The Most Important Things

Obama just got re-elected.

I just had my first afternoon out (after a year!) with a new-ish lady friend, complete with swimming, shopping, a cup of coffee and tons of gossip (in French!).

Assad is refusing to leave Syria, but not before Cameron decided to let the world know that he would grant him safe passage through the UK.

My mother-in-law slipped on a teensy bit of grease she missed on Sunday 20 minutes before 18 members of the family arrived for a big lunch she’d planned…she broke her right shoulder and is virtually incapacitated and completely annoyed.

The French government is set to legalize gay marriage, and there’s all this talk now about what that will mean about gay adoption (which remains illegal for the time being).

I finally found a doctor I like here.

U.S. American politicians are finally talking seriously – if neither loudly nor often enough – about climate change.

One of my besties is preggers (after a long time wanting it).

At any given point in time, we’re part of about thirty thousand degrees of involvement within the various communities around us, and sometimes it’s damn hard to figure out which ones are the most important.

For instance, I am a social butterfly.  I love socializing.  Lovelovelove.  I struggled for years with questionnaires asking what my hobbies were, because all I ever could think of writing was, “Hanging out with lots of friends and lots of food and/or wine and/or coffee; Reading.”  Here in Le Puy we don’t have a lot of friends banging our door down to go get a drink…ahem…our social circle can be counted on a single hand thus far.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s been good getting to know me, spending some quality time with numero uno – it’s something I’ve been meaning to learn how to do comfortably for years.  Now I’ve learned it and I even like it most of the time.  But there was a much-missed spring to my step as I said ciao to my new-ish amiga and also see-you-tomorrow.  That’s important to me.

Also, Chris’ mom is one of the most dynamic women I’ve ever known.  She takes classes in refurbishing antique furniture and flower arranging; she paints paintings that she sells throughout the year in the various exhibitions she both exhibits in and volunteers with; she sits on committees of local artists; she belongs to walking clubs; she and her husband do dinners with friends at least fortnightly; she redecorates her house roughly every six days; that house is never, never a mess…I could seriously go on.  But I won’t.  Suffice it to say that breaking that shoulder – her arm now bound to her body, causing her tremendous pain and severely disturbing her sleep and social life – was decidedly unpleasant.  It’s looking like she’s gonna have that bandage on for the next three months.  And Christmas is a big deal around these parts.  So insofar as that’s all really, really important to my mother-in-law, it’s pretty darned important to me.

Is my new-ish friendship anywhere near as important as the U.S. American elections?  Is my mother-in-law’s recently broken arm as important as the actions of that horrible murderer, or the essentially impotent response of the international community to one of the worst humanitarian crises of the Arab Spring?

No, neither of these things are that important, I suppose.  And yet…

There are degrees in our lives – degrees of separation from one another, from events, from circumstances.  What Assad has to say about his geographical whims is important to me.  But it’s a hell of a lot more important to the people in Syria.  Obama’s election was important for the U.S.  But as anyone anywhere will tell you (with a variety of tones, facial and verbal expressions), the U.S. American elections resonate across the world.  When my good friend tells me their best friend is pregnant, I’m happy for them, but I’m detached.  When my best friend tells me she’s pregnant, I’m over the moon.  I start imagining what they’ll call me and if they’ll be a boy or a girl and what their mom will look like when she’s a month away from giving birth.

Knowing where the boundaries exist, where the degrees indicate a need for my reaction or action or ignorance…all of this is often quite hard for me.  I think it can be for everyone.  If I think too long about the problems we face on this planet, about the individual catastrophes happening all over the world at any given moment of any day, I’m overwhelmed.  Chatting with Chris the other day about Malala Yousafzai and Al Quaida’s war on music in Mali, I literally burst into tears.

And yet I know who Snooki is.  God help me…I know who Snooki is.  Why…do I know…who the eff…Snooki is???

Sometimes I don’t always get the degrees right.  Like, sometimes I don’t know how important something is to someone I love, or sometimes I over-think it and make a mess of things (I’m a star at making a mess of things).

The point is this:  it’s all bloody important (except maybe Snooki).

Today over coffee, my new-ish amiga was talking about her daughter.  She said something along the lines of feeling overwhelmed by it all before she came along.  She talked about feeling unable to cope with the world around her until she had her little girl.  Now, she says, it all matters a lot less.  And while I’m not planning to have kids, I get that.  Being a parent means that no matter what, there is definitely a line-drawer, a boundary-creator, in one’s life.  No matter what, nobody’s gonna fault anybody for putting their kids first.  But as a couple who’ve chosen not to have children, it can sometimes feel like the pressure’s on when it comes to outlining – and living in line with – our values.

I’m just saying, it’s all valuable.  Some days, my immediate family or my best friends are going to be the most important people alive.  Other days, a little girl and her father many thousands of miles away will be the only people I can think about.

We do our best to get it right.  It’s all we can do in this crazy life.

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