Archive for January, 2012

“When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.”
— Alan Paton
We know that it takes a lot of energy to carry hatred and resentment.  They weigh us down and take up so much of our space and time that we may have trouble seeing beyond them to all the good things that are part of our lives.  Why, then, is it so difficult to forgive?  When we suffer intentional wounding at the hands of another person, our first response usually is anger.  The anger may pass; but when it does, it is replaced by something far more crippling, and that is fear.
It is only natural to protect ourselves from more injury when we have been deeply hurt.  It would make no sense to trust someone who has shown that he does not have our best interests at heart; and so we defend ourselves by staying hurt, angry and afraid.  We fear that if we let our guard down we will be welcoming another round of pain.  So how do we begin to lay down the burden of hurt and resentment and move on toward a life unencumbered by their weight?
First, we must step out of our anger.  We must find the strength to walk in love and trust implicitly that there is nothing to be gained by retaliation.  When a great injustice is done, another injustice will only add to the anger, fear, and pain.  Only when love is brought to the world can the balance be restored.  Next, we must release our fear.  We must find the strong place in our own center that allows us either to face the one who has wounded us or to walk away and let them go.  In order to do this, we must forgive — not because they deserve it, but because we need to be true to ourselves.  Gandhi tells us that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and it is true.  When we are blinded by anger and hurt and fear, we can bring nothing else to the world.
When a deep injury is done to us, we cannot erase the scars.  We carry them with us; and even though they might be invisible to others, we see them each time we look in the mirror.  Until we forgive, those scars only remind us to stay angry, be afraid, and get even.  If we are able to step out of our anger and fear and into forgiveness, we can transform our scars into badges of courage and power and light.  Even when the person who has hurt us is someone who will continue to hurt us unless we leave, forgiveness gives us the power to leave a spot of light behind us when we turn and walk away.

“We are guilty of many errors and many faults but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life.  Many of the things we need can wait.  The child cannot.  Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed.  To him we cannot answer, ‘Tomorrow.’  His name is ‘Today.’ “

—  Gabriela Mistral

Last weekend, we received a phone call from our granddaughter, Cheyenne.  She is 4 year old — well, “four and a half,” she would correct me — and she wanted to know whether Grandma and Grandpa could come to watch her first basketball game.  I won’t lie and tell  you that it was a gripping, closely contested scoring match.  Actually, the contest was more one of who could throw the ball high enough to reach the rim, but the kids had a great time and the coaches worked patiently at helping them to understand the basic skills and rules of the game of basketball.  A line of folding chairs encircled the church gym; and parents watched from the sidelines, ready to bandage a boo-boo or to provide a drink of water when the players took a break.

Events like these always make me realize how very privileged children are in the part of society where I live.  There is not only bread, but cake when they sit down to dinner.  And the cake has icing.  And sprinkles.  At bedtime, there is a warm bath, comfy pajamas, and a bed with soft blankets, just right for dreaming.  There is breakfast in the morning and a warm coat, hat, and mittens to wear to school.  There is a feeling of security that only grows from knowing that their needs will be met, day after day; and there is the built-in opportunity to grow and develop when food and shelter and clothing are not in question.

How different might our world be if for each child that we indulge beyond needs and into wants, we would remember to contribute to the basic care of another child?  Each morning, when I walk my grand-dog, we meet up with a young woman and her dog for a frolic at the park.  Michele teaches at one of our local elementary schools, one that falls in the area where four-year-olds  join basketball leagues; but that doesn’t mean she forgets about the kids whose lives are less predictable.  On a recent morning, she told me about an effort in her school community to collect the outgrown clothing from overstocked closets and set up a clothing closet in an inner-city school nearby.  Such programs have existed within our own district for years, but the innovative staff at this school have taken time to raise awareness and meet the needs of kids whose lives go from job to job, paycheck to paycheck, or require the funding of social services.

Even those who bristle at paying taxes to support the unemployed need to wake up and see the children whose lives are affected by circumstances that are not of their making.  We need to remember that the school lunch program, which provides a free meal for kids who cannot afford to pay, only does its job when school is in session.  When our children celebrate a snow day, there are others who dread the thought of going hungry with school closed.  We must support the food banks that deliver basic nourishment to families who struggle to feed their children.  We must stop relying on the government to distribute our taxes and meet the needs of our children.  Their future is now.  Find the organizations that are on the front lines and support them.  Consider taking your senior citizen discount and donating it to a place where children are being taught the things they need to know in order to be productive adults.  The children belong to us all — they are our future.

