Archive for September, 2010

“In your light I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,

where no one sees you.

— Rumi

So much has been going on in my life these days.  There have been discussions about giving up perfection in favor of doing our best.  There have been settling-in struggles for my learning disabled student that require hours of communication with the school as we figure out how to release her ability to learn.  There have been friends and dear family experiencing illness and hospitalization and the pain of recovery.  On top of it all, I spilled a 16-ounce glass of milk all over my desktop this morning.  I know you’re not supposed to cry over spilled milk, but for some reason that was the moment that brought tears to my eyes.  Life can be like that sometimes.  One thing follows another and another and another until we find ourselves suffering from a hangnail as though we were singled out for misery .

So many things have been going on in my life these days.  There have been discussions about letting your light shine through your imperfection and adding it to the many other imperfect lights that together can change the world.  There have been teachers responding to the needs of my child with compassion and understanding that encourages me to believe that we will make learning possible.  There have been prayers from family, from friends, and from strangers — healing energies that have wrapped those who suffer in the warmth of healing.   There has been recovery and there has been joy, all on the flip side of the mountain of worrisome things.  And I suppose, if I take a moment to be honest, that my desk really did need a clean-up.

It is so important to remember during the pile-ups that life sometimes brings that as quickly as we create the pile, there is a force far greater than our imperfection that lifts the burdens and replaces them with blessings.  There is Light, there is Love, there is Beauty; and it all dances in each of  us and only asks that we let it shine, let it flow, let it be seen, so that wherever we go the world might see the dancing.

Listen again to Rumi’s words.  Feel the delight as he celebrates the joy of being human — being Created.  Learn how to love with the Love that transcends human imperfection, leave beauty wherever you go.  Dance!

“There’s two possible outcomes:  if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.  If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.”

— Enrico Fermi

I’m sure that when he said this, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist was talking about his experiments; but couldn’t we apply this to any situation in our lives where we step beyond what we always have done and stretch our self-imposed boundaries far enough to experience something new?  This probably is connected to the whole idea of perfectionism and letting go of our need to be the best in order to participate in life.  How often have we seen something that attracts our interest and thought about trying it, only to retreat out of fear that we might not enjoy it or might look foolish as we break new ground?  Fermi tells us that if we venture out, and our hypothesis becomes the result, we have made a discovery.  He also tells us that if the result is contrary to the hypothesis, we have made a discovery.  If only we were able to remove our fear of failure or embarrassment from the equation and approach our life-experiments as though they were just that — experiments. There is a big difference between “I’ve failed” and “that didn’t work for me.”  If we can venture into the unknown feeling curious about whether a new experience will work for us rather than being worried about success or failure, we just might find that our boundaries will widen and we will learn a whole lot more about ourselves by testing our hypotheses.

At the moment, I am counting the days until the beginning of my Fall class in African Drumming.  It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago that I crammed my inhibition deep into the pockets of my jeans and stepped over a line I had drawn in my own sand and showed up for my first djembe class.  There I sat, in a semi-circle with about a dozen other people — some brand new like me, and all beginners — waiting to begin playing a 24-inch-tall, very loud-looking drum.  Now I grew up in a household where drums did not exist.  We made them, now and then, from empty oatmeal boxes, and our performances were usually greeted with rave reviews like, “you kids take those things outside if you want to make all that noise!”  Let’s just say that I felt a tiny bit inhibited about taking my hand and striking a drum — in front of a bunch of strangers.  Still, I’d loved listening to hand drumming for a long time.  And my inhibition was stuffed in my pocket.  So, in best scientific mode, I not only showed up — I participated.

