There’s something about the anonymity and diversity of living in a big city that gives me a sense of comfort and a feeling of fitting in, so when our two boys were approaching school age and my husband mentioned moving from Chicago to a small town subdivision, I was apprehensive.
“How will I know which house is ours?” I wondered, trying to imagine a monster-sized crane, dropping a monster-sized-cookie-cutter-shaped house onto a large plot of land, in a semi-circle of no-where.
“You’ll love it,” he said.
“And so will the kids. The schools are great, the community’s great, the beach is a half-mile away, and, we’ll have a big backyard; we can plant a garden!”
I couldn’t keep plastic plants alive on our city balcony.
But I married someone smarter than me, and kinder, who’s good at growing gardens and planting trees;
Who loves reminiscing about his mischievous boyhood endeavors, as he drives the long way through his old neighborhood to show me his childhood home, where the sound of the screen door slamming on the front porch followed him down the street on hot summer nights as a child, and the only thing on his mind, was riding his bike and playing with his friends;
Friends, whose friendships remain some of his most cherished to this day.
If there was ever a good reason for trying to give our kids a chance to fit into fond-family memories and life-long friendships like that, this was it.
I was cautiously optimistic, but committed to creating something new on a plot of unknown, uncharted territory, away from the noise and the city lights and the traffic.
I would find my way, and try to fit in.
Try to trust the process, and my instincts.
Embrace the opportunity to alter my position to the sun and my involuntary impulse for perpetual motion and change.
I would plant some roots.
Give them the opportunity to grow and expand and flower and bloom.
And embrace the opportunity to raise two busy boys, at a slower pace, in a small quiet town and a beautiful neighborhood.
So I hung some plants on our new balcony.
The Front Porch
And smiled at the thought of keeping them alive and the thought of fitting in.
All the other houses had plants on their porches; they still do.
Every summer, as far as the eye can see, big baskets of rich-lusciously-verdant plants, flower and bloom into vibrant bouquets and colorful rays of brilliance and beauty.
But no matter how committed and disciplined I was about giving them proper sunlight and accurate amounts of water, or how many mornings I stood on my tippy-toes, or climbed a ladder, or scaled the edge of the porch railing with a kinked-up hose, or a long-spouted watering can and a rivulet of water running down the inside of my arm:
So I bought more.
All summer long, for several summers.
I bought more and tried again to keep them alive, and to fit it.
But after several summers of sad dead flowers, a garden for the starvin’, successively severe winters, and the conflicts and chaos that come with the power struggles of marriage and children, I started to feel like living in a subdivision in a dead, dark, freezing-cold climate, was akin to living in a cemetery on a big, cold, gray-barren plot, with a house for a headstone.
I didn’t fit in at all, anywhere, with anyone.
Inside or outside.
In any season.
I was depressed and lonely and going through the motions for the sake of my family.
But it was the holiday season, and some happy person who likes Christmas invited me to a Cookie Exchange.
Good Cheer And All That Crap
I don’t like being forced to layer up to go outside, but the invitation got me out of my head and out of my bed.
And because I made a stupid, self-imposed rule about showing up to my own life, I agreed to go to this quid pro quo, “Ill give you my cookies, if you give me yours,” kind of party.
It was another chance to trust the process, to fit in, and have some fun.
One woman told me there were some other “Maureens” in the neighborhood, but I was the only one she’d met that went by “Mo.”
“One of the other Maureens lives right around the corner,” she said. “She always has dead plants hanging on her front porch in the summertime.”
“Oh, that’s me!” I said, proudly laughing at the absurdity of being known for my sad-dead-hanging-baskets-of-flowering-porch-plants.
She was embarrassed and extremely apologetic, but I was happy to make her acquaintance.
I tried to reassure her; I wasn’t the least bit offended.
I was glad to be laughing, but I think I scared her off when I told her I tried really hard to get them to look that way; all brown and dead.
They’re so pretty before they die.
Minutes later, she disappeared, leaving her half-eaten sugar cookie in the shape of a cookie-cut star, on a crumpled-up napkin that read:
“Joy To The World”
I never saw her again.
And I abandoned the hanging-baskets-of-flowering-porch-plants idea the following summer.
I tried hanging some lanterns with fake-flickering-flames instead, but fake wasn’t quite right either and I didn’t want to burn down the house with “authenticity.”
So I tried to be patient and wait for a sign.
“I’ll know it when I see it,” I thought.
And I did, literally.
“Be Nice Or Leave. Thank You.”
It hangs outside, as proudly as our flag and makes me laugh whenever I pull into our driveway.
Does Anyone Ever Really Fit In?
Or figure out how to?
Because every time I think I do, or I think I have, everything changes.
Fitting in isn’t about the place where I live or the house that I live in.
It’s not about the things I have on the inside or the plants I hang on the outside either.
And it’s not about discipline, or blending in – unless you’re in a police line up, I suppose.
It’s just the opposite.
It’s the feeling that arrives after I forget about trying to fit in.
When I decide to detach from the outcome of its pursuit.
When I stop to smell the roses and they smell like joy, the struggle for attention weakens and joy becomes enough.
Like a flower.
It’s true to itself.
It trusts the process by surrendering to it.
It doesn’t try to rise to the expectations of other flowers or worry about fitting into the world as a rose, or an orchid, or a wild flower because the world fits into a flower, like the ocean fits into a drop of water.
The flower accepts its invitation into the world, and its one and only mission:
If you choose to accept it, is to be more like the flower.
To trust life’s process and surrender to its struggles.
To work with what you have, instead of waiting for what you want – you only have today.
To remind yourself, there’s a difference between what others expect you to be and who you are – who you are, is up to you.
Accept your invitation to the world – you fit beautifully.
Return to the process of unfolding, and growing gracefully into the person you aspire to be; let go of the you of yesterday and follow your bliss.
Let joy be your guide.
Maybe, in finding more joy, you will be more joyful.
And maybe, in being more joyful, you will find more joy.
Maybe I will too.
Until next time,
Put yourself squarely in charge of your mission – and bloom, in all your glory.
It’s never too late to bloom.
Photo Credit: Humor Me With Mo