I am hardly an international business tycoon, generally more used to titles like mother, wife, sister, friend, author, consultant, volunteer – even so, I have logged nearly 100,000 air miles since January and it's just barely mid-year! I guess that’s why so many of my experiences are travel-related ones, like the story of James – our inaugural blog, which was the first time I experienced an airport miracle. But there have been others, like the time I was in Puerto Rico returning to California to regroup before a miracle talk in Boston, where after slipping and fracturing a couple of vertebrae in my back, through the kindness of strangers my heels got swapped for sneakers that were tied ever so gently before being escorted to the next airplane gate so I could make it home. The folks who helped didn’t know me from Adam and yet they stopped, even after I signed my life away by refusing transport to the local hospital.
I was reminded of the kindness of strangers again this month when I found myself debilitated because of a solid nose plant on the armrest of my airplane seat while boarding the plane. (Long story but suffice it to say people should always move to allow entry to the window seat instead of becoming a tripping hazard.) With a face the size of a beach ball and having delayed the flight to await the paramedics, I was stunned when the woman across the aisle introduced herself and said she’d look out for me if I needed anything. From my “reclining” position with a face mask of ice, “Just raise your hand,” she said, “and I’ll get help.” As if she didn’t have enough to do with occupying her 10-month old on the 6-hour flight across the country.
It is in moments like these where human connection occurs, a kindness generated by kindred spirits being willing to help each other without the pretense of anonymity or isolation. It is as G. K. Chesterton said, “We men and women are all in the same boat [or plane], upon a stormy sea, and we owe each other a great and terrible loyalty.” The Broadway musical Come From Away celebrates this connection in the story of the 38 commercial jets that were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland after the events of September 11, 2001 and the townspeople who took them in. As Gander Mayor Claude Elliott says, “What we consider the most simple thing in life is to help people. You’re not supposed to look at people’s color, their religion, their sexual orientation — you look at them as people.” It is a stirring illustration of human nature at its best.
These miracle moments, and yes, that’s what I think they are, like Katie’s bus ride with hero Rose Mapendo, Meb’s trip to Chicago to the Oprah Show and the plane ride home where she had her own "A-ha" moment, the sharing of the myriad of miracle stories we have had the honor of hearing, are the daily moments of life that are worth remembering and celebrating. Just this week social media has come alive with the story of 15-year old Clara and her example of becoming a miracle for a gentleman on her plane. These stories bring hope for resilience, for forgiveness and for building faith in humankind.
Yes, I am a “half full” person; my Rocky Raccoon face is already fading, but the warmth of another person’s caring will remain with me for a lifetime and remind me to pay it forward by being kind to others. These are the miracle gifts we can give each other, spreading kindness and connection in our personal spheres that can ripple outward and begin a wave of everyday miracles ultimately touching each of us. (Joan)
A mourning dove has built a nest on the air conditioner outside my home office window. She must have been sitting on eggs because no matter what this past crazy April could throw at her, she didn't move (as far as I could tell). When an unseasonable snowstorm hit, I watched the snowflakes pile up on her; one afternoon some days later, a thunderstorm rolled through, fierce wind ruffling her feathers and rain dripping from her wings. Still, she maintained her stoic vigil. I realize that she is supposed to feel the elements, but this air conditioner is exposed, not a leaf or branch in sight. It seemed to me under different circumstances she might have spread her wings or flown the "coop," or something to escape the barrage nature unleashed. Instead, she was single-minded in her purpose, dove comfort be damned. When the eggs hatched, the real work began and she finally flew into action to care for and feed her squabs.
There isn't a mother I know who doesn't understand the notion that just when you think the hard part is over, the real work begins. If I can just get him out of diapers; if he could just do well in school; if I can just teach her to be kind and honest and herself; if the mean girls could just leave her alone; if she could just get her license - to drive a 3000 pound machine - while dodging the minefields of alcohol, drugs and the boy next door. Oh, and find R-E-S-P-E-C-T for their mother at the same time.
Motherhood requires the wisdom of the ages and the patience of Job, usually cultivated on the fly in the trenches of the latest challenge. Failure is inevitable, so resilience is imperative. Mothers are the ultimate caregiver, the keeper of maladies and camp director; they are unconditional love personified. God had a sense of humor when She placed such burden on the shoulders of one person. Fortunately, She passed the sense of humor on, so mothers could find reason to laugh at their predicament.
Mothers may have superpowers, but they don't wear capes, making them miracles in disguise. Barbara Kingsolver seems to understand when she said, "Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws." As I write this, my mourning dove is teaching her offspring to flap their wings to prepare them to leave the nest. Her beautiful and melancholy lament, a call I have loved since my years in California, reminds me that the ultimate gift a mother brings is the one that teaches them to fly on their own and lets them go. (Katie)
Several weeks ago I lost my voice, which is really a misnomer because I know exactly where it went…somewhere off the coast of Columbia in very high seas. Was I afraid while screaming at the top of my lungs at the surging sea? Incredibly, not really. I trusted the captain and was surrounded by dear friends (and besides, nothing bad ever happens when the sun is shining, right?) It was a lesson in ceding control to those who know better than I how to handle certain situations. Needless to say we returned to port in high spirits having bonded over waves and wetness.
