Archive for September, 2012

“Love not what you are, but what you may become.”

— Miguel de Cervantes

We tell our children, and ourselves, “you can be whatever you want to be.”  What we forget is that being something, being defined as something, should not be our goal.  The moment we feel that we have arrived, we are tempted to stop growing; and when we stop growing, we stop being alive.  What we need to tell our children, and ourselves, is “you can become anything you want to become — so never settle for attaining one goal.”

When I was a little girl, and people would ask me, “what will you be when you grow up?”  I would answer, “I’m going to be a mother.”  It seemed so simple at the time.  I would grow up, get married, have a baby, and be a mother.  It was magical and simple and clear.  In one moment, with the arrival of my first child, I would suddenly be a mother.  I thought I knew what that meant, when I was a child.  I thought that a single event would change the definition of who and what I was.  What I have learned since that magical moment took place is that the moment simply changed the direction I would walk through the rest of my life.  It was a crossroads where I chose to turn in one direction and left other options behind.  It was not a destination, as I had imagined it when I was young.  It was a beginning.  Forty-two years later, I am still on the path called “mother,” and I am still becoming that person in new ways every day.

What I could not have imagined in my tender years was the way that my mother path would merge and overlap and converge and diverge with so many other paths — wife, sister, writer, musician, friend, artist — that would enrich the becoming with each new day.  I tell my children, and I tell myself, “You can become many things that you want to be.  The trick to living out loud is never to arrive, never to settle, and never to stop becoming.”  What will I be when I grow up?  I hope the answer is that I will still be becoming.

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight.  Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward.  Your life will never be the same again.”

— Og Mandino

We hurry so quickly through our days that we often forget to slow down and really be with the people we meet — the people we love.  When grave illness or injury enters the picture, we screech to a halt and wholeheartedly engage the person whose life has fallen into crisis.  We are so very good at offering compassion, kindness, and understanding to people as they leave this life, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could treat our fellow travelers this way all along the road instead of only at the end?  We become so busy with the day-to-day tasks of life that we forget the truth that how we live is every bit as important as what we achieve.

It is a wonderful and holy thing to help another person transition from life to death; but it is equally wonderful and holy to show the sort of compassion that encourages another person to keep on walking, to engage being alive in a way that shines a beacon and illuminates their path.  We are all light-bearers.  We all have the ability to shed some illumination and light the way when darkness descends; but we must remember that we do not need darkness in order for our light to exist.  A steady supply of compassion, kindness, and understanding can change our world.  We must continue to help people die without fear, but we must also encourage each other to live fearlessly.

Beginning today, let us embrace our role as bearers of the light.  Let us shine with love and compassion so that the whole road is lit from beginning to end.

“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”

— Emile Zola

You can hide it away, but you cannot erase your truth.  You can store it in the closet behind some boxes, where it will not be seen by others, but you will know that it is there.  You can deny your truth in order to save yourself from being embarrassed; but sooner or later, it will bubble to the surface and be seen.  It will walk in your footprints, or  you will walk in the footprints of your truth.  The choice is yours.  You can follow it and be a part of the adventure, or you can try to escape its relentless pursuit.  Sooner or later, you must decide:  will you embrace your truth or will you spend your life struggling against the one thing that could set you free.

We learn quite early to conform to the ideas, the actions, and the truths of others, especially those in authority.  We learn to lie to ourselves when our deepest truth does not match with what we are told to believe or do.  For a time it might work to bury the truth and live our lies, but the seed of truth cannot be hidden forever.  We can bury it, but the lies that cover it soon decay; and as each one dies, it only makes the ground more fertile and prepares it for the day that Truth no longer can be contained.  When that happens, it is the decay of our lies and half-truths that causes our Truth to burst into the sunlight.

In the end, our truth is all that remains.  The rest falls away, like the leaves of Autumn that return to the earth and nourish the soil so that Spring’s truth can spring from captivity and show its beauty.

