“[L]ife is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”-Grandma Moses
This was a funny week, wasn’t it? I almost felt like I should wait to write another post, because it seemed too soon to expect you to come back and spend more time here. If you’re reading this, then you must have come back anyway. Thank you so much for that.
I have to assume writing this feels premature because it was a short week, but having one less day also paradoxically made it feel simultaneously longer.
Does that make any sense at all?
I think my sister put it best on Thursday when she said, “I kept waking up feeling like the week should already be over. Tuesday felt like it should be Thursday. Then Wednesday felt like it should be Thursday. I’m so glad tomorrow’s finally Friday.”
Even though her work schedule is much more intense than mine right now, I could still completely relate to her description. I’m writing this on Friday, and with the week pretty much over it seemed quick, but living it day-to-day felt like an unexpected slog.
I imagine the “unexpected” part of the equation is the variable to blame for this feeling of relativity. I don’t know about you, but when I know I will be working more days or longer hours in an upcoming week, each day somehow seems to evaporate and drift away effortlessly. But when I’m entering into the week knowing it’s shorter and therefore should logically feel faster, time surprises me. It ironically feels glacial instead, so that moving past simple everyday challenges feels like wading through molasses.
And then, after enduring just four days of distracted work, do I thoroughly enjoy the free time I’ve been waiting so impatiently for? I’m not sure that I do, actually.
I’m definitely someone who appreciates anything more when I’m forced to wait for it. The anticipation becomes infinitely more frustrating as it stretches out over time, but it also makes the gratitude exponentially greater once the thing I’ve been waiting for finally comes to fruition.
My favorite example of this relates to (you guessed it) my dog, Arthur. When I was living in DC as a law student and young professional, I was dying to get a dog. I grew up with a sweet, smallish black lab named Sammi, whom we named after the then-famous country musician (in our house, anyway), Sammy Kershaw. Even though she clearly favored my older brother, whined at the dinner table every night because he snuck her food from it, and embarrassed us all by coughing and snorting like we were trying to kill her whenever we actually leashed her for a walk (we lived on three acres, so she was accustomed to much more freedom for her bathroom breaks), Sammie was the best canine companion we could have wanted.
Sammi passed away when I was in college after a long, happy life (aside from that year I wanted a horse and resorted to pretending she was one, anyway). After she was gone I longed for another dog, but my now-husband, then-boyfriend wisely advised against it. We were living in a tuna can of an apartment in Capitol Hill, and it would have been unfair to leave a dog there while both of us worked long hours and had a much more active social life than now (and even before quarantine).
Although I knew it wasn’t the right time, I was also sure it would happen eventually. My parents and husband can attest to this, but I have a history of being relentless when it comes to things I desperately want, especially when my desire outlasts the time in which someone else expects it to fade.
Sure enough, when we moved to Tampa eight years ago, I pounced on my opportunity. We adopted Arthur from the Humane Society, and he became an inexplicably integral part of our lives. To this day, I honestly don’t mind bagging his unmentionables, cleaning up his various fluids (just yesterday he ate some grass and threw up on our cream carpet), or taking the time to walk him twice a day, even in the swampy Florida summer. And I know that’s party because I’m still so jazzed just to have a furry little creature waiting for me when I come home.
Would it irk me more to scrub his vomit if I had my way and adopted him years earlier? I’m convinced I have an especially severe aversion to throw up, so I could see that being the case. I would still love him, but I don’t think I would be as patient with the downsides of dog ownership.
Similarly, I think when I’m forced to sit and wait longer for the weekend, I tend to consciously appreciate it more once it arrives. After a long, hard week, I’m more aware of the sense of freedom the weekend offers, and I savor the lightness that reappears, blotting out the dark clouds of weekday pressures.
In a way, a four-day week offers us a deceptive sense of optimism. It appears more promising at the start, but that positive outlook sours quickly when our expectations for time to blitz by are dashed by the reality of sluggish, unending days.
Sure, our tolerance for annoyance or misery seems proportionate to its duration. That’s why I was relatively unfazed by the events of last weekend. But when we approach something more mundane and cyclical–like a workweek–could it harm us to live in a “working for the weekend” mindset, even for a shorter amount of time? If so, then could the patient (and perhaps resigned) mindset we subconsciously slide into during a normal week actually be better for us overall?
A week is also still a really short period of time, unless you’re a fifth-grader whose birthday is a week away. But what happens when finding your purpose requires more than just short-term or limited patience? What if you were forced to endure decades of waiting before you could finally express and share your unique gifts with the world?
