Archive for February, 2013

“Forgive one another, love one another.  Be in peace with one another because life is short.”

— Enrique Rodriguez

Who, you may ask, is Enrique Rodriguez?  I really don’t have an answer, but I am pretty sure he is a deep and amazing person.  Today was the first time I ever heard his name.  It was written in a news account of a family tragedy in a town near my own.  Last Saturday, a sixteen-year-old boy was driving his mother on a busy road near the shopping malls when a speeding truck hit their vehicle.  A fire ensued; and in the end, both mother and son lay dead at the scene.

Reading such a story always touches me deeply.  Although it has now been thirty-three years since my own son died at the scene of an accident, hearing the account of another family’s pain and seeing their faces can take me to the place where my own experience of sorrow and grief resides.  I understand them in ways that other people — the ones untouched by tragedy and grief — cannot.  I know the difficult places they will have to walk and how impossible their journey through grief will seem; and I know the truth that there is life on the other side of our sorrow and loss.

Every now and then, we are stunned by the absolute grace given to people in their time of pain, grace that allows them to speak words of healing to others even before their own has begun.  The story I read this morning was one of those stories; and my day has begun in a place of encouragement through the words of a grieving husband and stepfather.  At a gathering for family and friends, Enrique Rodriguez stood tall and loving and strong and remembered his wife with these words of faith:

“Forgive one another, love one another.

Be in peace with one another because life is short.”

So often, when we walk through cemeteries, we see the inscription, “R.I.P.,” on the tombstones.  We wish for the people whose bodies lie there to Rest In Peace.  When grace touches a person at the moment of their worst grief, then words come out that they don’t believe they are saying.  Mr. Rodriguez was blessed with this sort of grace, and he brought his loved ones back to the land of the living by reminding us all to “Be in peace.”

Too often we forget, in the midst of our busy days, that life is short.  We forget how important it is to forgive, to love, and to be at peace with our fellow travelers.

There is a family in a town not far from my own.  They are beginning a perilous journey through sorrow and grief and loss.  There will be times along the way when those words of grace will ring hollow for them.  There will be days of despair and times when hope seems far away; but in the end, they will return to those words — words not only of grace, but of truth — and they will know that their loved ones are smiling as they live on in their legacy of forgiveness, love, and peace.

“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

Most of us like to see ourselves as tuned into other people and sensitive to their needs.  We think of ourselves as good listeners — as people who open not only our ears, but also our hearts when someone speaks their dreams.  Personally, I like to think of myself as kind and compassionate — not necessarily a people person in the plural sense, but definitely a person person who likes to be attentive over a cup of coffee or tea with a friend.

In spite of all these good things, there are times when sorrow or pain comes our way and impairs our ability to be the people we truly are.  When we carry the debris of life on our shoulders, it can weigh us down and make it difficult to feel human.  When our hearts are wounded, it can be hard to open them to another for fear that more pain will land in a place that already is raw.  When the voice of sadness plays constantly in our mind, it can fill our ears with cotton so that the words of another person do not penetrate the sorrowful noise.  In our need to draw inward and protect from our pain, we sometimes shut out the world around us and seem distant and cold.

When we emerge from these times of sorrow, it is part of being human and healthy to quickly leave them behind.  Before long, our sadness is a distant memory and the feelings that accompanied it grow dim and vague and almost seem unreal.  It is good to release sadness and to move on with living, but there is great value in the compassion we gain by remembering that we have inhabited that sorrowful space.  Only then can we look with kindness on someone who seems to tune us out or not care about what we have to say.  Only then can we hope to see through another person’s insulation and isolation and remember that behind it all there may be another person, just like us, who is compassionate and kind and a true people person.  Only when we have grieved can we understand the grief of another.  Only when we have felt sorrow can we catch the tear of a friend as it falls toward the ground.  Our eyes grow wise when we live through grief and pain.  When we can see through the cold exterior of another and discover the sadness we have felt in our own hearts, we can change our world.

“Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.”

— Elizabeth Bibesco

If you’re anything like me, I am sure you exercise your brain daily by carrying unbelievable amounts of information that helps you to manage your days.  There are schedules and lists — some of the ongoing kind that mark the progress of our dreams and plans over years of living, and some that remind us to pick up a child, keep an appointment, or stop on our way home for a gallon of milk.  If we are not careful, it is easy to become overloaded with things to remember.  When this happens, I picture a faucet emptying water into a pitcher.  If we are not quick enough to move the pitcher when it is full, it overflows, and we cannot choose which drops of water spill over the sides and are sent down the drain.  Our brains are the same way.  Psychologists tell us that we can only hold onto seven pieces of short-term memory at a time.  If we are to remember beyond the short term, we must make the effort to catalog the information through sensory perception and short-term memory before we can process it and file it for later retrieval.  Not all information is worth keeping beyond the short term, and we have the ability to decide where we will focus our long-term capture of the information that is relevant to our lives.

