Archive for 2010

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”

— Kahlil Gibran

As Christmas approaches and our thoughts turn to past years of celebration, it is inevitable that we find ourselves thinking of the people we have loved who no longer are with us.  The joy of the holiday season and the joyful memories of the times we spent with our loved ones only magnifies our sense of loss as we realize again that they will not be here to celebrate again.  For me, it is a beautiful image to think of them as rivers whose waters have reached the infinite ocean and once again have become one with their Origin.  It comforts me to know, as my own current flows through this world, that one day I will join them in a place with no endings.  There, we will celebrate in joy.

The Christmas before my son, Brett, would die, my children and I watched a wonderful television special — Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.  It told the story of young Emmet Otter and his mother — poor otters who loved each other dearly and wanted to see the dreams of those they loved come true.  In this Muppet-style version of The Gift of the Magi, my sons were treated to a tale woven of love and generosity and the joy of selfless giving.  It has remained a favorite for more than thirty years; and now I share it with my grandchildren as I remember a little boy with a heart the size of the great ocean where he now celebrates Christmas as he waits for his mother’s river to reach the place he already has found.

If you are missing someone this Christmas, I wish your heart healing.  I wish you the love of those who still surround you and the courage to see beyond the empty seat at your table to the great and infinite ocean where ultimately we all will float in peaceful fulfillment of our existence.  I bring you Emmet Otter’s version of “When the River Meets the Sea.”  If if makes you cry, as it always does for me, I wish for you the transformation of your tears to joyful ones.  May your wonderful memories of Christmases past far overshadow your sadness.  May your river flow peacefully until the time when we all meet again in the almighty sea.



“Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse.  All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night.  Dawn and resurrection are synonymous.  The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.”

— Victor Hugo

And people, like nations, also have their dark times.  What matters is that the faithful Light returns to dispel the darkness.

I nearly decided that sleep was more important; but at the last minute I decided that I couldn’t wait another four-hundred years to see a total eclipse of the moon at Solstice.  Being a practical sort of person — the kind who needs to function during daylight hours — I decided that a 3:15AM alarm was in order, and I tucked myself into bed.  Being the sort of person who could tell you, blindfolded, that the moon is full — just by the wild energy it brings to the world — I tossed and turned and willed myself to sleep until the alarm clock rang and liberated me from my bed.  I threw on my sweats, right over my nightgown, and slipped on my unlaced sneakers.  Out I ventured into the still, cold night whispering, “okay…where are you?” There in the western sky hung the moon — the Long Night’s Moon of December, named for the season when nights are long and for its long trip across the sky as the sun hangs low and allows more time above the horizon for the moon.

The red-orange glow of the eclipsed moon soft-lit the sky.  The daytime clouds that had threatened to block the spectacle had parted like the curtain at the start of a play; and at center stage sat the silent moon, glowing valiantly behind the earth’s shadow.  The stars seemed to shine brighter than usual in an attempt to pick up her slack.  Even our busy street lay silent in that time between late night and early morning; and I let my eyes open my ears to the music of the night.  The deep hum of the shadowed moon provided the background, and the twinkling stars danced the melody of a song only heard once in four-hundred years; and I was thankful that I had the chance to watch and listen and join in the dance.  Only when the cold wind called me back to awareness did I leave my spot among the stars and take my cold body back to the warmth of my bed.

There I dreamed of the times when my soul had lay hidden in the shadows.  I dreamed of the people who, like the stars, had danced their dance of light around me and reassured me that the darkness never lasts.  The wild energy that earlier had held me captive and restless now subsided at the close of the dance and allowed me the bliss of sleep, punctuated with dreams of Light.  Before I knew it, the alarm clock rang again.  This time it called me out of my dreams and into the beginning of a new day.  I ran outside and looked to the sky.  Moving toward the western horizon, the Long Night’s Moon shone brightly, its time in the shadows ended by the return of the Light.

** My thanks to Darin Mazepa for the beautiful shot of the lunar eclipse.

“I have found that if you love life, life with love you back.”

