Archive for June, 2010

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads, Grandfathers, and fathers-to-be.

I’m not one who is enamored of artificially constructed holidays.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are nice, I suppose; but I’ve always stubbornly held to the opinion that one day a year is not often enough to acknowledge all the things our parents have done for us.  Still, marking the day does serve the purpose of eliciting memories of times with Dad; so if you will indulge me, I will take a little trip down memory lane.

I can’t pinpoint my first awareness of my Dad, because he was always there for as long as I can remember.  Early memories are sensory ones — rough, whiskery kisses when I crawled into bed with him and mom at the start of the day; the fresh aroma of Aqua Velva when he tap-danced into the kitchen each morning; the smell of the obligatory 1950’s cocktail on his breath as he tucked me in and kissed me goodnight;  the reassuring sound of his snoring from his room down the hall if I awoke at night.

I remember him — in topcoat and fedora, pulling on huge rubber boots and sitting behind my little sister as they rode the sled down the snowy hill in winter; standing shining and white on the beach in summer, sporting his two-tone golfer’s tan as he joined us in jumping the waves; in his spit-polished oxfords and freshly-ironed shirt, fussing over the knot in his necktie before leaving for work in the morning.  I remember the way he danced Mom around the living room before they would leave for a dinner date — and the way he would do a couple of turns with each of his girls, just to make us feel a part of it all.  I remember how he would decide one day to just stop everything and pull out the camera.  “Sit right there…now look over here…no, don’t look right at me…look a little to the side.”  You would have thought he was doing a photo shoot with some celebrity; and I remember thinking how pretty I must be, although I would act embarrassed and roll my eyes.

I remember him walking down the aisle with my youngest sister, both of them sniffling and trying to ignore the tears that welled up in their eyes and trickled down their faces.  I remember his pride as he held his first grandson, and it never faded as the numbers grew.  I remember the sound of his voice on the telephone the day my son died and I had to call and share the awful news.

Dad is older now, and he still creates memories that I will undoubtedly share at some time in the future.  Perhaps I am not a big fan of Father’s Day because one day of treating fathers like super-heroes simply doesn’t capture the less-super things that we carry in our memories and in our hearts.  I don’t remember a single Father’s Day celebration, but I remember all the small events that have made up my Dad’s super life.

Three of my sons are now fathers, and I’m here today to tell them this:  stand tall, walk with love, and be assured of one thing — your kids are watching, and they will remember.

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.  One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.”

— Anne Morrow Lindbergh

As summer approaches, my thoughts always float away from my inland life and wash up on the beach.  Whether I manage to make the trip this year or not, I can close my eyes  and feel the cool, wet sand under my feet and smell the salty breeze as it blows my hair across my face.  When I was a child, I loved to dive through the waves as they rose to full height before they crashed on the shore.  I loved picking a spot at the edge of the water and planting my feet so that the ebb and flow of the tide would move the sand and bury my toes, leaving me with a feeling of being rooted on the shore and a part of the seascape.  The higher the tide, the better — the bigger the waves, the more exciting.

As the sea ebbs and flows, so do our lives.  In my younger years, I would walk for miles along the edge of the water, feeling the shifting surface of the cool sand call my muscles to flex and shift as well as my legs worked hard to maintain balance on a shore that seemed to move and change with each new wash of cool, salty water.  I could feel the power of the sea, and my awareness of the way my own energy worked to keep me upright would create for me a sense of kinship with the endless power of the vast ocean.  Each time the water would wash over my feet and challenge me to find my center, I would feel as though the power to stand were being transmitted by the very force that threatened to knock me down.

Now that my desire to challenge the surf has been tempered by my desire not to let my bravado override my good sense, I find myself seeking the ebb rather than the flow.  I search for the times when the tide will be low and wear my shoes for protection as I walk the shore and look for the gifts from the sea.  I am amazed every time at the beauty and variety of the shells and stones that are deposited on the shore by the incoming waves.  Their splendor calls us to remember that function is not the only thing in life that is important.  Why, I ask, should the animals who make these shells their homes wear such a stunning variety of shapes and colors?  A simple, gray clamshell would do for protection; yet we are treated to pinks and purples and iridescent rainbows of delight.

Is it any wonder that people who have lived only by the sea, with no contact with concrete and asphalt, would adorn themselves with these wonderful gifts from the sea?  Before I die, I will gather some of my ocean treasures, string myself a necklace, and wear it to the oceanside.  There, I will sit — empty and choiceless — and wait for the next gift the sea has to offer.  I will close my eyes, find my own place in the vastness once again, and carry home another memory of my own kinship with the infinite universe.

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”
— Kahlil Gibran

Ah, love!  Is there another four-letter word that has received so much attention?  “All you need is love.”  “Love makes the world go ’round.”  “Love will keep us together.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  So much of being human revolves around loving and being loved.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all could take Gibran’s advice and spend each day loving?

