Archive for May, 2012

“Enthusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do.”

— Norman Vincent Peale

A couple of years ago I met — well, actually, we haven’t really met — an online friend whose combination of artwork and heartfelt words inspired and uplifted me.  She calls them Bone Sighs, and although we never have touched hands or had a cup of tea in person, terri is my sister.  We are of the same tribe; and through the miracle of the internet, we have compared our spiritual DNA and discovered that we are family.

Today is the last day of terri’s birth month.  In her infectious spirit of celebrating life, ter is not content with only one day.  Her birthday celebration begins on May first and lasts until June arrives.  One year we celebrated with e-cards, and I bombarded her daily with the most annoying barrage of Hoops and Yo Yo that anyone has ever seen.  This year, when I realized that I had blown through the entire collection (and some things simply can’t be outdone), I decided it might be fun to send terri  a note each day, telling her something I love about her.  In typical fashion, she warned me that 31 days was a long time and I would run out of things before the end of the month.  She suggested that we exchange things we were grateful for each day.  Sounded good to me, so I did both — “here is what I love about you,” and “today I am grateful for…”  And terri started responding in kind.  Now we sit at the end of thirty-one days.  What has grown out of our daily notes is pretty awesome.  Each of us has a list of affirmations — things we already knew, deep inside, about ourselves but maybe forgot to tell ourselves; and each of us has taken the time for thirty-one straight days to speak our gratitude and lift each other up.  Even on the roughest days, we spoke of the things that make life bearable and enjoyable and a cause for celebration.

I don’t know about terri, but I have come to the end of this experience feeling very enthusiastic about waking up each day.  Now I’m usually a pretty positive person, and I didn’t expect any great change to come out of this simple exercise; but I have to tell you that it’s been tons of fun to take time to remember what I love about my life and what I love about myself.  I don’t think we speak often enough about the things we love — the people we love — who make our lives full and rich and wonderful.  I don’t think we pause often enough to consider just what it is about them that creates those good feelings when we enjoy friendship, sisterhood, companionship as we travel through life.

The only conclusion I can reach is this:  I think it would be good and wise and healthy for each of us to take time to appreciate all the good things we bring to the world and all the good things the world brings to us.  I’m really going to try to do this, even when I’m not feeling on top of my game.  Of course, I’m luckier than most, because I have a list of thirty-one lovable things about me — and they come from someone I love and admire, so I know they must be true!

I highly recommend this, especially if you have a friend who lives at a distance and you want to take the time to tell her all the lovable things about her.  Be careful, though.  You may find that your enthusiasm grows to levels that make your family roll their eyes a lot and groan when you’re too cheerful.  What do they know?

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

— Voltaire

A snowflake is such an innocent thing.  It drifts gently down from the clouds and dances through the air until it reaches the ground.  It has no deliberate direction and no real plan.  It simply dances and swirls and is blown by the breeze until it finally lands.  When the first ones fall each winter, we hurry outdoors to watch their descent.  We catch them on our tongues and laugh with delight as they cling to our eyelashes and show us their beautiful, crystalline shapes.

The first lovely snowflakes of winter have no worries.  They don’t think about how many of them will fall or where they will land.  They don’t worry about such things as melting or freezing or becoming compressed under a pile of other snowflakes.  They just dance carelessly through the air and fall where they may.

How much of our life is lived like the snowflakes?  We drift and spin from thought to thought and ideology to ideology with little care about the consequences of not considering the results.  The sense of freedom and the allure of the beauty of something new and shiny can pull us, again and again, from the deliberate sort of living that is our purpose for existence.  It is fun to be a snowflake from time to time and pause from the focused and intentional life; but if we allow too many snowflakes to accumulate, the day may come when it takes only one last crystal to undo the balance and send them all crashing down in an avalanche.  And those who survive the avalanche have a lot of digging to do in order to find their path again.

We must love the snowflakes and admire their beauty, but we must be certain about which ones we want to land on our road.  Unless we are intentional about the way we travel, we might find that our path has drifted shut and that it is threatened by very little more than one last flake of snow.  No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible, but the truth is that each shares some of the burden for what has happened.  Our lives are no different.  Everything matters.  Everything joins with everything else to produce the results.  Each snowflake is in some way responsible for the avalanche.

