Archive for February, 2010

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“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”

— George Carlin

Snow Moon - February 2010

George Carlin?  Some people see him as funny; some say he is irreverent; but his words are the ones that express the stark, lonely beauty of the Snow Moon.

Snow moon is the name given to the full moon of February.  It is the moon of deep winter, and it will appear in the night sky tonight.  If last night’s preview (above) was any indication, it should be spectacular!

As I stood shin-deep in the still-lingering snow and saw white ground as far as my eye would travel, I gazed through the branches of the barren pear tree and was pulled into the sky by the radiant glow of the moon.  ‘Snow moon,’ I thought, ‘how perfectly it is named this year.’  With all  that has fallen this winter, there have been times when it has taken a day or two to reach a point where we could back out the car and navigate the roads to the obligatory bread and milk of the winter storm.

I looked again across the snow and as the nothingness of the landscape again forced my eyes to the heavens, I thought of the other name for this moon.  “Hunger moon,” it was called, because in earlier days it illuminated a land where no animals ventured out and hunting was difficult at best.  I thought of my ancestors, new to this land, who faced winters hoping they had prepared adequately — not only to live, but to survive.  They had no bread and milk a mile away.  I tried to imagine the feelings of someone isolated by winter and working diligently to keep a fire burning for warmth.   Were they drawn outside by the bright glow of moonlight on crystal-white snow, only to see a frozen desert, devoid of life?  Were they caught between the breathtaking beauty and its reminder of their desperate isolation?  How different the longing for Spring must have been in those times!  Is it the experiences of our ancestors, engraved on our own DNA, that creates the same kind of longing in us even though we have bread and milk only a mile away?

As you gaze up tonight and see the full moon in the dark night sky, I hope you will hear it howling; and I hope that howling will call you to the beauty of moonlight on new-fallen snow.  I hope you will howl back and that the world will echo with the hunger for the promise of Spring.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Spring.  Last week, the snow began to melt and give way to the spongy, muddy earth that tells me that Winter will soon be over.  Then it happened.  Before I’d had a respectable amount of time to complain about the muddy shoes and the kitchen floor, another storm blew into town.  The only thing springlike about it was the wind that usually belongs to March.  The snow blew and drifted and the wind sculpted waves that made the backyard look as though the tide had come in and frozen before it could recede.  It was beautiful; and I really do like to savor each day as a unique chunk of life.  So why am I melancholy when I feel as though Spring has, once again, been delayed?  As I stepped outside to see the new snow, my eye was drawn to the raspberry patch.  There, in the middle of a frozen wave, the canes that will support the fruit of Spring stood knee-deep in Winter.

Seeing them poking through the snow gave me hope.  Along each stem I could see the nubby little buds that one day would burst open and reveal green leaves.  The buds are there, just waiting for the moment when the warmth of the sun makes it safe to appear.

I stopped for a moment and realized that the message of hope from the winter berry canes is that life will go on.  This is an important thing to remember in the middle of a too-long winter!  Sometimes it is an important thing to remember during the course of a too-long day.  Even at the moments when we feel knee-deep in life, it is good to know that we still carry buds of potential that may be closed tight today but will burst into being when the time is right.  This is the message of the patient raspberry plants, standing knee-deep in the snow of a long and cold winter:  Life will go on.

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

Breath

My eyes close

My heart slows

And suddenly

I’m swept away

To a quiet shore.

I settle in

On pristine sand

Surrounded

By nothing

And Everything

I draw a breath

And the tide

Comes in

Washing my soul

In cleansing Light

Releasing all

I exhale

Away

All that binds

Me to the night.

Wave after wave

Light upon light

My soul is healed

My spirit right

Rejoice!

Am I the wave?

Am I the sea?

Am I the Light

That glows

In me?

Blinking

I see

Reality –

No longer does

It weigh on me

For in my heart,

Beats pounding sea

And cleansing waves

And wind so free

And Peace.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2010

How many times has someone said that to you — or you to them — at a time when emotion runs high?  “Just breathe.”  It’s good advice, I think; and it’s a good start to restoring your sense of balance in a stressful situation.  We breathe all the time, from our first breath at birth until the very end of our lives, but we really don’t pay much attention to this amazing phenomenon.

I like to step back from time to time and pay attention to the amazing way that our bodies work.  Think about breathing.  With each breath we take, we draw in oxygen which goes to our lungs, which is absorbed and attaches to our blood, which is pumped by our heart to carry life to all parts of our body.  Then, as though this isn’t amazing enough, we exhale and send carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere and remove the unnecessary waste from our system.  What a great idea it is — breathing!