— Arthur Rubinstein

What’s love got to do with it?

Last week, when I could no longer procrastinate and really needed to get serious about preparing for Christmas, I found myself in a bit of a funk.  It was time to put up the Christmas tree and hang the decorations, but all my children are grown now and what used to be an exciting group effort has become a more solitary task.  My sweetheart is handy to reach the high places, but somehow he doesn’t bring the same suspense and adventure to hanging ornaments that I recall from the years of ten-year-olds perched on one toe at the edge of a chair.  Maybe we would just skip the tree this year.  After all, I’ve been puppy sitting for my daughter’s little cocker spaniel — the one who loves to chew anything he can reach.  I just couldn’t imagine spending a couple of weeks rescuing him from his need to eat Christmas balls.

I remember years of playing Santa when we would host our Christmas Eve open house and then send the kids scurrying off to bed after hanging their stockings at 10:00 PM.  With cleanup to be done and Christmas morning muffins to be baked, Mr. and Mrs. Claus would begin placing gifts under the tree close to midnight.  We would pull out a small bottle of champagne, sit in the silence after our work was done,  and toast each other as Christmas Eve became Christmas morning — knowing that it might be our only chance to share a quiet Christmas moment.  We would head off to bed, placing bets on which kid would be the one to awaken at 5:oo and shout, “Santa’s been here!”

After so many years of seeing Christmas morning through the eyes of our children, we now find ourselves surrounded by the silence we craved during those busy years.  There will be no need to play Santa this year.  He will be visiting the homes our children have made and delivering his magic to the next generation.  We still will gather on Christmas Eve, but the term, “open house,” will more accurately describe the event as each of the kids stops by with their family to share in our tradition before moving on to other obligations.  We will clean up in silence and maybe stay up late, knowing that we can sleep as long as we’d like the next morning.

We will have all the alone time we could wish for this Christmas.  We have moved our extended family celebration to the Sunday after Christmas and given our children the gift of time to build their own traditions as they provide Christmas magic for their own kids.  Although it felt like the right thing to do, part of me was longing last week for some of the hubbub of times past.

Sometimes you just need to stop waiting for life to deliver what you want.  Sometimes you just need to love life first and trust that life will love you back.  I took a deep breath, made my decision, and set up the Christmas tree.  I discovered that it fit quite nicely on a table that also would be large enough to hold the gifts we place under it.  Now puppy and tree both will be safe, and my living room looks quite pretty in the evening when only the strings of light on the tree and around the windows bring a glow to the house.  Santa has been working at filling gift bags with small gifts from Grandma and Grandpa — the little items we remember our own children loving when they found them in their stockings on Christmas morning.  All of our local kids and their families have confirmed for our Sunday celebration, and the  Atlanta gang will join us via webcam.  We will eat too much and laugh just enough.  We will love Sunday as though it is Christmas day.  And I just know that Sunday will love us back.

“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done.  God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.”

— G. M. Trevelvan

Young children are generous.  It is their nature.  When they see the tears of another, their hearts reach out to help and soothe.  It is not until they have observed the adults around them that they learn to be selective in loving.  As adults, we seem to think it is our duty to educate the children in the ways of the world and see that they learn to discriminate when making the decision to love.  Not one of us can change the entire world, but each of us carries within us the small child whose voice cries out, “do something!”  We silence the voice because we think that the small things we are able to do are inadequate and really won’t make a difference to anyone.

I close my eyes and picture the block where I live.  I visualize each person who inhabits each home and each business.  There are twenty-four of us, and we all live together in our small town of 3,000 people.  Just suppose that each of the twenty-four people on my block reached out today in kindness to just one other person in our community.  Suppose that each person touched by the kindness of another becomes motivated to do the same.  Within seven days, every person in my town would have been touched by kindness and passed it on to another person.  Imagine how this sort of giving could alter the way we see each other.  Imagine the impact of making this a way of life.  At the end of seven days, if each of us passed on another act of kindness, we could infect the next small town in only one beat of our collective heart.  Children know these things; and the child who lives at the center of you is crying out and reminding you that you know them, too.  Who wants to be responsible for silencing the dream of the child who sees all things as possible?

