Archive for April, 2010

I got outside this morning just in time to see the sunrise.

Pretty cool how there’s a new one every single day — and all we have to do is get up and go outside and open our eyes!  I like to think of myself as a pretty observant person.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attentive to details and found meaning in things that most folks consider ordinary or not worth mentioning.  All my life, I would hear people say, “you read too much into things;” and I accepted their criticism until a moment some years ago when I decided to live based on the premise that everything really does mean something.  It has changed my outlook and fine-tuned my appreciation for the wonder of the world around me.

I was walking along today, just taking in all the colors in the sky and listening to all the different bird songs and checking out the flowers and the rocks and the lingering puddles, when the time came to turn back toward home and make some breakfast.  As I turned, I saw that the moon, oblivious to the time and the sun’s presence lighting the eastern sky, was working overtime just above the western horizon.

She just hung there, peeking between the branches of the trees!  Maybe she, too was enjoying the sunrise — after all, she was looking in the right direction.  Then I thought about what Albert Einstein had to say about the moon:

“I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”

And I laughed as I realized that we human beings are so full of ourselves that sometimes we forget that it isn’t our seeing something that causes it to be.  I know that the moon exists in the daytime as well as at night; and I know that the sun shines long after it sets and before I see it rise at dawn.  And I thought about Einstein and his expansive intelligence; and I thought that he probably was talking about a whole lot more than the moon.  Can we see the wind if there are no trees or grasses to move when it blows?  Can we sense the movement of the Earth as it spins and orbits through space?  Should we limit our thinking to include only those things we are able to experience with our five senses, or should we expand our thinking to include the idea that there may be many things around us that we don’t see?

I will still greet each day hoping to find the details in my universe and striving to discern their meaning.  I will remember the morning when the moon showed herself in the daytime sky; and I will let my consciousness expand to include the things I don’t yet see.  After all, what if everything really does mean something?

Silver in the sky,

Stars dance adoration.

Full moon owns the night.

We wish upon the stars, but we dream beneath the moon.  As darkness settled last night, turning daytime color to shades of gray, the excitement that had buzzed around me for several days became anticipation; and I was drawn into the quiet darkness of the night.  A full moon was promised, and the clouds that had hung between our world and the heavens had moved on now that the rain had ceased.  I suppose you could say that it was a perfect night for a full moon, and I was eager to see what dreams might show themselves in its light.

My eyes swept the sky, and it was full of stars.  The great bear stood guard overhead, his stars aligned to show his form.  All around him the distant suns sparkled and twinkled against the stark, black backdrop of night.  ‘How odd,’ I thought, ‘that the full moon’s brightness didn’t dim theirs.’  I scanned the sky from horizon to horizon and could find no moon.  I peeked behind trees, walked around buildings, and still there was no sign that tonight was the one when the Pink Moon would own the darkness.

Just as I turned to go inside, I noticed that the sky had changed from black to charcoal gray.  There, just above the roof of the house next door, a slice of light began to emerge.  It grew wider and brighter with each passing minute as the mother moon, the mirror in the sky, rose to claim her place of honor.

There is something magical about the moon and about the way it sheds light on our dreams.  As last night’s moon rose in the night, I could feel my heartbeat increase its pace to match the growing substance of my dream; and my spirit soared with joy and danced like the stars in the night.  I could tell you my dream, but there is no need to do that — it is my dream, and its meaning and purpose are my own.  Instead, I will encourage you to find your way past the streetlights and neon to a place where a moonbeam can capture your heart.  Go there and dream a dream that is yours alone, and let your spirit fly and dance like the stars — by the light of the moon.

“For this reason man was created alone, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, he is guilty as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whoever preserves a single soul, it is as though he had preserved a whole world.”

— Sanhedrin 37a

Often, we have heard the paraphrase of this quotation from the Talmud — whoever saves one person saves the world.

Today marks the birthday of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who is credited with saving more than 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by giving them jobs in his factory.  His actions speak so loudly that I find myself with little to say beyond, “look at this.”

In searching for the quotation above, I found explanations for its meaning.  In the book of Genesis, at the time of creation, we see the creation of Adam — one man — who is all of mankind.  From the beginning of existence, we were created to be equal with all others of our kind.  Whether you are religious or not — a believer or not — the message is clear.  We need to see ourselves as one with all others.  It is only through understanding this that we can be a part of a world we would like to live in.

In one interview with Schindler, I read that he spoke of getting to know his workers as people.  Once he knew them, there was no choice but to do what he did and protect their lives.  He was able to look beyond the popular view of his time and find the courage to do what he knew, in his heart of hearts, was the right thing.  He did not win any prizes.  He did not earn the acclaim of people in the mainstream of his society.  Instead, he looked at other human beings, saw that he was one with them, and he saved more than 12oo lives.

