Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Our Lady of Paris

Notre Dame

Like thousands of others this week I watched in horror as Notre Dame, the grand lady of Paris, was engulfed in an inferno that I thought surely would destroy the entire building. I was so glad I had seen it in person, because it looked as if no one would ever get to experience that beautiful place again. Now we know that the building will survive and be restored, and millions of dollars have been pledged to see that done. Some of the art has been lost, but the vast majority of the structure and its contents have been saved. It’s a miracle, and a testament to the bravery and skill of the firefighters who worked so hard to protect and recover as much as they could.

So now that we know that the worst didn’t happen, I started wondering why we care so much if a building, any building, burns down? What makes us stand in silent shock as we watch an inanimate object go up in flames? Is it just that we as humans value beauty and history, and grieve when these things are destroyed?

I think that for many people walking into a structure that has stood for hundreds of years is a profound experience. It certainly is for me. I’ve had the good fortune to stand in the Colosseum in Rome, the Tower of London, and on the Great Wall of China, among many other ancient sites in the world. I am always moved by the weight of the history that imbues these places, and I feel both insignificant to the life of that place and impossibly lucky to be there.

From stone beehive huts dotted all over Ireland to grand palaces like Versailles, or the many staggeringly beautiful places of worship – St. Peter’s in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – we venerate these ancient monuments to our shared story as humans on planet Earth. These are the places we look to to give our lives context. They are the touchstones that we can all point to and say “that has been here before me and will be here after I’m gone.” There’s a solace in that permanence. We need that somehow.

So to watch the seeming destruction of an important focal point of our common humanity disturbs our equilibrium. It makes us feel unmoored, adrift in time.

It’s also an unwanted reminder that all this, eventually, must pass – that we must also one day pass away. We saw our mortality in those flames, and it was unnerving.

But even so, my hope is that we will use this event to move forward with more compassion for each other, that this reminder of the impermanence of life serves to soften our hearts towards our fellow “travelers to the grave” as Charles Dickens put it. I don’t think that’s a morbid thought, but a hopeful one – an encouragement to live fully, now, today, that we make the most of who we are and what we have and those we love.

 

 

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Christmas Future

better blurry christmas tree

Have you ever wondered why, in the classic tale “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the Spirit of Christmases Yet to Come is portrayed as the Grim Reaper?

Christmas Past is a bright, beautiful fairy, dazzling in white light. In the movies she is dainty, with a soft voice and a kind manner. Christmas Present is a giant, laughing being, so full of joy and the milk of human kindness that he can’t help but spill it everywhere. And then in glides this terrifying apparition, pointing the way, silent as the grave – the spirit of the Future.

Is the future so terrifying that it must be represented by the very image of death? It’s an odd choice when you think about it. The future is unknown, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s dark, or something to be afraid of.

We know that death waits for us all – that’s part of being human. And Ebeneezer’s future was, at that exact moment in his life, not very bright at all. Which made me wonder – if there are such things as Spirits that embody the Past, Present, and Future Christmases that a person experiences in their lifetime, maybe they would be different  for each of us than the way they presented themselves to Mr. Scrooge.

Maybe for someone whose past was filled with violence and danger the spirit of the past wouldn’t be one of light and beauty. Maybe, for them, it would be a dark elf who delights in remembered misery.

For some, maybe the spirit of Christmas Present is a sad fellow, who in spite of all his good intentions not only can’t seem to alleviate the loneliness people feel, but actually makes them feel worse.

But then there’s this. Maybe the spirit of the future isn’t the shadow of death drawing nearer – maybe it’s more like a ball of light – not white, but made up of all colors, shifting and shimmering. It takes no permanent form, as it is always in motion, but sometimes in it you can catch glimpses of your hopes and dreams. This ball of light is always just ahead and slightly out of reach, and we can see its beauty even if we can’t guess its shape. That’s the kind of spirit of the future that I imagine most of us would conjure up – if the occasion were to ever arise, that is.

So maybe instead of losing ourselves completely in nostalgia this year, we could look ahead a little. Not with the resolution-making, goal-oriented, clean slate kind of purposefulness that comes with the beginning of the new year. But in stillness, with the past firmly behind us, hand-in-hand with the present, enjoying the lovely light of the future, twinkling and blurring like the lights of your Christmas tree if you squint your eyes.

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Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

 

 

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An Ode to Thankfulness

Candle 11-20-2018

This morning, before I even got out of bed, I listened to what is probably my favorite Christmas song, “Riu Chiu” by The Monkees. Yes, I know it isn’t Thanksgiving yet – sue me. Listening to that song put me in the most blissful mood that has lasted all day, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I’m grateful for.

