Archive for June, 2010



Life in full bloom

Abounds on the Earth

As once tender shoots

Now prepare to give birth.

“Come, dance!” calls the blossom

To partner, the bee,

And a miracle happens

On each vine and tree.

The sun is too anxious

To wait to arise

And lingers far longer

In summertime skies.

This is the season

Of anticipation

Awaiting the harvest

And Fall celebration.

“Grow!” commands sunlight,

“Be cooled!” cries the rain,

As the cycle of plenty

Begins once again.

We bask in the Summer

Of warmth and delight

Of comforting shade trees

And soft breeze of night.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the  sea”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When I read this quote, I thought of all the amazing teachers who were a part of my own education and the education of my children.  I thought of all the teachers I know whose passion for education makes their eyes sparkle and whose love for their students rings out like music when they speak of their work.  I also thought of the less-than-amazing teachers — those who walked in the door every day and put in their time teaching facts and figures that we learned for the test and then put aside.  What is it that makes a teacher shine like a lighthouse beacon that guides us through rocky waters to a new and distant shore?

I remember my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Garrigan.  She was enthusiastic and kind and beautiful — although I really can’t picture her in my mind.  I think her beauty lay in her eyes and the way they twinkled and danced with excitement when she introduced us to a new idea.  Some people teach Reading to children.  Some people teach children to read.  Mrs. Garrigan drew us into the subject matter, and we certainly did learn what we needed to know; but she never failed to recognize each child she taught as an individual.  She never tried to fold us until we were small enough to fit into a box labeled “student.”   Instead, she encouraged us to come out of the limits created by things we already knew and to find the dreams that would make us thirst for more.  Mrs. Garrigan wrote on my fifth-grade report card that “Pammy has a flair for creative writing.”  I think of her often as I bring my ideas to life in print, and I wonder just how much influence her recognition and encouragement had on my love of writing.

Not all good teachers do their work in classrooms.  I think now of my eldest son, Max — a multi-talented man who sometimes shines as a singer/songwriter.  My mind drifts back to the carefree days of his childhood, when I would pull out my guitar and play and sing songs from Sesame Street or Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Max would jump and dance, much like his own sons do now, sharing the joy of music-making.  I suppose I could have explained to him exactly how to hold a guitar and where to place his fingers, but he was only three and not yet able to coordinate such fine movements.  Instead, Max would walk right up to my guitar and, reaching out his little hand, pluck the strings as I held the chord for him.  His eyes would dance with the delight of making music, and the thirst for more began to grow before he ever recognized it.

The last thing I have learned about great teachers is that they never stop teaching.  I think of Gloria, my next-door neighbor who had retired from teaching due to medical problems.  Although her limited vision made many learning activities difficult, I remember a day when she saw my son in the yard, looking at an anthill.  Gloria disappeared for a moment and returned with a magnifier.  “Here,” she offered, “look through this;” and as my son watched the now-giant ants carry specks of dirt from the tunnel they were building, Gloria stood by and told him all about ants.  I don’t suppose he ever has forgotten that day.

Do you have something to share that you really love?  If you do, then you could be a teacher.  We all have opportunities every day to bring the things we love to others and offer them the chance to dream.  If you can take your own experience of the excitement and passion of pursuing a dream and light the way for another to find his own dream, then you just might be a teacher.

Maybe it was the moon.  The pull of the full moon always captures me, not in a Twilight sort of way, but in a way that draws  me into the expanse of the universe and challenges me to test the limits of my world, my neighborhood, my own body.  After two evenings of searching the overcast night sky for the Strawberry Moon of June, but finding that it had been eclipsed by clouds, I finally spotted her this morning as I struck out for my daily walk.  There she hung, the moon mother, bright-white and commanding in the blue sky of morning.  “There you are!” I heard myself say, “I was beginning to think you were hiding.”

There is something magical about the pull of the moon when the world is obscured by darkness.  Like moth to flame, I feel myself drawn toward the glow of the moon — past treetops and stars, hurtling through the infinite expanse of the sky.  On such nights, my spirit soars in spite of my earthbound body, and my eyes sparkle with the light bounced from Source to Sun to Moon and beyond.  Last night there was no bouncing light.  There was only the familiar pull and a deep longing for a glimpse of moonlight.

