Beautiful – The Creative Process

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The other night I saw Beautiful: the Carole King Story. It was an awesome rumination on the creative process. Want to be creative? You have to be dogged.

Sure, King (born Klein) was brilliant — the characters mention several times how she graduated high school at the age of 16 — but she was hard working. I love that. “Good things come to those who hustle.” And our girl Carole hustled.

I loved that the musical shows how creativity is a collaborative and a competitive process.

Mary Beth Coudal, blogger, and Anika Larsen, who plays Cynthia Wiel in Beautiful.

Mary Beth Coudal, blogger, and Anika Larsen, who plays Cynthia Wiel in Beautiful.

The cast was awesome. Everyone’s raving about how amazing Jessie Mueller is. But so is Anika Larsen as songwriter Cynthia Wiel, Carole’s gal pal, foil, and competition.

Now, from my lonely feminist perspective, I must point out that King’s songs really defined a generation of women finding joys in being a woman, “You make me feel like a natural woman!” (co-written by her partner, Gerry Goffin.) So fantastic — a real anthem and celebration of natural womanhood. I, for one, in this age of Botox and plastic surgery, would like to return to the beauty of natural womanhood.

natural womanI also wanted a little more about how Carole came to love herself and not just the ups and downs of her romantic and troubled love for her fellow songwriter and husband, Goffin. But this musical shows one slice of her life. To find out more I think I will have to read her memoir, A Natural Woman.

This musical is amazing. Carole King’s talent and output inspire me. Go. See it Sing along.

“Get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart.”

Disclaimer: Thanks to Beautiful and the Serino/Coyne group for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

 

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Mothers and Sons on Broadway

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Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor and Tyne Daly (photo courtesy of entertainment weekly, Joan Marcus)

I saw Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons in previews on Broadway the other night. I liked it. It threw me back to a really sad time. This play is the story of a deceased actor’s mother showing up like 25 years later, after all this time, to reminisce about her son with his beloved.

I think the two main characters, the mother and the lover, want forgiveness from each other. And basically I want that too. I want the characters to love each other, to get over their awkwardness.

The mother, played by the amazing Tyne Daly, cannot give love and can hardly give acceptance. The two circle one another without coming to a resolution. Fortunately the new husband, played by Bobby Steggert, and the couple’s son arrive. Just in time, to cut through the BS and awkwardness.

These two are the heroes because of their forthrightness – the new husband calls out the mother’s past injustices and the little boy articulates the family’s need for a grandmother.

The play reminded me of how the AIDS crisis in NYC swamped us. I felt overwhelmed by this again, when my son was reading Angels in America for his Constructing America class and he asked me and Chris, “Did you lose friends to AIDS?” And we told him “Yes.” Among them, Chris’s actor friend Robert Farber, a great artist, a great friend, whom we visited in his West Village apartment when he was getting close to death. And I think that we are still bothered that we didn’t visit him more.

So the play brought that up for me – how much of yourself do you give when you know someone is dying?

It was particularly heart-wrenching in the play when the survivor told his lover’s mother, “You and I are the only ones who still remember him.”

I don’t think that’s true. There are people, like me and Chris, friends on the margins, who remember. We know what happened and we still talk about it.

In the ’90s, I used to host my TV show, Mary Beth and Friends, at Manhattan Neighborhood Network right after Act Up taped their show. And I would schmooze with the on-camera people and the crew. I told them their stuff was cool, their interviews, their lying down protests, their silence=death. And I told them I supported them. But honestly, they weren’t all that interested in my opinion. They appreciated my support, I guess. But let’s face it, they had bigger issues.

It was a crazy time. I worked at the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center in the mid-late ’80s and lost a friend, fellow front desk clerk, He was a few years older than me and I was still in college. And he seemed to be one of the first deaths by AIDS. And it was so very hushed, very uncertain, a gay man’s disease, that we didn’t know how to talk about it. We didn’t have the words.

The play reminded me about all that. About how we talk or don’t talk about death and dying. A year or so, I bumped into an actor friend whose partner/friend had died of AIDS. I told him I still often remembered his friend fondly. In the coffee shop, we didn’t get all maudlin. We just reminisced. We just talked about his friend, like it was 9/11. Like, such a tragedy. Still, it had not stopped our lives. Remembering a death can cause us to stop in our tracks, unprepared for grief, but the remembering doesn’t make us stop living.