As I grow older, and as I watch my very old parents trying to live their 90-plus lives, I realize how wise Bibesco’s words really are.  I love the feeling of doing a good deed for someone else.  It puts me in touch with the generosity, the thoughtfulness, the compassion, and the love that I hope rules my days and makes my life worth living.  It is a blessing to be able to serve others, whether tangibly or simply by sharing an uplifting message or even a smile.  When I log these memories, what really matters is the emotion attached to the repetitive act of giving, not a list of all the things I have done for or given to others.  It is my goal not to have enough space in my memory to list the good deeds I hope to do over a lifetime.

On the other hand, remembering the good deeds done by others is vital to our happiness as our world grows smaller and our friends begin to disappear from our daily lives.  It is in remembering — in cataloging gratitude — that we continue to trust that the world is a friendly place and that we can trust most people to be kind.  As we become less able to care for our own needs, it is vital that we trust the motives of the trustworthy people who want to be kind, to be compassionate, to be thoughtful and to be generous with their time, their assistance, and their love.

We have limited space in the pitcher for long-term memories.  Let us be mindful of holding on tightly to the kindness of others.  Let us solidify those memories like pebbles that cannot be eroded easily or blown away in the wind.  When the faucet runs and the information accumulates to the point where it overflows, let us rest assured that those pebbles will sink to the bottom and stay with us.  What we do for others can be carried by the breeze, but our gratitude for the good that has come our way must remain a part of us.  When we feel lonely and forgotten, it will remind us that truly we are never alone.

“Wisdom and deep intelligence require an honest appreciation of mystery.”

— Thomas Moore

We can learn many things in many ways.  We collect experiences as we make our life choices.  Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail, but always we become a bit more intelligent about the way the universe works.  There is deep intelligence in the discovery of the way results repeat themselves in different circumstances.  This is the way we learn to define our universe.  This is the way we strive to construct the events of our lives with predictable outcomes.

Intelligence leads us to analyze situations and make decisions that we think will lead us to succeed in the choices we make.  It is the part of us that teaches us about ourselves and the way we interact with the world around us.  Wisdom consolidates all the outcomes of all our decisions and teaches us more than just who we are.  Wisdom shows us how we fit into the bigger picture — how our existence is a part of something much greater than any individual can be on our own.  It is wisdom that shows us the oneness we share with all of creation and all the creatures that inhabit our world.

Still, there is more to existence than using our intelligence and more than gaining wisdom through our experiences.  Beyond our intelligence and beyond our wisdom is something far greater than can be confined by the limited boundaries we draw each time we expand our awareness.  Beyond those boundaries lies mystery.  It is Mystery that breathed the breath of life into us and set us in motion.  We can dream about that and marvel at its wonder, but we cannot explain it or define it.  It is Mystery that calls us onward, always drawing us to erase the boundaries we draw in our finite world and move ever closer to the infinite.  It is Mystery that nourishes our dreams.  It is Mystery that feeds our imagination.  No matter how much we learn about ourselves or our world, we cannot define the Mystery; but because it has brought us to living and breathing, we know that it dwells in us.  They Mystery is in us, we are a part of it, and it calls us ever onward to the place beyond our understanding.

“What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”

— John Keats

There is a spark of the divine that lives in each creature called to life by our Creator.  It is that spark that calls us to be co-creators each day and to bring beauty to our world.  It is that spark that calls us to spread goodness.  It is that spark that is the muse that calls us to write, to draw, to weave music, to bring the small touches of the divine to our everyday existence and make it sparkle just a bit brighter.

All of creation is embedded with the perfection of its source, and each creature carries within it the Truth which embodies that perfection; and it is our quest to seek that truth from the beginning to the end of our time here.  Only when we manage to touch that truth can we navigate our way from start to finish, surrounded by beauty and walking in truth.

I don’t know exactly where that spark resides; but since I often say, “I can feel it in my gut,” I think it probably rests in the deepest center of our being.  It is only when we recognize the spark of the divine in another creature that our own spark begins to glow and lights the path before us.  Once our path is illuminated, we are able to walk in truth and touch each place we visit with the beauty that grows from our discovery of our own divine nature.

Seek Truth.  Walk in beauty and let your imagination grab hold of the pieces of the divine that appear before you.  Whatever your imagination seizes as beauty will lead you to the Truth.

“A weed is no more than a flower in disguise, Which is seen through at once, if love give a man eyes.”

