Archive for February, 2012

Leap Day

On a tan-and-gray morning,

Under colorless sky

We collect the hours

Left over and saved

For four long years.

*

Such a marvelous gift,

An extra day,

To live, to love,

To shine, to be,

Deserves a more colorful welcome.

*

On a tan-and-gray morning,

Under colorless sky

I collect the trash

Discarded by others,

And stretch the canvas, clean.

*

Such a marvelous gift

An extra day,

Bring your paints

Pick up your brush,

And give your gift its due.

*

On a tan-and-gray morning,

Under colorless sky,

We collect the dreams

We’ve put aside

For four long years.

*

We turn them loose

And let them fly.

They soar into

The dismal sky

And leave a rainbow in their wake.

*

©Pamela Stead Jones 2012

“Man makes holy what he believes, as he makes beautiful what he loves.”

— Ernest Renan

There is a plane of existence beyond our own where all is beautiful, where all is holy.  Here, where we walk on Earth, we sometimes forget the beauty and the holiness that is intrinsic to each piece of our created world.  Often, our judgment of what is beautiful is based on our limited experience.  Often we see beauty in terms of how it compares to the image we see when we look into a mirror.  If we feel good about our own existence, we might see our own image as the standard for beauty.  If we suffer from low self esteem, we might look for beauty in things that least resemble our own reflection.  Whatever our perspective might be, it is our belief that something is holy that makes it holy to us.  It is our love for something that defines it as beautiful.

Our judgments limit our understanding of beauty and holiness by trying to attach them to physical traits we can experience with our five senses.  As we compare and contrast and try to find similarities that allow us to define something as beautiful, we miss the opportunity to experience all the many varieties of beauty that come together to create our beautiful world.  We miss the chance to see that every single piece of creation was set in place by the Creator as a holy gift.  It is up to us to acknowledge the holiness and use it for the purpose that called it into existence.

Let us call into existence the beauty and holiness.  Let us open our minds to the thought that every being we encounter was created for holy work — that every single person or animal or plant or pebble was loved into existence to add beauty to creation.  Let us look with the eyes of God upon all of his work and love it as the heart of God has loved us into being.  Let us put aside our need to judge and begin with a burning desire to love.  It is then that we will discover the beauty and the holiness in our world and in ourselves as well.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Last week, on a beautiful spring-like day, I forgot for an hour that I am not twenty years old.  I forgot that this winter has been a somewhat sedentary time for me.  I forgot the importance of easing into strenuous activity after being out of action for a while.  The day was so balmy and the air was so inviting that I spent an hour rebounding basketballs for my granddaughter and shooting firm passes back so she could take her next shot.  It was great fun until the next morning when I woke up with a knot in my lower back.

No matter how I stretched or turned or twisted or scrunched, there was no position I could find that made me comfortable.  Reluctantly, I swallowed a couple of ibuprofens, put on a happy face, and limped quietly into my day.  It was a bit embarrassing to think of admitting what I had done to myself.  Certainly, a woman of my age and experience should have known better, so I kept my misery a secret.  After all, there’s no point in bothering others with our small troubles.

Throughout the day, I moved from spot to spot, sometimes sitting and sometimes walking and stretching, in an effort to work out the kinks.  Nothing seemed to work.  By the time evening arrived, I was pretty tired of the ache in that spot I couldn’t seem to reach.  As dinnertime approached, my granddaughter asked if  a friend could come with her to eat and spend the evening.  “No!” I barked.  “I don’t need any extra people here tonight.”  She reeled back and sputtered and started to ask the perennial question, “why?” and I barked again.  She retreated, looking at me with an expression that said, “what’s wrong with her?  Since I’m always open to friends and family — the more the merrier — I’m sure it was confusing.  And I’m sure I came across as cold and uncaring.

Later, I told my family about the pain I was feeling and they figured out why I had been such a grouch — not only when I saw it in myself, but all day long.  Just then the  phone rang.  It was my Dad, making his daily call from the Assisted Living home where he spends the long days caring for my mother.  Sometimes when his call comes in, I feel a moment of dread.  What will he complain about today?  Will the complaint be something I can help with or fix?  Will it even be something real, or will he just be venting his frustration at the end of an endless day?