You can bury your truth, but only for a while.  Everything we do returns us to our truth.  Where is yours hidden?

“The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.  Accept life, and you must accept regret.”

— Henri Frederic Amiel

My mother sometimes would tell me, when the stresses of life loomed, that she preferred having things wrapped up neatly and tied with a pretty pink bow.  Then she would sigh, laugh a little, and say that life was not usually like that.  I knew what she meant, because I suppose I inherited that love of neat wrappings from my mom.  Life is more like a gift wrapped by a five-year-old.  The paper is a little too big for the box and has bulges and bumps.  The bow is crooked and the ribbon is frayed from one too many attempts to tie it.  And often it takes a whole roll of tape to keep it all together.

Life is messy.  There is just no way around it.  It is my kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner.  It is my carpet after all the kids have been out to play in the snow.  It is my bathtub after an afternoon of puddle-jumping, complete with mud.

As I finished the list above, it occurred to me that often the biggest mess comes with the best fun.  There is just no way to plan the incredible surprises life brings us; and there is not the neat little package in existence that could begin to contain all the joy that comes from living our less-than-perfect lives.  Life is not meant to be perfect.  It is not a contest that requires us to be flawless and never make mistakes.  Rather it is a challenge to do the best we can, with the materials at hand, and uncover the wonder that lies beneath the bumpy wrapping.

I always told my kids that the formula for life was to do your best, accept your mistakes, and if you make a mess to clean it up.  Welcome to another wonder-filled day on planet Earth.  Bring your sense of adventure, pack some creativity, and don’t forget your broom — you’ll probably need it.

“I like not only to be loved, but to be told I am loved.”

— T.S. Eliot

Sometimes life gets so busy that I find myself running in circles.  Just the other day, I ran so fast that I came up behind myself, tapped myself on the shoulder, and asked permission to pass.  The obvious advice when life becomes so fast–paced is to slow down, but the demands of the day sometimes can’t be put off until tomorrow.  So we scurry, we strive, we succeed or we don’t, and the days fly past so quickly that it is easy to forget what is important.

Many of us like to cultivate an attitude of gratitude by speaking or writing at least one thing each day that makes us grateful.  I have a long list of things I appreciate, but it is another list that I want to pay attention to today.  There are people in my life who are so incredibly special to me that I could not imagine my life without them.  I know they feel the same way about me, and for that I am truly thankful.  When we are blessed with people who love us, it gives us the energy to face the spiraling sort of days that consume our energy and distract us from the things — and people — who really matter.

I know that slowing down is not an option on some of those days; but just as our bodies need us to remember to pause and feed them several times a day, our souls thrive when we break from our circular route and take in the love that sustains us.  I am blessed enough to know that I am loved by a whole bunch of people who know that I love them, too; but as T.S. Eliot says, I like to hear it as well as know it.  Out loud.  Right out loud and in my face.  And a hug would be a nice touch, too.

Last summer, we spent a lot of time sitting in our car as we drove from city to city with our athlete.  We learned to watch for the signs that indicated that food was available at the next exit.  Just seeing the sign and knowing that the restaurant was around the corner was not enough.  We had to pull over, take a break, and fill our bodies for the hours ahead.  I’m thinking that we need to post some signs in our minds that indicate love breaks along the way through each day.  We need to pull over, take a break, find someone special and say it right out loud, “I love you.”  And a hug would be a nice touch.

It’s a wonderful thing to know we are loved.  It is even more wonderful to hear it.