Our children cannot wait.

“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different.”
— Katherine Mansfield

Monday morning has arrived again, and I am always struck by the way we re-evaluate when cycles turn and we find ourselves at a new starting point.  For me, there is something special about Monday morning.  With the weekend behind me and my energy renewed, Monday morning provides the perfect opportunity to feel the excitement of facing a new week with enthusiasm and hope.  At the beginning of 2012, I shared with you my intention to carry “transformation,” my word for 2011 in my knapsack and add to it the word for 2012, “legacy.”  Monday morning finds me pulling both of those intentions out of my pack and getting ready to set them in motion with renewed vigor.

It is good to have the return of Monday in our lives.  It is the perfect time to take a deep breath, let it collect all the negative energies of the prior week, transform them with our renewed intentions, and breathe out all that weighs us down.  Monday is a day for sorting out our triumphs and carrying them over while letting go of our disappointments and the things that hold us back.  May Monday morning find you transformed and eager to bring your legacy to the week ahead.  When we see the world differently, when we see it as it truly might be, we certainly can change the way it really is.

“The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.”

— Galileo Galilei

As my day begins, I look at the list of tasks I need to accomplish today and find that my mental math is challenged to fit them all into the hours between now and bedtime.  I like lists because they help me stay focused and remind me not to miss anything important as my busy life unfolds.  It is truly a blessing to have a full schedule and a long list of  ways to spend my time; but I have made some changes in the way I build my lists during the past few years, and I think that the busy sun would approve.

Since my goal is to leave this life with a list still waiting to be done, I try not to be too harsh on myself when one of my items from today becomes the beginning for tomorrow’s list.  Unless it is a matter of life and death, there are few things that can’t wait one more day to be addressed.  Prioritizing is important when you make lists; and some top priorities involve the nuts and bolts of life.  Deadlines must be met and responsibilities must be addressed; but while we are keeping all our planets spinning in an orderly fashion, we also need to take a lesson from the sun and remember to ripen some grapes now and then.

Galileo doesn’t say that the sun ripens grapes unintentionally.  He says the sun ripens the grapes as though he had nothing else in the Universe to do. What changed about my list-making a couple of years ago was that I began to make time for the creative ventures that I longed to do.  There is a difference between finding time and making time; and when life gets very busy, the chance that we will simply stumble on the time to be creative is less than slim.  Do you have something tugging at your heart that would allow you to fulfill a purpose that is a vital part of who you are?  Does it get relegated to the bottom of your endless list and struggle to get your attention as you drone through days and months and years?  Do you feel dissatisfied with the never-ending challenge to finally reach the point where you have time to create?

The sun always needs to manage the revolving planets.  It is his job, and I’m sure he will do it until the time that his light burns out.  My list will not be finished in my lifetime either.  We take for granted that the planets continue to spin in an orderly fashion; but when we stumble upon a succulent, ripe bunch of grapes, it brings sweetness to our life that grabs our attention and fills us with joy.  We should learn from the wise old sun and see that we make creativity a priority on our daily lists.  And when the time comes to create — to ripen whatever grapes we might contribute to the sweetening of our world — we should do it wholeheartedly, as though we had nothing else in the Universe to do.  Give it a try.  I think you will discover that the rest of your work seems less a burden when you have fed your soul and sweetened your day.

“Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.”

—  Kahlil Gibran
Is there wisdom in being able to rise above human emotion and dispassionately analyze the situation at hand?  How often do we see the predicament of another person and pity their plight while assuring ourselves that we would be too smart to land in such a mess?  It sometimes seems that we value the ability to stay in our heads and leave our hearts out of our interactions with others.  We pity them, but offer only suggestions for how they might untangle the mess they have made before we go on our way.  Pity is cold and sterile and perfunctory, and we often mistake it for compassion; but the two are not even close to the same.
Compassion, or feeling with, is a powerful gift that being human prepares us to share with others.  When we weep with those who weep, they know instantly that there is no shame in shedding tears.  When we laugh with those who laugh, we show them by our example that being serious does not mean losing our sense of humor and delight.  When we truly listen to another person’s hopes and dreams and ideas and aspirations, we affirm our shared humanity by celebrating their importance as well as our own.
Pity is smart.  It can analyze and categorize and judge the human failings that have led a person to the predicament he faces.  Compassion is wise.  It shares and feels and wraps a sense of unity around the hurt of another and celebrates the truth that together we can overcome whatever challenges come our way.
“And how should a beautiful, ignorant stream of water know it heads for an early release – out across the desert, running toward the Gulf, below sea level, to murmur its lullaby, and see the Imperial Valley rise out of burning sand with cotton blossoms, wheat, watermelons, roses, how should it know?”