That’s the thing about Mothers and Sons and the death of someone you love — you see that serious illness, death even, doesn’t stop loved ones from living. You can’t stop living, even when someone you love is sick or dying. (And, of course, for me, this brings up Chris’s Parkinson’s. How can I stop myself from living? How can I not stop and treasure each day? Each day, a gift.)

Now, about my home girl, Tyne Daly – she just throws lines out there, so naturalistically. I love her arch intelligence. She owns the stage. The other actors were wonderful too, but it was hard to know if their awkwardness was due to the great lady on stage with them or just the scenario of the play itself – the mother of a deceased ex descending for a night on your boisterous, wonderful, ongoing family life.

What can you do? Keep living. Keep remembering. Keep talking. Silence=death.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Mothers and Sons and Pivoting Media for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own. 

http://www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com/

Robert Farber’s art

 

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Tending Twilight

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the day darkens. i get too tired. i find the housework oppressive.

i ask for help, then don’t want it. like in the decluttering. i don’t know why it bothered me. what to do with the tapes from my old show? leave me alone.

Today #snowday #gopark #riverside #park #urban...

Snow day in Riverside Park via mbcoudal

the snow — more of the same color of the same grey sky.

i like when the sky is a crisp blue, like today. then i can forgive the weather gods. i can go on. but when dark and grey, i want to stay in bed. i have only a few weeks left of winter. i would like them to be azure blue.

i would like blue sky days. but after all the grey — why is grey so like death?

i go to Florida — old people, malls, alligators.

for a few days, i sleep in a twin bed, and laugh with Nicole and my brother, (and dad and Marty). we talk about creativity.

Tonite at the lower school #sunset #riverdale ...

Lower school sunset in Riverdale via mbcoudal

that is the start of my spring. and that is followed by the buds on the trees in Riverside Park.

my kids get older, get away from me, find fault in me, our apartment, why don’t we have nicer floors?

the sun does not ask for thanks. so i try to just give light too. just do my job — mother, wife. but the endless giving becomes a chore.

sure, the sun must want a thank you. the grey day gets no thanks. for it takes my energy. it does not give. it is the negative ion. i need the positive.

the wind whips and the shadows blend into dark night. i know spring comes after winter, always taking me by surprise. then the summer. lighter, longer days of laughter, hugs.

we are destined for spring.

Laughter is the language of the soul

Laughter is the language of the soul (Photo credit: symphony of love)

I wrote this in a writing group last weekend. Here’s more writing from a blogger in the group: Wendy: the prompt that made me cry

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Museum Hack

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My coworking guru Tony Bacigalupo suggested a MeetUp for coworkers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So a handful of us meet there on Wednesday, Lincoln’s birthday, to fire up our laptops and work. We also took a few quick breaks to see a few cool things with Museum Hack’s brilliant Jen Oleniczak.

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Jen gave us some insider info on Madame X by Sargeant. And then in honor of Lincoln, we checked out his death mask (created while he was alive). She was an awesome guide and leader — really passionate, smart, informative, funny.20140212-133801.jpg

We even got to groove on the vibe of the Visible Collection, a vast storage space I’d never visited before. Jen showed us a scary story here (you can tell, we’re scared). 20140212-133815.jpg

We hacked into the Museum so hard that we even got into the Media Lab. That’s me with a 3-D printer.20140213-194311.jpg

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Here is our group. And below, that’s the Met’s media lab manager Don Undeen, showing us some cool stuff the Met’s working on to marry tech with fine art. They’re making projects around smiles in art and around getting pathways mapped out for people with special needs. 20140213-194342.jpg

I am crazy in love with the flowers in the grand lobby of the Met. They never fail to blow me away.20140213-194411.jpg

The highlight of the coworkers’ hacking into the Met to celebrate Lincoln’s b’day?

Yup, we sat on the floor — and also sprawled out on the floor — of the Fragonard room. We looked up at the Rococo ceiling and took in the whole frilly mess. So cool. From the three hundred year-old floorboards, you can take in all the possibilities at the Met from a new angle — literally and figuratively. 20140213-194630.jpg

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Birding: What We Saw

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I was in Central Park on a snowy Saturday morning with my friend Charles Chessler. He had rallied several of his friends to go birding and photographing birds through a Facebook invitation.

I love walking or riding my bike in Central Park.