As the sky began to brighten and the sun made its way to the horizon, the moon magic pulled me through summer air that felt almost skin-temperature and blurred the boundaries of my own being.  I moved magnetically, feet barely touching the ground, past trees filled with birdsong.  The call of the crow, the sharp tweet of the cardinal, the chirpity-chirp of the sparrow, bounced from tree to tree as the singers themselves flew from branch to ground to treetop and beyond.  Perhaps this is what the bouncing light looks like in the daytime — life, bouncing from spot to spot and touching every place it touches.

The sun burst over the horizon and reclaimed the sky as its own.  As I rounded the corner to return home, a warm summer breeze touched my face, blew my hair, and re-defined the limits of my own skin.  I laughed.  Perhaps the magnetic pull was the breath of the moon, drawing me in as it drew me out and into the expanse between earth and sky.  Perhaps the summer breeze was the exhale, as the moon mother sent her child out into the daylight world once again.  I took in the wonder of the rising sun and let the day claim me, but part of me clings to the magic of moonlight.

“At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he himself has suffered, but he barely knows that other beings also suffer; seeing without feeling is not knowledge.”

— Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Have you ever met a living, breathing human being who has escaped being hurt?  We are born with nerve endings that transmit information from our bodies to our minds.  We are born with a need to be loved and safe; and when there is no love or safety to be found, we feel abandoned and sad.  It is part of being human to experience pain.  It is part of becoming mature to understand that we are not alone in our susceptibility to hurt and loss.

I remember being a child and taking a tumble from my bike.  I remember looking down at my shredded knee and being certain that this sort of misery never had afflicted another kid — that I was the only one alive who suffered such pain and now would not be able to ride.  My world was very small, and my experience with the human condition was even smaller.  That first skinned knee brought me great suffering; and what made matters worse was the way the adults seemed to trivialize my injury.  After only a cleanup and a band-aid, they seemed to think  my knee was just fine.  As years passed, and as my experience with being human unfolded, I developed a better understanding of scraped knees and began to trust that the pain would be temporary and that healing would come.  I felt the pain of each new scrape, but my suffering diminished as I learned that it would not be fresh and raw forever.

I don’t remember exactly when I began to step outside of my own pain and understand that there were other people who had similar experiences to mine.  Perhaps it came with going to school and learning how to read.  Perhaps it grew along with my own understanding of concepts that existed beyond the boundaries of my own body.  Rousseau doesn’t even address childhood in his statement.  He begins with adolescence.  By the time we reach our teen years, it is inevitable that we have experienced pain.  It is also inevitable that we are working at exercising our egos and struggling to discover who we will be in the world when we separate from the constraints placed on us by our parents.  We become self-absorbed in such an exaggerated way that even though we might see that others also have pain from time to time, we still are convinced that our own suffering is the worst.  Sometimes we might even feel as though the universe has singled us out for suffering.

There is a Buddhist proverb that states, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  How is it that we might move from suffering into a place of acknowledging our pain but not suffering because of it?  Rousseau tells us that seeing without feeling is not knowledge.  Maybe the path to feeling pain but not becoming lost in our own suffering is to develop compassion.  If we not only see that others also are vulnerable to hurt and disappointment and pain, but we also acknowledge that their suffering might actually be as great as or greater than our own, then we might find our way to understanding our pain and not allowing ourselves to suffer.  Perhaps suffering is less due to the pain itself and more due to our fear that the pain will never end.  Only when we leave our egocentric, adolescent years behind are we able to experience our own lives in the context of the larger world — a world where all people have joy, all people have pain, all people have hurt, and all people have loss.  In the process of growing our knowledge of ourselves through compassion for others, we learn that we are not alone.  It is then that we are able to reach out in compassion and comfort one another.

“One of my wise teachers, Dr. William F. Orr, told me, ‘There is only one thing evil cannot stand and that is forgiveness.’ “

— Mister Rogers

So many of us spend our time looking for ways to bring peace and light to a dark and angry world.  We try to devise ways to subvert evil and to let goodness prevail; and with all the examples of unkind acts and hurtful words that confront us each day as we move through life, it is easy to begin to feel insignificant, outnumbered, and overwhelmed.  As another day dawned today, I thought about the idyllic days that my children spent riding the trolley to MisterRogers Neighborhood — a world of peace and acceptance and love.  Somehow I just knew that Fred Rogers would have some wisdom to share with us on the subject of goodness; and he did not disappoint me.