— Carl Sandburg
Where are you going?  Carl Sandburg’s words make me stop and think of all the times I’ve thought I know where my destination lies, only to discover that I end up in some unexpected place that leaves me forever changed.  I think of the way my journey began, much like that of the ignorant stream, as one drop of life merged with another and another until I began to trickle into the larger world outside of my beginning.  Like the stream, whose only reason for existing is to flow into the unknown, we gather the pieces of being alive that compel us to walk through an endless destination, enjoying the wonder that greets us in each new place.
Today’s destination will be tomorrow’s starting point.  The journey is ongoing; and the sooner we comprehend that it is not the destination but the trip that is our purpose in life, the sooner we will learn to appreciate the adventure of simply flowing.  The stream may be ignorant, but it becomes more wise as it gathers the experiences of surprising lands and carries them along its way.  Our purpose is not in getting to the end, although we all will reach that place one day.  Rather than flowing to that end, we must remember to flow through each day in a way that adds to our ability to love and leaves the traces of that love along the path we walk.
Wherever your destination might be, remember to be exactly where you are today.  Watch for cotton blossoms and roses and watermelons.  Watch for the gifts that appear on your way.  And as night falls and brings its lullaby to your heart, remember to sing.
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.”

—  George Washington Carver

My mother always taught me that what goes around comes around.  She taught it in words and in deeds.  I don’t think the word, “karma” was part of her vocabulary; but if it had been, she probably would have taught us about that, too.  Mom wore many hats in our family.  She was the undisputed smart person and Scrabble champion whose love of learning and especially words infected us all with a desire to read and learn and expand our worlds.  She could open a Calculus book, cold, after years had passed and still explain how to solve a problem.  She kept us fed and clothed and somewhat organized in spite the best efforts of her four children to undo her plans.  She played the piano after dinner so that we could all gather around it and sing show tunes — our own sort of Glee club.  But most of all, she looked after our Dad.  She was his right hand and office manager in the business they ran, she stretched the budget to make ends meet, she waited long hours while he golfed and played cards with his friends, and she loved him without reservation.  There was nothing on earth that equaled the way Mom’s eyes lit up when she was headed out on a date with her man.

Mom also looked out for her aunt, Essie, who had raised her as a child.  We watched throughout our childhood as Mom quietly served and listened to and loved her substitute mother.  We saw the way she would patiently listen to the same stories again and again as though they were new each time.  We saw how she translated her love into actions; and by imitating her, we learned the good feeling that comes from loving without expectation of getting something in return.

Mom taught us that what goes around comes around.  It has now been six years since my mother’s descent into dementia.  She has good days and not so good ones.  Her Math skills now consist of doing Sudoku puzzles and counting to twenty, but the puzzles are beginning to lose their appeal.  Her love of language has disappeared along with her nouns, and when we talk to her it is a challenge to figure out what she refers to with her verbs and adjectives.  She no longer cares for Dad.  It is now his turn to think for his wife and be her right hand man.  He lays out her clothes as she did for us when we were children and encourages her to put on her pants and then her shirt.  He reminds her to get ready for meals just as she once managed his schedule and made sure he was on time.  He tolerates her bad days and looks beyond them to the kind and loving woman who lies beneath the surface — just as she tolerated and forgave all of us as we fumbled and stumbled through growing up.  The days are a lather, rinse, repeat series of sameness; and just last week I was talking with Dad about how his patience with Mom reminds me of hers with Essie when we were all together so many years ago.