I was thinking this morning about loving your neighbor as yourself.  I’ve always heard that as “be kind to people;” but today I wondered whether we need to take this admonishment just a step further.  If I love others in the same way I love myself, should I be working first on the way I love me?  How can I have compassion for you if I have none for myself?  How can I forgive another person if there are things in me that I consider unforgivable?  Do I limit the love I bring to the world in the same way I limit my own acceptance of myself?

This adds a whole new dimension to the debate between those who say we must first love ourselves in order to love someone else and those who say we should set ourselves aside and put others ahead of our own needs.  I am thinking about times when anger has come between me and another person — thinking about the way that the path to any other kind of relating was always blocked by the obstacle that sat between us.  What happens when I hold onto negative feelings about myself?  How can I ever venture beyond them to love you?  How can I allow any love you send my way to find its way past the roadblocks I place in my own way?

Forgiveness, compassion, and love are the things I want to bring to my world.  I want to wake at dawn, knowing that my heart has wings and that it will soar through the day leaving good things wherever it goes.  Perhaps we should begin each day offering ourselves forgiveness, feeling compassion for the times when we have not been the people we would strive to be, and love who we are — including our flaws — so that we may honestly do the same for our neighbor.

The stillness of yesterday finally became the shadow of dusk and then the dark of night.  Such quiet days only come our way on rare occasions, and they leave us suspended through the dark hours, wondering what the new day will bring.  Indian philosopher, Kabir, once said,

“Student, tell me, what is God?”

“He is the breath inside the breath.”

I thought of Kabir’s words as I experienced the feeling of being suspended in a moment that lasted for hours.  I thought about breathing and the way that we exhale without having to think about the next breath.  Our lungs simply fill once again, each time we empty them.  I had the feeling that the day of stillness might exist between the exhale and the inhale — in the place of stillness that makes us aware of God and aware that he will provide the next breath we need to sustain us.

Today, when the sun rose, we were treated to a beautiful, golden sky.  The sun that burst over the horizon seemed ten times brighter than usual, and it danced across the dew-soaked grass, bounced from puddle to puddle, and painted the whole world in vibrant greens and blues and yellows.  Here and there, flowers burst with patches of red and purple and blue.  The birds resumed their daybreak flights, no longer grounded due to lack of visibility.

I stopped for a moment and took it all in; and my heart was filled with joy as the universe once again took a deep breath and came to life.

“If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind!  The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.”

— Chuang Tzu

We breathe without thinking about it.  Inhale, exhale — thousands of times each day.  For just a moment, let’s pay attention to our breath and take in a nice deep breath and just hold it for ten seconds before letting it go.  How did that feel — that space between breaths?

I awoke this morning to the sound of the alarm clock.  For me this is unusual, since my inner clock usually wakes me five minutes ahead of the annoying beeps.  When I opened my eyes, my first thought was that the clock must be wrong.  The dull, low light that found its way around the window shade looked more like dusk than morning.  The world outside appeared in grayscale, clouds hanging so thick and so heavily that I had to wonder whether the sun was planning to rise today.  As we set out on our walk, the stillness hung all around us.  Even the birds remained hidden in the branches this morning, and an occasional chirp was the only sign that they had not disappeared completely.  I reached up and felt my ears to see whether someone had put earmuffs on them while I slept; but there was no need for earmuffs to muffle the sound of silence.

I thought about breathing and about paying attention to the space between the breaths, and I had to wonder whether the universe had frozen in that moment and stretched it out along the space-time continuum so that our clocks were out of sync.  And there I walked, the only animate being still affected by time — moving against the background of a freeze-frame of the morning.  How still the heart becomes in the space between breaths!  How silently the soul awaits the voice of the universe in the stillness of a morning frozen in time.

A couple of weeks ago, as I walked past my kitchen window on my way to cook breakfast, a flash of iridescent green caught my eye.  Oh, my goodness!  A hummingbird!  Although they do nest in the area, it had been years since I had seen one in my own yard.  I began to watch for him, and several days later saw him hovering over the raspberry patch.  I decided it was time to find a place for a feeder and encourage him to spend time where I could watch his antics.  A friend who heard my story provided a feeder that had been lost in the recesses of her storage closet, and I stuck a wrought iron trellis in the center of the berry patch and hung the feeder from one of its decorative loops.

Either Mr. Hummingbird and I are on different schedules, or he has no desire to dine at my feeding station.  One website suggested hanging red ribbons around the feeder, since hummingbirds are attracted to the color red.  I added ribbons to my trellis, and made it look festive, but still no hummingbird.  After a week, I considered taking it down and simply accepting that my little friend had been passing through but had found a better place for nourishment.  Days passed, and my need to remove the feeder didn’t have nearly the same sense of urgency I had felt when I was anticipating daily visits from my little green friend.  My disappointment turned to resignation, and I really didn’t think about the feeder until Sunday morning.

I had gone to the garden to pick peas; and as I stood in the early morning sunshine, some movement near the feeder caught my eye.  Could it be?  I turned slowly to look, not wanting to ruffle the breeze and betray my presence, and there I saw them — two goldfinches, perched awkwardly on the edge of the hummingbird feeder and tentatively sipping its nectar.  ‘They must be teenagers,’ I thought.  ‘Their mother sends them out to have some seeds for breakfast, and they end up at the soda fountain!’