In five days it will be Christmas Eve.  This is the season when we are called to seeing the need around us and doing what we can to meet it.  Let’s open our hearts to the wonder of the days that lead to the miracle of Love.  Hold a door for someone whose hands are full.  Give your seat to an elderly person and be thankful you have strong legs to stand on.  We all know the story of the arrival in Bethlehem of a young mother-to-be.  We all like to think that we might have been the one who would have relinquished a room at the inn for her comfort.  I close my eyes once again and try to see with the untarnished vision of the child who lives in my heart.  I look back to that journey to Bethlehem and wonder how many people along the way failed the young woman before the innkeeper turned her away.

Let’s not wait for five more days to pass.  Let’s begin now to recognize that each of us is on a journey to some destination.  Let’s spread kindness to those who share the road with us.  Let’s not be discouraged by thinking that we, alone, cannot change the world.  Let’s plant seeds of kindness in the places we travel and trust that they will continue to grow after we have moved on.  Let’s replace our logic with love and lead with our hearts.

As Madeleine L’Engle reminds us in her poem, “After Annunciation,”

“This is the irrational season

When love blooms bright and wild.

Had Mary been filled with reason

There’d have been no room for the child.”

Amid all the work and preparation this week, be sure to leave room for the child.

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

— William Butler Yeats

Here lies the eternal question.  How do we know where we are going?  Do we wait for Divine Guidance to push us along, or do we begin to move and trust that our efforts will be rewarded with arrows that point us in the right direction?  I am not here today to offer a definitive answer.  Rather, I am grateful to these words by Yeats that lead me, once again, to consider the questions.  So many of our opinions are formed by the things we observe in the world around us.  Physics teaches us that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  I suppose that would be a vote in favor of making the iron hot by striking.  If we already are in motion, that energy can be used to take us toward our goal.  On the other hand, suppose our progress toward our goal requires that we sit in silence today and reflect on our past journey?

An object in motion tends to stay in motion.  When does the motion begin?  Is it something that occurs on the day we are born, or is it an ongoing sort of prodding that takes place from day to day and year to year as we move through life?  Again, there is no answer.

What is constant, though, is that we are meant to strike the iron — whether it is heated before the hammer falls or whether the friction of the hammer’s blows adds energy that makes the iron pliable.  We are here to bring our own creative contributions to the world we inhabit.  If we are created in the image of the Creator, then we will be powerless to resist the urge to create.  Each of us must ask our own questions about inspiration and creation; about potential and intention.  Whether we forge ahead boldly without knowing where the path will lead or sit silently and listen for direction, ultimately we will be who we were created to be.

When the iron is hot, strike — regardless of how it has reached the point of being transformed.

“Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little thing in which smiles and kindnesses and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort.”

— Humphrey Davy

The Christmas Countdown has begun.  One week from today, it will be Christmas Eve.  As I sit down to write, an old TV commercial runs through my mind — the one where the woman goes into the kitchen and whips up a batch of Rice Krispies Treats.  She effortlessly puts only three ingredients in a bowl, mixes them, presses them into a pan and cuts them.  Then, after loading them on a serving plate, she intentionally messes her hair and dusts her face with flour.  With a sigh that implies she has toiled for hours, she then carries the plate to her adoring family.  She wants them to understand the huge sacrifice of time and energy that has gone into the preparation of their favorite snack.  What is it about us that this ad hopes to access?  Why is it that we think others need to see us as making huge sacrifices so that we can earn their appreciation?

