Make Up Your Own Rules

I have written my 7 Rules as a way of staying sane, given the challenges of my life – with Chris’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease six years ago; our kids growing up; and my full time writing work. All of which I love, but my life can be hard, and, at times, lonely.

My 7 Rules boost my happiness quotient. But you can write your own rules. Make them pithy, creative, reflective of you. Throw in one that is literary, one that is obscure, one that is spiritual and at least one that is cliché.

When I was at Taizé monastery last fall, I met Simeon, a piano tuner from The Netherlands. In our Bible Study, he said, “God’s rules for one person won’t work for another.” He was so right. He was such a spiritual, religious and compassionate person. His words reminded me why everyone should follow their own God-inspired rules.

I know that as Christians we have guidance for how to live when we try to live like Jesus did. I want to be as loving and justice-seeking as Jesus was. Yet, I believe Jesus made up his rules as he went along too. He was human. He turned over tables in the church. He listened to his own intuition/guidance/spirit/God. His rules were rooted in his own faith, family and personal history.

Completely random thought – Did Jesus ever lack confidence? Did he ever doubt his purpose the way I do? I guess it’s fine to doubt yourself so long as you do not live in that self-doubting place forever. That’s key — that if you are doubting or critical of yourself and your purpose, you cannot reside in that negative place for too long. You have to find humor in your predicament. Otherwise, you will never get anything done. Or let anyone in.

Getting things done and letting people in – these two human instincts are important to me. I like being productive and I like being communal. I’d like to add these two rules to my 7 Rules, but, well, I’ve already got 7 and I might as well stick with my 7. If I were to add 2 more, that would be 9. Nine Rules for Living? That’s a different blog.

Greymoor Ecumenical

“I hope the zombies don’t get us,” Hayden said.

“I knew you should never have snuck into that stupid movie, Zombieland!” I told my almost-13 year old.

“Let’s go back to Kara’s,” he said.  Our friends lived down the road and had just moved to Garrison from the city. My daughters were staying with them. Hayden and I were spending one night at the Greymoor monastery.

I love monasteries. I love them in theory, but Hayden’s right, they can be spooky.  And a bit chilly. I don’t know why they’re cold. But even in October at Taize in the Southeast-ish of France, that monastery was so cold, perched as it was, way up on a hill. (Maybe that’s why monasteries are chilly, because they’re hilly!)

The day before, the friendly woman on the phone had instructed me on how to find our way into our room in the Greymoor Spiritual Life Center since we were arriving after hours. When I asked how much to pay, she said, “Whatever you want.”

We entered through the loading dock, up an elevator five stories, then walked another flight up to the sixth floor. The hallway was long and well-lit. It seemed we were the only people on the whole floor of one hundred identical cells. Er, rooms.

After the zombie conversation with Hayden, we went to sleep. Lately, I’ve been waking in the night, worried. But at the monastery, I slept well and felt prayed for, even though I woke in the night. I felt a little spooked, but also safe. I felt hidden.

Our room was college-dorm 1950’s chic. From one twin bed, you could put your feet on the other twin bed. We had a sink and a small closet. I felt I hit pay dirt when I found the extra 1950’ish blanket in the drawer.

In the morning, I asked an African woman in the long hallway for directions to the dining room. We found our way back down one flight. A different hallway this time. Full of light and art. Although it was a bit heavy on the crucifix art and the women weeping art. Still, lovely art.

Hayden wore my tee shirt that says, “Love ’em all. Let God sort out the rest.” I loved that my son joined me on this retreat. He didn’t balk about not having brought his XBox or a friend. He didn’t miss the luxuries of a hotel. 

We walked past the unoccupied Spelman library with a gorgeous view of the Hudson. We found the dining hall. Fifty empty tables. Only two occupied by a handful of grey-haired men. One monk wore the brown robe and white rope. Hayden stared. The gentlemen nodded at us or said, “Good morning.” I think the Franciscan brothers are known for their hospitality.

I had hoped they would be serving oatmeal. Yes! Thank God! Oatmeal and fresh fruit. Exactly as I’d hoped. Simple and healthy.

I don’t know why I love monasteries. Maybe because they are simple, art-filled, friendly, archiac, timeless. Maybe I like monasteries, too, because I like rules. St. Benedict’s rules had to do with humility, chastity, poverty, silence. (In college, I had to read St. Benedict’s Rules for some Midieval Literature class.)

I like having my #7 Rules for Living. They are a little easier for me than a monk’s vows.

Peacemaking and War

Yesterday, I woke before the family and attended the 9:30 am class at Rutgers Church on War. Rather than looking at whether churches should support or resist war, the group thought about what we can do to make peace.

I love small-scale solutions. Thinking small is big right now. Small is hot!

Here was one of my ideas:

Offer classes for kids on conflict resolution. At our local public school, all three of my kids in fifth grade were trained as conflict mediators. They patrol the schoolyard to help the littler kids handle fights.

Conflict mediation totally works. When family members argue in our house, the kids remind us and each other to follow rules and help family members adhere to these rules during arguments. The rules include listening well during conflicts. Do not interrupt.

They’ve learned to restate each other’s opinions, to hear the other side, to work together to common ground. It is a beautiful thing. Of course, they’re not perfect angels, but they have mediation and diplomacy skills which will benefit them their whole lives.

Here’s another cool idea from the Rutgers Church class — allow a new structure to grow within an old structure. The new structure will take over like a flower sprouting up within a garden. Peace is like that too. Work within a church for peace and peace will bloom.

I want to write more about conflict resolutions, but I have to get to my exercise class. That is another way to peace – getting physical. Breathing.

Surrender & Persist

….ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. – Thomas Merton

I am living for the kids. Sometimes I joke, “I’m just holding it together for 10 more years until the kids are grown. Then I’m going to let it all go. I’m going to drink and smoke and be promiscuous.” But I’m not really going to do that. I’m not going to wait to crash once my twins are snuggled into their freshman dorm rooms. No, I’m going to crash gently now. And not wait 10 years.

Like Sully above the Hudson River, I can see my life has real mechanical failures, so I’m going to try to bring the jet down gracefully on some makeshift runway.

I’m finding the path of least resistance now. And as I see it, the path is towards — God, it sounds corny; but here you have it — greater loving.

To take this path, I have 7 rules to live by. These rules were developed by me and my friend Lindsay Pontius after we had several glasses of champagne at the Yacht Club –sounds so deliciously decadent. It was Lindsay’s birthday and we wrote our rules on a wet napkin with a felt tip marker we’d borrowed from the waitress.

I’ve told several friends my 7 rules and one or two suggested I jot them down on something more lasting than a torn napkin. So here you have it. My 7 Rules on the path of Loving.

Until you get to them, I suggest you hold it together. Or, if you have to crash, try to take it down gently.

The path is easy. But like all worthy endeavors, it requires a mix of seizing and letting go of your own power. The path requires persistence and surrender. Persist or give up. It’s up to you.