“My name is Pam, and (reaching my hand out and placing it on the djembe in front of me) I have now touched a drum.”  I felt as though I were at some bizarre 12-Step meeting where I would be greeted with “Hi, Pam” followed by the confessions of other attendees.  Hypothesis:  Drumming looks like fun and I think I might like it.  The result confirmed the hypothesis!  I made a discovery about drumming; and, more importantly, I made a discovery about myself.  I like drumming and, furthermore, I can carry a beat!  Over the past year I have drummed in many different circles and met many new people who have enriched my life as we pursue our shared passion.  As I signed up for the Level 2 course this Fall, I felt amazed that only a year had gone by since the first time I touched a djembe.

Before I decided to stop worrying about what other people might think of me, I had countless opportunities to do exciting things.  Unless I knew that I would excel at something, I passed it by and stayed confined within the walls that enclosed my comfort zone.  Maybe it’s part of the aging process  – at least it was for me – but the day came when the comfort of those walls became uncomfortable, and I knew I needed to widen my world.  It wasn’t easy; but the more I’ve ventured beyond my confidence, the more my confidence has grown.  Drumming brings joy to my life, partly due to the simple joy of making rhythms with other people and enjoying the connection, and partly because it reminds me not to worry about success or failure when an opportunity presents itself.

I could just as easily be writing here that I signed up for a drumming class last Fall and it was not my cup of tea.  Either way, I would have discovered something about myself; and that is a whole lot better than spending my days wondering if I might be missing out on something that would lift me up.  I hope that if my discovery had been that drumming was not my cup of tea, I would be anticipating the start of another class — maybe Jewelry-Making.  Yes, that one definitely may be in my future.  I’ve heard it said we should love as though we’ve never been hurt, sing like no one’s listening, and dance as if nobody’s watching.  I will add that if you dance like I do, and people do watch and they laugh, then throw back your own head and laugh along with them — just keep on dancing and find your joy!

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know.  For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.”

— Georges Clemenceau

Yesterday, a friend pointed me to Brené Brown’s Perfect Protest. All this protesting of perfection got me thinking about the difference between doing your best and needing to be perfect.  Apparently Georges Clemenceau, French Prime Minister during World War I, was thinking about these things long before I was born; so I have to assume that this is the sort of struggle that people have faced as long as there have been people.

I won’t lie to you.  I’ve always envied people whose clothes not only match, but they actually coordinate in a way that looks “put together.”  I’ve always marveled at magazine-worthy homes with little knick knacks and stunning artwork and lush white carpet that, without any words spoken, reminds you to leave your shoes by the door.  As I enter my 41st year of actively parenting my wild brood, I look back on times when I snagged the still-wearable polo shirt of one of my sons from the Goodwill bag and made it my take-the-little-ones-to-the-playground garb.  I think of all the damage that flying frisbees and bouncing basketballs could have done to stunning artwork; and I revel in the realization I had after a rainy afternoon sent a horde of boys running for refuge in our house, that any new carpet I would choose should be the color of the dirt in my backyard when it is dry.  Then the muddy footprints would be less distracting.

I think of the Christmas when my mother’s gift to me was an Organizer Handbag — a marvelous invention with a place for everything and, theoretically, everything in its place.  Well, the organizer folks didn’t account for a compartment to carry a batting glove or a slightly-damp baseball.  The cell phone pouch actually worked pretty well for the hair elastics, neosporin, and bandaids that were necessary for summer trips to the outdoor basketball league.  My mother called me just after New Year’s Day:

“How do you like your new purse?’

“It’s great,” I answered, “but those little keyrings with the snaps keep getting lost in the bottom of the bag.”

“You’re supposed to snap them in.”

“I know, Mom…give it up.”

My mother has always been practically perfect in every way.  She was valedictorian of every study she ever pursued.  She has always been impeccably groomed and dressed.  She has lived life by the rules, and it has worked well for her.  Measuring her value by her achievements probably made up for the feeling of being “less” that grew out of being a child of divorce in the 1930’s in a rather unforgiving small town.  We have made it a point, as adults, to hug our mom in more than a perfunctory way — until she could feel that she deserved the warmth.  She will forever know the exact count of the push pins in the little box in her desk — second drawer down, left side, under the paper clips; and I will envy that as I rummage for the stapler because I can’t find a clip.  Mom has dementia now, and some of her perfection filters have been lost in the changes to her brain.  I’m kind of liking this unfiltered version of my mother — she has an air of freedom and happiness that no longer need to be organized and analyzed in order to be appreciated.

