You have got to be kidding me: a jumbo jet crossing the country at 35,000 feet and we have to stop for gas! I am nearly a million mile flier, and while I love seeing the people at either end of my sojourns, I hate the flying part: the loss of control, the uncertainty of the air ahead (I could go on...) By the time the pilot came on with his message (strong headwinds, bad weather, uncertain landing conditions), we had already been in the air for over 5 hours and still had more than an hour to our unscheduled stop in Salt Lake City. Oh well, I told myself, suck it up, smile at the guy next to me and try to play peek-a-boo with the infant in the seat in front of me who had already cried his heart out for the last thousand miles. This was going to be one of those trips!
In what seemed like forever, we began our descent into SLC to find ourselves landing in a landscape that can only be described as cosmic: the Great Salt Lake etched in white, the Wasatch Mountains swathed in colors displaying a kaleidoscope of colors on their peaks and ski runs. It was magnificent.
After a fashion and confined to the plane, we ultimately got our gas and headed back into the sky once again for San Francisco. 9 1/2 hours later we arrived. Exhausted, but happy and relieved to be at our destination.
Life is like that, even when we know where we are going, and think we are on the most direct (supposedly, non-stop) route, there are often detours and unscheduled stops along the way. We can choose to let the aggravation of changed plans absorb us, or, opt to find the opportunity in the journey that unfolds. Just as the plane needed gas to help us complete our journey safely, we too, need fuel: soul food to keep us connected with the who we are and the what is important.
January, as we begin a new year, is the perfect time to look for ways to maintain the joy of the holidays and find the sustenance that bolsters our spirit, even when our plans go off track. Advice columns suggest keeping a gratitude journal or saying out loud at least one thing we are grateful for everyday; it's a good start and a daily reminder not only to take note and pay attention, but also to connect with joy even in the midst of the mundane and frustrating events that are a part of life. Still, I have always thought this begs the question of those things in our lives that we aren't so grateful for. As I celebrate my 15th year cancer-free, I recognize cancer wasn't a journey I chose, and yet there has been joy in friendships I have developed with my cancer survivor sisters and in the understanding of the gift of another day upon this earth not to be squandered or taken lightly. For me, maintaining this joy has to include a reminder to accept the journey - as much as the anticipated arrival at my destination.
My 2015 resolution is practicing mindfulness in the moment and striving to live the words of the Serenity Prayer in accepting the things I cannot change (air travel included), finding the courage to change the things I can and seeking the wisdom to know the difference.
We would love to hear about the detours life has thrown your way and your progress on any New Year's Resolutions. (Joan)
Anyone who knows me well, knows I'm an uncomfortable flyer. I say an Our Father and a Hail Mary before taxiing out to the runway as if my life depended on it, a definite show of more enthusiasm than usual, which I'm guessing doesn't fool God (or Mary) one iota. My phobia goes up even more when there are weather issues, as happened on a flight from Miami in May. There were giant thunderstorms up and down the eastern seaboard and we needed to fly several hundred miles inland to avoid them, adding over an hour to our flight time. On our final approach to La Guardia that seemed to go on forever, we were in a thick and dark cloud cover with lots of turbulence and I kept looking out the window hoping to see land. Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore, we broke through the clouds. The plane was just at the southern tip of Manhattan flying north at maybe 3000 feet and our delay meant the lights of the City were all on, illuminating landmark buildings, the lights of Broadway and a home game at Yankee Stadium. The night below us was crystal clear as if every particle had been absorbed into the clouds above and all those colorful lights felt close enough to touch, a truly magical display. I wasn't the only one who noticed. A little girl behind me said, "Look Mommy, it's like Christmas!"
I don't think there is one among us who doesn't know the feeling of being stuck in the muck, unsure if we will ever see the light. As we find ourselves in the midst of the Holiday Season, it seems a good time to remember we cannot live without light in all its manifestations. The Festival of Lights, Hanukkah (Dec. 16-24 this year), celebrates the miracle of one day's worth of oil burning for eight days until more oil could come to light the rededicated temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. In John's Gospel, John the Baptist speaks of the light of the world, he who is to come; Jesus' birth is the light made manifest. The first words God speaks in the Old Testament are, "Let there be light." This is a few days, as the story goes, before the sun, moon and stars were created, so even the ancient writers knew of the importance of a larger concept of light.
All of us have the ability to experience this light when we arrive at a point of wisdom, when someone's eyes light up with joy, when we have faith and believe without "seeing." It seems to me, light comes into the soul when we experience grace or goodness, or the beginning of peace when we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most importantly, in a world where we have little control over so much, we can be the light for one another.