No doubt there are those of you who have used breathing techniques as part of meditation or relaxation.  It can be very calming and even healing to pay attention to our breath.  So many exercise plans require us to exert tremendous amounts of energy and produce great quantities of sweat in order to reap their benefits.  Breathing, like smiling, is an effortless activity — we all know how to do it without being told — but it can produce a sense of calm, peace, and well-being.  How can you worry about your troubles when you take the time to recognize that you still are breathing?

A common and universal way to get in touch with this miraculous function that we perform without thinking from first breath to last is to draw in a deep breath through the nose, pause for a second, and then exhale fully through your mouth.  It helps to get focused only on your breath if you let yourself make a sighing sound during the exhale.  Don’t hold back!  Exhale completely, so that there is no air at all remaining in your lungs.   Keep on doing this until the rest of the world just fades away; and realize that you are alive and breathing and that all is well with your existence.

Then, as you continue to breathe — which you are very good at doing — begin to notice this:  As you push the air noisily out of your body until it is empty, notice that you really don’t need to work at taking the next breath.  In fact, you would have to work at holding your breath to keep the next one from happening.  Your lungs just naturally inflate after you empty them.  It’s effortless!  It’s as though the whole universe around you is just waiting to give you what you need to keep on living and breathing.  Think about it.  How amazing is it that the oxygen you need to keep your body alive just flows into you every few seconds and you don’t have to expend an ounce of energy in the process!  How can we be anything but grateful for such an amazing system of survival and balance that sustains our existence?  And we don’t even need to think about it!

As we let our breathing fade back into the background of our day and get on with the tasks of life, let’s carry with us the close-up look at this amazing function that brings us what we need for life and allows us to release the things that bring us no benefit.  And remember, if life becomes stressful in any way, just breathe!  You know how to do it, because you’ve done it all your life.

Yesterday, through the miracle of the internet, I had the opportunity to watch a presentation by Aimee Mullins, a Paralympic athlete who competes in running and jumping events in spite of the fact that she wears two prosthetic legs.  I remember seeing her run several years ago when my granddaughter was part of a kids’ race in Allentown — Aimee’s hometown.  Unless you looked closely, it was hard to see anything about her beyond her enthusiastic support of the program for young runners.  The video she presented to TED (www.ted.com) offers her unique view of being disabled.

Ms. Mullins took the podium to speak to her audience about being disabled.  As the mother of several kids with learning disabilities and grandmother of a princess with physical ones, I was more than interested in what she had to say.  I must say that I left with a new perspective, and I thank Ms. Aimee Mullins for finding the words that help me to express my own feelings on the subject.

She began by projecting and reading the thesaurus entry for the adjective,”disabled.”  I must say that it was shocking to be treated to such a negative and hopeless list of words, especially when they were coming from the mouth of someone intelligent, ambitious, successful — all the things those words were not.  I guess it’s not enough to face physical and emotional challenges when you have a difference that sets you apart from the majority of people.  I pictured Aimee Mullins and my kids and my beautiful little Cheyenne climbing a mountain made up of all those adjectives and struggling not to fall as the letters shifted under their feet.  It is said that what we think becomes what we say and what we say becomes what we believe and what we believe becomes what we do.  Wow, I thought, I don’t want to be thinking this list of words when I see someone who is somehow different.  How do we stop this subtle but powerful and prejudicial view from placing yet another roadblock in the way of someone who is intelligent and ambitious and successful and loving and perfect in her own way?

As a parent of kids whose disabilities are not apparent to the naked eye, I’ve learned to see my children not as disabled but as “differently” able.  They use a different thought sequence to arrive at the answer to a question.  They may use audio books when there is a lot of reading to do — not because they are unable to read, and not because they are lazy, but because the way they read takes longer than it takes their non-disabled peers — and they refuse to be left behind.  There are many people who have difficulty understanding that the accommodations that allow my kids to compete and to achieve are not letting them cheat their way through learning and life.  I am sad for those who resist allowing someone who is differently able the chance to play on a level playing field.

Later in her talk, Ms. Mullins displayed another thesaurus page — this one for the verb, “disable.”  Here was the moment of realization, because it showed her audience the list of all the things we DO that disable something — or someone.  Among the words on this list are words like “mangle,” “debilitate,” “undermine,” “weaken,” and “put out of action.”  Stunning, isn’t it?  Is this what we do when we attach our thoughts to the words that become beliefs and then become our reality?  Is this what we want to say to a child who is differently able?