Charlie has great charisma. People and birds just love to stop, chat, and pose for him.

I’d gone out birding with Charles a few times before. On this trip we were searching for some rare long-eared owl in the pine trees near the Angel of the Waters. But instead, on that branch, we spotted a fat and still-hungry hawk. We spotted a lot more than that too.

Here’s what we saw:

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A couple of finches near the birdfeeder in Central Park

A couple of finches near the birdfeeder in Central Park. (Photo by Charles Chessler)

Baltimore Oriole (male and female)
Finch
Northern cardinal
Dark eyed junco
Downy woodpecker (male and female)
Brown creepers
Goldfinches
Carolina wren
Blue jay
Hawk
Yellow bellied sap sucker
Sparrow

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Swan
Grackle
Robin
Northern cardinal (male and female)
House sparrow
Maybe yellow warbler
Mourning dove

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Charlie captures a bird perched on Amanda’s hand. (Photo by Charles Chessler)

Yellow rump warbler
White-breasted nuthatch
Swamp sparrow
Northern parula
Ruby-crown kinglet
Louisiana water thrush
Black and white warbler
Palm warbler
Cardinal
Blue jay
Starling
Red wing blackbird
Black birded green

We go birding in Central Park behind the cafe, across the Bow Bridge, by the Ramble.

For the record, I could not identify any of these birds (except maybe the cardinals and blue jays) without help from Charlie and fellow birders and photographers Dan Lane Williams and Amanda Bielskas. On previous birding jaunts, we met Birding Bob and friend Andy Gershon.

Although I don’t really know about birds, I know about the beauty of birds. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -

Going out for a walk with birders reminds me to slow down, take in the beauty, stop time with a photo, even if it’s cold and snowy — especially then! There’s beauty and hope all around. You just have to look for it.

If you like the beautiful photography of Charles Chessler, (and who doesn’t?) I have a request. Chessler is entered in a photo contest. If he wins, he gets a trip to a safari in Namibia. He is less than one thousand votes away. He needs 212 Votes to pop into 4th place!

Charlie and I are friends from the NYU Stella Adler acting school in the ’80s. He’s a fitness trainer with a specialty for keeping senior citizens active.

If Charlie won the trip, think about the great pics he’d share with us! Vote at BandH Photo Contest. He might even just even invite all of us along — at least on his Facebook stream! ;)

Charlie and I bumped into fellow birder Andy in the fall.

Charlie and I bumped into fellow birder Andy in the fall.

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Talking Transitions

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One thing I love is curiosity. The other night, on the way home from my co-working space, new work city, I spotted this pop up tent at Canal and 6th Avenue. I wanted to know what this random townhall was all about.

It is a place for New Yorkers to say what matters to them about the city. I didn’t talk to anyone. I felt shy. Some dudes were drumming. The Talking Transition tent didn’t seem a real social place when I stopped by. Though I’m sure the place gets hopping with cool events, panels, and cultural offerings.

I just played around with an iPad questionnaire. The Talking Transition tent is not affiliated with the new mayoral team; it’s a private effort to get people to converse, especially the less-than-affluent people who have not felt they were heard in the Bloomberg years.

I voted for di Blasio. We went to college together though he was a year ahead of me. We lived in the same NYU dorm — super-nice guy. Back then, he went by the name Bill Wilhelm. He changed it because his father suffered post-traumatic stress and was cruel, so Bill took his mother’s name. Sometimes, my kids want to go by my last name. So I get that. That’s cool.

And the transition tent was cool. You’re invited to write on a sticky note what you want to happen in the city.

I wrote that I wanted more bike lanes and Citibike extended to the Upper West Side. Sure, it’s great for me to use my own bike. But sometimes, if I stay late somewhere, I’d like to subway or cab it home. Citibike is perfect for that.

That’s another thing I love about myself — in some small way, I have been a leader in the bike culture in New York City. I have been riding a bike in the city for decades.

The city just keeps getting better for bicyclists. And biking is such a cheap, healthy, and eco-friendly way to get around.20131117-152933.jpg

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“Talking Transition has created a new gathering place for New Yorkers to talk about the future of the city. Open 9AM – 9PM daily November 9th – 23rd, join for events, activities, food, and culture, and come to talk transition.” At Sixth Avenue and Canal, right by the #1 Train.