“Memory believes before knowing remembers.  Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”

— William Faulkner

“Just the facts, ma’am.”  Wasn’t that what Jack Webb used to say when he played the role of Sgt. Friday?  The nice part about memories is that they include so much more than just the facts.  I have given birth to five beautiful children who now are adults and producing children of their own.  When I want to know exactly what time one of my offspring entered the world, I go to my folder and find the birth record.  I certainly can tell you that Emily was born early one December morning after a long night of labor that culminated in a caesarean birth.  I was a bit busy at the time and forgot to look at the clock, and the fact that the exact minute of her arrival was 8:14 pales by comparison when I let the sensory memories wash over me.  I remember the look in my sweetheart’s eyes as he saw his daughter lifted from my womb.  I remember the whoosh of suction I felt, even though numb, when the space she had occupied suddenly was empty.  I remember the warmth of her cheek against mine and the scent of her hair; and all of these come together to form the picture that at some levels defies language.  I read the facts on her birth record and think of all they really mean.

I am sure that my sweetheart’s memory of that day, which he believes to be completely accurate as well, would be composed of a different set of facts.  Whose memory is correct, his or mine?  If memory believes longer than our knowing even can wonder, I suppose that setting rules for “just the facts, ma’am,” removes our whole experience of being human from the experience.  It is the believing, the recalling at a deep and understanding level, that makes memories so precious.

When we sit with another person and try to recall a shared experience, it is easy to get bogged down in the details that each of us cataloged as important or trivial.  What really matters is the shared experience and the effect it has on our relationship.  The wonderful thing about shared memories, when we get beyond our own recollections of the facts, is the way they wrap us in the warmth of the big picture.  A wonderful scene in the movie, “Gigi,” illustrates this so well.  Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold reminisce in song.  “I Remember It Well.”

They can’t agree on a single fact, but we can feel the sweetness between them as each recalls their evening so long ago.  What matters is not the color of her dress, the music they heard, or even the month of their encounter.  What matters is the tender feelings they recall so many years later.

Let’s be about making memories today, memories that are so much more than just the facts.  Sometimes the greater truth transcends the need for definition.  Sometimes the facts are the least important part of the sweetest memories.

“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”

— Dr. Seuss

We are now a month into the new school year.  The backpacks have become heavier each day with books to read and assignments to prepare.  The kids are beginning to gripe about homework now that the novelty has worn off, and parents everywhere wish they could find the right way to convey the message that the best learning takes place away from the classroom.  I am not against education, and I still benefit from the input of great teachers who are a part of my life; but the moment of input is not always the moment of recognition and learning.  It takes quiet time, away from the teacher, for the student to begin to make sense of what she has heard, place it in the context of things she already knows, formulate questions, and find the answers.  We collect data by hearing and reading and doing.  We find the meaning of what we have taken in when we spend time reflecting on how it is relevant to our own experience.

The link between what we are told, what we practice, and what we learn is imagination.  Our teachers would be less than happy if we sat with them and let our minds wander while they work so hard to share what they know and give us the road map we need to get started on our journey to understanding.  What is wonderful about having time alone is the way it allows us to sit with what we have heard, review its substance, and then let our imaginations fit it into the bigger picture of all we have learned before.

Take some time when class is over, when the practice part of homework is done, and let your mind travel through your experience.  Bring your road map, but spend some time marking it with the unblazed trails that have not yet been recorded.  Walk your data through an unexplored land and be the map maker who marks the way to your dreams.  The unknown is filled with adventure, and it stretches on forever.  It is in the stillness that we are able to look past the edges of the paved road and discover the tiny path that leads to learning.

“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn/ Stand shadowless like silence, listening/ To Silence.”

— Thomas Hood

It is official.  The Equinox has passed, and Autumn is here.  There have been wisps of Fall in the air for a couple of weeks now; and in keeping with the odd pace of 2012, another season seems anxious to skip the calendar and arrive in its own good time.  The mornings have been heavy with dew; and just once or twice, for a fleeting moment, the dew has turned crystalline and shining in the morning sun, requiring only a glance to melt it back to the droplets of summer.  My feet have been restless.  They have wanted to step out of the lush green of summer and onto the bridge that is Autumn.

