Welcome Home

A neighbor dropped off the cobbler and the soup.

I greeted him from behind the closed screen door.

“Welcome home,” he said; he turned away.

Small acts of kindness set down like homemade vegetable soup on your doorstep.

We live to lighten each other’s load, of course, we do.

Yet when someone lightens your load, it comes as a surprise.

The load unexpectedly lighter.

The heavy weight drops. You were unaware of how much you carried.

Just because of the soup.

Just because you’re anxious,

Doesn’t mean you’re not right to be. You still get to laugh.

A lot.

Laugh more.

While you dance and the floor collapses and the space expands.

And yes, in meditation, the rising and falling of breath, the expanding and collapsing.

The rising and falling of sunshine and moonshine, dance partners,

Taking turns.

Like this planet turning around the sun.

Life and home and welcome and distance.

Gone from the city for a week, in ways we are more connected.

We are more reflective.

Who knew walking the dog would save me?

I never had a dog. I’m liable to make mistakes.

Who wants to be perfect anyway?

Yesterday, I gave up. I said, “Forget the family dinners. It’s too much work for me. Too much bickering from the three of you.”

And then the kids cooked dinner and I set the table.

I was on an island, and the kids came on a boat to rescue me.

And we laughed. And we bickered more. And cleaned up together. Mostly.

This is not Gilligan’s Island. Or a sequestered monastery in Switzerland.

But life is richer and more full of gems.

Gems of compassion and heartbreak.

The world is both simpler and more complicated than we ever knew.

I needed the homemade soup, the pizza, the rescue from my neighbors, children, friends.

I needed the “Welcome home.”

I took Charlie for a nature walk this morning. Travels with Charlie.

Amelia Flew Alone

Amelia

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia it was just a false alarm

-Joni Mitchell

Amelia Earhart. Flew alone. Flew and disappeared.
I’m thinking about Amelia as I wait and watch.

The view from the office window, I call command central.

The snow falls in slow motion;
that sideways snow,
white falling from the sky.

Watching from the window as if I had nowhere to go.

(I have nowhere to go.)
Nature puts on a last gasp of a winter show.

Like this little pup, we care for

for a few months,
we nap.

Unused to flying like Amelia,
unused to stillness,
to silence,
to slowing down.

To stop, stop, stop,

when I want to go, go, go.

Like the snow,

quiet,

sideways falling.

Embrace the view from and of and in the sky.

Become like the snow in a
slow motion life,

turned upside down, a snow globe.

Flying in the crystal sunshine.

Landing safely, slowly.

Amelia Earhart “passed the time by reading poetry, learning to play the banjo and studying mechanics,” while convalescing from the Spanish Flu one hundred years ago.

according to Wikipedia.
  • Who are your heroes?
  • How are you getting by?
  • Are you able to write? Make art?
  • What’s your secret to slowing down?
  • What’s the view from your ‘command central?’

Why here?

About ten days ago, I got my hair highlighted at Jean Louis David. As I was leaving, I saw a friend, an older neurologist, getting his haircut and he said that his spouse was coming up to Westport the next day. A voice inside me cried, ‘Can she take me with her?’

But then I remembered my three kids and the dog we were planning to dogsit. My connections. One of my daughters was returning the next day from college and the other was uncertain if her college was going to reopen as planned.

That night I helped at the church soup kitchen. Then the kids met me and we walked to my son’s climbing wall. That was the last time we were in a group of more than our core family unit. My one daughter and I climbed very briefly, then we shopped.

And now we’ve landed here.
Why here?
Why now?
I think that there is something about this place in the Adirondacks. It is where we came after 9/11. It is where I was when Hurricane Sandy hit.

And when my friend Mary suggested the escape from NYC and connected with me one week ago today, I jumped. We moved up to Westport, NY on Saturday night.

Because, like with 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy, once again, the world changed over night, didn’t it?
Our indoor rock climbing jaunt was not even two weeks ago. But it was a lifetime ago. It was another world. One we knew would change. Change for good? We wait.

The climbing wall is definitely a great metaphor for this moment. ‘We grab a hold, not that one, this one. stretch this way. scamper up. use every bit of strength you have. use every possible move. like chess but with your body. find your toe hold. hang on. if you fall, land gently.’