Earlier this summer, Cat and I were biking in Riverside Park

Earlier this year, Cat and I were biking in Riverside Park

Becoming Dr. Ruth

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I want to be like Dr. Ruth — positive, energetic, honest.

Sometimes I worry about my kids — with a father with Parkinson’s Disease, maybe their lives are too hard. Maybe they miss out on too much.

But then I remember there are other great people who’ve managed to survive much worse childhoods and go on to help others and retain a positive attitude. One such American is Dr. Ruth who was born Karola “Ruth” Siegel in Germany, whom I learned a lot about and grew to love as her life story unfolded at Becoming Dr. Ruth, a new Off-Broadway show.

She was a holocaust orphan sent by kindertransport to basically indentured servitude in Switzerland at age 10. Her grandmother’s last words to little Karola — “Stay cheerful!”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Mary Beth and Dr. Ruth

I listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio in the ’80s and occasionally caught her Lifetime TV show. She was a charismatic sex therapist. And looking back, I see how important — even life saving — her message of safe sex was. Especially at a time when people did not talk about sex.

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Fancy drinks at BEA, a new bar. Ask for Jason, a brilliant mixologist. So fun! delish.

When I met Dr. Ruth, I wanted to give her a hug — she seems like a hugger, but she said she has a bad shoulder so we just smiled at each other and chatted.

Before the show at this fantastic new bar, BEA, Dr. Ruth asked the dozen or so bloggers if we had any questions. One guy asked, “How do you have great sex even when you wear a condom?” She said, “First off, good for you, wearing a condom. Too many young people forget that we need to do this.” Go! Dr. Ruth, keep on reminding us about safe sex.

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Dr. Ruth, actor Debra Jo Rupp, playwright Mark St. Germain, and producer Michael Alden at the talk back for “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

At the talk back, Dr. Ruth was asked how she felt seeing herself on stage, she retorted, “Don’t analyze me!” (She apparently does not let her emotional guard down even though she is encouraging and comfortable when others talk freely of their feelings and sexuality. Ironic.)

When asked her motivation for doing the play, Dr. Ruth said she wanted to do this show to let people know, “How important is the early socialization of the child. How important is the love I had for my first 10 years,” from parents and grandmother whom she never saw again. The play chronicles her childhood to her possible move out of a Washington Heights apartment in 1997, a few months after her husband Freddy’s death. In the talk back, Dr. Ruth said that she wanted to create this show as a tribute to her (third) husband Freddy Westheimer.

Dr. Ruth said she was, “happy to participate with non-Jews. To be a witness to — that it (the Holocaust) did happen.” The writer (and apparently, a non-Jew) Mark St. Germain also wrote the charming play, Camping with Henry and Tom. There are heavy and surprising moments in the play but the character of Dr. Ruth is so disarming and funny, the show never sinks you. Rather, it uplifts you.

It’s a one-woman show. The actor, Debra Jo Rupp, the mother from ‘That ’70s show, really carries it — she’s efficient, decisive, loving, and smart.

When pictures of her grandchildren are shown in the play, Dr. Ruth says, “Hitler lost and I won.” And implicit is the message, never forget.

I loved this play and highly recommend it.

I walked out of the theater, inspired to be more cheerful and compassionate. The play also reminded me that, even as we age — Ruth’s 85! — we still have so much to give and we must continue to make the world a more loving place.
 

Disclaimer: Thanks to Becoming Dr. Ruth and Serino/Coyne for the tickets to the Westside Theatre and the mixology at BEA. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

RadioLab at the Beacon

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Something happened last night that I have to talk about — Apocalyptical, the RadioLab show at the Beacon Theatre.

My husband Chris (John Christopher Jones) and his buddy Dan Moran and their artistic journey with their Parkinson’s Disease are featured in the last part of this brilliant three-part show. The music is rocking — so cool. The video images on the big screens are visually creative and stimulating. The factoids and banter are mind-blowing. The gi-normous puppets of dinosaurs carry such emotional heft. They are gorgeous and sad as dinosaurs are — or as we idealize them to be — knowing they will inevitably become extinct. And that is where, too, we find emotional weight in Chris and Dan’s segment. It is heavy and it is light.

This part is not for the faint of heart. When my kids go to see it — at their December 2nd show — I’m seriously thinking we should have our pastor or find a therapist on hand to talk to the kids about the issues that the segment brings up. Namely, mortality.