The holiday season provides the perfect setting for us to fall into this trap.  Everywhere we look or listen, there are people showing us the latest, newest, most-improved, most-impressive gift suggestions.  When we deliver these big-ticket items, we are sure to win the love and adoration of the people who are dear to us.  When we don’t deliver, they imply, our loved ones will know that we really do not care enough to give them the best.  This week has been a busy one; and as  I’ve prepared packages for mailing to my out-of-town family, it has been difficult not to throw money at the problem rather than finding creative ways to show each person that I know who they are and I remember the little things that make them feel special.  It is important that four-year-old Oskar receives the blue mini-flashlight, because blue is his favorite color.  It is important that little Gus’s finger puppet is a turtle, because he just loves turtles of all shapes and sizes.  It is important that instead of styrofoam peanuts, the edges of the package are padded with single-serving cereal boxes — a treat they boys associate with Grandma and Grandpa and the time they spend visiting us.  They will, no doubt, enjoy their gifts; but part of the enjoyment will be the wrapping.  They will be wrapped in loving memories that remind them of the hugs and kisses we share when we are together.

As we prepare for our celebrations, let’s remember to celebrate the people we love.  Let’s not be so caught up in delivering the goods that we forget to share the small things that show each of our loved ones that we not only remember them, but we truly see who they are.  I will make the shrimp balls that Emily loves.  I will be sure that Dan has his Mexican dip before dinner.  We will mix a batch of Great-Grandma’s party punch and celebrate the familiar taste of Christmases past when my own children were the little ones.  We will remember to call the older folks and include them in our celebration.

We will make traditions.  Each year I make melt and pour soap for the little ones — round white ponds with a rubber ducky swimming in the center.  The Dollar Tree provides “magic towel” washcloths that come as dehydrated discs and expand when they hit the water.  “Grandma always gives us soap,” the kids say, and they enjoy the feeling that there is something they can rely on from me.  Even my sophisticated, almost-fifteen granddaughter has put in her special request for just the right rubber duck.

Let’s leave behind the need to make everything seem like a sacrifice this year.  If you want to make Krispie Treats, let the kids help.  Teach them that doing things for the people you love is easy — because of the love that motivates you.  Let’s focus on the things that matter — love, kindness, and traditions that say to each unique individual, “I see you, and you are important to me.”  Let’s preserve our hearts this Christmas.

“One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are, when you don’t come home at night.”

— Margaret Mead

In the end, maybe all of family, all of friendship comes down to this.  We need someone to care that we exist.  We need someone to affirm for us that we matter.  As chief cook and bottle washer to my family, I can confess to many days when I would complain that nobody noticed I was missing until their stomachs told them it was dinnertime and there was nothing ready to eat.  I grumbled and whined — just a little — but the truth is that having so many people whose lives were touched by my own was a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Even on the days when I felt just a little bit unappreciated, I was aware that it was a blessing to have such a problem.  It meant that there were people I could expect to love me.  It meant that there were people I could love in return.

I think now of the days when I was a single parent.  On weekends when my children would spend time with their father, I could feel pretty isolated and lonely.  If I decided to travel on those weekends, I would hit the road alone in my ancient car.  These were times without cell phones and texting; and those call boxes along the turnpike were something that caught my eye on the dark ride home.  Another newly-single friend and I formed a pact.  We would let each other know when we were leaving town so that someone would notice if we had not returned safely.  What a wonderful thing it was to have someone who would wonder where we were if something delayed our arrival. Even now, when the hungry hordes would certainly notice that dinner is late, I find myself using my cellphone to check in when I’m running late.  I’m thankful for those numbers to call that represent the people who love me and want to know where I am.

What a great gift it would be this Christmas to share your phone number with someone who lives alone and let them know that they could call you — day or night — just to say, “I made it home through the snowstorm,” or “I’ll be gone for a couple of days,” or “I just wanted to say hello and let you know that I’m okay.”  I can tell you from experience that when you live alone you can never have too much family.  You can never have too many people who think it matters that you arrive safely at home.  As you tuck yourself in tonight, take a moment to be thankful for the people who notice you and care for your safety.  And if you’re running late, please give me a call.  You matter.

Caroling

Do you see what I see?

Do the many strings of lights

And the glitzy party nights

Blind your eyes to other sights –

Sadness, hunger, human plight –

That the star that Christmas night

Came to shine away.

*

Do you hear what I hear?

Does your ringing Christmas song

Sound out loudly, sound out strong,

And mask the cries of those who long

To join the singing and belong –

Is this the song the angels sang?