I thought about the way that some people see Dad as cranky and demanding.  I thought of my one day of back pain and how it had affected my ability to be nice to my family after only twenty-four hours.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to live all the time with a knot somewhere that you just can’t seem to untie, with a challenge or a pain that never really goes away.  I thought about how we feel when we’re tied in a knot and about the way other people see us.  I thought about the people I meet on my un-knotted days and the way I just assume that they are doing fine as well.

Today I will hold the awareness that nearly everyone I meet is probably dealing with a knot of one sort or another.  Some of us carry our knots more gracefully than others; and some, like me, become cranky and harsh and tend to bark when we are hurting.  I will do my best today to meet the barking with compassion and to remember that we never know what another person’s challenge might be.

If we can try to assume that each person we meet is doing the best  he can do in that moment, perhaps we can see beyond what seems to be true and touch the truth that sometimes when we seem cold, we simply are sad.

“Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.”

— Victor Hugo

Without hope, we cannot put yesterday to rest and trust that our shortcomings will still move us by inches toward success.  Without hope, we cannot put our feet on the floor in the morning and believe that our heartfelt work for today will matter in any way at all.  Without hope, we certainly cannot look toward tomorrow and expect that we have a future worth dreaming about.  Hope is the knowing that whatever darkness might surround us as we walk through our lives, we still are bathed in Light — even when our tired eyes cannot see it.

“Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.”

— Victor Hugo

How lovely it would be if each time we met another person and looked him in the face, we would see hope.  If God has written it on the brow of every man, then each of us is a messenger of hope, sent into the world to encourage others.  What do we do with our gift of hope?  Do we grow our hair long and let it hang like a curtain so that no one can see?  Do we pull on a hat and wear it low so that hope remains imprisoned by the circumstances that hide it away?  Do we spend our days worrying so that deep furrows form across our brows and swallow up the message we are born to deliver, the message of hope?

In Eastern spiritual traditions, the brow is the location of the third eye, the inner eye that sees with the soul.  It is the eye that sees beneath the exterior of the physical world and into the deep truth that lies beyond the vision of our physical eyes.  It is the third eye that sees the truth about our existence.  It sees that we are not cut loose and separate from the divine creator, but we are one with all of creation.

It is when we feel separated from God that we feel hopeless and dark.  When the veils and coverings life sometimes hangs on us become too thick and heavy, we can begin to believe that the darkness is our reality.  We don’t see beyond the things that are temporary to those which last forever.  When this happens, we extinguish the light of hope and carry our darkness instead; and whoever we meet as we walk is greeted with the message that hope is gone.

We must keep our third eye wide open and gaze at the beauty of the oneness we share with all that is.  When we do, there is no veil dark enough and no covering heavy enough to obscure the light that shines from our brows.  That light is hope; and each time we let it shine the world gets brighter.  Each time our hope connects with that of another person, we both shine stronger.  It is written on your brow — “Hope.”  Never forget that.  When darkness comes, walk with confidence; and hope will light your path.

A friend of mine who skis and teaches skiing has proclaimed this the Winter that never was.  I hope she’s looking out the window this morning, because after several days of sixty-degree weather, it is snowing.  That’s right, snowing.  Just when we thought it was safe to assume that an early Spring really had come, the ground is covered and snowflakes are dancing everywhere.

Life is like that, I suppose — unpredictable.  Maybe a better word is “surprising,” because this late-winter snow is much more fun that unpredictable can describe.  I will be short today, because there’s no telling how long this will last.  I don’t want to miss the chance to dance like a snowflake and catch a couple on my tongue.  See you tomorrow!

“Circumstances are the rulers of the weak; they are but the instruments of the wise.”

— Samuel Lover

How often do we allow the circumstances of our lives to make our decisions for us?

I have a plan that I am following to keep fit and maintain my health.  Lately it seems that my life has become more sedentary.  Maybe it’s a shift in the ways I spend my time, or maybe its simply the doldrums of winter.  Whatever the reasons might be, I was starting to feel my knees creak and my bones ache — not from overuse, but from sitting for hours and not moving enough.

I have been more attentive to my diet in hopes of shedding the five pounds that magically appeared around my waist while feeding my body the nutrients it really needs in order to keep me healthy and active.  Oh, yes.  I’ve also added an early-morning walk to my routine.  It is not the stroll-and-sniff walk I’ve been taking with my puppy companion.  It is the full-speed, chug up the hills and rest on the levels sort of walking that accelerates my heart rate and reminds me which muscles I have been neglecting.

