Archive for July, 2011

“How could drops of water know themselves to be a river?  Yet the river flows on.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We have heard of the Butterfly Effect — the concept that if a butterfly in Africa moves its wings, sooner or later the air it disturbs will transmit that energy through time and space and stir the grass in South America.  Each thing we do, each choice we make, each word we speak, sends out ripples of energy that stir the lives of others.  Each piece of trash that we send to the landfill to decay alters the earth in a way that is too tiny to be measured; but sooner or later its effect will combine with millions of others and come to light.  Every decision we make sends out a ripple of energy that moves the universe in which we live.  We should be very careful to create only good things as we live each day.

There is another way in which we contribute to the changing of our world.  Although the action and reaction of the butterfly effect shows us how our choices might impact and change something we can’t even imagine, the river shows us how joining forces with others can turn something as small and seemingly insignificant as a drop of water into a force to be reckoned with.  When we align ourselves energetically with the similar energies of other like-minded people, we find that our collective voice rings out in a way that our individual ones could not achieve.  I think of the raging river, flowing with thunderous force over the land and carving out valleys and canyons with its persistent motion — carrying with it bits of each place it touches and depositing them in faraway lands.  There is such power in a river, yet it really is nothing more than a gazillion drops of water that come together and create something far greater that any one of them could ever be.  A single drop of rain, falling from the sky and landing on a rock would never make a dent; but when it joins with others and becomes a part of the river’s current, it can be a part of changing the shape of the rock forever.

We must be careful when we flap our wings and consider the impact that our ripple might have on all the people it touches as it moves outward.  We must also be careful about lending our power to a force whose magnitude is measured in the sum total of the many small contributors who decide to join in the flow.  We must remember that even when we feel insignificant in our ability to impact the world, we are connected to all other things in a powerful way that calls us to be an integral part of it all.  Send out your ripples.  Be aware that they contribute to shaping your world.  Embrace your part in something far larger than your individual existence.  You matter.

“There can be no friendship where there is no freedom.  Friendship loves a free air, and will not be fenced up in straight and narrow enclosures.”

— William Penn

I remember, when we were children, that my sister had a friend named Lolly.  They went to school together and took the bus ride when we were shipped from our almost-rural location to the school in town that had the most space each year.  Lolly was true-blue.  She was interested in everything my sister did or said.  It seemed like a great friendship until the day that my unsuspecting sister scheduled to do something with another friend.  It was then that she learned the conditions Lolly placed on being her friend — she had to be your only friend.  There could be no room for anyone else if you wanted to hang out with her.  Condition upon condition began to surface, rules that she wanted to enforce to define the way their friendship would unfold.  Needless to say, the relationship was short-lived.  Few people enjoy being placed in a box by someone else and allowed to exist only within the boundaries defined by another person.

Friendship needs breathing room.  Perhaps it is just that space that allows true friendship to exist.  I used to say that I was fortunate, because amid the many people I loved and rubbed elbows with and shared my neighborhood with each day, there were a precious few — not great enough in number to exceed the fingers of one hand when counting them — with whom I shared true friendship.  That realization, which probably did not really gel until I was in my thirties, was profound.  It has shaped the way that I approach being a friend to others, and it has filled me with gratitude as I realize that I have been blessed with the company of people who love me without boundaries and give me breathing room and encourage me to grow and change.

It has been a while since my thirties, and my fingers are overflowing with friends.  It has taken time and effort and commitment to love, but the outcome has been astounding.  When I stop to consider it, I still am amazed that I could be blessed with an armload of true friends — friends who share their ideas with me and listen to mine, friends who are there in a pinch and free to accept my love and help when they need it, friends who encourage me to reach beyond the boxes I construct for myself and who venture out from their own constraints as we reach for the stars together.

Friendship is such a blessing that it calls for daily celebration.  Celebrate friendships today, and be sure to book a large room; because where friends encourage freedom to grow, there must always be room for one more.  Thank you for being my true friends.  I celebrate you today.

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”

— Vincent Van Gogh

How often do we allow our fear or dread of leaving safety to impede us in fully living our lives?  Being human has its challenges and life is often messy, but should we let our dread of the unknown hold us back from being truly alive?

