-so-good things happen we are comforted, and know that more good is around the corner.
  • Surrounded by people who unabashedly love us, and who we love back.
  • Seizing perfectly-timed opportunities with gusto.
  • With more answers than questions, and at ease with both.

As I type, I can feel other wishes bubbling to the surface, eager to be included, but I think it’s time give others a chance.

What is your wish for 2015?