“Try not to let the Race adrenaline trick you into going faster than you should in the beginning. Go slower than is comfortable and let runners pass you by. The point is to have something left in the last several miles, in order to finish the Race.” Rob, a friend, is telling our daughter Laura as they discuss their NYC Marathon strategy for the next day.
“Huh, funny, I guess that’s why they say, ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’,” she replied, smiling.
Rob knew what he was talking about since this was his 6th Marathon. Both Rob and Laura were coming off injuries that prevented them from being fully prepared, so the advice was especially important. Expectations needed to be adjusted.
As my children well know, I have always loved the marathon metaphor: staying constant and steady, focused on the bigger picture, the long term outlook or ultimate goal, at your own speed, living in the present, while being true to yourself. A tall order in general, but especially when constantly confronted with a culture consumed by the need for speed, even in our access to information and the immediate gratification we’ve come to expect. Faster is better, finishing first is tantamount and as the holidays approach “beating the rush” is more than a marketing slogan.
It’s not a leap for me to apply the metaphor to Thanksgiving. We have all been at a Thanksgiving table at one time or another, maybe every year, where the suggestion is made: “Let’s go around the table and say what we are each thankful for…”
I admit I have never felt comfortable when the question is posed because I’m not quite sure what to say or where to start. Somehow, a sweeping, general statement seems in order, about love and family togetherness or friendships that have stood the test of time, but this glosses over countless specific kindnesses and characteristics of each person at the table or the myriad of small details that add up to events that mark milestones in our lives during the last year. The question favors a sprint mentality, getting to the finish line, no time to notice the scenery along the way. Real, sustained gratitude feels diminished.
The truth is I haven’t actually stopped long enough to appreciate all the small kindnesses and efforts that have come my way; I’d need to prepare ahead of time in order to do justice to giving thanks in the moment. Maybe focusing on noticing the small stuff is so important to me because I’m not very good at it. As Meb and Joan point out, “…the bottom line…” is at the beginning of a lot of my sentences.
There’s also the “problem” of an embarrassment of riches: too many blessings, a blessing in itself. The perspective from which many of us give thanks is built on a foundation of abundance. Ken Woodward, writer and editor, said about miracles that they “…are gifts freely bestowed and altogether unmerited.” And so it is true of many of the gifts of our lives. The country and circumstances of our birth give way to the ripple effect of opportunity that follows, for education, jobs and financial stability. We don’t have to look further than the daily newspaper to feel that “…there but for the grace of God (or luck, or the cosmos, depending on your point of view) go I.” In this context “I’m thankful for…” feels a bit understated. What is the vocabulary for the big game changers we fortuitously stumble into?
And yet, there is another perspective most of us also come from. Good fortune has never inoculated any of us from the difficulties, sometimes tragedies, of the human condition. It is here at the crossroads of knowing how good life can be and how challenging it is at times that gratitude especially flourishes. Anyone who has come out the other side of a long illness, or seen a small light at the end of a long tunnel of grief, or overcome other trials has experienced this.
Jim and I spent much of Marathon Sunday watching runners from various vantage points. We saw the elite runners as they approached the finish line in Central Park. Then, we moved to see the masses of runners as they turned up 1st avenue after crossing the Queensboro Bridge. At this point they had been running seventeen miles and were met with a 20 mile an hour head wind. The crowds, three and four deep up and down the avenue, cheered them on - by name if they had one on their shirts somewhere - screaming encouragement. “Keep it up!” and “you can do it!” filled the unseasonably cold air. Occasionally a runner would spot a friend in the crowd and come over for a hug and a high five. Rob and Laura intersected at this point with Rob giving Laura a pep talk to get her over the hump.
A fleeting thought of Boston crossed my mind as we squished into and stood with the crowd. Nearly half the runners were to have run the race last year when it was cancelled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We spotted runners from countries around the world and wounded veterans participating in the hand cycling division of the race: 50,000 runners, all connecting around a common and lofty goal, one step at a time.