I picture a small village by the sea.  There is soil for growing vegetables and fruit.  There is enough grass to allow a few animals to graze.  In the distance, beneath the rolling waves, another whole world lies just out of reach — a world filled with wonderful, nourishing creatures in numbers so great that they can feed the whole town and still go on forever.  The people in the village live a good life, but they long for something more — something that lies just beyond the land and under the water.  Life in the village has been good.  It has been safe.  Still, there is something that stirs in a few of the people.  They are fishermen, but they do not yet know it.  No matter how good their life ashore might be, there is some passion that draws them to the sea.  “Don’t go,” they are told, “the sea is dangerous and it can swallow you up.”  This is good advice for those who are shore-dwellers; but there are some who simply need to follow the call to step off the shore and into the world beyond.  Finally, when the call becomes to loud to ignore, the fishermen climb into their boat and set sail for the open water.  The work is hard and they find that the warnings were true.  It is treacherous to venture beyond the world we know and into another; but the fishermen find that the rewards are far greater than the dangers.  They return to the village with marvelous creatures, fish and shellfish and octopus.  The whole village rejoices at the new flavors and the nourishment they bring that enhances their way of life.

How often do we sit safely on the shore and do all in our power to drown out the call to move beyond our comfort zone?  How many times do we allow our fear of the unknown to limit our ability to live fully?  How often do we settle for something that is good and deny ourselves something that is far better?  Being human has its challenges.  Life is often messy.  If we can understand this and still listen to the music that touches our souls and follow its sound into places that might seem frightening, we might have the chance to discover what it means to truly live our lives rather than settling for less than we really are meant to be.  In order to grow, we must be willing to leave the safety of dry land and set out for someplace different.  It may seem frightening, but it is unavoidable.  No matter how good life might be on shore, if you were born to be a fisherman, you will always long for the sea.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

It is no secret that the summer of 2011 has been a hot one.  The news is filled with alerts about excessive heat; and evening has been a time for watering the garden to prepare it for the next day’s scorching.  I love spending time outdoors, but I must admit that I have enjoyed more time than usual in my air-conditioned house this year.  Then it happened.  After two weeks of relentless heat and humidity,  we had the most delicious summer shower I can remember for a very long time.

The change in the air was as abrupt as the change in the sky itself as the stark differences between the sky-blue afternoon and the rain-filled cloud made it look as though some invisible claw had raked a tear in the heavens that allowed a waterfall to pour down on the parched earth below.  Perhaps it was the claw of the dragon who had breathed his fire for so long and scorched our world with his steaming breath.  ‘Rainbow,’ I thought as I grabbed my camera and hurried outside to the shelter of the front porch.

I tried to look past roofs and trees and wires and poles and all the obstacles of suburban life; but soon I found myself walking purposefully across the back yard.  My salmon-pink shirt soon was dotted with darker pink blotches as huge drops of rain left their mark.  Leaves of the garden plants vibrated with the sound of refreshing raindrops, bouncing and laughing and calling them back to life.  Then I saw it.  There in the eastern sky was the promised color I knew I would find.

The pastel hues were as subtle as the relief that hung in the air as the blessed rain restored us all — the soil, the trees, the garden, and me.  Before we knew it, the shower had passed, allowing the heat of summer to reclaim its throne at the center of the setting sun; but until my shirt and the leaves and the grass had dried from their rainy respite, we all sang the song of the beauty of summer and watched each blade of grass shimmer with the grandeur of all Creation.

Sometimes a quick cloudburst is just what we need to wash the dust from our eyes.

“Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.”

— Antonio Machado

When I was born, I began my life at Point A.  One day, when my walking is done, my life will end at Point B.  In spite of living in an age where satellites provide us with images of the Earth taken from space, I have not yet seen the map that shows me the way from Point A to Point B.  I remember, when I was a child, hearing an adult ask how far it was to a particular location.  The answer was, “about five miles, as the crow flies…but ten if you are driving.”  Our life’s path is something like that; and since we cannot fly, we twist and turn and wind our way along roads we never imagined creating.  As the impatience of youth gives way to our later years, we savor the meandering routes of our journey, because we have no desire to hurry to its end.

I think of how funny it seems that we often have strong opinions about where we will find ourselves when our walking is done.  My thoughts go to the map makers of old.  Their options for transportation were quite limited; and this made their world very small.  When they drew their charts and mapped their world, it would end abruptly; and often there would be fire-breathing dragons and perilous cliffs that marked the edge of the earth.  No traveler would survive a journey that led past such treacherous boundaries.