Edith Wharton wrote, "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." Light is contagious; pass it on. (Katie)
Many of you know that my daughter, Elizabeth, was abused by a license-exempt provider (nanny) and blinded for life. The judge convicted the nanny of felony child abuse, but shockingly, amazingly and seemingly without regard for other families and children, allowed the person who tried to kill my daughter to be a nanny again, stating that it "was good to have a job while on probation." The nanny was given a $100 fine.
This was too much for me to bear. Not only was my beautiful, 6-month old baby blind, unable to move the right side of her body and having seizures, the 'system' I thought would surely protect others had failed before my eyes and ears.
I decided to change child care laws in CA, and the journey to what later became the California Child Care Trustline Registry began that day (www.Trustline.org). That journey, in and of itself, was a series of miracles that I partially chronicle in The Miracle Chase. But there is more, and this is the amazing miracle I want to share with you now.
This year, early education and child care has been a focus for many who care about and work on behalf of young children. The reauthorization of the eighteen year old Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) finally made it to the top of someone's list and a majority of our legislative folks in Washington were on board to pass legislation that would ensure that the funding could continue, but with many new, updated and important changes to make child care safer and better administered.
Unfortunately, a couple of legislators wanted to hold up the passing of this nearly unanimous legislation. After many advocates and the sponsors of the bill put pressure on them, there was only one man who was the hold out. (The way Federal legislation works is that you have to send the bill out for signature by the President before a certain date or the bill dies.) We needed his vote to send the bill on.
Here comes the miracle. A mother was at a child care conference for parent advocates, because her son had suffocated by being placed in an unsafe crib; she was determined to make the death of her child mean something, to ensure that no other family would suffer what happened to her own family. She Googled women who changed child care and came up with the story of the Trustline Registry. But the story of Trustline didn't launch her advocacy. It turns out that our book, The Miracle Chase, also came up on Google. So she bought the book, which tells the story of how Joan, Katie and I uncover what the miracles in our life have meant to us. She said that the wonder and nature of miracles soothed her soul and inspired her at a time she really needed it. She decided to come to the conference and through her voice and her family's terrible experience, she would try to make a difference.
Here is the amazing part: her hometown legislator was the "Hold-Out-Legislator" who was blocking the passing of the CCDBG. Well, we all know that No Thing is more powerful than a woman who is defending her children and one who is inspired by miracles is unstoppable. She walked into her Legislator's office and passionately told him her story, explaining why what happened to her family must "never again" be any other family's experience. Where cajoling by other legislators had failed, her heartfelt sharing changed his vote.
The rest is history, or maybe really, it is her story. God bless this mother and God bless the miracle of a change of heart.
To recap the Ripple Effect of the Miracle:
My daughter survived (our miracle) and I started Trustline. This mother found Trustline, and she found the three of us who wrote about miracles in The Miracle Chase. And then, she made her very own miracle by saying "Yes" to the unfolding of miracles. She made miracles happen for countless families across this nation. Who knows how many children will be spared death or injury because of her courage and passion?
As we say in The Miracle Chase, "Like the ripples in the Universal Lake, a Miracle is the perfect stone God casts in to the center of the still more perfect water. When we step back and look, we can see how the ripple cascades across time and space until God's miracle returns to another shore, like a wave unto itself."
Go out and say "Yes" and make miracles happen. They never end.
There are a lot of miracle sentiments out there; believe me, it's an occupational habit to search and I've read a lot of them. My all time favorite quote graces the beginning of our book and was written by Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop:
"Miracles seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what there is about us always."
Perceptions, like miracles, are a bit in the eyes of the beholder. We bring preconceived notions, expectations and well-honed worldviews to the way we encounter experiences. There is an iconic sketch that illustrates this, depicting a young woman, or an old woman, depending on your point of view. I could only see the young woman (which maybe makes me the eternal optimist) and could not, no matter how hard I tried, find the old woman anywhere - I needed the cheat sheet before she appeared.
I don't live far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and rarely, if ever, pass it without admiring its façade. One morning this summer I noticed a crane near the top and workmen walking along the upper ledge, which drew my attention to four stacks of concrete blocks placed on top. "Hmmm, what could the concrete blocks be for, and how did they get them up there?" I wondered. Intrigued, I took an evening walk with my husband; he, too, was curious and unsure why they were there. Obviously, for some construction purpose, but what could it be? After a few days the crane was gone, but the blocks remained.
Several weeks later, while walking past a NYC tour group across the street from the Museum, I heard the guide say, "Does anyone notice anything unusual about the front of the Museum?" No one did, but I stopped and sauntered over to hear if she had an answer about the mysterious unfinished blocks. "If you look up, you will see piles of concrete blocks. Believe it or not, they have been there since this section of the Museum opened in 1902."