That’s what Autumn is, you know — a bridge that connects the bounty of summer with the frozen time of winter.  As I raise my foot to step onto the bridge, I find myself in a place that is dear to my heart.  Step into the fog and listen to the silence as it listens to Silence.

The seasons of the year teach us about beginnings and endings, about bridges and transitions, and about the cyclical nature of the universe and of our own personal existence as well.  What lies silent and dormant all winter long bursts into life as the warmth of Spring thaws it and calls it to sprout and bud.  The heat of summer calls us to dance and grow and bear fruit.  We realize our full potential as we blossom and spread our branches wide.  We offer up the fruit of our labors and give back all that we have become, in gratitude for the invitation to the dance.  Then Autumn comes.  As our final fruits are harvested and the leaves that have sustained them begin to wither in the cold, we step onto the bridge — the place of remembering.

Autumn is a bittersweet time.  It calls us to remember how the still, cold winter was awakened in Spring.  It calls us to remember the dance of our  youth and the fruits of our work; but most of all, it calls us to remember that there are things that must be stripped away as we cross the bridge.  It reminds us to lay down all the things that would only hinder us from reaching our destination.  It reminds us to welcome the winter and go to the land where all that matters is the Light that enveloped us before the call of Spring.

As we step onto the bridge, we prepare for the cold days that lie ahead.  We sweep away the useless leaves, we prune the dying branches of our summer glory, and we remember to dance as we kiss them goodbye.  With hearts full of love, eyes that hold back a tear or two, and souls filled with gratitude for the beauty that is life, we commit it all to memory.  With arms spread wide, we stand on the bridge.  We capture each piece of the wonder, hold it close for a minute, and then let the wind carry it back to its source — in the earth, in the water, and in the sky.  The year flies on, like the geese who honk noisily overhead, and completes its journey back to winter.

But today it is Autumn, and I will not miss a minute of the celebration, the color, and the remembering.

Equinox

For a moment – no longer –  the scales are balanced.

Night and Day in equality stand

And we stop between the Dark and Daylight

The Physical, Spiritual, Present, and Past.

This is the moment when all can be seen

As equal, as timeless, as woven together

The parts of the universe now become one

And just for a blink of an eye we can see.

Our past and our present make sense of each other

Our future, our destiny hangs in the air

We’re stretched at our seams, and the light pours out

And we see for an instant the road we are walking.

Look back!  Look ahead!  Watch your step!  Look above!

Look beyond preconception and join in the dance.

Drink deep of the knowledge, the wisdom, the awe,

As the universe hums and we all know the tune.

For a moment – no longer – we’re frozen in time.

We savor the chance to feel caught in between,

We peek through the veil, opened wide for an instant,

And know, without knowing, the path that we tread.

— Pamela Stead Jones  One Small Voice:  Poems of Peace and Light for a New Century, 2012 Edition

“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

— Leonard Cohen

Are you feeling broken by life?  We all feel that way from time to time; but I have learned to peek through the cracks and look for the blessing that lies in whatever challenge might come my way — certainly not in the midst of the brokenness, but after the dust settles and perspective returns.  It is then that we crawl out of the bunker, survey the damage, and take inventory of the scars we have accumulated along the way.

Show me the person without scars, and I will show you a person who has forgotten to live.  We stumble, we fall, we bleed, we heal, we stand up again and again, and we count our scars as badges of courage that remind us we are alive.  We consider the good things that come our way, we remember the people who bathe our wounds and we learn from them to do the same for others.

“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Sometimes it takes being broken for us to open up to all the good things that we shut out with our instinct to protect ourselves.  The blessing in brokenness is the way it opens us up and shows us that our vulnerability can be met with love and light and healing.

Are you feeling broken by life?  Peek out through the cracks and let the light shine in to heal your wounds.  And when you heal them, remember to leave a little space between the edges; because what Mr. Cohen forgot to tell us is that when we are cracked, that’s when the light shines out, too.