Sometimes, most of the time, in fact, the miracle doesn't come. Wandering around Europe these last couple of weeks, constantly shadowed by the Holocaust and the brutal regimes that followed during the Cold War, this fact is ever present, reinforcing the difficulty in believing in miracles in the first place. Why don't we just give in to the feeling that miracles are a silly notion when confronted with such unspeakable cruelty and suffering?
In Budapest, I walked alongside the Shoes on the Danube depicting worker's boots, shoes of fine leather and children's shoes all in a row along the edge of the river, marking the spot where scores were shot in the back and fell into the icy water during the winter of 1944-45. One night, the Nazis brazenly broke into the Embassy protected neutral safe houses and rounded up 150 people to be taken to the river. Several members of the Budapest police, led by Karoly Szabo, risked their lives by following and confronting the Nazis and freeing the group.
In Vienna, the founder of a small museum is intent on acknowledging the truth of Austria's complicity in WWII. There, we heard the story of Elfi, age 10, who was sent to Sweden by her parents to escape what was now too late for them - certain deportation to a concentration camp. She was eventually taken in by a local pastor who went home to his wife and said, "We have four children, how do you feel about five?" The pastor and his family adopted Elfi as one of their own. Inexplicably, both of Elfi's parents survived the camps and they were reunited seven years later.
And, in a Czech ghetto an artist named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis smuggled paper and drawing utensils to teach art in order for the children to find emotional escape. She left 4,500 drawings in two suitcases behind, including the names of the young artists, most of whom perished, as did she.
Anne Frank somehow recognized, "...a single candle can both defy and define the darkness." These stories of courage, love and the selfless care of others endure and set the bar for all of us; to do what we can, where we are, in much easier circumstances. Perhaps, she left the miracle door ajar in acknowledging the candlelight. And, in something else she said, a message that rings true across the decades, "Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."
Living between a number of golf mecca sites, you might think I actually played the game. But that answer is no, if I wanted to spend my time looking for things, I would only have to go as far as searching behind my washer or dryer. However, like living in Boston, where one is required to be able to talk about the Red Sox for at least 10 minutes, the same is true for golf, if you live in Pebble Beach. Wanting to hold my own in conversation, I have listened and learned by immersing myself in golfing discussions over the past few years. While I still think the game takes too long, I have come to appreciate that golf does offer some important life lessons. Here's my Top 10:
1. All men and women are created equal; some just have higher handicaps! Golf is a great equalizer; public courses or private, the game is the same. And, in what other sport can the Club Champion not be the best player?
2. Mulligans are allowed as a legal do-over. It's simple forgiveness by another name.
3. Learn from those in the trenches. Caddies know how to read the greens, not just how to carry your clubs and often offer excellent advice. Pride and position are irrelevant. Be willing to listen and follow directions.
4. Finishing the course is key; so is keeping the faith. Sometimes our plans go exactly as planned, other times we have to take a more circuitous route to our goals, even when we are nearly there. A great drive never guarantees that the putt won't lip out.
5. Individuality is accepted, even celebrated. Does anyone care that no one looks good in the Master's green jacket? Have you ever seen some of the wacky golf costumes? Lighten up, even the serious don't need to be serious all the time.
6. Savor nature: smell the roses, walk in the rough, explore the weeds or the woods. Wherever your ball takes you is where you are meant to be. And while you are there leave it as you found it: sand trap etiquette 101.
7. Like divots, most things in life can be fixed. Apologize, try to put everything back as well as possible, spreading new seeds and moisture as needed. With tenderness and attention even deep wounds can be healed.
8. Seek alternative options: Can't walk, no problem, take a cart. Can't carry, no problem, take a push cart or caddie. Excuses wreak havoc.
9. Change up the game. 4 Ball, Best Ball, Alternate Shot, it doesn't matter, rules change. Life requires flexibility, bring your A game anyway.
10. Celebrate the strengths, not weaknesses of those around you. Holes in one are not always made by experts. Luck, like a miracle, is often freely bestowed and altogether unmerited.
As I thought about writing this newsletter over the past few weeks, I gained clarity on how even something you don't really like can be an instrument of learning. I found useful life lessons in a game I once thought frivolous. Chasing miracles, I learned that a change in perspective brings understanding and a new appreciation of the connections that are forged as a result of shared experiences. Now, for the first time ever, I can't wait to get to the 19th hole. We would love to hear your stories of finding new perspectives as well...
I am anticipating my youngest child boomeranging back to live with me in what used to be called my "empty nest." I spent the better part of three weekends organizing my garage so there will be enough storage space for his stuff. This was the motivator I needed to finally get rid of boxes and boxes of two houses worth of things I once absolutely could not part with. I have edited, given away, tossed, cried over, laughed about, let go of, and kept.
Now that I have an organized garage, (at least until #3 moves back in), I can finally find and label my holiday boxes, which should allow me to decorate my house for every season once again.
When I was a mom with young kids, decorating for holidays was a source of joy and an outlet for my creativity. In fact, Joan and I bonded over making Halloween ghosts for her house from ones we saw in a Martha Stewart article. (She still has-and uses-them.) After the kids moved out and I moved into my own place, decorating for holidays wasn't as much fun. I didn't have a place for all my special things and many of the items were laden with memories of raising children and a married life that didn't exist anymore. What I've now kept fits my new space - both the physical house I live in and the space inside my heart. I've let go of most of what I don't need or what doesn't make me happy, keeping only the very best.