I hope that Clemenceau is right.  I hope that it is in having the courage to step beyond our known limits and experience failure that our lives become interesting.  I hope that the day never comes when I feel that I have “arrived,” and that I no longer need to step beyond the limits of today and strive to grow tomorrow.  Thomas Edison said that he hadn’t failed — he had discovered 10,000 ways that didn’t work.  How’s that for reaching beyond limitations and toward the unknown?  And how is Thomas Edison as an example of someone whose life was full and interesting?

So here’s to five extra teenagers showing up for dinner with my son, and two homemade pizzas thrown in the oven at the last minute as a complement to the roasted chicken with potatoes and gravy.  I’m sure the meal would have failed the planning test in Home Economics, but I like to think that it cooked up some memories for the guys who experienced its unique ambience.  Here’s to popcorn in the sofa cushions and every blanket and pillow in the house making a nest for the kids to watch a movie.  There are few messes that can’t be cleaned up; and I think that’s a good way to see our own less-than-perfect outcomes as we tentatively step over the boundaries that contain us and find new adventures that allow us to live life to the fullest.  Here’s to the perfect fingerprints that have graced my windows and the perfect mud that has been tracked through my house.  When the day comes that the path stays clean, I’m sure I will miss it.  Maybe then I will get a knick knack or two.

And I’m betting that my kids will have white carpets.

My desk -- cluttered to perfection(?), or filled with excitement like my mind?

Why am I doing this?  Check out Brené’s Blog!

“Tell me what you feel in your room when the full moon is shining in upon you and your lamp is dying out, and I will tell you how old you are, and I shall know if you are happy.”

— Henri Frederic Amiel

“Tell me what you feel.”  The question is not “do you feel anything, ” because it is assumed that the presence of the full moon on an otherwise dark night will make us feel.  In spite of all the facts that astronomers tell us about the moon, there are many who see her as something powerful and magical and dream-making.  I was intrigued by the idea that the way we feel when the moon is full might betray our age and state of mind, so I decided to explore that idea today.

As I begin to reflect on my relationship with the moon, I can picture late nights with my mother in a rocking chair feeding me.  We both are bathed in moonlight, and we rock dreamily, visible to one another as its light spills into the room.  As the breeze blows the curtains, the moonlight follows it; and it is hard to tell whether the cool caress belongs to one or the other.  Perhaps it is nights like these, when we lay in the warm safety of our mothers’ arms, that we first learn to think of the moon as a mother.  As we see the love reflected in our mothers’ sleepy eyes, we are bathed in the reflected sunlight that the moon cools and sends through the night.  Maybe it is at that moment that we first see the mirror in the sky as a source of reflected love — even if we don’t think about until many years later.

“Boys and girls, come out to play; the moon is shining as bright as day…”  In my childhood days, the moon became the permissive mother who called me outside to play much later than my usual bedtime.  She would send me running, barefoot in the dewy grass still warm with the last rays of the setting sun; and together we would chase fireflies until she found her place high in the sky and I drifted off to a dream-filled sleep.  There I would fly in the moonlit sky and touch the firefly stars as the benevolent moon mother smiled down on her child.

I first realized that I must be a lunatic — wild about the moon — in my teenage years.  As I began staying awake late enough to notice the connection, I realized that the hair on my arms always stood up straight when the moon was full.  I began to understand the origin of the werewolf legends and sometimes wondered if I might just grow fangs and need to start shaving.  These were the days of first kisses and holding hands, with moonlight to lend ambience to the first excitement of young love.  No longer was my mother’s face reflected in the moon.  Now it was the face of the one who, at the moment, held my heart.  I would look quickly away and find a star to wish on.  But when young love ended, the moon again reflected comfort and love.  Steady and loving, just like the mother she is, she would dry my tears and assure me that we both would shine on.