We live in an age where there are few, if any, spots on the Earth that have not been explored, charted, and mapped; but still we find that predicting our own life-path leaves us no better equipped than those ancient cartographers.  The only way to accurately map our journey is to walk.  It is our footprints that will draw the map from Point A to Point B, and all we need to do is keep walking — not so fast that we miss the chance to catalog all the beauty we pass along the way.  There is no path until we blaze a trail, and this is what makes living such an exciting adventure.  Where will your path lead today?  You get to decide; because until you walk, there is no path.

“One is forced to speak not of what is held in common between the cultures, but what is held in common between the myths, and that in its simplest archetypal forms.”

— Carl Gustav Jung

Why can’t we all just get along?

When I was a child, I loved to read.  I cut my teeth on fairy tales and then moved on to mythology.  The Greeks were my favorites; but now and then I would discover a Norse or Roman story as well, and I would embark on a new adventure.  Often, when I would find something I really enjoyed reading, I would put aside my other activities and just immerse myself in the story.  I would feel more like a participant in the tale than an observer; and I would let the stories flow through my own veins and become a part of me. Now that I am older, I still love myths.  They have taken on new meaning as I have experienced life; and often when I read one, I say, “oh, I have met that person,” or “isn’t it cool the way that describes my own experience.”

It has been my pleasure as I’ve lived my life to meet many people from different countries, different cultures, and different religious backgrounds.  What we always notice when we first meet are the differences that make us unique and sometimes even strange to one another.  What we discover as we become friends are the common threads that run through our lives and unite us as members of the family of man.

It has also been my pleasure for the past twenty-five years to live in a family of brilliant dyslexics.  It is an interesting thing to be the non-dyslexic reader among a majority who prefer just about any other pastime to reading.  What this has allowed me to do is to read aloud, often to help my children make their way through school assignments, but also as a way of sharing something I’m enjoying with my sweetheart.  When we travel, instead of plugging in a book on tape, I will ride shotgun and read as he drives.  It was during one of these times that I discovered how mythology could help us to coexist.

I was reading an incredible book called Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils, by Maryam Kabeer Faye.  It is the amazing story of the author’s personal search for truth and meaning — one which ended in the Sufi muslim world.  I had met the author at a local event, and her whole being had exuded love and light that radiated and touched all who passed by.  I read aloud, the memory of her light fresh in my mind; and as I did, I experienced a great transformation.  As my own voice read the loving words of a stranger, I realized that I was filled with love for her experience and her traditions and our shared desire to find the truth that would heal the world.

Since that day, even when I am alone, I often read aloud rather than silently.  When we read silently, we can remain observers of the stories.  When we read aloud, we participate in a more tangible way.  If you would like to increase your understanding of other cultures and traditions, I would suggest that you find some mythology and read it aloud.  When you hear your own voice speaking the words of those different worlds, I think you will discover that you can hear the places where you share common ground.  There is no need to give up your own traditions or beliefs; but there is an opportunity to expand your understanding to include others who are not so different as you might think they are.  When we move beyond the clothing, the food, and the traditions that divide us, we then discover that the things we hold dear are those that define us as human.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.  Who looks outside, dreams.  Who looks inside, awakens.”

— Carl Gustav Jung

As another Monday stares us in the face, I am once again elated by the possibilities that hang in the air.  There is so much potential in the beginning of another week — so many opportunities for growth and fulfillment and realizing dreams.  Who looks outside dreams.  Dreaming is a good thing, because our dreams visualize the change we might want to bring to our world.  Who looks inside awakens.  It is in looking within that we find our courage, our passion, and our capability to effectively bring change and fulfillment to our world.

Dreams are good preparation.  They help us to find direction and shape our intentions; but only when we awaken are we able to make our dreams come true.  When your alarm goes off this Monday morning, resist the urge to hit the snooze button.  Ask yourself what dreams you have for the coming week, and then look within.  Find the dreamer who sleeps inside you and call her to consciousness.  Awaken the one who dreams your dreams.  Until your dreams meet reality, they will exist only for you.  In awakening, you can become the change you would like to see in  your world.

“God sends burdens, and shoulders, too.”

