Stay Inside the Inch
A few weeks ago, at the end of a book lecture, a young mother raised her hand and said to me, “You claim to live with your days now with a heart that is peaceful. I can hear it in your voice and see it in your eyes. I desperately want that. Can you please write a book that tells me how to do it? How to simplify my life and live with a peaceful heart? Because try as I might, I just can’t figure it out. I am completely overwhelmed.”
Her earnest voice and desperate tone has prompted me to add a category to this new blog. I would love to share with you what I have come to understand as peaceful living. It has changed my life in deep and meaningful ways. Each week I will offer one idea, one thought to ponder, one thing to try. One is enough because creating a peaceful heart is more about taking things out of your life than adding them, and it is difficult to change behaviors and challenge cultural norms.
I’m not going to lie to you, a peaceful heart is not for the weak or close-minded, it is for those with the strength and willingness to let go of emotional, spiritual, and physical clutter. Please feel free to comment or challenge me. I enjoy a good discussion and am hoping to learn from you as well! We are all in this thing called Life together.
My first idea to share in called “Stay inside the inch.”
I have taught middle school on and off for many years. I know many people out there are afraid of these emerging and complicated human creatures, but I happen to love them. They are strong and fragile and fearless and scared. An eighth grader can hate you and love you at the same time. And they are capable of words that will cut you to your knees or reveal a tenderness that will break your heart. Why am I telling you all of this? Because, they remind us of what it means to be human in all of its jumbled glory. All of us are eighth graders on the inside, equal parts passionate and unsure of ourselves. Age just teaches us how to hide all of that and act with decorum.
One of my favorite lessons to teach comes in April when the curriculum calls for Family Life (aka Sex Ed.) It is the only week or two when the classroom is quiet and I have their undivided attention. Mechanics aside, they are hungry for advice on how to manage their life’s choices. One afternoon, after a particularly heated and humorous discussion on the emotional (not to mention obvious physical) pitfalls of serious dating too soon, I scanned the room for something to get my point across.
My eyes fell on a dusty yardstick that stood in the corner. I grabbed it, held it up and said,”Imagine that this is your life. This is all you get. Each inch represents a year of certain joys and challenges, certain opportunities that are only offered during that one time period of your life. Be the age that you are or you will miss it. If you are 13, don’t try to be 17. You’ll have your time to be 17 over here,” I said pointing to a section four inches away. “Now is the time to drink the waters of being 13. You’ll never get this chance again.”
I was grasping at straws. Had pulled this simple image out of nowhere hoping to convince these young hearts to remain in childhood as long as they could. The room became still. I could see eyes with that faraway look that comes with actual thinking. Heads began to nod.
“So,” said Jonathan, his hulking frame shifting in his seat, “Just stay inside the inch.”
“I can do that. Makes sense. I can see it, now.”
I have held on to this simple, but powerful statement for years. Slow down to be present in the actual time of your life. Stay keenly aware of your day, of the needs of the hour. Agonizing over the past puts you in an inch that ended long ago, and wishing puts you in an inch whose time has not arrived.
When my days become harried and I feel overwhelmed, I stop and visualize that yardstick because I don’t want to miss one minute of the life with which I have been blessed.
Stay inside the inch.