I won’t go into the list because you can probably guess most of it – family, friends, material goods, steady job, etc., etc. I think about my life and I am overcome with how good I’ve got it. Yes, there are challenges – always. There has been loss, and grief, and pain, and uncertainty. But I’ve got the only thing that matters, and that is that there are people in this world who love me. No matter what. There is no amount of money, no fame, no earthly pleasure that can measure up to having people who love you. My heart breaks for those for whom the thought of living a life surrounded by love is a distant fantasy, and the gratitude I have for all the love in my life humbles me and fills me with a warm, steady glow that feels like Peace.

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photo credit: MTSOfan Joy Candle 1 via photopin (license)

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A Thousand Natural Shocks

ekg (2)

My mother almost died last week. At least, she could have died if the blood clots she didn’t know she had had broken off and stopped her heart. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and she’s home now, taking her blood thinners and glad to be alive, as are all of us, her friends and family. I am profoundly grateful that the clots were found and dealt with before the worst could happen, but for some reason I haven’t felt the elation at this outcome that I believe I should.

So what’s wrong with me? Why am I not jumping for joy? I certainly have shed some tears – saying goodbye to the excellent nurses who took such good care of my mother got me all choked up. Hearing her voice returning to its normal pitch and resonance warmed my heart. Seeing her laugh hysterically at a funny story made me smile and laugh, too. But that sense of overwhelming relief, that feeling that “wow, we really dodged a bullet!” and the accompanying lightness of heart – none of that has happened for me, and it bothers me.

Maybe it’s because I still haven’t stopped steeling myself for the possibility that all this could change in an instant. Even after they started her on the blood thinners and instructed her to stay as motionless as possible, there was a period of time, measured in hours, that she was still vulnerable. Even there, in ICU, with doctors and nurses all around her, the worst could have happened, and there is nothing more they could have done to stop it. Even as I arranged the stuff on her tray, and pulled her blankets up around her shoulders, and kissed her head, I knew that she could be taken from me at any moment. For some reason that tension, that fear, hasn’t left me – even though she’s officially out of danger.

Maybe it’s because I’m older, and death is closer to me and to most of the people I love. I haven’t spent a lot of time up to now thinking about death, but the certainty of it has taken up a small but definite place in my mind. So for the first time in my life I know that death isn’t far away, and I’m not sure how to adjust my worldview to accommodate this new presence in my consciousness.

Maybe it’s because I’m feeling a bit weary of life right now. In the Shakespeare play, Hamlet talks about “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as he contemplates his own living and dying. I sometimes feel that weight of life, that tiredness that comes from facing, over and over, the trials and tribulations that come with being a human being. It gets old, all the facing up to and dealing with and moving on. I imagine most everybody feels this way at one time or another, and probably multiple times. It’s part of the tour package.

Whatever the reason, I have felt that something fundamental has shifted in me. I’m generally an ebullient person, loud and lavish in my love of my loved ones, and I don’t think that’s changed. It’s more that there’s a new note in my song, a low, solemn tone that runs softly underneath, lending a depth to the music I make. I don’t think it will keep me from soaring, but instead, maybe it’s there to keep me more grounded. If that’s true, then that’s a good thing, even if it’s a bit sad. But maybe we need a little sadness to fully appreciate the joy.

photo credit: juhansonin AliveCor iOS screenshot via photopin (license)

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Morning Thoughts

Alarm clock

As I lay in bed this morning in that hazy, transitional state between waking and sleeping, having the same conversation with myself that I do every morning after my alarm goes off for the first time – about if I have to wash my hair that day or if I know what I’m going to wear to work and if that means I can stay in bed just a little longer – during this familiar phase of slipping between awareness and unconsciousness, I had a vision. I saw myself on a long road made up of days where I have to get out of bed and go to work; an endless, changeless, relentless grind of the same thing, day after day, on and on, for the rest of my life. It was terrifying. Is this all there is for me, my foggy brain wondered? This constant repetition of the white-collar worker’s assembly line: wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed, get in shower, brush teeth, put on clothes, drive to work, work, drive home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed . . . ?

Once I finally roused myself and my full faculties came online, I of course realized that what I saw in my vision isn’t my whole life, that I have passions and pursuits that I care deeply about, and that the job I have is a necessary part of the whole. It keeps a roof over my head, food on the table, gas in the car. And what is more, fortunately for me I don’t hate my job. I work for a good company, I enjoy my co-workers very much, and my boss is a good guy. Yes, there are things that I would change, and there are things I hope to change, but honestly, it’s a good gig, as straight gigs go. I’m lucky, and grateful.