It is unlikely that any of us will face a similar choice to his.  It is unlikely that any of us will be offered the opportunity to save 1200 lives.  The Talmud doesn’t say, “save 1200 lives and save the world.”  Only one.  That is all it takes.  Surely, each of us is offered many opportunities to extend a hand to just one person; and that is all we are asked to do.  We may not always see a dramatic result of a simple kindness, but I don’t think results are the point.  If we all really are connected — if the movement of a butterfly wing in your own back yard may later stir the air on the other side of the world — then we need to realize that the way we treat others does, indeed, matter.

Millions died as a result of the Holocaust.  Oskar Schindler saved 1200.  In Mathematical terms, it doesn’t seem like much of a feat; but to those who were saved, and to their families, his actions were huge.  Perhaps, through the choices made by one man who risked his own safety to do what his heart told him was right, there is a part of us all that is redeemed and saved as well.  After all, we are connected; and if you save one life, you save the world.

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.  There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right.  To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do you see when you look at this picture?  Are the clouds overtaking the sun, or is the light bursting through the darkness?  I have been challenged this week to join with some other women and state my dreams, my hopes, and my wishes.  I will hear the same from others, and we will seek to support one another as we look for the direction that expresses truth for each of us.  Perhaps we all will learn new things about ourselves in this process.  Perhaps we will discover that the way we have learned to view ourselves places limits on fulfilling our dreams.  Perhaps we will learn to look beyond our limiting views and in doing so be transformed.

For those of you still wondering, the photo is one of disappearing clouds, melting away in the light of the morning sun.  I will carry that image with me as the adventure unfolds.

Lessons Learned and Forgotten

Don’t stare into the sun

It will blind you.

Don’t fly too close,

For your wings are of wax

And surely you will fall.

The icy cliffs are beautiful;

Resist them,

For they’re made of cold

That burns like fire

And kills the flesh.

Beyond the veil

Past moon and stars

Expanding toward infinity

There lies a place

Where infinite is small.

The Light, the Source

Ten-thousand-suns bright

Begs to be seen

Stare into it and see;

Fly close and find your wings.

No heat; no cold; no barrier

To blind or melt

Or burn, or slow.

Only Truth

That shines like Peace.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2008

“There will be a rain dance Friday night, weather permitting.”

— George Carlin

I’m just back from my morning walk.  My fleece jacket is hanging on the back of a chair to dry, and my sneakers are a little bit squishy when I walk.  I considered staying home, as I did yesterday, and waiting for better weather before I ventured out again; but then I remembered that I don’t melt when I get wet, so I decided to risk a few raindrops.  It was worth the risk, because I learned some things from my walk on a rainy morning.  For example, I learned that dandelions, like cats, do not look their best right after a bath.

I also learned that the whole world keeps right on turning and life goes on as usual, rain or shine.  It seems that we humans are the only ones who let a little rain interfere with our usual plans.  The birds still sang, the creek still flowed — maybe with a bit more enthusiasm, and the peas in my garden got half an inch taller, just as they have on sunny days.

I was at the park when the rain suddenly intensified, and I ducked under the cover of a picnic pavilion to clean my glasses and watch it fall.  Two robins flew to the ground, found a large puddle, and began to splash and drink and sing for all they were worth.  Their jubilant rain dance took me back to times in my childhood when a soft summer rain would fill the gutters of our residential street and Mom would lose her mind and tell us, “go play in the puddles.”  We would roll up our pant legs and kick off our shoes and walk through the impromptu river to lands far down the block.  Tiny sticks would be our boats, and we’d follow them as they floated downstream, rescuing them just before they were pulled into the storm drain.  Back upstream we would walk, and we’d launch our boats again and send them flying down the river of our imaginations.

When is it that we become too old for dancing in the rain?  When does being wet become such a nuisance that we miss the magic of a walk on a rainy day?  When do we stop wanting to abandon our reserve so that we, like the robins, might splash and play and delight and sing for the joy of dancing in a puddle?  Several years ago, when she was sixteen, my daughter Emily and her best friend Shelley called to nine-year-old Ivy, “Come on!  Let’s go puddle jumping!”  It was pouring outside; but the day had been steamy and the rain fell like blessed refreshment from the sky.  The three girls jumped in every puddle they could find, laughing and howling, and covering themselves in mud.  On a rainy day last week, Ivy reminisced about that day.  I guess a rain dance is just good for the soul; and the joy lingers long after the mud is gone and your shoes are dry.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve decided not to put the condition of “weather permitting” on my chance to dance.

English writer, John Ruskin, had this to say:

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

If you don’t believe me, just ask the robins.

