My daughter, Emma, asked me, 'If you could change just one aspect of your face, what would you choose?'
I really couldn't think of anything straight off. No single feature seemed to stand out as needing a change. There was nothing I'd put myself through the rigors of botox or plastic surgery for, anyway. Eyes OK, nose, check, cheeks, no problems, mouth and chin fine. I wouldn't mind reducing the sheer size of my skull but that wasn't what she was getting at. It was a surprising exercise that raised another question. If I can't find any major problem, why do I pass other women and think, "I wish I looked like her"? Could it be that I'm just overly familiar with my own face.
Is the concept of longing for greener pastures such a powerful syndrome? When I was a teenager living down near the beach, I loved the Adelaide Hills because I thought they looked like picture postcards from some storybook. I suppose they still do, but that doesn't stop me wanting to be elsewhere now that I've lived here since I was 18. The Italian countryside, America, European castles, the Great Wall of China, tropical islands up Queensland's coast, I'd be at any of those places in a flash if I had the chance.
Where do we draw the line and just be content? I sometimes find myself battling a sort of restlessness and guilt that I'm not different and feeling that I ought to be. There's a deep angst that I don't measure up to what others would probably be like in my place. Yet I did a similar sort of exercise to when Emma asked what part of my face I'd change. Once again, it was hard to put my finger on anything that may need a radical overhaul.
I love my family, work hard, and know I must have a sense of humour because it often gets tickled. I don't like the ill-at-ease feeling I sometimes get during one-on-one social situations, but as I try to cover up, I really shouldn't beat myself up over that one. I must be empathetic, because anyone without that quality probably couldn't pull off writing the sorts of books I do. What is it then? What is the quality I lack that causes this restlessness? Do you ever have similar feelings?
Could it be that we can all relate to the story of the boy who wanted more than anything to visit the shiny, palatial dwelling around the other side of the lake from where he lived? One day he set off on an expedition to get a close look. When he arrived, he was perplexed to find that it was just a normal looking place with weeds in its courtyard and a bit of salt damp in its bricks. And it didn't shine at all.
Suddenly, a girl who lived inside came out to greet him. While they were chatting, she pointed across the lake and said, "I'd love to know who's lucky enough to live in that fantastic looking place." The boy was amazed to see that she was pointing straight at his house, shining in the early sunset.
My son, Blake and I enjoy going on night walks around our neighbourhood. Near our last house is a huge mound of pine chips. He likes running up and down where there are grooves from the feet of other kids. I like getting several hundred yards away from it and then taking a deep breath of the pine-scented breeze. It doesn't seem as strong closer up. Maybe it's the same with life in general. We don't necessarily notice the goodness when we're living with or through anything, because we're too close to catch its real spiritual fragrance.
That's why we hear stories of elderly women who tell harried mothers of toddlers to remember to appreciate and enjoy every moment. Also, why I've sometimes been away for a couple of weeks, or even just a weekend, and then returned home with a renewed appreciation for my environment. Whenever I've finished writing a book and all the editing has been done, I like to wait a bit of time and then read the pages with fresh eyes as if I'm a brand new reader.
Maybe taking some distance to survey our familiar things really works. I've heard advice to list our blessings as if we're somebody else. Not a bad idea.