— Isaac Bashevis Singer

Last week I had a conversation with a young man — a very fine young man who is loving and kind and generous and many other incredible things.  Another word that describes him is “angry.”  We all have reasons to be upset from time to time, and we all get angry now and then; but this good and kind young man has a very big reason to be angry.  His sweet little daughter, born prematurely with some differences, has spent her short life so far in and out of hospitals, going from doctor to doctor and clinic to clinic, with no assurance that there will be an end in sight.  Because this young father is all of the amazing things that he is, he is able to offer his child a wonderful life — a normal childhood under extraordinary circumstances, that he and his wife have created for their little girl.  Still, he is angry.  He is angry that nothing he can do will change the reality of his daughter’s life; and he wants to know why.  Why would God allow his child to be born into a life of hardships?   Why would he allow her to suffer through all these treatments that seem to have no end?  Why would a God who is known for his ability to do miraculous things miss out on the chance to grant just one more miracle to the child he loves so dearly?

As one who has buried a child long before his life had really begun, I can understand that anger.  If I allow myself to return to the memories of my time of loss, I can feel the burning rage that nearly consumed me.  It is real and it is painful and there are no words anyone can say that can soothe the pain.  There is a special sort of pain that a parent feels when there is no choice but to watch the suffering of a beloved child.

I chose the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer today, because they are precisely the sort of words that turned my anger to rage and unleashed torrents of tears, even though I knew people were only trying to help.  “God sends burdens.”  What does this mean?  Does it mean that God looked down at the moment a beautiful child was being formed and said, “I’m going to let this one slip through Quality Control?”  Does this mean that God singles people out for misery, just to test them in some way?  I don’t think I want to know that sort of god.

I struggled with these sorts of questions at the time my son died.  Please understand that the opinions I will share next were not gained in some magical sort of moment when I rose above my grief and became super-human.  They took years to reconcile; and I hold out hope that my young friend will also find his way to some sort of peace as he questions his way  through the days that lie ahead.

“And shoulders, too.”  Now we are moving closer to the truth I have come to embrace.  I do not believe that the One who created each of us would single out any person he loved into being and afflict them with pain and suffering.  I do believe that the universe operates in an orderly fashion and that the One who created it does not alter the order of Creation just to spare one person pain and suffering.  Being alive means living under the rules of order that keep the universe working smoothly.  As soon as I say that, all sorts of examples come to my mind that deny any order at all in our world — polluted air and water, wars, hatred, poverty; and then I realize that these are man-made problems, not things created by God.  We have altered our world  in ways that even we do not understand; and sometimes things go wrong.  When a car and a child reached the same point at the same time, due to human choices and error,  the car survived and the child did not.  When cells divide to produce a beautiful little girl and some of them come together in very different ways, we want to blame God for failing to create her in a perfect way; simply because we blame the inexplicable things on the One whose shoulders are broad enough to carry our anguish.

What I hope my young friend will discover is that God does miracles all the time; and that allowing a beautiful, but different, child to be born to two parents who see past her differences and treasure her soul, was the start of a whole string of miracles that will define her life — and his as well.  We are born with limitless potential.  Our Creator wants the best of each person he loves into being; but most of us use only a tiny fraction of the potential that lies within us.  It is only when we are faced with great adversity and filled with great love that we discover how deep the well truly is.  We all are walking miracles; but only a blessed few will discover this truth — and often it is discovered in the triumph over darkness and sadness and anger that comes our way.

To my dear young man I will say that his miracle is visible to everyone around him.  The anger will rise from time to time.  The struggles will come and go.  But what is miraculous is the gentle way that his little girl’s life is unfolding, surrounded by the miracle of Love that sees beyond all the pain, beyond all the questions, beyond all the anger, and fills her life with joy.  Young man, you are a walking miracle.  God did not reach out with his mighty finger and touch your sweet child with sorrow and affliction.  Rather, he saw that she would need incredible parents and touched the depths of love in her mother and father and called forth the miracle she would need to live life as a whole and beautiful person.

It’s not about burdens and shoulders.  It’s about unlimited potential and true created beauty.

“A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.  For all serious daring starts from within.”

— Eudora Welty

Sheltered or sociable?  In the end, I suppose, life is mostly a matter of balancing the two.  I have always been something of a loner.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the company of others; it simply means that left to my own devices, I would likely stay at home and amuse myself.  As my child-rearing duties wind down and the built-in opportunities for human interaction that are tied to the activities of my children begin to wane, I sometimes find myself wondering what will be next.