I stood still as a statue — or maybe a garden gnome — and took in their bright yellow beauty until they had their fill and flew away.  I had been expecting hummingbirds, but instead I got goldfinches.  Each is beautiful in his own unique way.  Once again I realize that life never fails to surprise us.  We have expectations that do not always come to fruition, and sometimes we feel disappointed that the outcome is not what we had planned or hoped or dreamed.  My yellow-feathered finch friends reminded me not to let disappointment block my view of the surprising things that do come my way.  There is more to life than hummingbirds.  I know, because I have seen a goldfinch.

Sorrow

Unruffled and dry,

My life was a desert

Of sands, golden brown

That lay undisturbed

By footfall or caravan.

Soft rains would fall

And turning to mist

Return to the air

Never touching the land.

*

Thunderheads gathered

And lightning came flashing,

And crashing; the boom

Of eternal destruction

Came spinning, its

Funnel clouds, digging,

And tearing and scarring,

Carved furrows and sorrows

That wore at my soul.

*

Lying alone,

In ruin, exposed,

I grieved for the

Glistening

Untouched beauty

That once had

Defined me –

And now, filled with scars,

Turned my face from the mirror.

*

Joy fell like summer rain,

Cooling and healing.

Filling the furrows

Refreshing my spirit

And all of my scars

Became life-giving

Streams, that flowed with

Forgiveness.  Drink deep,

Grieve no more.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

I have to admit that I treasure the parts of my day when my family are at school and work and the house is my own.  Unless one of my meandering kids stops by between work and school, my computer is the only electronic device that stays active until the evening hours.  I sometimes brag about my silent environment; and after a period of adjustment, I find it a peaceful and serene place to exist.

Mark and I set out for an early morning walk today, enjoying the morning sun and the singing of the birds while most of the world still slept.  We came home an hour later to a dark, quiet house.  A power outage had shut down everything electrical for more than a mile in any direction.  There was no oatmeal for breakfast today, no fresh coffee, no humming refrigerator guaranteeing that our food would be fresh and cold.  During the three hours that we were without electrical power, silence was redefined.

The house was still beyond the stillness that I enjoy under ordinary circumstances.  There were no emails to answer.  There was no TV news.  There was no radio or CD player emitting music.  We found ourselves on a quiet island without distraction; and our uninterrupted conversation ventured to levels we don’t often reach when the electronic world intrudes.  I thought of the times when we would take  to the woods with our tents and have electronic-free weekends with the kids.  I thought about the way the pace of life slowed when we were challenged to complete everyday tasks without the devices that shorten them.  I thought of the lessons we learned about following a process slowly from start to finish, and about the good feeling of being reminded that we could achieve success in a slower and less assisted way.

Our thought process is no different.  A morning without the background whirring, without the LED lights flashing, let our thoughts flow without intrusion.  It is good to experience true silence and to be able to hear your thoughts and dreams from start to finish.  I’m thinking that it would be good for our souls to manufacture times of this redefined silence.  It is surprising how renewing a power outage can be.

Gentle

Walking on air,

I enter your sphere.

Cupping my hand,

I scoop you up;

And, nestled there,

Weightless,

You hover on

Gentleness.

Soft as a summer

Breeze.

Fanned by the wing

Of a butterfly,

Silently soaring

In strength.

In silence.

In gentleness.

Sweet as a whisper,

My heart croons

A lullaby,

Peaceful and soft,

As the silky white

Rose petals,

Fragrantly lining

My outstretched arms

Encircle your dreams

With gentleness.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

“Let there be nothing within thee that is not very beautiful and very gentle, and there will be nothing without thee that is not beautiful and softened by the spell of thy presence.”

— James Allen

Have you ever found a fallen robin’s egg on the ground and picked it up to examine its blue speckles?

Have you ever found the perfect seed head of a dandelion and plucked it with such care that not one seed broke free until you made a wish and blew?

Have you ever held a newly-hatched baby chick or a newborn kitten, cradled in your hands so that it felt weightless under your touch?

I remember, when my daughter was born, taking the hand of her two-year-old brother and showing him how to touch her.  “Gentle, gentle,” I chanted in a whisper as I showed him how to trail his fingers lightly across the silky baby hair that grew behind her ear.

When I think of times like these, the memories stir a place inside of me — a place called “gentle.”  Gentle is not just a touch, it is a way of being that allows us to express our presence in the world in such a peaceful way that we bring only love and light and healing to all we encounter.  I invite you to close your eyes and think of a time that stirred the gentle place inside of you.  Think of the way your touch responded — of the way your cupped hands made their contents feel weightless.  Do you feel just a bit lighter yourself as you return to the memory of that moment?  Hold onto the peace and lightness that is “gentle.”  Carry it with you today and lavish its gifts on all you meet.

May you walk in gentle peace; may you bring love and light and healing to all you meet; may your feet dance on air as you walk softly through your day.