“Just don’t give up on trying to do what you really want to do.  Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”

—  Ella Fitzgerald

Sometime in the middle of last night, I became aware of the sound of raindrops hitting the window above my bed.  Ahhh!  What a great background for a good night’s sleep!  I nestled in deeper and let nature’s music take me back to the land of dreams.  It was the same sound that greeted me as I awoke to start the new day.  I just love the way the world looks when it rains!  In spite of the clouds that hide the sun, everything glistens greener and brighter as water washes each leaf and stone.  The yard work will have to wait today, and my life will move indoors until the skies clear.

My walk this morning was one spent looking for puddles.  One of the things I love most about rain is seeing the puddles reflect the world and getting a look at their different view of things.

The puddle in the road at the end of the block gave me a new and different view of the giant sycamore tree that stands above it.  The tree’s reflection shows me things that I ordinarily don’t notice – the shape of the tree, the way the trunk divides and sends branches to support the foliage – details of the way the tree is formed that are lost in my view of its colorful leaves dancing in the breeze and catching the sunlight.

I think about the puddles and the way that everything looks different on a rainy morning.  I think of the quiet times when I stop my ordinary activities and take some time to reflect on what I’m doing and where I want to go with my life.  I can’t help but wonder whether we call it “reflection” because someone noticed, long ago, that the reflection of a tree on a rainy morning offered a different perspective.  And so we come to Ella’s words.  I chose them because she speaks of love and inspiration as the combination that leads to pursuing one’s passion.  I think of her incomparable voice and then consider that she sang out of love and inspiration; and I feel encouraged to reflect on this rainy day and renew my own direction and find my own passion.

The last puddle I saw on my way to the warmth of the house was in the fire pit in my own back yard.  No fire today – only the kind that burns in reflection.

I could see myself, different when viewed in reflection.

I could see the way that my mind rearranges itself as ideas bombard it.

I could relate to the way that growing my passion can sometimes leave me feeling unsettled and unsure of who I am.

But experience has taught me that when the ripples quiet and the ideas become firm and settled that, once again, I will see clearly who I am.

It is then, after reflection shows me who it is that I have become, that my passion will burn and my heart will soar – or maybe it will sing.

As Ella says:  “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”

Now that is passion!

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my daughter, Emily.  We decided to grab a coupon and go out to lunch.  Everywhere we went there were signs about Mother’s Day sales and gift ideas.  It gave me great pleasure to hear my youngest say, “I really don’t like getting flowers for Valentine’s Day or an anniversary.  I like them more when someone just says, ‘I was thinking of you today and decided to send you flowers.’ ”

‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘I have trained you well, Grasshopper!’  This is not to say that nobody should ever participate in a Hallmark Holiday — only that we should not fall prey to celebrating only at the prescribed times and miss all the other opportunities to express our love and gratitude.  I am thankful for a daughter who remembers to say she loves me many times throughout the year, and not only on occasions declared worthy of a celebration.

I looked outside this morning as I sat down to read my emails, and in one glance through one window in my little part of the world I saw sunlight and shadows turning the green leaves of the apple tree ten different colors that ranged from yellow to a green so dark it was almost black.  Lavender lilacs created a burst of color just beyond the ancient pine.  Brown pine cones hung heavily at the ends of the branches and birds flew in and out of their hiding places deep inside the tree.  The morning frost glistened on the grass beyond, and soft white clouds hung in the pale blue sky of morning.  There is so much beauty around us, just waiting to be seen, smelled, felt, tasted and heard.  I just know that today will be the best day yet!

Emerson doesn’t tell us to “commit this to memory.”  He says, “write it on your heart.”  Once again, I feel compelled and challenged to cultivate gratitude for all the tiny details that come together to make my life abundant.  I want to be intentional about greeting each morning with anticipation of something wonderful.  I want to pay attention to the way the sunlight dances in the treetops.  I want to love the feeling of the morning fog against my cheeks and take in its free facial as I walk on a cloudy morning.  I want to write in my heart the songs of the birds and marvel at the variety and detail of nature.  If I look back only a few days, I recall the warmth of a fleece shirt on a frosty morning, the melody of the robin who hid in the branches where his nest is concealed, the caress of the sun and the blessing of rain, and the startling color of an orange-breasted bluebird as it sought out a puddle and then disappeared.

My glimpse through the window is only the encouragement to open my eyes and wait for the best day of the year!

I challenge you as well — find something beautiful and write it on your heart today.

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.”

— Alphonse Karr

This seems like a perfect day to break from philosophical thoughts and just share with you one of the precious flowers who brings light and color to my life.  You met Princess Cheyenne once before in an article about smiles.  Chey was only a baby back then, but now she is becoming a young lady.