In the time when I became the mother and my own children were young, I found myself in the rocker with babes in my arms.  We would rock, bathed in moonlight, and I would dream of the days ahead and who they might become.  When they were sick, I would look to the moon for comfort and say a prayer that the hard times would soon pass.  When they became old enough to venture out on their own, I would sit with the moon and await their return.  When they were far away, I would look into the night sky and think about them looking at the same moon in some distant place; and I would feel our love connected and reflected by our Mother in the sky.

Now that the children are grown, the moon and I have a close bond.  I can feel her power lifting the hair on my arms several days before her full splendor lights the sky.  Like the tides in the oceans, I feel drawn to her depth and on many a moonlit night I let my dreams fly her way so that she will reflect them back to me in the form of soft light.  We are close now, the moon and I, because I have become the mother — the grandmother — who simply shines, steadily, for all those I love.  As the years have bestowed on me all the wonderful experiences of childhood and adulthood, through each changing year, I have stored up reflections that now shine back at the child I once was, at the young mother who nurtures her babies, at the mom who sits waiting for her children’s return.  I thank Mother Moon for teaching me how to hold the mirror and share the reflections — the gifts of a lifetime of living — with those who now gaze at the moon.

“I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.”

— William Faulkner

Perhaps it is the Fall that blows into town and stirs things up.  Perhaps it is the way that the wind and the birds seem to race one another across the sky as they search for warmth.  I’m pretty sure that we are supposed to see Spring as the season of rebirth; yet here I stand, on an early Fall day, feeling filled with potential and ready to burst.  I curl my toes and sink them deep into the earth and do my best to offset my impulse to take flight and join the v-shaped squadron of geese as they make their noisy way, blown by the winds of change.

Perhaps it is the way that the dying of Autumn paints such a colorful swath as it cools the leaves of summer and prepares them for their return to the earth that once held their seed.  Perhaps it is the way that they sing their crisp, rustling sound as I kick them with each step and send them flying one last time before they settle into their resting place.  I’m pretty sure that we are supposed to be sad when we see their life end; yet here I stand, on an early Fall day, and will the color to burst forth from the green that has served its purpose.  I dream of a landscape painted red and orange and smelling like apples decaying on the ground beneath the trees.  I dream of the orange that reminds me of spices to flavor the pumpkins that rest near the vines that have borne them through summer to their arrival in Fall.  My memories of summertime fade as the sounds and the colors and smells wrap their wonder around me.

Perhaps we are given the gift of Autumn to remind us that beauty is not always fresh or green or young.  As each fiery red maple leaf carries the memory of sweet sap in Springtime and vibrant young flowers and branches that creak with the stretching and growing and seeds that fall, twirling and drift toward the ground — so, too do we carry our lifetime of memories.  They color our years and they weave a bright pattern of life — of living — that cannot be woven of Springtime and Summer alone.  In the Autumn of life, we enjoy the familiar — the memories of childhood, of Springtime’s fresh flowers; of warm Summer days, filled with growth and production.  We paint their bright pictures with hands that have known how to tend the young shoots — how to harvest the bounty.  We relish the winter that lies in the distance, knowing that rest and reflection will lead us again to the bursting of seeds in the Spring.

Perhaps as we gather the years in our baskets and store up the memories that take time to grow, our Autumn becomes ever more vibrant and colorful.  What a gift to see all of the beauty in Fall, and to know that one day we will uncurl our toes and take flight.

I want to take some time today to ask you to pray for my little granddaughter, Cheyenne.  She is the little cutie on the left in this picture with her little sister, Harper, and one of their favorite grandmas.  Cheyenne is almost three-and-a-half.  She loves to dance and sing and slide and swing.  She gives the best hugs and kisses of any three-year-old I know.  And we love her dearly.

I first introduced you to my Favorite Cheyenne in All the World last February when she taught us all to Smile!