— James Russell Lowell

I love dandelions.  No matter how often my mother and other wise people have told me that they are weeds, I think they are splendid.  I love them when they bud, when they first begin to open, when they spread their petals wide like miniature suns, and when they turn to balls of fluffy seeds that fly on the breeze and plant themselves to make more dandelions.  Their bright yellow splashes the summer fields and their umbrella seeds capture the dew and make them sparkle like crystals in the morning sun.  Even when winter arrives, they provide a perfect pedestal for the first ice crystals to shine their splendor.  Still, every time I speak the love I have for dandelions, someone will feel compelled to point out for me the obvious fact that they are weeds.

I suppose I am lucky that I fell in love with these beautiful little blossoms before I was taught to pull them and step on them and try to eradicate them from my yard and garden.  It is easier to see with the eyes of love when we have not been taught to hate or to look away.

My parents taught me to judge the dandelions, but I never saw them with the same eyes they did.  I am thankful for this lesson, because it makes me pause and think about other times when I look at the flowers in my life and instead see weeds.  The problem is not seeing with the eyes of love.  The problem is finding a way to see through the barriers we build against love — to see past the judgments we place on people and things that stop us from exploring who or what they really might be.

On Facebook yesterday, someone posted a photo of a utility pole with a poster on it.  The hand-lettered poster marked the death of a homeless man who had lived on that street, and it also gave his name and added, “he was a human being.”  How often do we look at people and things and see only the barriers that stand between us?  How often do we pass judgment based on those constructed blockades rather than taking the time to remove the debris and discover what is real?  How often do we allow our loving eyes to become blinded by the things that really do not matter?

Do we look at someone whose skin color is different and see only the differences between us?  Do we look at a child who has not been taught how to be kind and condemn him to a life of ostracism?  Do we listen to the babbling of an elder whose mind no longer works smoothly and forget that underneath it all is someone’s grandfather, someone’s father, someone’s sweetheart, someone’s son?

Perhaps we need to take a lesson from the weeds.  They provide us with a marvelous place to start.  Perhaps if we begin with the often-maligned flowers and see them for what they really are — beautiful, colorful bursts of creation — we will learn to see the beauty in other weeds who inhabit our world.  After all, no piece of creation was put here to be a weed.  We are the ones who define them that way.  We are the ones whose eyes are not loving enough to see that they are flowers.

“Good can imagine Evil; but Evil cannot imagine Good.”

— W.H. Auden

Good and Evil.  The backdrop of our existence always seems to include the quest to discover which things are which, and our reason for being is to tip the scales in favor of what is good.  We must be careful to remember the truth about these two, because it is only in understanding them that we can hope to fill our world with good things.

Just as darkness does not really exist, except to define the absence of light, Evil is simply the absence of Good.  We give power to this lack when we declare Evil an entity to be defeated.  Really, it is only a void that begs to be filled.

It is only natural that we see these two on a continuum, like high and low, north and south, east and west; but with Good and Evil, there are no intermediate steps.  There are some shades of gray between good and bad, as we use the terms to define our opinions about the worth of people and things; but Good and Evil are very Black and White.

When we enter a dark place, the smallest amount of light fills the darkness and erases it from its non-existence.  The same is true of Good and Evil.  Evil only exists as the absence of Good; so as soon as we bring some Good to the situation, Evil is obliterated.  Evil cannot imagine Good, because nothing cannot create something.  Good can imagine Evil, because it can picture the erosion of its very essence by the difficulties of living.  We must always strive to imagine Good, whatever our situation.  Without it, Evil fills the cracks and corners.  Shine a bit of Good.  It will overcome Evil just by existing.

“In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.”

— Ansel Adams

I am an adventurer.  By this, I mean that I am alive; and every person who walks the Earth is caught up in an adventure called living.  Whether we have planned our trip well, or whether we have wandered off to some side road and landed in an unfamiliar and remote location, we are engaged in a life-long journey.  Our destination is nothing less than ourselves, and each experience we encounter teaches us something new about the person we will become.  There is, indeed, great wisdom in discovering the perspective needed to engage each day as an exploration.

Recently, I ran into an old friend.  She told the story of her happy new life after the decline of a marriage that had been loveless and sad.  “All those wasted years,” was the theme of her story; but sometimes it takes a long time to learn many lessons that direct us back to the road leading to happiness and wholeness.  No matter how difficult it may be to navigate the road, the perspective we gain along the way can make the trip worthwhile.  As much as we might wish we could go back and find a more direct route, we have to admit that if we arrived without all the lessons learned, we might not know the fullness of happiness that sometimes grows out of deep despair.

