I’ve heard it said before: “We are human beings, not human doings.” In fact, I’ve pledged to live by that simple mantra a time or twenty.
But sometimes, my heart forgets to inform my brain of my good intentions.
That’s what had happened that morning, just after the mellow morning sun spilled into the kitchen.
The phone rang, and it was Sandy. She’s one of those rare souls in my life whose whole being seems fully directed toward the spontaneous act, the random lunch, the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants whim.
I let the phone ring four times before answering, because you never know what you might agree to when Sandy calls. But I answered, and sure enough, she had another idea. Could we go to the nursing home to play Bingo?
I exhaled in one long stream of air. I scrunched my noise and closed my eyes tight, like if I tightened up my face enough, I might be able to wring my brain like a dishrag. Like some good excuse would drip out of my head.
I mean, really -- How could I cram another thing into the little calendar box assigned for the day? That box was already pencil-scratched clear full with all of my “to-do.”
Sandy interrupted the uncomfortable quiet space between us. “Jennifer, It’s OK, truly. You don't have to ...”
“I’m so sorry …” I muttered, and the phone went back on the cradle.
I threw my head back, staring at the ceiling for a while. Then stared back down at the calendar box, then at the ceiling, then at the little calendar box, always filling, always filling -- page after calendar page, and box after box. Each box neatly framing all of my duties.
As if life can be boxed in like that.
I drummed at the square with the eraser end of my pencil.
Look, how I treat life like a list of things “to-do,” instead of a “to-be” list -- like this dull drumming under my super-important pencil. I am so dreadfully at risk -- at risk of being a human doing, instead of human being. It's not all bad. I mean, you can count on me to get things done. I am a planner. I meet deadlines. If I say I'm going to do something, I will.
But I also live life avoiding the spontaneous act that might derail my well-laid plans. I screen calls. I miss fun lunches with girlfriends. I wonder: how many miracles have I missed between the thin lines of all those neatly penciled boxes?
I stared up at the ceiling again. And I swear to you: It was like God was looking down at me, with His arms crossed over His burly chest, with his holy head tilted, and one eyebrow raised. I can't say for sure, but He might have been smirking.
"Fine." I said it out loud.
I lifted the phone off the cradle. Maybe I could go after all, I told her.
“Be there at 2 p.m.,” she said.
The room was dappled in sunlight, reflecting off wheelchair chrome and a mylar “Happy Birthday” balloon. One of the women was celebrating her 96th year on Earth. Tables were set with fake daffodils in slender white vases. I grabbed a Bingo card and found a seat by a sweet lady named Katherine.
Sandy was already there, calling Bingo numbers into the microphone.
“B-16. Does anyone have B-16?” Sandy asked.
A wide grin spread across the face of an old woman who bellowed: “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed!” Her shoulders shook as she laughed.
“B-18,” Sandy called out. “B-18. Anybody remember when you were 18?”
Katherine’s age-spotted hand shot into the air. “I do!” she shouted from her wheelchair: “I remember!”
Sandy asked into the microphone: “What would you do if you were 18 again, Katherine?”
Katherine’s eyes widened. She didn’t hesitate: “I’d pick more daisies,” she said. “And I’d dance barefoot in the rain, and I’d fish with a worm.”
Katherine tossed her head back with laughter, looking up at the ceiling. Just at the ceiling, like she could see God up there. Like He was laughing with her.
And there were no calendar boxes anymore, not for Katherine.
I watched her, with my chin resting in my hands.
I want to be a dancer. I want to be a daisy picker. I want to laugh more, laugh fuller. I want to put a worm on the hook of life, and FISH, for heaven's sake.
What if this was the year when things changed? What if — for the rest of my life – I awoke each morning with less on my to-do, and more on on my to-be? How do I do that?
What if I awoke to wonder, and remembered that days are mere blips, and that I could live more poetry in my own skin, if I colored outside the lines. That my best work isn't in a sealed room, but somewhere under a frozen sky, where the wind blows wild through my hair? What if I took one giant leap outside my safe boxes, risked tripping over my words, made a holy mess of things and then laughed with friends over the fun we had?
I reached across the table and grabbed for Katherine's hands, and I told her how someday we'd dance together. And she looked at me puzzled: "What are you waiting for?"
And she lifted our hands -- just our hands, high to the ceiling -- and she waltzed them through the air. And I swear, with just our hands, we danced. And we danced.
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