I thought about his neighborhood and about the feeling of safety and protection that visits there conjured for my children — and for their mother — and I realized that the familiar people there were not without conflicts to resolve and choices to be made.  What was special about boarding the trolley for their neighborhood was being transported to a place where discord and conflict were resolved under the guidance of the wise and benevolent adults who taught and brought forgiveness to bear.  It is very hard to harbor anger or hatred when the person you wish to hate extends a gentle hand and speaks the soft words of forgiveness.

Each day, as the trolley would return to the house with the fish tank, and the man there would trade in his red sweater and sneakers for his street shoes and business suit, we would bring back the feeling of peace we had found in a neighborhood just a short distance from our own.  “I like you just the way you are,” Mister Rogers would tell us — solidifying the messages of love and acceptance that were so simple that even puppets knew they were true.

It has now been seven years since Fred Rogers hung up his sweater and left his neighborhood for a world of peace; but his message goes on, both on film and in his now grown neighbors, who carry with them the lessons he shared.  I believe he is right about evil.  I believe that evil cannot stand in the light of forgiveness.  Through patience, love and acceptance, we have the power to transform our world and overcome evil.  Won’t you be my neighbor?  I like you just the way you are.

“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”

— Bernard Berenson

“You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”

— Pearl S. Buck

As I stand at the beginning of my seventh decade on Earth, I think about the older people who have passed through my life.  Who are the ones who have commanded my attention?  Who are the ones who have earned my admiration?  What would I like to bring to my world as I begin the bonus years of my life?

If I had been born twenty years sooner, I would now have reached my life expectancy.  Those twenty years have given us, on average, an additional ten years of life — the bonus years, as I think of them.  Add to these statistics the fact that my own family’s longevity has taken them far beyond the average, and I realize that I still have many years to grow and to learn and to become the person others will remember when I am gone.  The older people I have known have taught me that I would like to be the sort of elder who stands firm in what I have learned to be true but who also is able to open my ears and open my heart to the fresh dreams and ideas of the next generation.

Although I have learned the value of self-discipline and consistently attending to the mundane tasks of life, I would hope not to carry that love of consistency into my thought process as well.  We must allow our thinking to expand beyond consistency, especially during the bonus years, or we may risk falling into the habit of defining each new day in terms of the last one.  Just think of all the surprising things we might miss if we refuse to acknowledge their existence!  If Pearl Buck is right, and we should judge our age by the pain we experience when confronted with new ideas, then I would like to do my best to avoid that pain by allowing my mind and my spirit to remain young.

We should not judge a book by its cover, we are told; and I think we should apply this advice to ourselves as well as to others.  Yesterday, when I wrote about weaving our tapestries, I spoke about being able to close my eyes and see all the colors of my childhood, my youth, and my young adult years and appreciate the vibrancy and the different shades of beauty they have brought to my life.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all maintained this ability to see — with our eyes and with our hearts — until our very last breath?  I think again of the older friends who have left their mark on my life, and I realize as I picture them how often they would close their eyes as they listened to my hopes and dreams.  I thought they did that in order to concentrate; but maybe the truth is that they were looking back at their own tapestries and finding the right shades and hues to give color to my words.

There is no escaping the fact that our bodies will age; but I do believe we can choose to keep our minds and our spirits from allowing consistency to close our eyes to the wonders that continue to color our lives as we age.  When I grow up, I would like to be able to see with my heart.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

— Henry Ward Beecher

One of my favorite ways to think about life is as a tapestry that we weave from the time we are born until the time we die.  If I close my eyes and remember times in my own past, I can imagine how they would look if they were woven into my tapestry.  I see the pale pastels of my baby years when the harsh colors of the world were softened by the cocoon of my mother’s love and protection.  I see the crisp, clean colors of my first conscious view of the sky and the sun and the grass and the trees.  There are the childhood years, with colors bathed in the glow of sunlight and the vibrant energy of youth that skipped and ran through endless, carefree days.  Here and there, a smudge of disappointment, a blot of harsh awareness, a torn thread of broken dreams would mar the landscape; but always new threads would be pulled into place to repair any sadness or sorrow or hurt.

