I walked for a long time in the rain yesterday, on a rare afternoon alone.
My mind felt cluttered as I walked. I was thinking about a homeschooling support group I belong to and a recent flare-up on its message board. When I sat in front of the computer, I read what some call a Healthy Debate (my take is that online flare-ups are rarely healthy in intent or in results), and the words and attitudes seeped into my thoughts even after I shut the lid to my laptop and walked away. My brain was occupied.
I walked past 18th Street and Irving Place, and I saw Pete's Tavern and it's awning that says, "The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous."
Memories of my discovery of O. Henry stories rushed their way into my brain and replaced the thoughts of the online debate in my homeschooling support group. I first read O. Henry stories in third grade, discovering them in my school library. O. Henry wrote my favorite story, "Gift of the Magi" while sitting at the booth in this tavern.
For the next several blocks, I thought of reading O. Henry as a kid and I made plans to introduce the stories to my children. I thought about how discovering O. Henry led me to a life-time love of short stories. I thought about the neighborhood and imagined what it was like in O. Henry's time and wondered if it would have felt different or the same on a rainy New York day in the past.
I walked awhile longer and stopped at a bookstore to buy a book for my kids. Then I stopped at a fancy paper shop and bought a notebook on deep discount, everything double-wrapped to protect it from the rain.
My mind loosened up as I walked (and bought), and I felt my energy return after feeling bogged down by what now seemed like an unreal, truly virtual, online blow-up. The readiness of support-group members to snarl at each other, the ease of feeling offense, the reluctance to retreat - all that now seemed distant, more and more and more unappealing.
At home that night, without looking for it, I ran into this quote by Charlotte Mason:
The mind has its appropriate and necessary food, just as truly as the body.
And then everything fell into place for me. When I read the online discussion, it was the same as eating a bag of potato chips. The temptation is to eat another chip, the temptation is to read more gossip. Even though I knew it was junk, I kept consuming, and it left my mind stuffed full but not nourished.
Once I saw that so clearly, I craved something good to feed my mind and I lost my appetite for a support group that doesn't support.
But, we mustn't go overboard. Every feast for the body or soul can include a doughnut now and then, don't you think?