I think it’s high time that we increase our awareness so that we make it our goal to take the “diss” out of disability.  I’ve learned from the younger generation that when you “diss” someone you hold them in contempt, you shun them, you turn your back on them.  Is this the way we sometimes treat a person who looks different or speaks differently or maybe uses assistive devices for mobility or communication?    Aimee Mullins speaks fondly of a doctor who challenged her to break the elastic bands she used in physical therapy as a child.  She credits him with helping her find her own power — her own ability.  The results are a matter of record.

Each of us seeks to find our own unique path through life where we can utilize the things about us that make us different — that let us stand out from the crowd.  Why should we assume that a person’s different appearance is the only thing that makes her different and unique and special?  Let’s knock down that mountain of adjectives and replace them with the ones that truly define the people we meet — that speaks to the music of their souls rather than the condition of their bodies.  Let’s throw away those verbs that inflict inaccurate messages on people when we are unable to see beyond their exterior to the beauty that truly defines them.

Thank you, Aimee Mullins, for a view from the inside that helps us all to grow a little in our understanding.  And thank you to Aimee’s doctor who had expectations of strength, achievement, and success for a little girl who you knew would face — and overcome — adversity.

What adjectives will you add to your list today?  What verbs will you use when you take action and help another find her own power?

To see Aimee’s talk, click on the link below:

http://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_the_opportunity_of_adversity.html

What a dreary morning!  We awoke today to one of those mornings where the temperature outside is just a hair above freezing and the drizzle that falls can’t decide whether to create an icy sidewalk or melt the lingering snow.  ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I certainly won’t be hurrying out to take any pictures that might preserve this moment.’

Have you ever had one of those mornings where it seems like a good idea to pull the covers close, hide your face in the pillow and will the day away?  I’ve heard of people who are able to do that; but, as my mother can tell you — Hi, Mom! — I’ve always had trouble sleeping past the crack of dawn.  My only choice was to get out of bed and face the dismal day.

As I pulled on my sneakers, my toe reminded me that I’d stubbed it yesterday; and I played around with my sock and shoe until I could walk without too much discomfort.  I headed to the kitchen to pack lunches and get ready for breakfast, and was greeted by the pans I’d left in the sink last night in favor of watching the Olympics.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but washing dishes is not high on my list of favorite ways to start my day.  I rolled up my sleeves and walked across the cold kitchen to face my choice of the previous day.  As I started to run a dishpan full of hot water, it struck me that I was developing and even fine-tuning an attitude that was quickly making me feel singled out for misery.

I looked at the dirty dishes and remembered the delicious meal we enjoyed only twelve hours ago.  I felt the warm water on my hands and realized what a blessing it is just to have running water available at the twist of a faucet; and mine came already heated.  I thought of the way I would soon be moving the food — fresh and leftover — around the refrigerator shelves as I gathered what I needed to create meals for my family.  I took a minute to think about the almost-frozen rain and how cold it was outside.  Then I looked up and saw the roof over my head and the house all around me, keeping me dry and warm and protecting me from the wet world outside.  As I finished washing the last pan, I walked to the back door, opened it, and stuck my arm out into the rain.  I thought of how this gentle rain was soaking into the thawing earth and building the supply of water that later would flow from our pipes and into our home; and I thought of how I’d wanted to wish it away.

It was then that I decided to trade in my Attitude and focus on Gratitude.  When you look at the world through grateful eyes, all you can see is abundance — everywhere you look.  My toe hurts a little; but knowing that my nerves are working is reassuring to me as I work daily at balancing my blood sugar.  There are dishes to be washed because we suffer from an abundance of food.  Every bit of life can be seen as a curse or as a blessing — the choice is ours.  Life is such an amazing gift!  Today I will choose Gratitude over Attitude and enjoy the abundance.

Gratitude

Gratitude lay simmering

Beneath the surface of my day.

My eyes awoke to dismal skies

And wished the chilly rain away.

Where is the sun? Would it be too much

To ask for a balmy summer day?

For light and warmth to call me forth

To love the breaking of the day?

Cold as the rain, I hardened my heart

And crawled inside my own despair,

Pulled my head inside my shell

And locked the door that kept me there.

Once inside, I heard the sound,

Faint at first, but ever growing,

Bubbling up until it boiled;

And gratitude came overflowing.

I saw the roof above my head

And heard the music of the rain.