And it allows me to do things that I might not otherwise get to do. It gives me the freedom from worry about where the mortgage is coming from so that I CAN focus on my passions and pursuits in the time I’m not earning a living. And for that, I am grateful.

The episode this morning reminded me that I have a choice about how I see my life. I can either wallow in the things I don’t like about where I am now, or I can be grateful. Wallowing is seductive, like soft sheets and a warm bed – it feels good to wrap myself in the comfort of the familiar, ignoring the pull of the world around me. But eventually I have to get up and face it, and the longer I wallow the harder it gets to throw off the covers and start a new day. What would be better is to begin each day with an eagerness born of gratitude, to take a moment before getting up where I think about all the amazing people and opportunity and love I have in my life. When I start thinking about that stuff it makes crawling out of my comfy bed a lot easier.
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photo credit: cdw9 It’s Too Early!! via photopin (license)

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Memory Vision

Catawba Ad Bldg 2013

I go back to my college Homecoming every year. I go because I want to see people I only get to see during that weekend, and to re-connect to the person I was during my years there – young, passionate, naïve maybe. But hopeful. Blissfully ignorant of the daily grind of adulthood.  I liked her, and I like to hang out with her once a year. But I’ve said all that before.

What struck me on this visit had more to do with the way my memories of those years come alive for me when I’m on campus. The school has outwardly changed very little in the almost 30 years since I graduated, so picturing my younger self in that setting is incredibly easy. When I’m away from there I of course can remember what the buildings look like and how they are situated, but when I’m there it’s like I’ve stepped inside my memory. The administration building, my dorm, the theatre – they all exist both then and now simultaneously. I spent a lot of time walking around campus with various people on this trip, and I kept seeing myself everywhere I looked.

This ditty is the best way I can describe it:

Memory Vision

I see with two sets of eyes.

They see both then and now.

 

I walk down a sidewalk today, and I see my 20-year-old self

Almost dancing down the same sidewalk, dressed up like a Gypsy,

With my friends, a band of Gypsies,

Going to the Banquet.

 

I look at the old building and I see me, bursting through the door,

Rushing to class, my books in my arms,

The chapel bell tolling out the seconds

Of my lateness.

 

You and I walk into the place I lived, my dorm,

And I see us, sitting on the couch in the lobby,

Talking, teasing, testing –

Where would this go?

 

We didn’t know, because we couldn’t see us,

who we are now, our older selves with our gray hair,

Standing and staring

At where we used to be

And still are,

And will always.

 

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Like No Time

Like No Time

Today I spoke on the phone with someone I consider one of my closest friends from high school. No surprise, it’s a guy. When I think about him, I think about the things we had in common: our love of Pink Floyd, Monty Python, and Dungeons & Dragons. The offbeat sense of humor we shared. Our general geekiness. I think about the times we hung out together, the concerts and movies we went to see, the times I came over to his house to watch television. The fights we had. I remember the plays we were in together, the hours of rehearsal and building sets. I remember the times we stayed up very late drinking coffee and discussing everything under the sun. Big conversations about God, and life, and love, and death. I learned from him that it was truly possible to be friends with a man, good friends, and that has been a great gift to me in my life.

The conversation we had today was one of the longest we’ve had in a very long time. Life happens, you know, and people drift apart. He moved away, got married, and had kids. I got married, etc. etc. I’ve seen him maybe twice in the intervening years. We don’t talk on the phone. We sometimes say “hello’ on Facebook, to wish each other a happy birthday or something, but nothing consistent. He hasn’t been part of my life for a long time now. He has a life that is full and happy, as do I. On the face of it, you wouldn’t think I have any reason to miss him. But I do. And it made me wonder.

You hear the notion that true friends are those that, when you see them again after a long absence, it’s “like no time has gone by”. You immediately pick up from where you left off, like you’d just left the room and come back – years later. What is that? Why does that happen? I’ve read some things about neurology, and from my limited understanding, memories create pathways in our minds, and when we are confronted with something from our past, our brains seek out those memories and we feel that the something is familiar, known to us. I get that, sure, but what about the people or places that we didn’t like, or are painful or uncomfortable to remember? Does the same “no time has passed” feeling happen then, too? I can tell you that it doesn’t for me – if I am confronted by someone I didn’t particularly like back in the day I don’t get that same feeling as I do from someone I did like or have a close friendship with.  Surely the disliked person created pathways in my brain as well (or I wouldn’t know who they are), but I can look at that person, remember them, but still feel they are a stranger to me. There’s no connection.

So I guess that must be the difference – the person I cared for is the one I still have a connection with, and the person I didn’t care for is still disconnected from me. It’s the kind of connection, not just the familiarity, which gives us that “timeless” feeling.