Celebrations like the 4th of July can ground us in history and remind us of what stays solid while the sands of change shift around us. This month, I took my 4th of July plastic container down, put out my flag and arranged my Red, White and Blue items around the house for a few days. But traditions can also carry us forward into the future. For example, I recently hosted a Mermaid Party, inviting new and old friends to come and play for an evening. I decorated with shells and coral, aqua and blue. We munched on Seasar salad and Sandwiches, fresh shrimp and amazing ahi poke burritos wrapped in Seaweed. We drank foamy drinks that were sweet and refreshing while ocean sounds played through Pandora. Some of us told tales of times when we opened up to "sing" and others shared deep feelings that surfaced in this mermaid-safe place with listening friends. It was such a special time that I've put together another plastic container called Mermaids, because I'm making my Mermaid Party a Meb Summer Tradition.
Life is uncertain and these times seem particularly so. Traditions, especially seasonal ones, remind us of what went before, but will soon come again. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes that traditions, "Mark the passage of time in a happy way. They provide a sense of anticipation, security, and continuity...They provide connection and predictability, which people - especially children - crave." I crave celebrations because I need times of pause and shared moments with friends and family that act like a parenthesis of safety and love in my busy life. When my world feels shaky, I can take these moments out when I need them, knowing I will have special moments like them again.
When we celebrate our traditions, we make space for special moments. One thing I've learned by chasing miracles is that sometimes you have to make space in life for miracles to happen. We know that only Change is predictable, only Change is certain. Traditions help us move through the changes we must inevitably face by grounding us, helping us to move forward in every moment with a more graceful and grateful heart.
Old traditions are so important in life, but there is also room to make up new ones. So in honor of Tradition Day, I am here to wish you all a very Happy Miracle Chase Day! Now go out and make it special and let us know what you did to celebrate! (Meb)
I've often wondered about reconciling the idea that we're here by some cosmic accident with the idea that we're folded into a divine plan, that roughly 7 billion unique souls each serve some purpose. Is there significance to our existence and the seemingly insignificant and fleeting roles we play on planet earth?
If you believe nothing is a coincidence, then you see meaning everywhere you look. As a believer in miracles great and small, I can totally get behind this point of view. The spectacular sunset on the eve before my mother's funeral gave me a much needed sense of peace. The notion that each friend or family member I'm sharing this journey with gives me an opportunity to both learn something new and continue to figure out how to love better. And certainly, escaping the clutches of a serial killer makes me wonder what my purpose for sticking around all these years might be.
Today, just before sitting down to write, the news broke of 22-year old Otto Warmbier being freed from N. Korea (where the college student had been imprisoned after supposedly taking down a propaganda poster.) It was also reported that the young man had been in a coma for 16 months; he has since died. This is the sort of story that drives home how some of us who count ourselves lucky, are really just hanging on by a random thread. There is no hint of a divine plan in Otto's horrific story. There is potential for meaningless chaos and tragedy. I can understand this point of view too.
What about the idea articulated at the end of Forrest Gump that it's both? That we've each been given our little plot of earth with the freedom and opportunity to play the cards we're dealt the best way we can. Viktor Frankl said in his famous Man's Search for Meaning, "Everything can be taken...but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." He arrived at this epiphany from the inside of a concentration camp, so he should know.
I don't know for sure which it is, that we are here by accident, or we have run into each other on purpose. But I do know, either way, we are not here alone. And, we find meaning in our connection and care of others. In fact, it is in our uniquely human ability to love that our existence matters at all. Sounds heavenly to me.
As mothers, it often feels like we should be able to be better: worry less, protect more, cook healthier, drive slower, recover faster...the list is never-ending. Many of us have tried to do it all, to the point of feeling insecure or unfulfilled, overwhelmed or just plain exhausted. It's easy to give up and give in to what can seem to be a tsunami of information and suggestions, rules and recommendations, ostensibly all aimed at making us better mothers. We want our children to be happy, to be kind, to be successful, to be passionate - as if we are in control. The best part of being a new grandmother may be the perspective that the most we can do as parents is to offer love and support, doing our best with all the rest. After all, parenthood is a job that will never be perfect, nor complete. It takes effort to learn to find joy and fulfillment in the celebration of milestones both large and small.
As Mother's Day approaches and in thinking about motherhood, I thought about the powerful experience I had recently when I attended an intense two-day Board of Trustees meeting. As usual, the agenda was opened with a prayer. But this time it was a prayer we had never heard before. As the wise words of the prayer unfolded, our restlessness ceased and you could have heard a pin drop as each Board Member held their breath wondering what would be spoken next. It was a startling and unexpected moment of pure acceptance and grace. When the prayer was finished, we felt renewed, empowered to tackle the complexity of the task before us and face the individual steps necessary to head down the path of successful planning for this inner city school.
Though at times many jobs may threaten to overwhelm us, this is what we are all called to do, whether it is through the challenges of our parenting experiences, our responsibilities in the communities where we live and work, or in other aspects of our daily life. It is a reminder to forge ahead, as Meb says, "Doing what we can, when we can." The words of the prayer that spoke to me that day of the retreat are attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, SJ. They are particularly poignant in light of his own passion to pursue the defense the downtrodden while spreading the word of God. As he says, "We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs, and prophets of a future not our own." As I heard his prayer, I wondered if he knew how prescient he was of his own subsequent tragic murder and the positive steps toward equality it prompted. It is a message I sometimes forget when I try to be all things to all people; taking the long view saves us from being discouraged and giving up, reminding us instead of the future.
The Miracle Chase was always about empowering each of us to think about our lives differently. Similarly, Archbishop Romero's prayer empowers us as well, to recognize, as parents must, that we are called to do our best, not to resolve every ill, but to find joy and a sense of accomplishment in what we can achieve and in planting the seeds for future generations. It's an important point to remember this Mother's Day. (Joan)
A Step Along the Way
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives included everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need future development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.