As the years have gone by and the tapestry has grown, there are scenes of joy and scenes of loss, scenes of sorrow and scenes of growth, scenes of young love and of love aged by life to a robust ripeness.  Always, from the first thread to this very moment, a deep blue river winds from day to day through years and years, connecting it all with love.  In my darkest days, I could walk to the river and rest on its bank and hear its music as I dipped my fingertips into its power and let it wash away all the cares of my day.  And each time that tears would dim the colors, the river would capture the rays of the sun and conjure a rainbow of sunlight and tears that would beckon to me and call me on to new life.

My children have danced by the river I’ve woven, and now it is theirs who weave dandelion yellow in specks on the grass by the river of love.  Still I return as my tapestry grows, and I’m thankful that only my body is aging; for still I can weave the most beautiful colors that seem to grow brighter with each passing day.  What a blessing each scene is, and what a delight to take time to give thanks for the gift of a new day to weave memories and dreams in the fabric of life.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

— Wayne Gretzky

I’ve been meaning to join the Procrastinators’ Society, but I keep putting it off.  That’s all right, though, because I heard that their meeting last week has been postponed until December.  Maybe this means that I will manage to make it through another summer without having that big Yard Sale I keep promising will clear out the unused items from the crawl space and the basement.

How many things are there in your own life that you tell yourself you will do and then find reasons not to follow through?  What are the things that hold you back?  Do you fear failure?  Do you fear success and the changes it might bring to your predictable routine?

When The Bucket List hit movie theaters several years ago, it caught my attention in ways beyond wanting to be entertained.  The concept was that a man (Jack Nicholson) who was dying of cancer had made a list of all the things he had put off doing during his life, and now he intended to do them all before he kicked the bucket.

I would never mean to imply that we should wholeheartedly pursue every idea that passes through our minds.  I am sure that we would all need our bucket list much sooner if we lived life at such a pace.  Still, there are things that live deep within each person that rattle at the door from time to time, begging to be liberated and shared with the world — things we keep locked away and avoid dealing with as we fill our lives with distractions.  I should say a word or two here about the idea that we may not follow the dream that is hidden, but we do spend our time on other pursuits that bring good things to the world.  There is no denying that this is true; and the pursuit of our hidden dream might consume the time we have used on other activities.

Often, I think, we spend our precious time doing the things that allow us to fit in with others — to receive their attention and recognition.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a part of a mutual goal or activity.  What worries me is that I believe that the things we hide away and push back from the door are those that make us unique.  Two years ago — maybe after I watched The Bucket List — I decided to pull together the files and folders I had accumulated over years of writing.  I wanted to own up to my family and friends that I had been writing poetry and finally to take the risk of sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings with the people I loved.  It occurred to me that the alternative would be to have my children find these pieces of me after I died, and I could no longer bear to think of them saying, “Hey, I didn’t know Mom wrote poetry, did you?”

I self-published some of my poems and made sure that each of my kids had a copy of the book.  They will not have to search the folders in my desk or on my computer to know who their Mom really was when she wasn’t cooking dinner or cheering their successes.  I will not tell you that it is easy to take the step that liberates your deepest and most precious dreams into a place where others can see them.  I will tell you that I don’t miss the rattling at the door of my soul; and I will also tell you that once the door has been unlocked, it is easier to access that place again and again.

The mark I leave on my world will be different now that I have taken the risk.  Fear of failure or judgment or even success should not prevent any of us from letting our unique and beautiful dreams be the mark we leave behind.  There is no need to worry about success or failure.  After all, you really do miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

“We know a great deal more about the causes of physical disease than we do about the causes of physical health.”

— M. Scott Peck

When I came across this quote, I knew I had to take some time to talk about my own experience in this area.  In June of 2008, I received the results of some routine blood tests ordered by my doctor at my yearly physical.  Most results were in the normal range, but my fasting blood sugar level was 189.  It was official — I had inherited my grandmother’s legacy of diabetes.  The possibility that this might occur had sat in the back of my mind; but I always had pushed it back as far as I could, so that I wouldn’t have to think about it.

During my adult years, I had given birth to five children, inherited a son through marriage, and adopted two older kids.  With each birth, my weight had inched up a bit; and after several years of high stress levels, I had begun to feel old.  An insidious pattern of increasing weight, unreasonable stress, and sedentary lifestyle had combined to bring me to my diagnosis.  I thought about my grandmother — overweight, insulin-dependent, and legally blind.  I thought about my 12-year-old granddaughter who lived with me and counted on me to care for her and see her through to adulthood.  I knew that I had to do something that would not only reduce my glucose level but that also would reverse the decline I had overlooked in my general health.

