Archive for 2011

“We must begin to make what I call “conscious choices,” and to really recognize that we are the same. It’s from that place in my heart that I write my songs.”

— John Denver

Today is the last day of 2011, and I triple-dog dare you not to take stock of the year that is coming to an end.  It is only natural, when we reach an ending, to review all that has led to that moment; and although the end of a year is more a transition than a finality, I find myself wanting to close my eyes and replay the highlights of the past year.  My word of the year for 2011 has been transformation.  I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of it; but I do know that somewhere in 2011, I became aware that “change” simply was not a strong enough word to describe what I was feeling from day to day.  Change can come from making decisions to go left or right, forward or backward, from saying yes or no.  Change can be the catalyst for transformation; but when transformation takes place it is not only the path we take that changes, but the traveler herself.

In some quiet and subtle ways, I found myself involved in a sort of spiritual alchemy as I made my way through 2011; and I know that 2012 will offer continuing opportunities to be transformed.  Wondering where it all started, I looked back to my post on the first day of the year that now is ending.  On January 1, 2011, I wrote, “Wherever you find yourself, whatever challenges you might face, whatever goal you strive to attain, be sure to walk in love — to be Love.  We can change the world, really.”

Those were some mighty big words; and at the time I put them down on paper, I really had no idea how big they might be.  Doing my best to follow my own advice, I made the decision to change one thing about my daily routine.  I began to end my emails with the closing, “Love and Light.”  I didn’t just type it without thinking.  Each time I used those words, I truly intended them for the person I was writing to.  This small decision may be where the transformation began.  On the other hand, it might have begun years ago in some other small way that escapes my memory.  It really doesn’t matter when it began, but it does matter that my awareness has shifted.  And it matters tremendously that such a small intention could begin something as large as transformation.  We must make conscious choices if we want to transform ourselves and our world.  Today is the traditional day of review and of making resolutions for the new year that will begin tomorrow.

I thank you for a year of sharing with you pieces of my heart as it has grown and changed.  I would write these thoughts even if nobody ever read them, because this is what I do; but hearing that they touch something similar in a reader is a gift that encourages me to continue striving to become who I truly am.

As I stand transformed at the end of 2011, I ask myself this:  What conscious choice will I make for 2012 that will forever change what I bring to the world?

“Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.”

— Henri Matisse

Some of my best morning walks have been on days when the fog hangs thick in the air.  Walking into it makes me feel so alive as I actually feel the moisture in the air touch my face with each step; and without the ability to see beyond the end of my nose, I truly understand that my existence is independent of my surroundings.  Each step forward is an adventure, because I know that I will meet life nose-to-nose and without a chance to prepare for the encounter.  There is nothing like a thick fog to encourage me to use all of my senses to their full extent.  Imagine how intentionally we would live our lives if we treated each moment like a walk through the fog.
Fog walking leaves no room for assumptions.  We must treat each new moment as something unknown that lies all around us and needs to be explored.  We must listen closely for clues about what the fog might hold.  We must focus clearly to make out what lies ahead and identify the muted shapes that hover all around.    We must smell and taste and touch and explore in order to discover the truth about the world we encounter.
When the fog lifts, it is easy to navigate without thinking and to assume that we know what lies ahead.  Perhaps we miss the lesson of the fog when we assume that today’s world will be the same as the one we explored yesterday.  Not all fog is made of water droplets.  Some is composed of assumptions and some is made of inattention.  On days when the sky is clear, it is easy to forget to bring a light with us into our day.  I say that we should not wait for Mother Nature to remind us with a foggy morning to carry our light into the world.  On the clearest, brightest day, we still need to shine and look closely for the truth about our journey.  It is our purpose.  Illuminate the fog!
“They seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods.”
— Edith Wharton

Christmas is done.  The new year lies only days away; and in Pennsylvania, winter has made itself known as the ruler of the earth.  As the air has grown icy, we still have enjoyed some more mellow afternoons when we could shed our winter coats and get by with some layered sweaters and a lightweight jacket; but yesterday winter blew into town and stung us with the undeniable truth that it had come to stay.
I love the way that winter forces us indoors and encapsulates us in the warmth we create for ourselves.  It reminds me that my own being also is nourished and protected when I go inward and find the parts of myself that truly sustain me, even when the winds of life blow harsh and cold.  I love the winter because it increases my appreciation for the return of spring.
Each season of the year has its part in the balance of our world, and the same is true for our own walks through life.  Eternal Spring would leave us exhausted with all its energetic growth.  Eternal summer might send us hiding from its intensity and longing for a cool spot on a hot day.  Eternal autumn would leave us weary with the work of the harvest, no matter how much we enjoyed its abundance.
As winter enfolds me, I will love its icy embrace that sends me inward to the center of my dreams.  I will nestle in and pull around me the blanket of my own inner warmth and let the dreams stir and swirl and come to life; and when Spring returns, I will release those dreams and make them part of the renewal that will grow from the depths of winter’s retreat.  Somewhere in my own winter, I know I will discover a butterfly.
“The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent.”