Cheyenne -- Easter 2010

On May 11, my little pink princess and granddaughter extraordinaire will be three years old!

Two days after her birthday, Cheyenne will travel to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for her sixth surgery.  You see, Cheyenne is a living, breathing, walking, talking, mischief-making miracle!  And this is why I want to talk to you today about roses and thorns and hurdles and gratitude.  When Chey had inhabited her Mommy’s womb for only 20 weeks, an ultrasound revealed that she was not your average baby.  She was developing with OEIS complex.*   OEIS occurs only once in every 350,000 live births; so Chey’s first miracle was just being born, which she did at 35 weeks.  Her life was one of possibilities and odds, which were not always presented in the most positive light:

She might not survive to be born — but she did.

She might not be able to bear weight — but she did.

She might not walk — but, oh she does!  And what a good climber she is, too!

She might have delays — physical and cognitive — but she has emancipated from all her therapies before the age of three.

Here is Cheyenne on her new Barbie bike.  It’s an early birthday present since she will be healing for a while after her birthday:

Please note the sparkly pink Princess Shoes!

And, yes…she can pedal her bike!

Cheyenne is a rose.  Although she might have had a few more thorns than the average flower, she has been blessed with parents who know how to prune the thorns and teach her just how beautiful she is.  Too often when we find thorns in our flower beds we pay so much attention to them that we lose sight of the beauty all around them.  I try to think of how different my little granddaughter might be today if her doctors and therapists and her mom and dad had focused on the limitations she might face instead of the potential she has to overcome them.

So, what’s thorny in your flower bed today?  Are you feeling poked by thorns or grateful for the flowers?  Gratitude makes all the difference, you know.  Our family is thankful every single day for our little rose princess Cheyenne.  We just would not be the same without her!

Chey and Grandma in the middle

* Wow.  I hoped to find a page you could link to that would explain OEIS, but it’s so rare that everything is medical journals — instead, I will give you her carepage link:  When asked the name of the page, enter “cheyennespage”

I’ve just spent an hour in my flower bed pulling weeds.  It took a while for me to get started; because when I looked at the cute little flowers that grew on what I intended to pull, it started me thinking about how we arbitrarily decide that one plant is a flower and another is a weed.  This was fresh in my mind today after my Dandelion journey that took place only yesterday.  I wanted to be sure before I put on the garden gloves that what I was pulling out really was something weedy or maybe something worth keeping.

I looked for quite a while before I decided what to do.  I looked at the flower bed.  I looked at the asparagus patch and the raspberry patch.  I looked at the shady spot under the big pine tree where we are always hoping the grass will fill in the spot where the grandchildren play.  What I saw was that each of these places was being overrun by the same pretty little purple flowers.  I pulled out my garden stool, took a seat, and began to pull.  Within an hour, I had rediscovered the ferns and lilies of the valley that hid beneath the choking weeds.  I rescued the patch of ground where the columbine seeds lie, waiting to sprout and bring color to the summer garden.  This was no borderline weed/flower, like the dandelion.  This one simply had to go — and then it hit me.

For the second day in a row I was learning something about myself from a weed.  I thought about Robert Frost and his two roads and the choice he had to make in order to move forward with his life.  I thought about my own life and the choices that I make every day that determine the direction I will face when I take my next step.  I thought about the weeds and the wildflowers, the flower bed and the meadow, and the way that our perception of things is dependent on the context in which we stand.  If I want other flowers, if I want vegetables, if I want soft grass for the babies to play in, then I must declare this flower a weed and confine my enjoyment of its beauty to walks in the meadow where it does no harm.

I think of the many beautiful but extraneous things that occupy my closets and shelves and mind; and I think of the way their beauty keeps me holding onto them, when the truth is that I need to pull some weeds and allow the things that matter most to grow unimpeded.  It is the dandelion all over again — the color that captures my eye, that serves its purpose, that fades and falls away.  What remains is what was there from the start — the wisdom of the way the world works.  I must weed my own garden and give room for growth to the things that will nourish my soul and leave me with that which is real and true.  It all comes down to choices.  Today I pulled some weeds.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

— John Muir

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Standing tall above your leaves

On sturdy stem that first displays

Your sunny shining yellow greeting

Shouting to the world you’re here.

Bees respond and come to dance

Taking with them flower essence

Sunlight bathes productive days

As youth, uncaring, sings its color.

Flower fades and petals fall

And all that once adorned has faded

All that lasts is at the center

Only purpose now remains.

Standing tall above your leaves

On sturdy stem your seeds now linger

Thoughts of future fields of yellow

One by one release their grasp

And float away on breath of dreams.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010