I loved the cozy warmth of home

And heart-fire eased my chill again.

Try as I might to curl up tight,

I ventured out to greet the day;

And, filled with warmth of gratitude,

I saw things in a different way.

The rain-soaked roads had been washed clean.

The trees were glowing grateful green.

I reached beyond my windowpane

And touched, with thanks, the gentle rain.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2010

I have a camera.  Well, actually my husband has a camera, but for the past year I’ve been liberating it and taking it with me on walks.  What is great about having a camera is the way it encourages you to look more closely at what you encounter in the world.  Sometimes it records faces, and we have quite a large collection of photos of our family and friends.  What has become a passion for me, though, is snapping pictures of the world around me — of nature and all its elements.  Since beginning my picture-taking venture, I find that my eyes are open far wider than they were before.  I thought about this today when I ran across a quotation by Dan Millman, an athlete, author, and motivational speaker.

He says:  “There are no ordinary moments.”

Well, that’s nice, I suppose, and it sounds like a good slogan; but I learned last summer exactly what he means.  As part of my adventure in photography, I decided to use my early-morning walk as an opportunity to snap the sunrise each morning for a month.  It was amazing!  Do you have any idea how unique each sunrise really is?  I began looking forward to hearing the alarm buzz just so I could see what the sky had in store for me each day.  It took about a week for me to learn that no moment is ordinary.  I noticed that it was taking longer and longer for me to get my morning picture and finish my walk.  Why?  Well, you see, each time I would think I had a great shot of the sunrise it would change again — and I’d take another picture.  Here is what I’m talking about.  These sunrise pictures were all taken on the same morning:

As the sun began to send just a little light over the horizon, the sky began to glow:

As I turned to walk home, I took one more look over my shoulder and saw this:

In the next few minutes, the ever-changing beauty held my attention — a spectacular light show!

All of this took place in the space of five minutes’ time!  Imagine all you can see in an entire day!  So give it a try — live today with your eyes wide open; and if you have one, remember to take your camera.

To see the sunrise that inspired my thoughts today, click here:
http://365000words.pamelasteadjones.com/?p=127

“Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.”

–Erma Bombeck

Today would mark the 83rd birthday of Erma Bombeck.  Unfortunately, cancer ended her life, her humor and her passionate commentary on family life when she was only 69.  It would be hard to imagine that this popular writer and speaker could have been lonely; but she certainly was living her dream.  Maybe the lonely part occurred before we knew her.  It was not until the mid-1960’s that Bombeck landed a job writing a weekly humor column for a newspaper; and by the time that her columns were bound together in a collection titled At Wit’s End, she was nearly 40.  When her success finally peaked with the publication of The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, she was 51 years old.

You may wonder why this feels important to me.  I will tell you why.  I think that each of us needs to have a dream that is the passion in our life that draws us back to ourselves no matter how far we may roam from time to time.  Maybe the part that Erma called “lonely” is the awareness that we, and we alone, always seem to return to the touchstone that is our dream.  We may meet others with similar dreams as we wander through life, and we may share the path with them for a time; but at the end of the walk — at the end of the day, we return to that place where our dream is our own.

“Lonely” might not be the word I would choose to describe this place.  “Solitary” might fit the bill, because one can be alone without feeling lonely.  So many other adjectives come to mind:  determined, passionate, courageous, introspective…perhaps each of us must choose our own adjective, just as we choose our own dream.

Do you have a dream?  I do!  Let’s take a little time today to spend with our dreams.  The world needs dreamers; because it is the passion of the dreamer that fuels the action that will move humanity toward being just a little more human — a little more humane.  For the sake of us all, we must never lose the ability to dream.

I don’t really care what the calendar says:  February is the longest month of the year.

The days seem to creep by dimly-lit, and the nights come far too soon.  The winter solstice passed more than a month ago, but somehow February days feel darker and slower than the shorter ones of January.  With eight days remaining in the month, I find myself wanting to wish away a week of my life and wake up to find that March has arrived.  As I think about this phenomenon, it occurs to me that changes have begun in the last week.  The sun is appearing earlier and seems unusually bright as it creeps over the horizon.  The clouds that have hung low in the sky now are back-lit in bright yellow-white that sometimes sends them flying across the sky.  As the snow begins to melt in the sunny afternoons, I find my eyes drawn to the newly-exposed earth as I search expectantly for just a glimpse of green.  I look at the tiny nubs of buds on the lilac bushes and dream of the day when leaves will appear.  I pause and wonder whether the world has changed or whether my own sense of awareness has created a craving in me that sees subtle changes as something more abrupt.