It’s Love.

Love is the only thing that survives everything – time, distance, even death itself. When we feel love for someone – real love, not possessiveness or the ego-centric self-reflective obsession that we often mistake for love – that love never goes away. It lives forever in our minds and hearts, and when confronted with someone we loved in the past, it’s that feeling of love that melts the time away. Love is eternal – it exists in the NOW – which explains the timeless feeling. Or that’s what I think, anyway.

My conversation with my friend today felt like that. When we were at our best, we had this effortless way of talking to each other, and we fell right back into that today. We didn’t talk about anything deep, just caught up in a general way on our lives and our families. But it was that sense of familiarity, that instant connection, that feeling that I just came back into the room and continued the conversation, that made me miss him. But I know that no matter how much time goes by until the next time we talk, it will be the same way again. The love we share as friends, good friends,  is as vivid today as it was all those years ago, and will remain that way for – well, forever, I suppose.

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photo credit: Emma Fierberg Fierberg_Photojournalism_1 via photopin (license)

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Need to Know

need to know meme

If you watch the news at all it’s easy to believe that the world we live in is a senselessly violent place where no one is safe. You aren’t safe walking down the street. You aren’t safe in your schools or your places of worship. You aren’t even safe sleeping in your bed. Danger is everywhere; the stories of death and destruction come at us non-stop on the television, in the newspaper, over the radio, down our Twitter feeds, through our friends’ Facebook posts. The unrelenting barrage of bad news often leaves me feeling hopeless and thinking that the world is spiraling out of control.

I hate feeling this way so I’ve thought a lot about how not to. I’ve tried finding my peace through faith and prayer, and while that helps, it doesn’t stop me from getting drawn back into the maelstrom of madness that is the “news”. So, as the above cartoon suggests, I’ve tried to limit my exposure to it. When I am successful I find that my mood improves significantly. But – and this is a big “but” – I often, so often, find myself seeking it out so I’ll know what’s happening, even though I know it will make me feel like crap.

So what is it that I think I NEED to know?

This is an extremely confronting question, and worth exploring. What, exactly, do I need to know about events in my own country and the wider world in order to live my life? What information is necessary for me to have to be a productive member of society?

Do I need to know about every natural disaster, devastating fire, missing person, or horrible murder that happens every day somewhere in the world? Do I NEED to know the details of these awful events, or is it enough to know that they happen every day?

Do I need to know every excruciating detail of every dumb ass thing our elected representatives say and do? Do I NEED to know all the latest scandals and outrages, or is it enough to know that these things will continue to happen as long as human beings are in charge?

Do I need to know every time some heinous act of terror is perpetrated somewhere on the planet? Do I NEED to know who these people are, where they came from, and why they did it, or is it enough to condemn all acts of violence carried out by people who want to hurt others and make all of us afraid?

When you put it that way, it’s pretty obvious that I don’t actually NEED to know any of this stuff. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be aware of world events, particularly if they will have a direct impact on my life, but maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to be quite so thoroughly consumed by it all.

Of course that’s easier said than done. Following current events as they happen is an addiction, and I don’t think I’m the only one hooked. I have tried to wean myself off of the minute-by-minute news cycle but in spite of my best intentions I keep going back to my dealer, the internet, for more of the drug I crave – and hating myself for it. Why can’t I go through life being blissfully uninformed? Would that be so bad?

I think back longingly on the years when we all got our information from a trusted anchorperson on the 30-minute nightly news. We all went about our daily lives, and then, after dinner, we’d sit down and have Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather tell us what we needed to know that day. And that was plenty. We knew what was going in the world, but we weren’t overwhelmed by it like we seem to be now. Sure, the coverage wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it is today – thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can know what some despot on the other side of the world had for breakfast – but dear God, do we really NEED to know all that just because we CAN?

I know that unless I move to some remote island or mountaintop retreat it’s unlikely that I will cut myself off from everything and everyone I would have to in order to achieve that level of disconnectedness. So I have to find another way to stay sane.

Here’s a radical thought, so bear with me. I think that the key to keeping  in touch with the world around me while at the same time keeping my sanity is entirely dependent on my own perception. What I mean is, I can either see the latest catastrophe – whether man-made or not – as a reason to panic, or not. I think we’ve gotten so short-sighted that we confuse what’s happening now with what will happen tomorrow, and the next day. We have lost our ability to look at the long term, to see down the road. We’re so focused on the information coming at us from those little screens in our hands that we’ve forgotten how to look up and really see the world around us. Beloved, the stars in the sky could give a fuck who’s president. We need to keep that in mind. Focusing on what’s eternal is a huge help in processing what’s temporary. This too shall pass.