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”

— G.K. Chesterton

Yesterday was Memorial Day.  In our small town, it is an occasion where the veterans of combat dress in the white shirts and navy blue trousers that were part of their uniforms and remind us to remember the people they never will forget.  They lose their elderly posture and somehow draw themselves out of the natural c-shaped hunch that is the legacy of their later years and stand tall, their salutes as crisp as the sharp creases in their sleeves and their pant-legs.  For a moment, as the memories of war surface, they are vital young men again — as young as the images they carry of those who fought beside them and never made it home.

Each year, the veterans in our community choose a name from the list of those who died in action and dedicate their ceremony to his memory.  This year, Clifford Scholl was the young man who never grew old.  His face was the photo from our high school yearbook.  He graduated a year behind me, married, and was drafted to serve in Vietnam.  What was particularly poignant this year was the reality that not one relative could be found to accept the honor in his place.  I wondered whether he had been an only child.  Perhaps his death marked the end of his family’s line.  Perhaps his parents’ generation is no longer with us.

We sometimes forget that when a young person dies we not only lose all that he has been, but we lose all that might have been if he had lived.  There were no children.  There will be no grandchildren.  Perhaps, except for the veterans who made it home, there will be no one left to remember that he lived and died.

It is for this very reason that, each Memorial Day, I pull out my flag and walk down to the curb to watch the old men march by with their flags.  I stand at attention at the monument as they fire a salute in honor of all that was lost in the fight to hold onto all that was gained — our freedoms, our life in these United States, our honor.  They honor the fighting, and they pray for peace.  And I say, “amen.”

Memorial Day

The old men march,

Their uniforms crisp

And freshly ironed;

Creases so sharp,

They would leave

A mark

If you touched them.

*

Bent with age,

Their footsteps slowed

They march in memory

That draws them up

And makes them straight

And tall

If only for a moment.

*

The old men march,

Their faces lined,

With memories;

Creases so deep,

They camouflage

A tear

That still remembers

*

The cost of courage,

Memories of

Those who never

Made it home

To love and live

And be

And honor peace.

*

The old men march,

They raise the flag

They raise their rifles

Heed the call

To ready, aim,

Salute.

Memorial Day.

*

©Pamela Stead Jones 2012

“The real tragedy is the tragedy of the man who never in his life braces himself for his one supreme effort, who never stretches to his full capacity, never stands up to his full stature.”

— Arnold Bennett

Life has taught me that it is always wise to assume that people do the best they can.  This removes from me the burden of passing judgment on other people’s lives, and it gives them responsibility for their own choices while allowing me to be optimistic and free from worrying that people are letting me down because I am somehow unworthy of better treatment.  It is good to lay down the burden of criticizing and judging others, and it is good to be immune to the slights and hurts that can land on us when other people pass judgment on the way we choose to live.

We need to be kind, to others and to ourselves, so that we do not become discouraged; but this should not mean that we accept a level of living that falls short of all that we can be.  Kindness does not mean making excuses and back-pedaling because we are afraid we might fail.  If we can remove judgment from the equation, then fear of failure should not even be an issue.  If we are free from judging ourselves and others and free from taking in the hurt that others might hurl our way, then we need to ask ourselves if we suffer from a more insidious sort of fear — the fear of being all we can be.

How many times do we stand, perched on the edge of the purpose we were born to live, and find ourselves paralyzed by the fear of success?  How often have we settled for life in the rut we have plowed instead of stepping over the edges that confine us and discovering that we could grow an entire field of wonderful things instead of limiting ourselves to a single row?

Moving into greatness requires courage and the willingness to climb out of the rut and into the bigger world that lies all around us.  It means letting our ideas, our hopes, and our passions be sown so they can take root and grow into being.  We must not limit our own efforts to what is familiar.  We must not engage in the tragedy that is born of fearing our own greatness.  Today is the perfect day to climb over the edge.  What lies on the other side is not to be feared — what lies on the other side is being fully alive.

