Boundaries

A few weeks back, I spent a Sunday morning among a group of writers, most of them familiar to me, most of them members of the Writers and Illustrators of Zurich group. At one point, a woman joining us for the first time made a statement about how we all needed to learn how to say no more often. I sat up.

The argument for setting personal boundaries is not new to me, but it is an idea that passes me by. The woman spoke in general terms, of course, and I suppose most of us listening to her would have felt the urge to agree. In fact, several did, nodding their agreement. When someone makes a general statement that doesn’t relate to me or concern me, I usually say nothing. This time, however, I spoke up. I said, “Actually, I’m someone who struggles to say yes.”

Like getting out of the house that very morning to join the group for coffee and a chat—up until I purchased my ticket on the train app, I’d argued with myself about going or staying home.

The woman’s statement came across as something of a place setter—not quite phatic speech, but working in that direction, meant to be heard and agreed upon but not necessary chewed upon. I immediately felt awkward for having voiced disagreement. So, I did my usual thing, making light of my injection. I recounted the story of my daughter once saying to me, “Yes is also a word!” (I’ve never restricted a liberal application of no to myself.)

Several in the group kindly laughed.

The conversation moved on.

But I stayed in thought.

How often do we view the world and assume that those around us share our vision? How often do we ask ourselves what others might see from a vantage point we share? How often do we ask what others see? And why does it take guts to do so?

Ah, there I go: It takes guts for me to ask what others might see from the same vantage points. Perhaps the person next to me finds such a task easy. Or even pleasant.

A few years ago, when the kids were still little—well, more than a few years ago—I worked Mondays at a friend’s daycare center, which she ran out of her home, just down the street from where we lived. Even though I enjoyed working there, I struggled every Monday to get out the door and down the street. After all, getting out the door is always a form of saying yes.

One morning, an icy rain fell. Looking at the weather, I dreaded going outside. Going to work. No matter the weather, we took our toddlers and babies for long walks at least once a day, sometimes, if they were particularly rambunctious, twice a day. There was no way to keep the children or us dry and warm in such weather, but we never skipped our walks. On that rainy morning, I scurried to the daycare center, got out of my layers of clothes, and made my way into the living room. My friend’s daughter stood by a sliding glass door, her hips swinging. She heard me, turn, and grinned. She danced a little and said, “It’s raining! It’s raining! Don’t you just love the rain?

It’s raining! It’s raining!

At that moment, warmed by the radiance of a happy child, I felt the love for rain. I saw it from her eyes, and after that day, I never struggled to get to the daycare again.

This morning, a young woman asked writers on Twitter how they coped in winter. Her “writer’s brain” needed daylight, she said. I wrote a message back to her saying that I cope very well in winter. I get up early and love working before the sun rises. The comfort I find in darkness helps me focus.

The four-thirty sky. Nightfall soon.

Perhaps it’s safe to assume that most people prefer long days to short ones. Find setting boundaries more challenging than expanding them. And don’t dance for joy at the sight of a cold, rainy day. But perhaps it’s not safe to assume any of these things.

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