Tough times can spark depression. It’s possible that if you’re not depressed right now, you’re not paying attention. Yes, there’s depression and there’s planning and gratitude. Of course, immensely grateful for the medical workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers. My beautiful, crazy kids, this crazy dog.

Let me add: grateful for car rental companies and gas station attendants. I bought milk on the four or five hour trip north on Saturday night. Overflowingly grateful for my sister-in-law who’s been caring for Chris while he shelters in place in Florida with her.

Having a spouse with physical challenges is hard enough. Disability is hard enough in good times. Extra hard in tough times. Still he and I talk by phone every day. We say, I love you; It’s going to be okay.

I find comfort in the beauty and the softness of nature as the world came / comes crashing down.

I write these thoughts by setting my timer for ten minutes. Creativity and nature and community and friends will save us. They already have.

A week ago I jotted down this list:

1) write thank you notes and birthday cards 2) journal 3) make a schedule 4) eat well 5) slow down 6) take the news in small doses 7) notice nature 8) check in with the olds 9) read 10) foster an animal 11) make art.

Charlie – our dog for a couple of months.
View from the office this morning.

You are special

This!

“You can’t do what I do,
but I can’t do what you do either.
That’s why we are both important to the plan of God.”

This quote from Mother Teresa, heard by my friend Fr. John Cusick and shared this morning on his Lenten reflections Facebook post, reminds me, firstly, that there are so many things that I cannot do. I cannot sing, speak Arabic or Spanish, wire electricity, move mountains, provide hospice care, trade bonds, nurse a baby, or climb a high ladder.

But there are also real gifts that I do have. There are many things that I do really well — write, edit, teach, laugh, encourage, walk, dance, paint, and advocate for justice.

When I was a kid, we had a poster in the kitchen, something like: ‘You are beautifully made. God doesn’t make junk.’ I believe it was a contemporary version of the Psalms: ‘You are beautifully and powerfully made.” This poster always made me feel good. Because, you know, sometimes we all feel worthless. But if we’re made in the image of God, we can’t be all bad. And I do believe God was so happy when God made us. God said, ‘wow, this is good,’ not just when the great saints, like Mother Teresa, were made, but when you and I, ordinary saints, were made. That warms my soul.

See, every day is a chance to start anew, to take ordinary actions in this extraordinary moment in history. Write the new story. Find the new way. Seek higher ground. Unite rather than divide.

And in telling your story, choose to emphasize your gifts and the talents of those around you. Do not belittle yourself. Or bully those whom you perceive as weaker. The other day when the boys I teach were gossiping a bit cruelly, I reminded them, “Do not be like vultures, eating at the tragedy of others.” I know it’s a graphic image but mean-spirited gossip is like that — a bit of a foul feast. And the boys paused when I gave them this image and I hope that they asked themselves whether they were dining on roadkill or stopping like a Good Samaritan to help some fellow animal in need.

For we are only human animals. In our shared humanity, we can find and celebrate our own gifts and the gifts of others.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Poster

After seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood the other day, I was inspired by Fred Rogers and told a third grader C. who was struggling with a grammar problem, “You’ve got this. You’re special.”

“I hope so,” C. replied, a bit indignantly, as if it was so obvious how special he was. It made me smile. I hope today finds you smiling at the wisdom and gifts of those around you, too, including yourself.

Stay with the Team

Stay with yourself. Don’t go anywhere. It’s tempting to check out — to join the mob of hatred towards those whom we consider ‘other’ — be they those folks on the far right or the far left. Whoever sees the world opposite from us could be seen as the enemy. But maybe you can learn from the ‘enemy.’ If you are one who runs away from this kind of conflict, stay and join the good fight. If you fight too much, check your ego, calm yourself, and carry on.

Do not go away. Do not seek to numb your rainbow of feelings with drugs, alcohol, gossip, social media, television, food, easy hatred. Stay present for the feelings — like the weather, they will pass.

In times of conflict within my family, work, or country, I feel called upon to be a peacemaker and at other times, I feel, “Oh, why the hell should I bother?” I have so much to give, but I sometimes feel that my contribution is not valued. I am such an amazing teacher, photographer, writer, deep thinker. These gifts are not nothing, but often my contributions are not sought when teams form to strategically think about an organization’s direction. And this is one of my strengths, based upon that Strengths Based Learning leadership Academy thingy we did at the General Board of Global Ministries. I am frustrated when I am asked to do very little when what I want and have is so much to give.