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life.  Comes into us at midnight very clean.  It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands.  It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday”

— John Wayne

We’ve all had one of those days — you know you have, don’t deny it — one of those days where it seems that nothing else can go wrong, and then it does.  I’ve always tried to hold onto the perspective that troubles are like speed bumps.  They appear without warning, make the road a bit bumpy, and rattle us with their presence; but all we need to do is get past them and find our way back to the smooth path.  But that isn’t the kind of day I’m talking about.  The “one of those” days are those where we barely get over one speed bump and another one appears to take its place.  We have no time to readjust and prepare for the next bump, and soon we feel like we’re riding a bicycle down the middle of the railroad tracks.  We live the whole day feeling rattled and arrive at the evening shaken, discouraged, and tired.

This is where tomorrow comes into play.  Sometimes, as I often tell my kids, the best thing about today is tomorrow.  Tomorrow is filled with promise.  Tomorrow offers perspective.  Tomorrow whispers to go to sleep and trust that when we awaken a fresh start will lie before us — with or without the speed bumps, but still a brand new day.  Tomorrow is filled with hope and nourished by the lessons we have learned today.  The next time we have one of those “one of those” days, let’s make a pact to look into the night sky as today becomes tomorrow and let the moonlight wash away all the cares of what now becomes yesterday.  Sometimes the best thing about today is that it soon will be yesterday.  Sometimes the best thing about today is tomorrow.

“If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years, how man would marvel and stare.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The sky has been dark this week.  Between rain clouds that seem to gather nightly and the four-day-old crescent moon that sheds only a tiny sliver of light, it seems that the best occupation for nighttime hours is sleep.  On an average evening, as I stand outside in my yard, my eyes are drawn upward to see the familiar stars, twinkling in the darkness and assuring me that the heavens and the earth are still intact and still speaking to one another.  Perseus and the Great Bear frolic in the sky, and I barely give a thought to how wonderful they are as I locate them with my eyes and then turn my attention to more earthly matters.

But this week the sky has been dark.  When I glance toward the vault, no light greets me.  When I walk in my back yard, I tentatively place one foot at a time ahead of the other to test for obstacles and assure that no unforeseen chasm will swallow me up.  There is a sort of reassurance that the stars offer us as they light our way through the dark of night.  Even when their light cannot show us what lies in front of us, at least we feel the comfort of knowing that by tilting back our heads, we can be reminded that it takes only a pinpoint of light to erase darkness.

This week, as I walk more carefully through the night, I realize how much I truly love my starry friends.  I make a vow to remember how I long for them when the night is at its darkest and to appreciate them more deeply when the clouds part and the sky is once again filled with their light.  I will remember to be thankful that they appear all the time and not just once every thousand years; but I will try my best to appreciate them the way I do when they do not shine and I long for their company.

“Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it.  Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it.  Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it.  Bitterness sickens life; love heals it.  Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.”

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

Grudges are a heavy burden to carry.  They weigh us down.  They slow our walk.  They make our bodies ache and consume our thoughts.  Every day we have choices to make — choices that determine how we will spend our energy.  In a very basic way, we enter each moment of life with questions before us:  Will I build something or destroy something?  Will I add positive energy to the world or will I block it with my anger?  Will I hold onto bitterness, or will I look to the sweetness that a new day has to offer?

When we have unresolved sadness or anger, it is easy to forget the simple truth that carrying such burdens leaves us with our arms so full that we are unable to pick up the new things that restore beauty and light to our journey.  There is something liberating in accepting that there may be events in our lives that simply will not be resolved.  There are some burdens that cannot be made lighter, and those burdens simply  need to be laid down beside the road, bid farewell, and left in the past.  We may grieve the lack of resolution and take some time to truly touch the event that left us bitter and angry; but when the tears have been shed, we can then move forward with the hope that we will be wiser as we greet what lies ahead.

