Thanksgiving is the mandatory annual gratitude check and inventory for most of us, and no matter how much we want to employ a gratitude attitude all year long, there is usually room for improvement. It must be part of the human condition to resist appreciating the abundance that surrounds most of us reading this newsletter due simply to its constancy in our lives. The friend or spouse who drops everything to listen, the son or daughter who calls just to chat, the barista who knows our coffee order and delivers it with a smile, the new sweater hanging in the closet or thank you note someone took time to write, the sun on our face or the rain on the roof, the little daily kindnesses that may come our way.
I have tried to keep a gratitude journal for years – writing down three things every night I’m grateful for that day. Every once in a blue moon I get on a roll, and then forget about it for several months. But when I go back and read my entries I’m always struck by the moments I’d already forgotten and wonder about the many I never captured at all. Thanks to one entry, I can tell you that on May 27th while driving from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park we missed our turn and drove twenty minutes out of our way before any of the six of us noticed, so engrossed were we in the company and the scenery. Ah, yes, the journey, not the destination, a metaphor for life.
I heard recently about an elderly woman of faith who regularly enjoys involvement in her church community. When they had a talk about miracles, she was so distraught that she had never experienced one, she couldn't face coming back for the completion of the discussion the following week. Perhaps, like my own previous disposition, she has a very narrow view of miracles. It took me years to recognize that miracles are best understood when imagined within the full spectrum of all life has to offer, a veritable kaleidoscope of possibilities. Like Thick Nhat Hahn said, “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” This is where gratitude and miracles intertwine.
The more we can find to be grateful for, the more miraculous life seems. Though I have found it does help to write it down. (Katie)
4 weddings and 12,000 miles in 6 weeks, might not qualify for the Guinness Book of Records, but it certainly was a Personal Best. Joy, Joy and more Joy was definitely the overarching theme and love was in the air; whether it was the open air, literally of an organic farm, or the rarefied air of stunning historic landmarks. Traipsing across the country, I had lots of time to think about these couples, their families and the promise of new beginnings. There were friends, rabbis, ministers and relatives who performed the myriad of ceremonies, each in their own way speaking words that were meaningful and personalized for each couple recounting a past vignette and the moments that had brought them to the altar.
Admittedly, no one had a crystal ball peering into the future, but the future was present, looking over the heads of the attendees, hearing the promise of love and of hope, but knowing that the road ahead would likely be filled with twists and turns that would test, and hopefully strengthen, their unions.
Writing about love this month, when we typically think about ghosts and goblins, saints and sinners, I wondered about the connection. Perhaps it is because of my own recent wedding anniversary and the fact that I have spent this month living across from the church where we were married all those years ago; or perhaps it was the challenge issued by the wedding officiants that as witnesses we are called upon to offer support, wisdom and assistance in the future. It made me think about the goodies in marriage that need to be savored, like honesty, generosity of spirit and forgiveness. These, one can never have too much of (like peanut M&Ms), while things that may sneak in like jealousy, impatience or rigidity are like the "tricks" given by the clueless neighbors and tossed as soon as we get home. But it's in the sharing of life's experiences where marriage finds its lasting sweetness.
I cherished the look of awe as each couple was pronounced husband and wife. It's the same kind of look the recognition of a miracle brings with it. The "How did I get so lucky, how did this happen to me?" As I took in the love enveloping these young couples, I prayed that they would have the courage to face the fear of the unknown being stronger together. (Joan)
On 9/11 this year, I had the morning news on as I went about my day. The names of every victim were being read alphabetically. After eating breakfast and reading the morning newspaper, they were still on the B's. After returning from a work out, they were on the C's. Three hours in, they had just started the P's. The names were read by loved ones who had lost someone on that horrific day and when they got to the name of their son, daughter, husband, wife, sister or brother, they said something meaningful about them. "He rushed in in as others rushed out" or "She lit up the room with her smile" and always, "Not a day goes by that we don't miss you."
Plato concluded that humans are defined as "a Being in search of meaning." It feels impossible to find meaning in these deaths, but we can and do find meaning in their lives. When we sift through the rubble, we remember courage and sacrifice, love and commitment, budding talents and wise counsel. In honoring their memory, we are recognizing that search for meaning in ourselves: how we connect, how we offer kindness, and how we find the capacity for love and sacrifice. A combination of virtues and characteristics unique to each person points to the path marked "Why you are here."