I wonder, at the times when I find myself a reluctant adventurer, whether my present journey would be nearly so sweet without the dark and bitter times I would wish to erase.  Wisdom is born when we discover that life is always in motion.  Nothing ever stays the same, and the one thing we can rely on is that everything changes.  It is then that we can see the value in every adventure that has been part of our life.  Without the cold wind, would we truly understand the value of a balmy summer breeze?  Without enduring the heat of a blistering summer day, could we truly appreciate the sharp cold of a snowflake hitting our face?  Without sorrow, would we take joy for granted?  Without great love, could we ever endure the deep pain of loss?

Life truly is an exploration; and whether we embrace it or feel reluctant today, let’s hold onto the wisdom we have gained along the way.  We are on an incredible journey of discovery, and each new lesson brings us closer to discovering who we really were born to be.  Let’s lace up our shoes and get going!

“The most important things to say are those which often I did not think necessary for me to say – because they were too obvious.”

— Andre Gide

I suppose it is human nature to avoid stating the obvious.  We would like people to think that we are always exploring new ideas and embarking on new adventures that lead us to stretch our minds beyond the things we already know.  Stating something that everyone already knows can open us to teasing and even ridicule.  There is nothing worse than pointing out how the world works and hearing the answer, “Duh!” or worse yet, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”  There is nothing that clamps our mouths shut tighter than the feeling that we have somehow opened ourselves to humiliation by saying what is on our mind or in our heart.

I have an unfortunate habit of stating the obvious; and I make no apologies for this defect.  There is little that I enjoy more than a good discussion, one that leads the participants to stretch their limits and consider new ideas and new directions; but I truly believe that any good debate must begin on some common ground.  We start at a neutral point where everyone agrees upon the obvious, and then we begin to share new ideas.  It is important to discover our areas of agreement so that even when our new ideas lead us to disagree, we have a neutral place where we can gather, regroup, and remain friends.  Only when we understand that there are truths we all share as obvious can we feel comfortable enough to be tolerant of our differing views of the world we live in.

So go ahead and call me Captain Obvious.  I will take it as a compliment, because I have great respect for the truths we share.  I believe it is important to speak those truths and take the time to remind ourselves that, in the final accounting, we are not so different from those whose opinions diverge from our own.  If any of us is to feel secure enough to explore, we must know that we are not alone.  Only when we acknowledge our shared journey as members of the human race can we dare to venture out and try to learn about what lies beyond the obvious.  At the end of the day, I will be sure to review our common ground and to state the obvious.  It reassures me that even when our paths seem to part for a while, there is a place of humanity — of unity — where we will meet again.  There is little more important than that.  Obviously.

“To be kind to all, to like many and love a few, to be needed and wanted by those we love, is certainly the nearest we can come to happiness.”

— Mary Stuart

I have been a mother for forty-two years.  My children have taught me many things, and I hope that I have taught them a few as well.  Parents and children go through many stages of their shared life together.  In the beginning, we are responsible for their survival.  We feed, we clothe, we carry, we rock them to sleep; but all the time that we are doing these things, we know that our ultimate goal is not to carry them, but to teach them to stand and walk and run on their own.  My children all are grown now.  They have separate lives that intersect with mine from time to time; but they have grown beyond needing or wanting my constant care and supervision.

This week I have the distinct pleasure of being able to do some supportive things for my middle son, David.  He had repair done on his knee several days ago, and he has agreed to stay with his parents until he is more able to navigate on his own.  It is a good feeling to be able to return for a short time to the care-giving role that once defined our mother/child relationship.  The groove is natural and familiar; but going back to it makes us realize how far we have come since the time when Dave needed a mommy to direct his days.

My sweetheart and I chose long ago, at the beginning of our life together, to live a life of service.  We have tried to pass this desire on to our kids by word and by example.  It is a true pleasure to be able to greet one of our children — face to face and adult to adult — and offer to serve his needs until he is ready to stand on his own again.  We get so busy that it is a treat to have the chance to slow down and show some kindness, to be needed for a time and to experience the good feeling of being wanted by someone we love.

Some years ago, our family made the decision to offer support and care to a neighbor who was nearing the end of her life.  She was someone who had spent her life serving others in many capacities; and finding herself in the position of needing was not easy for her.  Still, she put aside her ego and accepted her new way of life.  It opened the door for us to experience the joy of meeting her needs; and I realized during our time together what a gift it is when someone needs us and is willing to accept our service.  She taught me that each good deed needs a recipient; and when the recipient is willing to want what we have to offer, both of us are blessed.

As I feed and drive and bring ice packs to my son this week, I realize that he has become a fine young man who understands the difference between being dependent or being a burden and offering up an opportunity for us to feel the joy of helping him.  As I watch him relax and let go of his need to declare the independence he truly owns, I realize that he no longer needs a mommy in his time of need.  He is my contemporary now, and we share the sweetness that grows out of our mutual care and service for one another.  Certainly, this is the nearest we can come to happiness.