This week, we will explore that idea as we examine the life of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, an American painter and cultural icon better known by her nickname, Grandma Moses.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was born in 1860 in rural upstate New York. Her father was a farmer who operated a flax mill, and her mother raised Moses and her nine brothers and sisters. She attended a one-room school when she was young, but at age 12, Moses left her home to earn money for her family by cooking, sewing, and performing other household chores for wealthier families.
Moses showed artistic talent early on, but she had no formal outlet or training available to her. As a child, she painted landscapes using lemon and grape juice and used ground ochre, grass, flour paste, and sawdust to create art. Her father bought paper for her and her brothers for drawing, and one of her employers even bought her chalk and wax crayons after taking notice of her interest in art prints. However, in the life of a domestic worker, painting and drawing were treated as a hobbies at best.
“I was quite small, my father would get me and my brothers white paper by the sheet. He liked to see us draw pictures, it was a penny a sheet and lasted longer than candy.”-Grandma Moses
After working in various homes for 15 years, she met Thomas Moses on a farm where they both were employed. When Moses was 27, she married Thomas and moved to a small home with him in Virginia. They spent the subsequent decades working on farms nearby, and Moses made potato chips and churned butter for additional income. During that time, she gave birth to ten children, but only five of them survived infancy.
After saving enough money, Moses and her husband eventually bought a farm and lived off of their own land for several years. She then lost her husband when he passed away from a heart attack at the age of 67. Moses continued operating the farm for nine more years with the help of her son, but in 1936 at the age of 76 she retired to live with one of her daughters.
Moses became an avid embroiderer in her 70s, but at the age of 76 she developed arthritis that made it too painful for her to continue. At her sister’s suggestion, she then took up painting as her primary focus, creating landscapes that depicted the rural scenes from her childhood. Although her pieces were initially very simple, after three decades in which she painted over 1,500 works, her compositions became much more complex.
Moses initially sold her paintings for $3 to $5, but after only a few years, her work was highly regarded and sought after. Just two years after she began painting full-time, a visiting art collector saw her paintings in a local drugstore and purchased them all. The next year, her art was featured in an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In 1940 at the age of 80, Moses held her first solo exhibit at the Galerie St. Etienne in NYC before showing casing her work at Gimbel’s Department Store and then at the Whyte Gallery in Washington, D.C. Over the next 20 years, her paintings were shown across the United States and Europe.
In the late 1940s when she was nearing 90, Moses became the darling of modern American folk art, receiving accolades and awards from a variety of institutions and publications. She received the Women’s National Press Club trophy Award for outstanding accomplishment in art from President Truman, was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees, and was named a “Young Woman of the Year” by Mademoiselle magazine. She was even featured on the cover of Time magazine in a holiday-themed issue at the age of 93.
Grandma Moses continued painting until she passed away in 1961 at the age of 101. Her works were featured in over 160 exhibitions, and more than 48 million Christmas cards featuring her work have been sold. Her paintings have hung in Paris’ Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among many others.
Because of the circumstances of her life, Grandma Moses was not in a position to find her purpose of creating and sharing the beauty of a rural existence with the world until she had already lived several lives, first as a farmworker, then as a mother, and finally as a widow farmer. The beat of her artistic purpose pounded softly in the background throughout those decades, though, revealing itself from time to time through hobbies deemed worthwhile by her culture, including embroidery, quilting, and home decor.
It was only after she worked herself literally to the point of painful arthritis that she felt free to fully express her gifts and talents. The wait was long and arduous, but the unexpected rewards of finally realizing her dharma seemed to make Moses even more awestruck and grateful for everything in her life.
“I look back on my life like a good day’s work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered.”-Moses
So, what can we learn from Grandma Moses and her story of finding her purpose in her fourth act? I think the primary takeaway is that if we haven’t yet discovered our purpose, we should not lose hope. Just as with Grandma Moses, our purpose also beats within us always, waiting for us to seek and follow it when the time is right.
Doing what we must to make ends meet and provide for our families (or dogs) is not shameful; in fact, Grandma Moses would say we are acting responsibly. By taking care of the bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs first, we are ensuring that once we do reach the upper tiers, we are similarly positioned to channel our energy into the most full-fledged, radiant, and relentless expression of our purpose.
Of course, today is not the late 1800s, and we are fortunate that there are now seemingly endless ways to earn a living. So, if we are able to find and pursue our purpose in a financially viable way, I think we can honor Grandma Moses’ decades-long repression of her purpose by fully engaging in and living ours now.
Whether we must continue our fight for several years or emerge victorious in the near future, I believe each of us will eventually find our purpose and finally experience the ethereal fulfillment of unequivocal certainty and utility. And maybe, just maybe, we will then fully savor the experiences and better tolerate the inevitable downsides, all because we have been forced to wait longer than we would have liked.