When you don’t know what to do next

I wake to a quiet house which smells of fried food and old grease. When my husband decided to make his homemade version of Krispy Kreme’s this weekend, everyone cheered. Everyone but me, as I know how long it takes to get the stink of grease out of the curtains. The donuts were a hit, and a surprisingly effective way to encourage little people to get out of bed for school on a Monday morning. Today begins the second week of school–last week merely warmed us up for the mayhem that will ensue in the coming weeks. As my calendar begins to fill up with lessons and clubs and parties, I realize as I scribble them in the planner that December’s pages wink up at me alarmingly soon.

At the Back to School BBQ on Friday, I stood outside in the late afternoon sun eating an overpriced burger and listened as friends shared the news they will be leaving for good at Christmas. I heard the same big news about another friend, and likely will hear similar stories circulating well into the Fall. Major moves, new locations, the next big thing. The friend admits to spending all of her free time looking for  a new home online. She agonizes over school options. She promises to send me anything–anything at all–from CVS when she arrives back in the US. She’s got the next big thing circled on her calendar. I try not to feel jealous, so I eat my burger in silence and stare across the field at the hazy view of the mountains.

The move doesn’t provoke my jealousy, the knowing does. Knowing my friend can flip through the months and point to a date and time in which the next big thing will occur, is enough to send me home with the desire to waste an hour or so on realtor.com. The idea of buying a new home doesn’t provoke my jealousy either, again it’s the knowing–knowing something new and fresh and exciting waits in the not too distant future. I wonder sometimes if I have an incurable personality flaw, one which urges me to always be looking for The Next Big Thing as opposed to focusing on simply doing the next thing.

Not the next big thing, but the next thing. The one which happens after I say goodbye at the bottom of the hill when the blue bus pulls up. The next paragraph I write. The next load of laundry. The next grocery list. The next pick-up, or muffin baked, or note to say hello. The next kiss, or prayer, or tear, or smile I need to return. The next thing.

Living by the moment or hour or day takes focus and the ability to place the present above the future. Too often I worry and plan for a future that may never end up circled on my calendar, instead of living present to the time I inhabit right now. Planning and dreaming are good things, but not when they come at the expense of my being fully aware and fully alive to what is happening to the hopes and dreams for this day. And so I ask myself, and I ask you too, what is the next thing? What can I do to make today, and the people who live today with me, richer, fuller, lovelier, more art-full, precious, loved? What can you do?

I’ll be honest, the next thing I can do usually looks like a load of whites, a back rub, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. On rare occasions, it might look like a new home or a dream job. These treasures make a life, the great and the small, the job and the half-eaten jar of Welch’s grape jelly. What is your next thing?