Maybe it’s the anticipation.  I think of my childhood and realize that my February feelings are very similar to those I had in the weeks and days before Christmas.  As the excitement would build, the clock seemed to slow to a torturous pace that made each day seem a week long.  Then we would arrive at Christmas Eve.  Do you remember closing your eyes and willing yourself to sleep but failing because your excitement about the next morning was so much greater than your need for rest?

I think that February is the longest month because its end heralds the coming of Spring.  The closer it gets, the more we crave the green that we know will soon arrive.  After a long winter’s sleep, my body is rested and my soul is hungry for the renewal that lies just around the next bend.  It is February 20.  The calendar does not lie, nor will it change to suit my impatience.  Once again, I will myself to rest, renew, and rejuvenate; but each time I try to close my eyes, one of them pops open and scans the world in hope of finding a sign that Spring is here.  I don’t care what the calendar says:  February is the longest month.

As I sit down to write today, I’m remembering a time thirteen years ago.  My favorite oldest granddaughter, Ivy, was teething; and as teething babies often are, she was tired but unable to sleep.  It was a warm summer evening, and I pulled her from the mainstream of life and carried her to the wraparound porch that lies outside the front and side of our old house.  I sat in the porch rocker, looked into the eyes of the crying baby, and began to sing, “How are things in Glocca Mora…”  Why an obscure song from Finian’s Rainbow popped into my head and out of my mouth at that moment remains a mystery; but on that balmy summer night, our song was born.  There was something soothing about that old rocker that kept Ivy returning again and again well into her first year of school.  As a toddler, she would pull me toward the door and say, “Gocka Mora?” and we would settle into the old wooden rocker, painted the same gray-blue as the porch, and be whisked away to a place where the world did not intrude.  The years have flown, and it’s been a long time since our last trip to Glocca Mora.  The paint has faded on our rocking chair, but the memories remain fresh and sweet.

Last month Ivy and her friends came to ask whether they could borrow our rocking chair.  Their school is sponsoring a Rock-A-Thon — an event where the students will commit, as teams, to keep a chair rocking for twelve straight hours from 7PM to 7AM.  People have pledged their support in the form of monetary donations which will be sent to the American Cancer Society to fund research.  When the girls from the basketball team first decided to become rockers, I think they were motivated more my the allure of an all-nighter than by their desire to support a cause.  Collecting for the Cancer Society was an idea that they understood vaguely, and they knew it was a good thing; but the distant and abstract concept was not what drove their decision to participate.  Then everything changed.  As teams were forming for the event, a young teacher from their school was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia.  Suddenly, “cancer” had a name; and the students decided to divide their pledges between the Cancer Society and Mr. Bender’s family as a way of offering their support during his treatment.  Within a week, the sad news arrived:  Mr. Bender had died.  He never quite made it to his 35th birthday.  The Rock-A-Thon was postponed so that his students could attend his memorial services.  Tonight the event will finally happen, and I think the teams will bring a deeper sense of commitment and community to their pledge to keep the chairs rocking through the night.

Back to the chair.  “We have to decorate it,” the girls told me.  I looked at that faded old chair and asked them, “would you like to paint it?”  Their eyes lit up.  “Really?  Can we?”  And so a chair was reborn:

Every time I look at the result, I find myself smiling and just brimming with joy!

When Mark and I first decided to let the girls paint the chair, our thought was that when they were done we could restore it to a better version than the faded one and it would already be primed.  After seven girls ventured to the workshop with brushes and paints, we knew the only coat we would be adding was clear polyurethane to seal their work of art and preserve it.  The great news is that our new chair will match any decor.  I don’t think there’s a color missing from their palette!  What this represents to me is the unbridled passion of the fourteen-year-old.  It shows in their ability to express their colorful view of life with paint and bring a new perspective to something old and worn. (Did I mention that it glows in the dark?)  “Fear This!” their slogan proclaims — a statement of their own confidence in being able to succeed in the Rock-A-Thon and a statement that Cancer should fear the effort to find a cure.  I look at these amazing girls — students, athletes, friends, and now passionate workers for something they would like to change in the world — and I’m inspired by who they are and by the dreams of who they will become.

Sometimes it just takes a neon-spattered technicolor piece of furniture to remind us not to lose touch with our own passions.  Whatever you paint on your world today, be bold and colorful — and don’t forget to glow in the dark!