My cure for this malady has been to form my own team, to be my own boss, to write my own words, to teach my own classes. But another strategy is to apply this thinking which I learned from the theater world — ‘there are no small roles, only small actors.’ What if I fully, one hundred percent, throw myself into my small and supportive roles? Would that help my lingering resentment and my wounded ego?

Or am I supposed to totally abdicate the ego? I doubt that I can do this as I am not Buddha or Jesus. I am an aging woman in 2020, hoping to make a positive difference in a difficult world.

When your ego is broken down, how do you build yourself up?

Recently, I have been acutely aware of how my participating in teams has carried me through. I loved my work with the marketing team at GBGM. We strategized and made amazing campaigns. Same is true for my SPSARV work and peeps. And for my Boot Camp for Writers team.

After my father’s death a couple of months ago, the school where I teach offered a weekday Catholic mass for him. About a dozen of my friends attended the 30 minute service and we went for a quick coffee afterwards. This team of friends comforted me. See, I could’ve gone to the mass alone. I could gone through life alone. But I asked for a team of friends. I need community. I need my people.

Who is your posse? How do you use teamwork to make the dreamwork?

Today’s bike ride home-cold and clear.
Nothing like a team of friends.

Not Giving Up For Lent

For Lent, I’ve usually given up some small pleasure. But I’m not giving up anything this Lent.

Not giving up kindness. No. The world needs it now more than ever.

Not giving up coffee. I did that once and went the whole 40 days and nights with a headache.

Not giving up gossip. When I did that one year, I missed too many juicy conversations by the water cooler. I want to bond with my colleagues, not feel smug and act superior.

Not giving up TV. As a kid, I had to forego my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, which only showed once a year. See, kids, we didn’t have Netflix or streaming services back then. If you wanted to watch a show, you had to wait until it was on.

Not giving up social media. When I started to give that up one year, I missed a party invitation. Not this year.

Not giving up meat or alcohol.

I’m not giving up so many good things in life. Not giving up friendship, letter writing, and social justice.

I’m not giving up my writing and/or blogging habit either. I’ve tried, but I don’t seem to know what I feel if I can’t write my thoughts down.

What about you? Giving up your Jeopardy habit? Candy? Complaining? Good for you. I’m supporting you from the sidelines as I pop bon bons from the couch in front of the TV.

I think this photo was by my friend Charles Chessler after our Central Park birding excursion several years ago.

I realize that I wrote a similar Not Giving Up for Lent message several years ago.

Silent Retreat

I have been thinking that I need a retreat from the world. With the grief that’s accompanied my dad’s passing, my worries about my husband’s health decline, and my general malaise with the current leadership in these United States, I need a break. The long, cold Northeastern winter does not help.

A fantastic think piece this week in the Wall Street Journal about Tapping Into the Sound of Silence by Anne Kadet who took a silent retreat within the framework of her own day-to-day life, got me thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t have to actually do any big whoop to retreat. I can simply turn down the volume.’

Incidentally, since getting hearing aids, I can literally turn down the volume. During the school day as I help to monitor middle school lunches, this turning-it-down feature really benefits me in the noisy dining hall. I can still hear boys’ conversations near me, but I don’t have to take in the whole big din. The dining hall becomes a bit more civilized when it’s not so loud.

When we get silent, there is a “freedom from self-preoccupation,” according to Richard Rohr. His message popped up in today’s emails. It is as if the world is trying to tell me something.

When we recognize something as beautiful, that knowledge partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries and symphony halls. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its particularity does not stand out.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation

To get quiet, one needs to focus, to control the kneejerk reaction to respond to every stimulus — whether it’s the red flashing breaking news update or the ping of a new email hitting the inbox.

The reward for this focus, this silence, this mindfulness, this absence, is the gift of noticing the world around you — be it the beauty of this winter season or the humor of children.

I know that I can be a little chatty. I love to joke around with my coworkers and family. But by freeing myself from the need to make noise, I am giving myself the gift of focusing more deeply on the natural world and on the people in my world. I am opening myself to all that is beautiful. I love to look at art and appreciate the specificity of words.

I’m tuning out, but not to drop out; my purpose is to drop in, go deeper, take time, listen better. Create a silent retreat right where I am.

Join me on the winter writing retreat where we will spend time in silence, in looking at art, and in noisy meal times.

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with acrylics and mixed media this winter.