This morning I awoke to the sound of rain hitting my window and splashing in the street below.  Since we are still months away from the warm rains of summer, this circumstance definitely puts a crimp in my plans for a pre-dawn hike.  This is one of those moments when I must decide:  will I be ruled by circumstances, or will I seize the opportunity to explore another idea.

Old Sniff and Stroll still needs to take his leisurely tour of the park before breakfast.   I will pull on my waterproof coat and boots and venture out into the rain.  A little exercise is better than none, I suppose; and maybe after I confirm that I really won’t melt, I’ll wait for the air to warm a bit and walk at lunchtime.  As I think about it, I’m beginning to get excited.  I’ll put my camera in the huge pocket of my raincoat, and maybe I will see some things in the light of day that are less visible in the early morning.  I will take care of my safety by not walking blindly through puddles and risking a fall.

Best of all, I will feel my own sense of power as I refuse to let a little rain keep me from pursuing my goals.  Who knows?  If I like that lunchtime walk enough, I just may add a little more motion to my daily routine.  When it comes down to it, the only time that circumstances rule our lives is when we see them as more powerful than our ability to navigate through them.  Got lemons?  Make lemonade!  Got rain?  Grab your coat and remind yourself that you don’t melt.

“The difference between school and Life?  In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test.  In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

— Tom Bodett

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend.  We skipped over the weather, the news of the day, and the predictable stories of family life.  She wanted to tell me that she was struggling.  She wanted to tell me that she has been depressed and is keeping a promise to herself by telling the people she has been hiding from.  We skipped all the surface things that have little bearing on what really matters and talked about the difficult times that we all face from time to time.  Interspersed with all of the events that connect one day to the next and keep life flowing in a predictable manner, we all face tests from time to time.  We love.  We lose.  People come into our lives and people leave.  People are born, and people die.  We suffer illness and pain.  We are vulnerable to the challenge of being human, being real, being alive.

We talked about the way we feel isolated in our pain.  We talked about the ways we often make our tests more difficult by judging ourselves and feeling as though we have been singled out for misery because we somehow deserve to be punished for our inadequacies.  We talked about persevering and forgiving ourselves, and learning to love the tests for the lessons they teach us.

We talked about learning from the judgment of others to be careful not to judge.  We talked about learning from our pain to cherish the days when we are healthy and strong.  We talked about learning from our losses that as we face our fear, we become fearless and ready to live with our eyes and our hearts wide open.  We talked about the way that we learn to see past the temporary obstacles that life sometimes sends our way and to see the bigger picture where love and light dominate the landscape in the tapestry of our lives.

When challenges come, we often wish that we had been taught the lessons that would help us to find our way.  We wish that someone had told us what to expect and how to manage it.  Being fully human and fully alive is far too vast an experience to be either contained, categorized, or predicted.  The more tests that some our way with their lessons that blaze the trail to life beyond, the more abundant our lives become.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend.  It was a test.  And the lesson we both learned is that we are never really alone, we are not really singled out for misery, and if we love ourselves enough to take the risk, an understanding friend might be only a phone call away — waiting for the lesson that only this moment can offer.  My life is richer today because a friend reached beyond her fear and touched a familiar place in me.  Today I remember t hat I am never really alone.

“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

— Andy Warhol

Time is an elusive thing.  When the alarm clock sounded this morning, I could hardly believe it was set for the right time.  The night seemed at least an hour shorter than usual, and I struggled to resist hitting the snooze button.  Even though I didn’t, I managed to lie in bed for an extra fifteen minutes before my feet hit the floor.  Those fifteen minutes are significant ones since I’ve once again begun my routine of walking for exercise before my family comes downstairs for breakfast.  Now I was running late.  I hurried through dressing and tying my shoes, grabbed my coat and hit the ground running.  Well, I hit the ground walking at a nice, brisk pace that is as close to running as my old knees will allow.  I chugged along my mile and a half loop through town, concerned that I was going to arrive too late to send the family off to school and work.  I huffed and puffed up to the front door and entered the still-dark house, only to discover that I was now eight minutes ahead of my usual schedule.  Time does strange things some mornings.  What began as a late start now had me walking in place, with time to spare.  By the time the gang appeared, I had put away the dishes from last night’s dinner and read the new headlines.  I suppose you could say that time changed things for me this morning, because I accomplished more in fewer minutes that I do on an ordinary day; and I would have to credit the capricious flexing of time with providing the opportunity.