Where to begin was the huge question.  There’s a riddle that goes like this:  “How do you eat an elephant?”  The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time.”  It had taken a long time for my body to deteriorate to this point, and I figured it would take a long time to reverse my condition.  Patience would be essential, and I decided to be kind to myself while still being determined to make progress.  I began reading about Type II Diabetes, and discovered that treatment always included physical activity and good diet.  I decided to start moving.  I would walk twenty minutes each day, without any requirements of how far or how fast I would go.  I committed only to the time.  In the beginning, twenty minutes took me around the block one time — not much, but certainly more than I had been doing.   I would also clean up my eating habits.  Often, because I never felt hungry, I would skip breakfast and not eat anything until lunchtime.  Even then, I would grab something high in carbohydrates, feel sluggish all afternoon, and then eat a large meal at dinnertime.  My body was very confused by this method of refueling, but I really didn’t understand how confused it was.

I decided to eliminate refined sugars and white carbohydrates from my diet.  Everything I read seemed to agree that these things contributed to my problem.  I also decided to include whole grains, vegetables, and fruit in my meals — by prescription — and I would eat six times a day.  As I began settling into my new eating routine, I found myself actually experiencing hunger for the first time in years.  My body actually was burning the fuel I was feeding it!  I never had used artificial sweeteners, because I felt ill when I ingested them, so I continued to skip them as part of my diet.  I drank water — lots of it — and discovered how thirsty my body really had been.

By the time I returned five weeks later for another blood test, my glucose level had dropped 44 points.  After nine months, my levels were withing normal range.  The bonus is that my energy level is higher than it had been for ten years.  Without making weight loss a goal, I dropped 35 pounds; and two years later, I have maintained a 30-pound weight loss.  That initial trip around the block has grown to be nearly a mile long; and some days I stay out longer, just because I can.  My knees don’t ache the way they did when I was carrying so much weight, and I am once again able to get down on the floor to play with my grandchildren and be confident that I will be able to stand up when I am done.  I began taking my camera with me on my daily walks; and my new freedom of mobility has allowed me to discover beauty in my world that I had forgotten existed.

My focus now is completely different.  Last year, my diabetes diagnosis was removed.  No longer an I concerned with how to manage an illness.  Now I concentrate on wellness — on maintaining my health rather than putting out the fires of disease.  I have a renewed appreciation for the way my body works, and now I expect it to work if it is properly maintained.  My emotional and spiritual life has improved in sync with my physical health.  I find myself excited to wake up each day and grateful for the energy and vigor I need in order to enjoy whatever lies ahead.  Regardless of what might be affecting your health — whether you can reverse it or not — there is always something you can do to encourage health — something that goes beyond treating illness.  Whatever it might be for you, be kind.  Give yourself the gift of wellness.

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

— Buddha

At last it is here!  Summer!  At 7:28AM today, we mark the Summer Solstice.  When you get ready for bed tonight, if you feel as though you’ve had a long day, you will be right.  Today is the longest day of the year; and, as for me, I am laughing at the sky.

My morning walk today was filled with memories of the blowing snows of February, the first glimpses of green in March, the plentiful rains of April, and the early buds of May.  Now, it is summer, and the cloudless sky welcomed a fiery yellow sun that promises to send us scurrying for shade and sipping cold lemonade before the day is half over.  The bare-branched trees are covered in sheltering leaves.  The sprouts have become plants and the buds are now blooms that dazzle our eyes and intoxicate us with their color and aroma.

It is summer, and the pace of life will slow a bit as schools dismiss and our springtime preparation gives way to abundance.  Already the green tomatoes hang on each vine.  Berries are ripe and await picking, peas are bursting their pods, and the cucumber vines are making their way up the trellis and preparing to treat us to crisp summer salads.  Our pace slows in summer; but there is no problem with that, because we are treated to long days with many hours to complete our work and still enjoy the sun’s transformation of our world.  How remarkable it is that only three months ago the land was empty and brown!  How miraculous that each year, out of nothing, we awaken one day and find the gift of Summer!  How amazing it is that the cycles and seasons of the year treat us to the miracle of order and dependability!  It truly is perfect, and I am laughing at the sky!