What goes around does come around.  Remember as you meet all the people you have the opportunity to love that at one time you either have walked or will walk in their shoes.  My mother taught me to do my best to be kind and patient and loving.  Now it is her turn, and it is a joyous thing to meet her needs.  What goes around has come around.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

— T.S. Eliot

What is it that holds you back from doing the things that you dream of doing?  What is it that sets limits around growing to become who you truly are?  Where does the voice come from that chatters inside your mind and tells you to stop where you are before you go too far?  We spend our early years taking in the information and judgments placed on us by others.  As time passes, we lose touch with whose voice it was that spoke the limiting words, and we hear our own voice instead and think we are listening to our own thoughts.
When we feel the stirrings of our soul’s purpose, we must listen to our hearts and then carry that message to the limiting voices.  We must tell them that the real danger lies in not reaching beyond our limitations and discovering what lies beyond them.  We must silence the voices that tell us to be afraid and replace them with the reasoned messages of courage and adventure.  Until we silence the judgments that we place on ourselves, we can never discover what is on the other side of our fear.  Be courageous.  Listen long enough to recognize who is that tells you not to follow your purpose.  Replace their judgments with your own song of being alive, step across the line, and remember to keep on singing as you go.
“It is the job that is never started that takes longest to finish.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien

It is good to have a plan, because without a plan it is difficult to know when we have strayed from pursuing our goals.  Nearly everyone I’ve met during the first two days of 2012 has wanted to know, “what are your resolutions for the new year?”  Some have resolutions to share.  Some have formed intentions about the way they want to be as they greet the life that comes their way.  Some of us are starting out fresh in new directions, and some are vowing to stay the course toward goals that span more than a year’s time.  There has been a lot of talking about hopes and dreams, about goals and aspirations; and now it is time to act.

The excitement begins when the talking stops and we put our words into action.  For some reason, it seems that there often is a large gap between the decision to begin something and the time when we find the courage and the stamina to break free of our inertia and take the first step.  Especially when our plans are big and our goals are lofty, we can become intimidated by our own ideas so that we develop a bad case of inertia.  We would rather plan, re-plan, and over-plan than take the first step that commits us to the long journey ahead.

Today is January 3.  If you have formed your goals, your intentions, your resolutions for 2012, it is time to stop planning and jump into your adventure.  The journey through life is a long one; but time is an elusive trickster, for the longer we live the more aware we become that our time on Earth is precious and short.  When we decide to embark on a new adventure, the time to start is now!  It is good to have a plan, because without a plan it is difficult to know when we have strayed from pursuing our goals; but it  is good to pick up our plans and step onto the path.  We never know what unplanned adventures might lie along the way, and we never know when we might arrive at our destination.  One thing is certain, though —  we will never arrive unless we begin.

“Give exceeding thanks for the mystery which remains a mystery still — the veil that hides you from the infinite, which makes it possible for you to believe in what you cannot see.”

— Robert Nathan
The clouds are rolling in this morning, and rumor has it that we may see some snow flurries before the day is over.  My love of sunrises is no secret, largely because I speak of it all the time; and there is something especially breathtaking about the sunrise on a morning when the clouds cover its brilliance and only let the light peek through now and then.
On clear days, we look outside and know with a certainty that night has been defeated once again and the light of day has returned to the world.  We love to live in certainty.  I liked knowing this morning that when I turned on the faucet there would be water to fill my glass.  I like the feeling of waking up in my own bed and knowing that it will be the same bed in the same room in the same house where I closed my eyes last night.  Certainty is reassuring and its patterns teach us to trust our world and not be afraid.
When the clouds roll in, I always feel a sort of excitement.  They come along with restless air that darts and swirls around me and says, “look here…no, look there.”  When clouds obscure the sunrise, certainty can give way to doubt.  How can we know for certain that morning has come when there is no sun to herald its arrival?  It is at times like these that we must rely on the mystery that lies behind the clouds and only peeks through when there is a momentary separation that leaks some light.  On the darkest morning, that tiny sliver of yellow-white flashing at the edge of the cloud takes me from my certainty to the place of mystery — the hope of all that lies beyond my view.
On a clear and certain morning, it is easy to believe that I can see all that exists.  What I forget is that the sun’s light is so blinding that it hides what lies beyond.  It is the clouds that cover the morning light that remind me of the unseen things that lie beyond them and even beyond the sun.  Just as the sunlight peeks through on a morning like today and reminds me that the sun still shines behind them, there are times when the mystery that lies beyond the veil finds a small tear in its fabric and touches the part of us that sees without eyes.  It is there that hope is born.  It is there that dreams are woven.  It is there that we discover how very infinite the universe really is and how far it stretches beyond our certainty.