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2004-07-09 - 12:06 p.m.

My Best Self

By Joan Callaway

My best self appears to be when I am helping others. Iím not sure when that began to be true, but perhaps after my first husband and youngest son died Ė when in order to work through my grief, I had to find some reason for my having survived. Today as I was responding to the writing of one of the women in my e-circle, I was reminded of a quote from Helen Kellerís We Bereaved: ďBelieve, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten anotherís pain, life is not in vain.Ē

So often, I think, we concentrate on who we are by what we do. When asked to tell about ourselves, we frequently identify ourselves not by who we are, but by what we do. We find ourselves saying, ďIím a wifeÖ mother, attorney, doctor, secretary, teacher, therapist, etc.Ē Coco Chanel once said, ďItís amazing how many cares disappear when you decide not to be something, but to be someone.Ē What does that meanÖĒto be someoneĒ? Who am I without what I do?

When I retired from my stores, I immediately found another thing to do - something to sweeten anotherís pain, so that my life would not be in vain. I started a volunteer tutoring program. And to this day, I still tutor several times a week. It gives me tremendous pleasure to see the progress the students make in reading and writing. It has been some of the most rewarding work Iíve ever done. But thatís what I do.

I also write every day. Iíve been working on my life story for the past three years. As it neared completion, I found myself writing personal essays about how I think about the world Ė my personal world, as well as world events. That has recently led to my writing of an article every day for a blog at http://tariqa.diaryland.com. I read some of my favorite blogs everyday, too, almost like a substitute for the many friends I used to see everyday at the store.

As for friends, I meet with a writing group here at my home twice a month. I have an on-going exchange of e-mails with several friends almost daily. I play Scrabble on-line with a friend I rarely see, but who lives just a couple of blocks away. We break bread with one couple frequently before or after Berkeley Rep Theatre. Ed and I drive up to the foothills to see friends once a month or so, if they donít come to see us. And other than that, we see our children and grandchildren who live here in town.

Yesterday Marian, a good friend and former employee, who moved to Arizona about ten years ago, stopped by for a fast, hour chat. How much fun to have a few laughs with her Ė just like old times. She noted, however, that much of what we had to talk and laugh about were our ailments and those of mutual friends! She looked just the same Ė only her hairdresser knows for sure, however, whether her strawberry blond curls are hers or not, whereas thereís no doubt that my salt and pepper hair (more salt than pepper these days) is all mine. Marian was amazed that Iím no longer driving, no longer gadding about or volunteering, but spending most of my time here at home. So unlike the Joan she had known, but amazingly, Iím quite content. So content, unfortunately, that Iíve not gone to the trouble to get my driversí license renewed, which would free me considerably.

In what areas of my life am I not being my best self? That last question is an easy one. Iím not exercising and working on my weight as much as I should. Iíd feel a lot better about myself if I could get my weight down to where I would be healthiest. By dropping seventy pounds, my blood pressure would probably drop significantly and my feet, knees and hips would complain much less. So why donít I get up off this chair and move my body more? A bit of a Catch-22! The things that give me the most pleasure are right here in front of this computer (sitting). working with one of my students (sitting), or watching a movie with my husband in the evening (sitting).

And I suppose Iím not being my best self by keeping myself dependent on others for transportation. Iím back to being mobile enough that I could get my driversí license renewedÖbut then Iíd have no excuse for staying at home, would I? Iíd have to DO something.

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