Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stuck in the Middle

In the mid to late 80's, my high school friends and I used to eat at a pizza joint called Mr. Gatti's. Mr. Gatti's served traditional pizza fare, including the daily, all-you-can-eat, buffet. On one particular outing for pizza, I walked up to place my order and was asked if I wanted a drink. This was long before there were free refills and immediate access to the fountain or any sizes other than small, medium and large. So, what you ordered is what you got, and I ordered a medium Coke.

The employee taking my order looked at me and said, "We don't have medium. Medium is for people who can't make up their minds." Excuse me, I thought to myself, and I repeated in my mind just what the cashier had said to me, medium is for people who can't make up their minds. For a moment I couldn't say anything. I was embarrassed by his rude reply and offended by his nerve, but "no mediums" meant that I had to decide between large and small. I don't remember which size I chose, but, for some reason, I have never forgotten what this person said to me.

In reality, I suppose the Mr. Gatti's guy was right. Medium is for people who can't make up their minds. I didn't want as much as a large, but I wanted more than a small. "Medium" is the perfect compromise, though.   I thought about medium is for people who can't make up their minds a lot after that the time, less philosophically and more emotionally because I was just offended, nothing else.

However, as I've aged, I've thought about and considered this response more on philosophical level. Recently, my husband and I talked about it, and he said, "We actually live our lives in the middle, sometimes pursuing the materialistic and other times trying to simplify (para)"  Is "medium" less than a compromise and more of an easy way out? Am I truly stuck to medium in more ways than one? I think I am, and being in the middle has created a huge internal struggle... I've lost my desire to chose medium. So, where do I really stand?

I think of the middle as being a valley with a steep climb up to either side. One side is labeled "Large" and the other is labeled "Small."At the top of large is a life lived in over-the-top extravagance, perhaps the life of some of the rich and famous, closed-fisted, self-focused. The Small side, in contrast, is humble, not boastful, a life lived with open hands and an open heart, unswayed by Western Civilization's bulldozer focused at the top of the Large slope. While each slope is difficult to travel, neither is unattainable, but it's easier to linger in the Middle, taking steps up each side every now and then, and this is where I find myself. My reality is that I am tired of the Middle, and I'm left to choose Large or Small, but history has proven that I change my mind going back and forth, and finally landing in the Middle, again.

I've attempted to partially climb the Large slope so many times and along the way, I developed a silent, but deadly, "keep up with the Joneses" mantra. It's no secret, a lot of us live this way. If we didn't, there would be no one to keep up with. In reality, it's impossible to actually keep up with the Joneses unless you are yourself the Joneses.

I live in a beautiful home in a terrific neighborhood, but I've wanted a bigger house, more land. I've driven hip mom-taxis, but I've wanted ones with higher status. I have a closet full of clothes, but I've wanted more. I could go on, but you get the idea... I've succumbed to the tune of "more is more" more times than I'd like to admit. Quite frankly, it's exhausting and unfulfilling and each time I return to climb the Large side, I rediscover that more is not more of anything meaningful, just more. So, I slide back down to the Middle. Honestly, I don't want to make it all the way to the top of Large, but sometimes I think that half-way up would be ok...see what's happening here?

The Small slope allures me with its unselfishness, peace and contentment. Unfortunately, it's hard to climb up the Small side with all of the luggage I've accumulated from my climb up the Large. There have been plenty of times when I've ravaged through my closet getting rid of "everything", only to realize my closet was still full of clothes. I've given stuff away, had garage sales, posted on Craigslist and ebay only to turn around and replace it through the years with something else. The climb up Small is tough. My baggage from the Large weighs me down, and I get pulled back to the Middle where things seem more comfortable when in reality there's no true contentment in maintaining the status quo. The push and pull is exhausting.

Sometimes, I think there is a workaround to Small. If I lived in a smaller house in a smaller town, drove an older car, home schooled my kids and existed on no one else's schedule, terms or expectations other than the parameters of my own family, then it would be easy to live Small...duh! However, abandoning my present life and responsibilities isn't truly living Small. It's avoiding the presence of Large so I don't have to deal with the external pressure of actually choosing.

Maybe airing my own internal struggle in a public forum is a step in the right direction, but allowing myself to be vulnerable doesn't change the direction of my climb, it acknowledges where I am right now. I know, by the grace of God, that I will survive just fine in the Middle, make a difference even, but I can't deny the obvious pull to make a choice. The Middle is for people who can't make up their minds.  I don't want to be one of those people anymore. I want Small. The slope will be steep, the path will be rocky and confusing at times, but I won't be alone. Thank the Lord that He knows the way. Wanna climb with me?

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