"What??!!" I've walked by the Museum a hundred times, and always made it a point to notice the beautiful building and architecture and I never saw the large, messy stacks at the top. (Turns out they ran out of money, then it became an historic landmark.)
I think miracles are a lot like those building blocks: hidden in plain sight, sometimes even messy, and found in every day encounters. "...what there is about us always," as Willa Cather wrote.
When I relayed my museum surprise to my daughter Laura, she told me a story that brings home this notion of hidden in plain sight. She was at a business school lecture last year attended by 40-50 people and the speaker showed a short film, asking the audience to count how many times a basketball quickly changed hands among three players. She counted 21 times. The speaker surveyed the audience and then asked, "Did anyone notice anything unusual in the film?" One person in the back of the room raised his hand.
"There was a dancing gorilla that waltzed in and out in the middle of the film."
When the film was shown a second time, it was impossible to miss the gorilla. I think miracles are also a lot like the dancing gorilla: surprising and sometimes only recognized in retrospect. Like the Reverend Bill Tully said, "A miracle is change in perception, not a change in the rules." We see what we are looking for; we don't see what is sometimes right in front of us.
With Halloween right around the corner, the dancing gorilla reminded me of more than miracles. We all need to remember to look beyond our expectations; those ghosts and goblins might be saints in disguise. (Katie)
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger..." It's sort of like a backhanded compliment; one that even though it's not what you want to hear, it has that 'oh so painful' kernel of truth in it.
Personally, I started the summer with a routine medical exam that became anything but, when I stopped breathing and had to be revived. Not surprisingly, nearly dying wasn't on my lengthy "To Do" list! It was scary to realize how close I came to the abyss and it forced me to recognize once again, how life can change in an instant. The good news (besides being alive) was that the incident jump-started my thinking about the experiences and challenges that face all of us as part of our daily life.
As we prepare for our Georgetown webinar on Spiritual Connection and Successful Collaboration tomorrow, I think about the choices people make, not only in their personal lives but in their careers, and the tug-of-war that often occurs between finding our "ultimate good" as St. Ignatius says and the practical reality of future planning for college expenses or retirement. Over the past several years, I have been fortunate to be part of a vibrant women's group at Boston College where I am surrounded by women who found their vocation whether in health care, education, high finance or family life and I have learned a lot by participating in the equalizing power of our prayer group deepening our bond through seeing the results and strength of our united front as we confront the trials faced by our fellow participants.
We all know firsthand of the uncertainty that encompasses us, and this summer, fear has become even more palpable. Whether it is, as Katie wrote in July, about the threat of terrorism and ISIS barbarity, or in those we know who are facing treatment for illness or injury and must live with the insecurity of cure, or even on a more personal and simpler level, those nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc., who study for years, graduate and then have to pass an exam before they are certified to practice their chosen profession.
This personal fear and uncertainty was laid at my doorstep even more clearly when, the week after my daughter's dreaded Bar Exam, my 91-year old mother began to recover from a fall. We all knew it would be inevitable that she fell; it was never a question of whether, only one of when. The fear she felt, as she too realized her unsteadiness, contributed to tripping her up in the first place. Worse, her fear of pain and dependence almost precluded any recovery. It was hard to acknowledge that sometimes the strength we need to move forward seems too illusive, too ethereal to hold on to, and as a result we might not ever be able to recover from the trauma life throws at us.
It's easy to say, Rome wasn't built in a day, but when we have to measure progress in weeks or months or even years, not only is it painstaking, but we can easily lose heart. And yet, what doesn't kill you Does make you Stronger.I keep these thoughts in mind as I prepare for a talk in Nantucket next month with Sukey Forbes, a wise woman who has shared the intensity and depth of feeling in losing her daughter and of finding her way to new life as we exploreSpirit and Survival together.
I am inspired by seeing Sukey's resolve, by admiring the determination in the battle-worn faces in the news after natural and man-made disasters and by reading books like Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel on the injurious treatment of women. I am certainly no biblical scholar, but as I participated in the Pebble Beach Authors and Ideas Festival this past weekend, one presenter closed her remarks with the story of Jacob wrestling the angel. I vaguely remembered the story and the metaphor of man vs God; what I had forgotten was the end of the story, the part that makes the struggle worth the effort - where Jacob wins, but before he relinquishes his hold on his adversary, he asks for a blessing. There is blessing in struggle and it is the power in finding that positive energy, which needs to be shared.
St. Timothy says, knowing you have fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith; maybe that's the opportunity, the place where change can begin, the place where growth and self-awareness can be given the time to flourish, and the place where we can work to make not only ourselves, but each other Stronger.