I remember how unified we all felt seventeen years ago in the weeks and months after 9/11. Taking a little more time and being willing to extend a hand to someone who needed help, or just slowing down to allow someone into the lane ahead of us. A collective broken heart beating at the core of humanity motivated us to ease the way for those around us. For a short time we became tethered to each other by what we most admire, and it was contagious. These acts of kindness and connection became the "daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark." As the elusive search for meaning unfolds, it's good to remember we are not alone, our fellow travelers offer clues along the way. (Katie)
"Don't ask permission, beg forgiveness." It's what we tell our summer guests as the only house rule. It may seem simple, but what I have come to realize is that permission is a funny thing. When we were kids, we needed a lot of permission: permission to leave the dinner table, permission to take out the car, permission to borrow a necklace or hair ribbon. Permission was the ubiquitous elephant in the room you could never get around.
We don't ask permission that much any more, and yet, while our moral norms have broadened in some ways (i.e., I can now wear pants anywhere, LOL), we have, in fact, become more stifled as the list of things we can't talk about is growing daily. Politics is definite dinner party stopper, as is right to life or right to death, gun control, the military; even world peace seems fraught with politically correct innuendo. So it is no surprise that any discussion of the supernatural raises eyebrows.
It's a reason why people look for a special place to explore the miraculous, and why we continue to be asked to speak about miracles. Once we share our own miracle stories, others feel comfortable opening up and disclosing theirs. We give them permission, not in so many words, but through our actions where it counts.
It seems now, often instead of granting permission, we've moved into a restrictive realm of what you can and cannot do. I was reminded of that recently while buying birthday candles for my mom's 95th birthday cake. Striking up a conversation with the floor sweeper in the bakery, she mentioned her own grandmother, who at 95 was making up her own rules of what she could do (much to the concern of her adult children.) Since the woman lived until well past 105, the philosopher floor sweeper confided in me that that was the secret: just do what you can do, for as long as you can do it - no permission needed. It sounded like an effective strategy, so I started to look around for other examples.
In reading David Baron's wonderful book American Eclipse, he writes about Maria Mitchell of Nantucket who was a noted astronomer and professor at Vassar. She didn't seek permission to take her group of females across the country to Denver in 1879 to study the total solar eclipse, she just did it; even after the government declined their funding believing women were too fragile to make the tedious trip. Yet, it is in the doing where we find the wonder, the joy and inspiration for others.
Too many times we hold back from following our plans and dreams for fear of what others might think or we wait for permission that will never come. Instead, we must remember to be bold. And when we have doubts, which will surely come as we try something new, whether it's following our heart, stepping outside the box or even speaking of miracles, it helps to keep Goethe's words close to our soul and believe that once you begin: Yes, YOU Can. Permission Granted. (Joan)
A few evenings ago, I walked by a panhandler, cup in hand, asking for change, hardly an unusual occurrence in New York City. As I passed him by, I turned around and did what I frequently do in these situations. We made eye contact and I said not tonight, but I hope you have a good evening. A few yards away I hailed a cab and was struggling to close the heavy van door when the panhandler ran up to help and closed it for me. He smiled and waved as we drove away. A silent message of thanks, I suppose, for acknowledging his presence.
It got me thinking about human connection and the universal language we all share. I was reminded of an early morning a few months ago with my 2-year old grandson, Shiloh. We have our little morning rituals, he and I, one of which is to simultaneously say, "Good morning to the day," as I pull up his bedroom shade. On this particular April morning NYC was in the midst of an unseasonable snowstorm. Shiloh stood in his crib and for a moment stared at the swirling, dancing, fluffy snow, and then he began to laugh - down to his toes, taken by surprise, a pint-size bundle of mirth. I couldn't help but be drawn in, to see what he saw, a bit of heaven on earth.
This July most of us have been riveted by the plight of the Thai Wild Boar soccer team, twelve boys and their coach caught deep in a cave when the rains came. Their plight became our plight. Countries and individuals sent help, expertise and money. We could understand their fear, we prayed in every language and religion for their survival against impossible odds. One brave diver lost his life and many more continued to risk theirs until the end, when one of the Thai Navy Seals wrote, "We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave." I imagine a collective, planet-wide sigh of relief. In a world at odds with itself, there were no sides to choose and no discussion to be had.
There is a human language available to us where we have an opportunity "to make music that will melt the stars."* Gratitude. Joy. Universal Connection. No words required.