When I awoke the next morning dry and happy to be alive, I realized my voice had abandoned me somewhere on the high seas. I was instantly grateful that my most recent Miracle Chase presentation had been made a few days previously and my talking would be limited to small groups…what I forgot was that one of those “small groups” was my 94-year old mother who had left the cold of Boston to visit me upon my return to the U.S. later that same day.
Between mom’s “older” ears and my lack of voice, we had to learn to communicate in a new way. At first it was frustrating, me “screaming” at the top of my lungs, which was not only painful; it was painfully ineffective. What followed was a lesson in patience and understanding. We learned to communicate less in words and more in touch, in feelings and in anticipating the other’s needs. We spent a week together soaking up the warmth of the Florida sunshine creating a new relationship: one where my words were sparse and she spoke more openly. Not in a hurry to answer, since I was thinking of how to use the fewest words possible, it gave her time to frame her next thought and share a new experience.
I knew there was a lesson in our time together, not only because sometimes we think we have all the answers and hurry to fill in the blank of what we think others are asking, but because it was an opportunity to truly be present in the moment. It was a poignant reminder of Willa Cather’s words about having, “…our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes see and our ears can hear what there is about us always.” Because, as she tells us, “Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” In the silence it is easier to hear them! (Joan)
Ben Franklin is supposed to have said: Nothing is certain except Death and Taxes. Well, I spent most of today cuddled up to my TurboTax and I have got to say, I don't feel certain about how it all turned out. It has me wondering about certainty. We are often reminded of what Ben had to say around the end of March and the beginning of April when tax season is upon us. But many don't know that Franklin was actually expressing his doubt about the sustainability of the new nation's Constitution. Written in French to a French scientist, Franklin mused about whether and how long the new nation would survive.
Certainty is relative, isn't it? Sometimes, it shimmers for us, like the certainty you feel when you hold your first child for the first time and absolutely know you could not, ever, love anyone more. Sometimes, certainty crashes into you, like the certainty one feels at the end of a marriage that allows you to move on, or when a good friend or parent dies and you know they are truly gone from this world and from you. Certainty rings Final, except for when it does not, like when you were absolutely certain and then, suddenly, you changed your mind.
I don't think that the opposite of Certainty is Uncertainty. It might well be openness and a willingness to take on another person's perspective in order to better understand, or to be curious and explore another possible way or outcome. How different might our wold be if we could learn to take another's perspective and explore our commonalities, rather than be certain in our own beliefs?!
I am pretty sure, that on many occasions, to leave a question mark at the end of a sentence when one is stating an absolute fact is a good idea. Miracles teach us that even when scientists and doctors tell us something is impossible, the impossible can happen. Grace occurs in those liminal moments between knowing and acting and knowing and considering another path. As Oprah says, 'one thing I know for sure' is that the older I get, the less certain of most things I am.
Except for those taxes I will pay very soon!
As the observer of any great artist's painting, we sometimes need to look beneath the surface to glean full meaning, just as in literature it is important to read between the lines. Nuance and context and emphasis all matter. There is always more to the story, it seems, in art, as in life. "...the whole story doesn't show..." as Andrew Wyeth painted and appreciated. Isn't this also true of all of us?
One evening last summer, we had dinner with another couple, very close friends for over thirty years. While I knew David's mom had died of breast cancer when he was young (aged 14 and the oldest of six), I never knew the rest of his story, abbreviated here. His father worked sometimes twenty hours a day as an internist (he still made house calls). He successfully petitioned the courts to grant David a license early, relying on David to carpool his younger siblings around and essentially co-parent. When his father dropped dead of a heart attack ten years later, David found himself in a battle to keep his family together. He had four siblings still in high school (including twins), needed to find suitable housing, manage a tight budget, and, of course, continue to parent his younger siblings, who would all go on to graduate from college. When an acquaintance heard of David's plight, she told her father, who became a miracle man in David's life. As David tells this part of the story, he gets so emotional he finds it difficult to go on. He had felt so alone and this savior shows up at the right time, understanding exactly what was needed, and giving him the courage and strength to go on.
It's like that saying, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Or, has fought one, and will live to fight another day. Everyone has his or her story that if fully known would shed light on more than you know. We don't, after all, tend to wear our battle scars, or our stories, on our sleeves.
We learned that the ability to recognize and accept that there is often more than meets the eye is at the heart of appreciating life's miracles. When we fail to look deeper and truly see - a friend's courage and commitment to family, a human angel of compassion and support, or what the miracles in our lives mean, so much is missed and, perhaps, misunderstood. Hard to believe here in New York that in a few months there will be tulips and daffodils breaking through the black, hard earth, a reminder that the beauty of what lies beneath the surface is worth keeping in mind. (Katie)