No room at the Inn.

*

Do you know what I know?

Bring your gifts to those who need

Fill your heart with love, not greed

Plant the tiny, precious seed

Of brotherhood in word and deed

Dispel the darkness of the night

And warm the world with Christmas Light.

*

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

“Inward clam cannot be maintained unless physical strength is constantly and intelligently replenished.”

—  Buddha

It’s that time of the year when we become Santa’s elves, working tirelessly to do the special things that make wishes come true for others.  That sounds so poetic; but sometimes I think we would be more honest to replace the word, “tirelessly,” with “to exhaustion.”  Santa’s elves live in the land of cookies and cocoa, and their boss is well-known for his jolly approach to life and his loving, forgiving nature.  We are sent out through our own temp service to add an extra shift to our day, and the boss I become with holiday deadlines looming would not be seen dispensing cookies or daring to be jolly.  I really thought that the holiday preparations would become easier when my children were grown — I guess I forgot that I would be just a bit older and maybe have less endurance than I had in my younger years.

Someday — maybe next year — I will write reminders on my calendar and begin my holiday activities earlier in the Fall.  Someday — maybe next year — I will remember to read the reminders and even do something about them.  I tell myself the same things every year at this time.  Not one Christmas carol says, “’tis the season to be stressful,” yet it seems that we have added that component and made it a tradition.

All year long we talk about loving ourselves so that we can be better equipped to love others.  Here we are, in the season of Love and Peace; and rather than take care of ourselves as we make preparations, we allow the stress of deadlines to turn us into angry elves who could use a good night’s sleep.  How are you taking care of yourself this holiday season?  What sorts of things could you do that would remind you to slow down and enjoy the pleasure of giving from the heart rather than just from the wallet?

Beginning today, I will give myself the gift of an extra hour of sleep each night, trusting that my body will work more efficiently when it is healthy and well-rested.  I will complete my gift-wrapping with attention paid to each person’s wishes for something special.  Then I will sit down and do something special for myself and for them.  I will write a note to each person on my gift list and tell them how special they are to me.  I will tell them that giving them a gift is a way of saying these things that falls short.  I will ask them to accept their gifts as tokens of the real spirit of giving that comes to them from my heart.  I have a feeling that simply stating the real spirit of giving will make the work more joyful for me.  I will find the calm and peaceful part of myself that reflects the season of joy.

“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely as strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

— Chief Seattle

Have you ever had the good fortune to sit and watch a spider weave her web?  Her work is such a magnificent blend of focused weaving and walking so lightly that the work already done remains undisturbed.  As weavers of our own days on this planet, each of us has the daily opportunity to create something beautiful and connect it to the webs of others.  Together we weave the present, and add our strands to the web of life that has existed since the dawn of creation.  As parts of the infinite web, each of us is connected to the history of all of creation.  As our daily strand is added to the weaving, it does not change our history — it only adds to it and makes the web a bit stronger and a bit richer.  We are the weavers of the history of our world.  We need to be conscious of what it is that we weave into the web that has supported all of life since the beginning of time.

Think of that spider, creating beautiful patterns with her strands of web.  Think of the way she spins with a knowledge that creates something that is both useful and pleasing to the eye.  Now think of how lightly her legs move across that creation, so that they don’t disturb a single strand.  Watch the way that the sunrise web is covered in pearls of dew, and imagine the light step of the spider that doesn’t cause a single one to fall to the ground.  Now, close your own eyes.  See how your weaving adds to the tapestry.  See how your story is connected to the others that make up the web of life.  With your eyes closes, imagine how it is that you walk through the world — the one you have woven and the parts that are the weavings of others.  Are your footsteps light?  Can you move at sunrise without sending the dewdrops flying?

Let us walk at sunrise and take in the Light that keeps our steps light throughout the day.  Let us lighten our footsteps with love and lay down the burdens that will shake the web and threaten its existence.  We are strands in a beautiful web.  We are weavers, and we are the woven.  Let us walk in love.