“You will be able to get out and do things for yourself!” proclaim my friends whose children’s ages d0 not span twenty-six years.  I wonder what I will choose when the day comes that my time truly is my own.  I look back on the years of my adult life, and I realize how different my dreams of owning my time have been through the years.  When I first left home and began my life as an adult, I longed for exciting and exotic adventures that would show me the world.  Travel has not been a very big part of my life; but my years as a student’s wife on a university campus brought me friends from many cultures and many countries who taught me that beneath our different beliefs and conventions, we are the same.  When I found myself, sixteen years later, with a teenager, two ‘tweens, a toddler and an infant, I dreamed of a time when I would be able to sleep whenever I liked for as long as I liked.  Gradually, my children grew — as children will do — and I discovered that sleep was highly overrated.  Now that my nights are uninterrupted by 2 AM feedings and noisy slumber parties, I find that seven hours is a long time to lie idle in bed.  I suspect that the day will come when sleep is my main activity; but, for now, I would like to use my time for more productive things.

As I have found myself with a nearly-grown family, two interesting things have happened.  First, I have chosen some social activities that belong only to me.  I have cut the cord and left my children to their adult lives and made friends who share my own interests and my own views.  We laugh, we dance, we drum, we create; and I have come to treasure the “we” parts of my days.  Second, I have discovered that I can very easily amuse myself for hours at a time — without electronic noise, without a “to-do” list.  I have learned to use the listening skills I sharpened on the hone of motherhood to hear my own thoughts, passions, and desires as well as those of the people I love.

Both of these discoveries have brought incredible growth and great joy to my life.  I really do think that it’s a matter of balancing our “we” time and our “me” time.  If you find yourself isolated, it is worth the effort to step over the threshold and join with others.  In getting to know them, you will discover parts of yourself that might lie in the background just waiting to be called into being.  If you find yourself always surrounded, it is worth the effort to discover silence — the sort that lasts long enough to become comfortable.  It is in the silence that leads us inward that we discover the person we will bring to our interactions with others.  It is not an either/or proposition — we do not need to chose to be either loners or social butterflies.  We can choose both/and; and, in doing so, discover that life can be daring wherever we land — so long as we bring all of who we are to the choices we make.

“Life is like an onion:  you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”

— Carl Sandburg

Call me crazy, and I know it ruins the metaphor, but there is nothing I like much better than a hefty slab of sweet Vidalia onion.  Add it to a burger or a tuna sandwich, and you will see me crunch and smile at the same time.  Saute it in a bit of olive oil or butter, and you can add it to just about anything you want to serve me.  Its sweetness will contrast with or enhance just about any other flavor and make eating an adventure.

On the other hand, there are few things that I find more disappointing than slicing into an onion and discovering that the inner layers are spoiled.  The harsh smell of this sort of onion can send me running to the sink to wash my hands before I forget myself and touch them to my already-teary eyes.  For those of us who really love onions, there is more than disappointment in one that has no sweetness.  We feel betrayed when we love the sweetness of a crisp fresh onion and expect to find it beneath the skin but instead are met with something that offends the eyes and the nose and leaves us crying.

Sandburg, it seems, knows his onions and knows a bit about life.  What makes life and onions such close companions is that both are usually sweet.  If every onion made us cry, there would be no surprise when we found ourselves running for water and wiping away the tears.  We wouldn’t think twice about it.  We simply would come to expect tears as the price we would pay for eating onions — or we would avoid onions entirely.  As a lover of onions and a lover of life, I have enjoyed peeling away the paper-thin covering that hides what lies below the surface and exploring the sweetness of each new layer.  I have savored the flavor and the sweetness of each new surprise that has shown itself at each new level of discovery.  As I have learned what to do when a layer of onion betrays me and leaves me crying, I also have learned how to find my way through life’s disappointments and downturns.  I have learned that if I continue to remove the layers of an onion, I am likely to find that there is sweetness below.  In the same way, the pains and disappointments of life are with us only for a short time.  Beneath them lies more sweetness, but we must have the courage to shed a few tears, dirty our hands, and take the time to deal with our sense of betrayal that life can be harsh.

It is wise to remember that it is the contrast that allows us to feel the sting of a layer without sweetness.  We must hold onto the perspective that if there were no sweetness, we would consider pain and tears to be normal.  What gives us the hope to find our way through the difficult times is knowing that a return to sweetness is not far away.  All we need to do is keep on peeling.