For that matter, I could’ve used a therapist or pastor last night! Fortunately, I had the exquisite RadioLab producer Andy Mills on hand to talk through some of what I heard, saw and felt. The dude is so good as a listener and kind soul and brilliant radio creator.

Of course it was lovely to see Robert Krulwich too. He and Chris went to Riverdale Country School together. After the show, the two talked about how Riverdale taught them that everything is connected. And it is in making these connections that we find meaning.

Jad (Abumrad) and Robert interviewed us all about year ago show they put together is about endings. The first bit is on how the dinosaurs ended through a pizza-oven type heat; the next bit is on PeptoBismal, and the infinite possibilities of the periodic table; and the third is on Chris and Dan. Jad and Robert talk about how they look straight into the vortex of the progression of their disease and then, what the hell, put on the Samuel Beckett play, Endgame.

I have always thought of Chris and Dan’s performance of the Endgame and the Endgame Project, documentary as a testament to the power and tenacity of the artist. The movie and the play and the experience — shows that while Parkinson’s is slowly robbing Chris and Dan of their acting tools, they still have the chops.

I was chatting with the band about this. Darin Gray said that one bit from Chris’s audio always gives him chills, even though he’s heard it a dozen times. Sweet.

I have several blog posts I want to to finish over the next couple of days, plus a few freelance writing assignments I’ve got to plow through. I want to post some new pics — but I had to tell you about RadioLab’s Apocalyptical today.

I have no idea when this live show may be on the radio, but you should go see it in person.

Reserve tickets for the Beacon show at: http://www.beacontheatre.com/events/2013/october/radiolab.html
or check out the cities where you can catch RadioLab at: http://www.radiolab.org/live/ You may want to bring a therapist with you. Or a scientist or maybe a comedian or better yet, a radio producer, a musician or an artist. Or whatever — bring a friend or your spouse.

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After the show Chris called Dan to tell him how terrific the show was.

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Chris with me and then, with the band and the lovely comedian Ophira Eisenberg.

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Blessing of the Animals

The blessing of the animals, St. John the Divine
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Last Sunday I went to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis. It was so peaceful even though there were so many animals in the sanctuary. The music of Paul Winter filled the immense Gothic cavern with the sounds of whales and wolves.

A restless set of boys and dogs in the row in front of us left before it was over so they missed the exotic animals as they paraded (processed) down the center aisle.

The procession of animals was lovely and mind-blowing. You can see a rat carried proudly by preteen girl. I loved the humility of the goats and sheep, made all majestic by a wreath of flowers around their necks! There is beauty in the humility of animals. There was a pig and my favorite, a kangaroo. On the way out, a yak!

I so dug the anomaly of animals in church – the sacredness of animals. That which is ordinary became extraordinary.

I am not really an animal-lover, but I appreciate their lack of subtext.

I left the cathedral, oddly, filled with reverence. There is a variety to life — a vastness of our ecosystems and our living relations that is truly awesome. I can only imagine there must be a creator when you see the variety in God’s creation (and in the crazy matrix of evolution).

Here are some pics I snapped at the service. Thanks to Joanna Parson for getting me to St. John the Divine this year, something I have always wanted to do and now have done! I recommend you experience this beauty too!

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Yes pets resemble their owners. A lot of dogs, cats, hamsters exist peaceably in the sanctuary.

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The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

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Restless kids with hamsters and dogs, waiting for the blessing of the pets.

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The communion line with dogs.

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llama

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pig in church

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Glorious turtle

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This parrot loves NY

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little pony in the sactuary

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white goose

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my favorite, a kangaroo!

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I have no idea what this animal is

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All this beauty in the largest Gothic cathedral in the U.S.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred . . . let me sow love. Where there is injury . . . pardon. Where there is doubt . . . faith. Where there is despair . . . hope. Where there is darkness . . . light. Where there is sadness . . . joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled . . . as to console, To be understood . . . as to understand; To be loved . . . as to love, For It is in giving . . . that we receive. It is in pardoning . . . that we are pardoned, It is in dying . . . that we are born to eternal life.” – St. Francis (c. 1181 – 1226)

In other words: Today, let me get out of my way. Let me find beauty in my ordinary world. Let me hear the music of nature. Let me be someone who goes with the flow. Let me not judge people harshly. Let me be kind and generous. Just for today.