We also need to see our neighbors with compassionate eyes. We need to recognize that we all want the same basic things – to feel safe, to be warm and dry and fed. To be loved. We sometimes have extreme differences about how to achieve these goals (and what is preventing us from achieving them), and we have a hard time understanding how someone who disagrees with us could possibly believe the things they do. It’s hard, I know. But we have to try. We have to try, with all our might, to love the people we believe are actively trying to do us harm. I believe with all my heart that it’s the only way through this current crisis.

So, when I call my elected representatives to share my concerns about something of real importance to me and my family I will not do so in a state of fear and panic, but in a state of love. I will approach the conversation with an open mind and heart, and I will see the “other” as someone who is capable of compassion. I know this approach doesn’t fit in with the concept of “fighting” the good fight, but I’m hear to tell you, it is the most powerful thing you can do. Look at Gandhi. Look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those men achieved real change, and they did it not meeting force with force, but by overwhelming the resistance with kindness, and gentleness, and with love. We have to do this differently, and it starts with you and me, right now.

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For Eric, on our 20th Wedding Anniversary

 

My husband of 20 years is kind.

My husband of 20 years is thoughtful.

handsome

My husband of 20 years is handsome.

My husband of 20 years is curious about the world.

My husband of 20 years is loyal.white face

My husband of 20 years is a good singer.

My husband of 20 years is so funny.

My husband of 20 years is a good friend.

My husband of 20 years is full of joy.

My husband of 20 years is cool.

st andrews

My husband of 20 years is a golfer.

My husband of 20 years is affectionate.

My husband of 20 years is honest.

My husband of 20 years is a world traveler.

My husband of 20 years is a fine actor.actor

My husband of 20 years is a music lover.

My husband of 20 years is a cunning linguist.

My husband of 20 years is tender-hearted.

 

 

with all catswith Juni

My husband of 20 years is liked by animals

and children.

 

 

 

My husband of 20 years is a loving brother.

 

My husband of 20 years is the greatest gift I have ever received.

trevi kissing

 

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The Middle Age

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I’m going to be 50 years old in a little over a month, and for the past few months I’ve been getting acclimated to the idea. Like on a hot day, when you have to ease yourself slowly into the cold water of the swimming pool. The feet go first, and it feels good, and you think this won’t be so bad. Then, when you step down deeper, the water reaches your knees and gives you a shock. You shiver a little bit but as you stand there you realize you can handle it.  But you know what’s coming. You put it off for as long as you can, but you can’t stand on the steps in the shallow end forever, so you take the next step, and the water covers your backside and all the air whooshes out of your body and you close your eyes and concentrate on how good it will feel eventually. The last part is the hardest – lowering yourself fully into the pool so that the cold water covers your chest and your head. Holding your breath, you force yourself under and hold there for a few moments. Then you surface and suddenly you feel fantastic! The water is amazing – silky and suddenly warm and lovely on your skin. You kick off towards the deep end wondering why it took you so long get in.

That’s how I feel about turning 50. I’m up to my knees, holding off the inevitable, but knowing that as soon as I fully embrace the idea it’s going to be amazing.

These big birthdays always bring out the contemplative me, and I like to look back on my life to see what I’ve done (and not done). This one is no different, but I find myself looking more at the small moments than the big life changing ones. If I had to guess why that is, my guess would be that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more interested in what lies ahead of me than what has gone before. This has been a gradual, but seismic, shift in my thinking, and one that I welcome. I read a quote on the internet today that was so true it made me gasp: “Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past.” I have come to accept my past, the good and the bad, and now I’m looking forward to this next phase of my life with tremendous anticipation.

Life here in the Middle Ages has gotten really good. Not that I’m more financially successful than I’ve ever been – I’m not. What’s different is that I’ve finally stopped measuring my success by how much money I make or how glamorous my job is. And even more importantly, I’ve stopped listening to people who keep score that way.

I am, more than any time since my college days, figuring out who I am and what I want. I am becoming more myself as each day passes, and, what is more, I am learning how not to be afraid of that. I have opened myself to accept the love and grace that God/the Universe (or whatever you want to call the Divine Spirit that inhabits us all) wants to give me. I accept the gifts that are beginning to shower on me, and I embrace the unexpected miracles to come.

I am also meditating on the notion that I can have the life I want right now. There is no idealized past or unrealized future that is as tangible as the here-and-now of my life today. When I get that in my head and in my heart, I am free to fully inhabit myself, to love extravagantly, and to be truly at peace. If this is what it means to be middle aged, I’m good with that.

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