The morning light hit the daffodils at the dining room table. Flowers that my mother-in-law planted decades ago, Years before her grandchildren – my now adult children – were born. What do you plant? What is the gift of beauty for descendants or daughters-in-law whom you have yet to meet? Plant kindness. Treasure hope. Look for signs of spring.
Good afternoon from beautiful and sunny Westport, NY. On my morning walk with Charlie, I had a good (and brief) cry because I miss my NYC life. But I am not alone. We’re all missing some semblance of familiarity and normalcy in our current landscape. There are major and minor losses and shifts in our ways of relating to home — with each other and with the world. Knowing that I am not alone comforts me. I am full of gratitude for health and family.
I joined my beloved #spiritchat on Sunday morning. Sign in on twitter at 9 am (eastern time), type the hashtag #spiritchat and witness and join some amazing conversations for an hour. What follows are some of my remarks, observations, and tweets from yesterday morning’s session on ‘Spiritual Liberation.’ Every week, there’s a new theme.
Spiritual liberation sounds like women’s liberation and I am all for that. I love so many things about liberation. Been thinking about the theatre of the oppressed. I have a fleeting memory of meeting some adherents to this improv group in Rio de Janeiro back in ’93, I think. I was leading a small contingent of United Methodist Women leaders to an international conference. And the improvisation group whom I met in my hotel lobby was performing in the City Hall Center the next day. They invited me out for drinks that night. And as an improv performer and theater lover, Oh, I wanted to go. But I hesitated. I did not want to leave my colleagues and that day my camera had been stolen off of my person. I felt fearful. I didn’t leave the hotel that night. I have always regretted my inclination to play it safe.
What are your constraints to liberation? The spatial distancing is getting old. I am trying to see it as an enforced sanctuary. Like Jesus’s 40 days in the Judaean wilderness. What lessons can we take from monks? sequestered nuns? folks on house arrest? How do we fricken’ do this much longer? Like many people, I am an extrovert; I miss the verbal jostling, joking with my colleagues and neighbors.
What is required for spiritual liberation? What is required for this moment in time? Stillness seems a prerequisite and pregnant waiting. Yes and I’m committed to listening to and following the health directives of people way smarter than me.
As for needing to ‘make do,’ yesterday we went on our weekly store run. We were so excited to be out and about — we bought the fixings for a cake but forgot the toilet paper. Note to self: Remember the essentials. Let them eat cake — for reals.
Someone mentioned ‘synchronicity’ on my twitter stream. I remembered being in college, in this course ‘Body, Mind, Soul,’ and I loved discovering Jung’s words about meaningful coincidences. Signs, symbols, myths.
And how does spiritual liberation relate to the community?
‘“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together,” Lilla Watson said. I find liberation in the mutuality of helping and working together.
And I’m keen to find the humor in our present moment. Where is the silliness in life? The other day we ordered from Ledge Hill, a local microbrewery, a beer called Compassion. The kids tried a sip. One wrinkled her nose. “Compassion is bitter,” I said. We laughed.
Feeling rooted in a particular place, I find comfort. A local artist here in the Adirondacks left seashells around town. I’m always seeing them as I walk the dog. It feels like such a gift — to come upon a seashell in the countryside. Like life is one big Easter Egg hunt.
In high school, I had a friend Sue P., who always stepped into her home on her right foot — through the threshold on the same foot. And I was jealous of her ritual. Her magical thinking seemed exceedingly sophisticated. I admired her commitment to it.
What are my quirky rituals? Do I even have any? Of course, I do. We all do. Commuting via citibike to work? Or earlier in the morning, coffee with my journal, alone at the kitchen table. Yes, I have that comforting ritual.
I’ve been thinking about rituals and the purpose they serve. I believe they somehow connect us to the divine.
And these rituals, like bedtime prayers and journaling and making art and maybe even chatting on the phone with my mother every day now, keep us sane and connected.
I’ve been reading Eric Booth’s Tending the Perennials, lent to me by Lindsay. And we talk about the book as we walk the dogs — a ritual.
Booth writes about his pilgrimage into the woods for a week. Alone. Naked. He sets himself the task of writing or thinking of one thousand things for which he is grateful.
And today, when I started my day with journaling, I wrote about the things for which I’m grateful: It started like this: my nose the sun peeking through the clouds my parents, my darlings the New York Times homes full of light travel to Italy, esp. that memory of riding through the wet streets on the back of a Vespa jigsaw puzzle pieces homemade quiche social media for good Deb’s generosity hearing aids home
And there is more. There is always more. At least one thousand good things more. It is a comfort to simply keep a ritual for which to remember gratitude.
If I visit the small lost and found department of my life, I wonder what I would find there. The things that I don’t even recall losing. That high-collared Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown, I wish I had it now for this spring dressed as winter in the North Country. During this pause, this enforced sanctuary, I’m aware of the recent big and small trips I’ve missed. To commemorate my dad’s life in Sarasota; to volunteer at McCurdy School in Espanola. I grieve. Take time to grieve so many losses. And the loss of certainty. Of course, we’ve found things too. Vast swaths of uninterrupted time with darlings. Sometimes bickering. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes walking the dog. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) watching Netflix. I’ve found that frisson of joy when I hear a friend’s voice on the phone. Definitely, I feel loved. There is – yes – a sense of finding and losing. And we’ve experienced loss. One recent twist, I’ve found a forgiving heart for any and all who live with fear, the shadow self.
And a desire to turn to visual art — as ‘not the thing I do, but the place I visit.’ Imperfectly, yes. For we are only human.
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
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,
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.
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.
“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.
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 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?