Every new day comes packaged with new choices — choices to imprison or to liberate, choices to steal another’s power or to encourage them to blossom, choices to leave a bad taste behind or a sweet memory of our presence, choices to hurt or to heal, choices to place a blindfold over our eyes or to face the world with eyes wide open, choices to take on another burden or to hold onto only what is lovely and light.

Today is a very good day to lay down our grudges.  Bitterness only weighs us down — love sets us free.

“Expect to have hope rekindled.  Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways.  The dry seasons in life do not last.  The spring rains will come again.”

— Sarah Ban Breathnach

Yesterday, after the dog walk was over, I took off my waterproof boots, laced up my walking sneaks, and took off for parts unplanned to get my juices flowing on a drizzly day.  Thankfully, the drizzle had become a mist; and if I closed my eyes, I could feel a free moisturizing facial being delivered without interruption as I made my way through town.  It was not a day to walk blindly, though, and soon I found myself captivated by the way the world had been transformed by the early morning misting.  Flowers, bejeweled by the droplets, stood taller than usual, each one displaying its particular colors and shapes and announcing its unique place in all of creation.

The birds, thankful that the downpour had ended, splashed in puddles and chirped from branch to branch in the trees that lined the road.  Again, they showcased the uniqueness of each individual that makes up the great landscape of Earth.  The bluebird’s bright azure feathers and the robin’s red-orange breast, the cardinal’s tuft of red and his black mask, the red-headed house finch, and his cousin the bright-yellow goldfinch — each one joined the colorful dance of the flowers and added some music to bring it all to life.  As I walked, taking it all in against the vivid green backdrop of grass and trees, my heart began to dance.  I wondered what color I might be at that very moment or what song of joy might be emitted from the sound of my feet as they splashed along the wet sidewalk.

We all need times like this one to come out of our self-imposed isolation and join in the dance of Creation.  We need to remember the Hope that called us to be.  We need to know that our prayers are heard and answered by the One who first called us to bring our unique color and song to the beauty that is life.   Sometimes it takes a good Spring shower to restore the part of us that dries out as we live our days in isolation.  Sometimes it takes a good Spring shower to awaken the part of us that, like the flowers, sparkles in the joy of simply being alive.

“Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity.  But this means we then give away our power to that entity.”

— M. Scott Peck

Haven’t we all done this?  Which one of us hasn’t passed the buck in a stressful or frustrating situation?  And which one of us hasn’t felt like the dumping ground for someone else’s misery? I love Peck’s observation that passing the buck doesn’t free us up, but instead it enslaves us to the person who now owns our power.

I always tell my kids that a great portion of growing up is in showing up.  That is the first step toward living a responsible and independent life.  The next lesson follows the first.  It is inevitable, if one chooses to show up in life, that there will be days when we feel less adequate to face the tasks that lie before us.  We will sometimes succeed, sometimes fail and need to start over, and sometimes — especially before we really grow up — sometimes pass the buck and lay the blame on another for not doing what we feel inadequate to do ourselves.

There is a power play at work when the buck gets passed, and it needs two participants.  When we feel overwhelmed, it seems an easy and innocent choice to hand off our problem to someone else and let them solve it.  Peck says our power goes with the problem, and he is probably right.  In passing the buck, we accept defeat and limit our expectations of our own abilities.  We set the person who picks up our work in authority over us; and until we grow to the point where we stay with problems until they are solved, we will place ourselves under the power of others.  When we allow someone else to pass the buck our way, it may feel as though we are being helpful.  In the short term, this might be true; but in the longer term, when we continue to solve another person’s problems, we devalue their power to show up and grow up.  We also limit ourselves when we only serve as rescuers and steal the power of others.  Even the person who takes on the problems of the whole world limits herself when she uses the repetitive solving of small problems as an excuse for not stepping into the more difficult puzzles that might lead her to recognize her true abilities.

I always say to my kids that it’s important to show up.  I also tell them, “if you make a mess, you clean it up.”  When they are learning to unravel their messes, I am happy to sit beside them — but they need to do the work.  Then they learn that they are capable and we can celebrate their successes.  Sure beats a lifetime of cleaning up after others, too.  Hang onto your power.  Hone and develop it.  It will take you farther than you can imagine.