We say that time changes things, but I think the truth is that we change over time.  We discover new things each minute about ourselves and about our world; and as we change, we make changes to the ways we see life, the opinions we form about living, and the ideas we contribute to our ever-changing world.  I suppose you could say that time changes us, we change the way we interact with our world, the different world affects our attitudes, and we change the way we spend our time.  It is not time that changes, but how we spend our time.  If we sit and wait for time to change us, we probably will find that waiting makes time move at a very slow pace.  If we seize the moments we are given and make the changes we want to see, we probably will wonder where the time has gone.  Don’t wait for time to change you.  Be your own change.

Metamorphosis

ω

My many feet

Aching, trudge,

Taking care to

Hold on tight

To the world

That is my

Sustenance.

ω

My tired jaw

Never rests,

Knowing that it

Must consume

This leaf

That is my

World.

ω

My belly full,

I pause, I sigh,

Pondering the

Purpose of

This day

That is my

End.

ω

With my last bit

Of energy, I

Spin and weave a

Final dream,

This tomb

That is my

Destiny.

ω

Inside, with nothing

But my soul

Sleeping, stretching

Restlessly

These things

That cry,

“Rebirth.”

ω

Too warm to stay

I shed my covers

Look full-face

Into this drop

Of dew

That is my

Revelation.

ω

My long, thin legs

Gracefully

Stretch tall

My colors fly

Into the blue

That is my

Truth

ω

— Pamela Stead Jones 2012

I have loved sycamore trees since I was a child.  The love affair began when I was two years old and my family had just moved to a newly-built home outside of town.   Our lot had been cleared from a field of weeds, and one of the jobs that awaited my parents was planting a lawn.  They did, and soon the grass had sprouted.  Next came the trees.  The folks chose sycamores because they would provide a lot of shade and because they would grow quickly.  My brother and I helped plant the trees.  Now that I’ve raised children of my own, I have to wonder whether the help we provided came anywhere near to my memory of digging and watering and holding the trees straight; but I must say that I left that day with a true feeling of ownership of the tree that was designated as mine.

My sycamore and I grew up together.  I watched it branch out and grow taller.  I watched the birds fly to its upper limbs and find their perches for singing.  Before long, it offered me shade on hot summer days, shelter from the rain, and even a perch of my own where I could sit hidden in its branches and play my guitar.  I loved its multi-colored bark, and I remember peeling pieces from its trunk to build houses for bugs at its base.  Sycamore bark comes in many shades of camo, and it made nicely unobtrusive dwellings that kept the ants safe from all sorts of dangers.  Bark is like that.  It protects and hides and covers the trees from the harsh outside world.

This winter I have been drawn again and again to the sycamores that grow near my house.  Instead of their usual subtle exterior, all of my sycamores have turned stark white.  October brought a fierce storm our way that tore branches from even the sturdiest trees and threw them to the ground.  It seemed that not a single tree was spared.  Even the ones that kept their limbs lost the deadwood that needed pruning.  The sycamores, it seems, were robbed of their bark.

Instead of blending in, they stand in stark, white contrast to their surroundings, and when the sun hits them at just the right angle, they positively glow.

For all the years that I have loved the sycamores, the most I ever saw of what lay beneath their bark was a glimpse here and there of the white wood that lay under their ordinary exterior.  Now that their outsides are gone and their insides exposed, they have no choice but to stand in their beauty for all to see.

How similar we are, the sycamores and I.  We spend most of our days, whether sunny or a bit overcast, comfortably nestled inside our bark.  We blend in easily with our surroundings and quietly go about the business of living and growing and being, using our camouflage to assure that we don’t look too different from our neighbors.  It takes something earth-shaking, like a storm, to strip away our hiding places and call to the surface the beauty that lies within.

As the morning sun touched the white sycamore this morning, I thought of the times in my own life when storms had stripped me of my security and left me standing naked and exposed for all to see.  I thought of the way these experiences taught me to trust that what lay beneath the surface of my days was something beautiful and resilient and strong.  I thought of the times when the sun would hit me at just the right angle and let that beauty shine so that others might be moved to shed a little bark themselves.

I think of the sycamore, standing silver-white in the early morning sun.  I hold its stark, white beauty in my heart and unzip my camouflage jacket.  I face the East with my arms spread wide and let the sun touch my heart.  My branches reach toward the heavens and the breeze of a new day stirs my fingers, tickles my nose, and awakens my soul.  I stand, stark and white and unencumbered, and as the sun warms my face, I know that I sparkle in its Light.