Now Cheyenne is back; and once again, she has something important to teach us.  As you learned in February, Cheyenne was born with some differences that take her, from time to time, to CHOP — The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — for checkups and treatment and surgery.  For the past two days, Chey has been a little less perky than usual.  She has cried with pain and pointed to her belly where the doctors have created a way for her body to eliminate her urine.  When this tough little cookie becomes listless and cries, it gets everyone’s attention — this is not like our girl, and it is hard to see her in pain.  A trip to CHOP yesterday showed the doctors that Cheyenne’s kidney is enlarged because her urine is collecting in her ureter.  She will go back for surgery on Monday or Wednesday.  Our family asks that you send prayers for Cheyenne’s kidney — she has only one, for a successful surgery, and for days of waiting that are not too painful.  It is so hard to watch a little one hurt.

I thank you for your healing prayers, but Cheyenne has come to teach us so much more.  Whenever I see this miraculous little girl, I see in her struggles and her joy and her sweet spirit every child in the world who hurts and suffers and overcomes adversity.  We are really quite fortunate.  Cheyenne lives only an hour away from one of the finest children’s hospitals in the country.  People bring their kids hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to be treated there.  The Ronald McDonald house across the street from CHOP provides comfortable lodging and delicious food for her family when she needs to stay for a while in the hospital.  Sterile medical supplies and special nutrients arrive at Cheyenne’s door.  A pump feeds her through the night as she sleeps and provides her with the nutrition she needs to grow and develop.  Her struggles are real; but when I see her needs met, I think of other children, too.

Suppose Cheyenne lived in a place where there is no hospital.  Suppose there were no supplies available to support her growth and life.  When you meet a child as special as my little granddaughter, it raises your awareness about children and illness and healing and hope.  The truth is that without all the blessings available to Cheyenne, she never would have survived.  Without her first surgery, on the day after her birth, she never would have come home from the hospital.  Without her special feeding routine, she would be malnourished and sick and probably not survive childhood.

So, please…when you pray for Cheyenne this week, open your hearts and your awareness and pray for the children whose parents have no hope that they will find life-sustaining treatment for their little ones.  Pray for the families who, just like us, have their breath taken away by each new crisis.  Pray for a time when we will all become human enough to see that every child has what s/he needs to be happy, safe, and healthy.

I leave you today with a favorite of mine — a poem by Ina Hughs, who says it far better than I ever could:

A PRAYER FOR THE CHILDREN
We pray for the Children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never “counted potatoes,”
who are born in places where we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories, who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
who never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and
whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children
who want to be carried and for those who must,
who we never give up on
and for those who don’t get a second chance.

For those we smother and . . .
for those who will grab the hand of anybody
kind enough to offer it.

Amen.

“The most sophisticated people I know — inside they are all children.”

— Jim Henson

Today would be the 74th birthday of Kermit the Frog’s alter ego, Jim Henson.  From the time the first Muppets landed on Sesame Street in the late 1960’s, through five years of the zany Muppet Show, and three feature-length movies, these lovable characters touched our inner children with zany fun, lots of laughter, and occasional moments of quiet thinking that taught those kids to feel for others.  We danced our cares away — down at Fraggle Rock.  We learned all about the burden of being divas from Miss Piggy.  And deep-thinking Kermit sympathized with us when he sang, “It not that easy being green.”

There was something magical about the way that Jim Henson touched all those parts of us — the ones that lie beneath our sophisticated exteriors.  We jumped and shouted along with Animal as he and the other Muppets sang “Christmas is coming…the goose is getting fat, HEY!”  We were spellbound by the touching story of Emmet Otter and his mother — a Muppet version of The Gift of the Magi. Whenever Emmet and his mother stand on the riverbank and sing, “When the River Meets the Sea,” I think of the way that Jim Henson’s gentle creativity flowed through our lives and our hearts.  He had only fifty-four years before his own river reached the “almighty sea,” but the volume and the sophisticated innocence of his work continues to delight generation after generation of children. Henson is quoted as saying, “When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world.  My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.” How many of us could hope to meet a life-goal like that in fifty-four years?