— Sam Levenson

What a whirlwind week this has been!  Once each year, all of our children assemble with all of their children and we have the chance to be Grandma and Grandpa without limitations.  Unlike the times when we are called upon to babysit, this week with all the family together allows us to play with, indulge, and learn about the youngest generation and the way each of them fits into the family as an integral part of our group.

There is no doubt that we have been their toys, and it is true that every one of them knows how to operate us.  We have the idea that we are in command; and we do insist on safety and cooperation and basic kindness among them; but for one week each year, we let the ideas be theirs as we join in their adventures.  There is no need for batteries when children play with grandparents.  We draw pictures, play games, bake cookies, sing songs and provide an endless stream of food and drinks and snacks that adults could never consume without becoming ill.

This year we gave each little one a treasure box, each one painted in the child’s favorite color and each one crammed full of tiny treasures.  We proved the point that a small package with three tiny horses or plastic spiders can be just as exciting as a large toy run by batteries.  Within minutes, each spider had a name.  Each tiny frog became a character in an adventure as imaginations unfolded and brought the treasures to life.

We told them the stories of when we were kids and for a while returned to that space of childhood adventure and imagination.  It may be true that we are their toys and that we are played with and manipulated to fit their adventures; but if that is true, I have to wonder whether those little plastic spiders have as good a time as we do at this magical time of year.

I must go now.  I hear the sound of footed sleepers on little feet coming down the stairs.  It’s time to gear up my imagination and see what the day will bring.

“Holidays have no pity”

— Eugenio Montale

December is a time for togetherness, and when we gather with large groups of family and friends, togetherness can mean many things to many people.  The love we share with one another is magnified when we come together to celebrate, but the wounds we carry seem to tear wide open against the backdrop of the high expectations the holidays bring.

When the family portrait includes the harsh realities of being human, we may discover that the picture we paint when together is not the one we long to see.  Just as the joy and love are magnified when we come to celebrate, the blemishes that define the less than happy parts of our humanity are glaring and obvious in the midst of  the happiness where they stand out and don’t fit.

If you have had a holiday season where the celebration has been marred by broken dreams, broken relationships, illness, addiction, or some other challenge, know that you are not alone.  Loving does not make the challenges disappear, but it paves the way to healing.  I wish you the ability to forgive, with strength, the people you love who bring challenge to your holiday season.  I wish you the strength to love them in ways that will encourage them to heal.  In the dark night where you lie alone and worry about the challenges of others, I wish you the peaceful sleep that restores your own perspective.

Where there is life, there is always hope; and sometimes hope shows itself in very unlikely ways.  Any good doctor will tell you that before a wound can heal it must be opened and cleaned of the debris that keeps it infected.  If you have an open wound this holiday season, I wish you the strength and love to rinse it and clean it and allow it to heal.  May you wrap it in love, strength, and forgiveness.

“We can only appreciate the miracle of a sunrise if we have waited in the darkness”

— Unknown

Some people I know dread this time of the year — the time when the nights grow so long that we still work through the darkness at the end of the afternoon and then rise in darkness to prepare for the day.  In times before we lit our world with electricity, these long nights probably served the farmer well as he lived from sun to sun; and with no fields to tend, winter’s long nights were times for restorative sleep under warm blankets.  Now we rise according to the clock rather than according to the sun; and winter can seem like a bleak time of year, a time when our days are hemmed in by darkness.

What always amazes me at this season of the longest nights is the splendor of the sunrise.  December dawn screams, “hope!” to a dreary world.  With no leaves on the trees to shield its rays, the winter sun scorches everything it touches and lights the barren landscape with dazzling light.  Perhaps it is my own need for the light to return that causes me to see it this way, but there is something truly splendid about walking out with frosty breath making clouds before me and waiting in the darkest dark before dawn for the return of the sun.

Summer sunrises are red and orange and burn with the fuel of summer’s lush life.  Winter sunrises are pure and yellow-white, as though the pure Light of God were all that could burn in a world that has no warmth of its own and awaits the rebirth of Spring.  I must go now.  It will soon be time for the sun to burst over the horizon; and as I sit in the darkness, I long for the light.

