I just finished visiting my family in the Chicago suburbs, and as I prepared to leave this morning, there was one thought that kept coming back to me—how important it is to let loose and have fun.
I've written before about the importance of allowing ourselves indulgences in our our diet from time to time—in other words, giving in to those cheeseburger and brownie cravings when they come rather than trying to pretend they don't exist (which only makes us want them even more). But I realized today that having a sound mind in a sound body also means that we have to do the same with our behavior—indulge ourselves by sometimes giving in to the crazy things we want to do in life and not just the crazy things we want to eat.
I was thinking about this today because it feels like no one ever lets loose or does anything wild or out of the ordinary in my family. Clearly, this is partially the result of the fact that my sister has two little girls. Whenever the girls are around, it feels as if everyone is walking on eggshells—instructing them on how to behave, carefully answering their never-ending questions, and gingerly guiding them through their daily routine. In this way, their lives seem totally prescriptive: there is a certain way to eat, a certain way to sit, a certain way to be . . . there is a time to practice piano, a time to work on penmanship, a time for swimming lessons, a time to eat meals, a time for bed, a time for everything. And everyone—my sister, her husband, and my parents—follows this world order as if deviating from it might lead to the loss of life or limb.
The effect this has on me is the opposite one it's supposed to have on the girls: rather than being reassured by this carefully crafted routine, I am honestly driven to the brink of insanity by it. In fact, my response to the lessons and the practices and the organic food is to want to blow off the entire schedule, pack the girls into the backseat of my car, roll all the windows down, crank the Abba, and drive them all the way to Mexico—stopping only for candy and purple hair dye before we get to the border but saving enough money for tequila and tattoos after we arrive in Tijuana.
Of course, I don't do that. But that's not the point. The point is that I want to do it.
And when I left my sister's house this morning—windows down, an old Pink Floyd anthem screaming from the stereo—it hit me that my response to the girls' claustrophobic schedule is the same response I have to dieting.
To put it simply, I did not want any part of it. And just the thought of it, just being around other people living under such a tight regimen, makes me want to give into my very worst cravings.
Hand in hand with my response to being exposed to the girls' overstructured lives was my second viewing of The Hangover, which, believe it or not, I saw last night with my mother and my husband. Even though I find the idea of strip clubs wholly objectionable, I found myself agreeing with one of the characters when he defended an out-of-control trip to Vegas with his buddies to his incredibly uptight fiancee.
And when I thought about these two experiences side by side, I understood very clearly that it's just as important for us to give into our cravings for adventure and a life without rules as it is for us to give into our food cravings. When push comes to shove, we all need our trips to Vegas or Mexico . . . or even just a wild night of drinking and dancing now and again. Because if we don't give into these desires, we're not really living, are we?
At the end of Stephen King's novella, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," the character of Red is released from prison and, on his way to Mexico, thinks about what he is about to do. (If you've seen the movie adaptation of this novella, you'll remember that Morgan Freeman played Red, and his thoughts were included as a voice over while he rode a bus south to Mexico.) It is Red's words I will leave you with today since I think they best epitomize why being free to do what we want is so incredibly important.
I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.