Jim Henson’s legacy lives on; and although his days with us flew by too fast, his Muppet pals will go on — as long as there is a sophisticated person whose inner child comes out to play and gives them life.  Remember what Kermit always says — “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!”  Take the time to love, to dream, to seek the connections that lie deep within us — in that place touched by Muppets whose creator knew how to grow up without leaving his innocence behind.  He is knocking, even now, on the door of your sophistication — can your inner child come out to play?


“In summer, the song sings itself.”

— William Carlos Williams

While we slept last night, Fall blew into town.  The solar-powered days of summer that sing their songs of growth and ripening now give way to the quiet rustle of falling leaves, the end of production, and the revealing of the seeds that will lie dormant for the winter and await the rebirth of Spring.  In Autumn we sing the whispering song of bird wings and breezes that stir the crisp air and stir our hearts as we look back on the bountiful days of summer and place in our hearts the gratitude for all the universe offers.

We gather the remnants of summertime from the vines and take in the harvest before the day comes when a cold night brings frost and shuts down their production.  As I take in the harvest and think of the hundreds of vegetables that have graced our table this year, I’m reminded that the year has offered more than vegetables for my growth and nourishment.  I harvest the memories of all of the people who have touched my life this year — for encouragement or for challenge — and the gratitude that swells in my heart is the same sort that grows from remembering the sweetness of the year’s first tomato — and its last.  Encouragement and challenge.  Both have caused me to grow, and for that I give thanks.

Welcome, Autumn!  I relish the chance to make my own music, accompanied by your color and the soft swishing of the leaves that scatter as I walk — to take in the brightness of red, orange and yellow before — like the birds — they go flying away.

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

How often do we let our dreams die the first time we face opposition or adversity?  Each of us can answer this question candidly, personally, and accurately if we just let our minds remember some of the disappointments and obstacles that have stopped us in our tracks.  Here is another question — one that is more difficult to answer, and one that we may not want to consider:  How often have we let our dreams die in the face of opposition or adversity when just one more try, one more gathering of our strength and resolve, might have allowed our dreams to become real?

So many people who have realized their dreams seem to deliver the same message on this subject.  Thomas Edison speaks of not failing, but finding 10,000 ways that don’t work.  Emerson cautions us that no matter what direction we choose, there will be people who want to discourage us from following a dream — he tells us that following through requires courage.  The great thinker, Einstein, reminds us that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.

People who are afraid to dream, who are rooted to present reality and feel powerless to change the status quo, will always encourage the dreamer to walk away from new ideas and remain — fearfully and unhappily, and sometimes resentfully — in a place that offers existence but lacks joy.  Our world needs dreamers — the sort of dreamers whose passion for Truth burns with a brightness that lights the dark corners and restores our hope.  We look for such dreamers and hope for their light.  We dream of the day when we will awaken to a world where joy is commonplace and sorrow is a passing moment rather than a way of life.

Who is to say that we are not the dreamers we are waiting for?  Each of us carries a Light within us that is part of who we were created to be.  We may feel powerless to light the whole world, and we may accept that it is futile to think that our tiny little light could make a difference.  Let’s look again at the previous statement, “EACH of us carries a Light.”  We are not alone in our human condition.  It is this sense of isolation that causes us to feel outnumbered and to see a single defeat as a final one.  I have a dream.  Dream with me for a moment.  Suppose that each of us who has a tiny little light that burns with our own Truth and passion and love for the world.  Suppose that each of us would push aside feelings of hopelessness and futility and share our own dream with one other person.  We might not light the whole world, but maybe we could touch our own flame to the candle of one other person and help him remember his own tiny light.

We must not feel defeated as we bring Light to the world one person at a time.  The process may be gradual, but the result will be phenomenal.