“It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light.  If you cut me, I would shine.  But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees.  I bleed.”
—  Billy Collins
Merry Christmas!
When Billy Collins wrote his poem, “On Turning Ten,” he captured the moment when we all take that first step across the bridge from childhood to adulthood.  We all walk on sidewalks.  We all fall sometimes.  And we all bleed.  There is no escaping it — it is part of being alive and growing up.  Today is Christmas; and although my children and their children will not arrive until tomorrow for our family celebration, I sit here in the early morning and replay the memories of so many Christmases — Christmases when my children were small and Christmases when I was the child who went from bedroom to bedroom announcing, “Santa has come!”
There is a part of me, right in the center of my being, that still dances with excitement when I see the lighted windows and sit in the silent anticipation of some Christmas magic.  I remember dumping the contents of a Christmas stocking and unwrapping the tiny gifts inside.  We would borrow our father’s socks, and they would be stretched to their man-sized capacity with little trinkets and goodies that came straight from Santa’s workshop.  Always there would be a tangerine in the toe; and as I close my eyes at this very moment, I swear I can smell its fragrance as I peel away the skin and reveal a Christmas morning treat brought by Santa himself.
On Christmas morning, even when I am waiting until tomorrow to celebrate with gifts and food and the people I love, I am certain that beneath my own skin there is nothing but light.  It shines behind the blue of my eyes when I look in the mirror, and I think I see it leaking from the corners of my mouth as I taste that tangerine whose sweetness lives forever in my memories.
For just one day, let’s stay off the sidewalks.  Let’s play in the cool warmth of Christmas snow and cover our knees against the scrapes of adulthood.  Just for today I will dance outdoors in my snowsuit with light pouring from my eyes, and I will fall on my back and make a snow angel.  Then, when I arise and inspect my creation, I will look into its angelic form and sing, “Merry Christmas!”  For just one day, I will honor the light that is all that exists beneath my own skin, and I will see this day through the eyes of the child that still dwells deep within me.
Merry Christmas!

“We tend to get what we expect.”

— Norman Vincent Peale

Let the countdown begin.  Christmas morning is only twenty-four hours away.  For many, it is the happiest day of the year — a chance to share with family and friends and celebrate hope, joy, and newness together.  For just as many, it is a day of unfulfilled expectations.  Just as Christmas day magnifies our feelings of togetherness, it can seem to increase the emptiness for those who have no loved ones to join the celebration.  Today’s countdown can be one of anticipation, or it can be one of dread; but one thing is certain, we are likely to get what we expect for Christmas.

As the countdown clock ticks loudly and we awaken to its insistent sound, what is it that you will expect when it arrives at zero?  Let each rhythmic tick accompany thoughts of what you will bring to Christmas tomorrow, not what you will take away from the day.  Let the richness of the life you own right now be your gift to the world on Christmas.  Expect that your gifts are needed by those you meet and by you, yourself.  Expect a day of shining newness, whether you celebrate with others or celebrate alone.  As on any other day, on Christmas we will get what we expect.  I wish you high expectations of the shining light that is your gift to Christmas.

“A good laugh is sunshine in the house.”

— William Makepeace Thackeray

Today I will wrap it all up.  The groceries are bought and awaiting preparation.  The last gift is made and soon will be hidden under colorful paper and tied with a bow.  My sweetheart is home, having saved enough vacation time to spend the holidays with our family, and today is the last day of school before the coveted winter break.  It always amazes me when the preparations fall into place, and this year they are done ahead of schedule.  As  I walk through the silent house this morning, I realize that my favorite part of Christmas is not yet here.  The best gift I receive each year is the laughter we share when all my children and their children come together at one time in the same place.

I won’t deny that our annual population explosion can sometimes seem to fill our house to capacity.  Even the stone walls seem to groan and stretch a little with the addition of the seven adults and six children we call our own.  We are a noisy bunch, for sure, but the noise I love most is the laughter.  Through the years the voices have grown more mature and some have dropped an octave or two, but I have to say that my children are great laughers.  It will start in the morning as they greet each other with hugs and jibes and take inventory of who has changed and how their children have grown.  It will go on as we exchange gifts and reminisce about the memorable times in their childhoods — “open the wallet one next, Mom…you will be so surprised!”

We will eat and drink and play and laugh; and chances are good that by the time we finish our traditional round of board games, the laughing muscles in my belly will feel as though I’ve done a hundred crunches.  Whatever else you plan to do this Christmas, be sure to spend some time taking in the laughter.  It will warm your heart and fuel your joy for the long winter that lies ahead.  Of all the gifts I will wrap and receive this year, I can’t wait to open the one filled with laughter.

Migration

Like specks of black pepper

Spilled across the morning clouds,

The silhouettes of summer,

Disappearing birds,

Are blown by the breath

Of Winter.

His frosty fingers

Sweep them away

Until the sky  is clear and clean

And icy white.

Like specks of spilled black pepper

The birds of summer

Are banished from the realm

Of Winter.

He waves his scepter and cries,

Begone!

Leaving only in our hearts

The memory of their song

To warm us.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2011