I’ve just looked at the weather forecast and decided I’m not going to leave the house all weekend. I’m still ‘post viral’ which is my main excuse, but a frigid February has firmed it up for me. I am going to continue to drop everything and relax. I used to have a poster of ‘The Cat In The Hat’ by Dr. Seuss. I wonder if you know it? The one where he is holding a garden rake, on top of which is precariously balanced a glass fishbowl containing a startled looking goldfish. On one foot he’s balancing a tray with a pint bottle and a glass of milk and on the pinnacle of his top hat is a wobbling birthday cake with snuffed out candles. One thumb defies gravity by holding aloft a stack of books and a toy boat is perched on his other thumb. Then, to surpass the unsurpassable, in his tail the Cat In the Hat clutches a folding hand fan, Spanish style, cooling himself as he grins in a self-congratulatory manner at this impossible balancing act. On top of all this, he is clutching a brolly, in case it rains – got to be ready for every eventuality. So, that’s an illustration of what I’m not doing; I’m dropping all balancing acts, I’m not going out in the rain, and if fishbowls get broken and cakes fall splat, well, I can always get a dustpan out!
How many of us model ourselves, albeit unintentionally, on the Cat In The Hat, juggling way too much and ending up crying over spilt milk? Have you over-committed and found yourself running around in circles (again) to keep all of your plates spinning? Why do we do it? Why do we maintain circus-act schedules that require the limbs of an octopus? And if you’re not physically holding the contents of a car boot sale in your arms, maybe it’s all being held in your head, an equally difficult feat.
I’ve gone to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, an American who wrote in the middle of the last century, for inspiration before and I find her words helpful today. “Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for who is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out, and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or in the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment.”
Did you ever rush to visit or phone someone, because it was on your to-do list, part of your juggling act, and you can’t remember what was said to you or what you said to them? Maybe you were the one being visited, only to be left wondering, “what was all that was about?” – left with a sure sense that the body was present but the person most definitely wasn’t. I had a visitor recently who told me all of the places they had to be and things they had to do in the next hour. It was a disconcerting visit. Have you ever said to someone, “How are you doing?” only to feel your panic rise when they take you on, giving a full reply to the question, as you think to yourself, “I really don’t have time for this, wouldn’t a ‘very well thank you’ have done the job perfectly well?” Yet, if every person gave a few moments to properly hear the response to “How are you doing?” who knows what changes it could bring.
And so to return to Dr Seuss, ‘The Cat In The Hat’ and his consummate balancing act. Of course, the cartoon is a snapshot, recorded a split second before the inevitable happens: it all comes tumbling down. If you have a chance this weekend to set a few plates to the side before they fall and smash, then do it. It’ll free you up to go and visit someone and really be there over a cup of tea instead of wondering about the washing you’ve pegged out and whether or not the rain will stay off. Be warned, if the Cat In The Hat can’t manage to balance it all, what earthy chance do you have?
“look at me! look at me! look at me NOW!
it is fun to have fun but you have to know how.
I can hold up the cup and the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books! and the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship and a little toy man!
and look! with my tail I can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan as I hop on the ball!
but that is not all. oh, no. that is not all…’
that is what the cat said… then he fell on his head!
he came down with a bump from up there on the ball.”
(excerpt from Dr Seuss, ‘The Cat In The Hat’)