While he probably had more than marathon running in mind, GK Chesterton said “…gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder,” a sentiment many of these runners must have experienced at the end of the race as they looked back across twenty six miles and the hours it took to finish.
The point is the journey itself, of course, and those we are privileged to travel with. This Thanksgiving, I’ll have given more thought to the depth and detail of the appreciation I really do feel. When the last person finds her way to the table and we raise our glasses in thanksgiving, though a simple “thank you” seems inadequate, I’ll recognize better my own happiness and wonder in the bounty that surrounds me.
May each of you, enjoy a Thanksgiving filled with blessings and surrounded by those you love. (Katie)
As I look outside my
window to the open space beyond my house, I see Autumn in her reds, greens,
golds and oranges. The wind catches the falling leaves and they fly across the
sky, the last "Hurrah!" of the season.
The tree beyond my fence is almost bare, her foliage in drifts at her feet. Standing tall, there's a sense of release about her. Uncluttered, there is clarity. I can see just who she is; the outline of limbs and branches are artfully formed, perfect and unique to her.
In my garden, Autumn is a time of letting go and paradoxically, of bringing in and harvesting. Autumn is the last exhale before the pause of Winter, before the silent waiting, before the exuberant inhale that is the rejuvenation of Spring. I have always loved Autumn.
What am I harvesting now in my own life? What do I need to let go of?
In The Miracle Chase, I talk about how I believed that our family's Miracle meant there would be a "happy ending." I could see a direct connection between Liz's survival and how she touched and inspired so many with her response to life, how my work to protect children resulted in programs and organizations that strengthened families. I thought our family would survive, too. When it did not, when discouragement and divorce, illness, death and day-to-day challenges crept in and over my idea of how it would all turn out, it was hard to see where the Miracle was taking us. But at this stage in my life, I am beginning to understand that my desires, my dreams for my family and my own happiness - what I thought would be a happy ending - might not be connected to God's desires for me. Letting go of that ending allows me to think about the next season of my life. I notice how many of my personal dreams have languished, like the last fruit on the tree, unpicked, unharvested. What do I make of these dreams? Do I let them go?
I admire and treasure my daughter and pay attention when she
(rarely) shares her thoughts about my "Being-ness." She thinks I have
an absolute talent for denial and a capacity to accept and tolerate the
unacceptable. Lately, in part because of a shift in our relationship, through
her eyes, I let myself see more of the woman I am. As the oranges, golds, reds
and greens of old dreams and desires fall away, I see more of my true Self. I
look at the old versions of happy endings and wonder, if in my desire to be
everything to everyone, I painted a picture of my nature, instead of living out
my True Nature.
As a believer and an optimist, I ask myself, "Isn't it true that we don't know how God works in our life until we look back on the evidence after the fact?" From today's vantage point, the hand of God is visible, guiding and caring for me over time, stripping me of what is nonessential, taking me on a journey of trust where clearly I have no map, no compass, no GPS and most certainly, no YELP. I feel naked and bare, exposed like the tree whose leaves have fallen at her feet. I am humble before this God.
Many Christians say that God has a plan. I confess that I would like to believe this is the way the world works and certainly would like to know what God's plan is for me. Wouldn't you? Still, the concept bothers me. I wonder at the idea of a plan where so many suffer. Also, I confess that I am impatient, that I have always been impatient. (I often read the last chapter of a book when the story is particularly suspenseful.) God's timing, the unfolding of "The Plan," the unfolding of my Self for that matter, has been a great source of discomfort, maybe even fear.
Sometimes, when I pray for the road map, God seems silent, distant. I continue to pray for what I think I want and need, even as I understand that Prayer, itself, isn't a bargaining tool with God or a prepayment on goods, or a panacea for hopeless cases, or some chit in the heavenly savings account. Rabbi Morris Adler says, "Prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask for, but when we are challenged to be what we can be." If this is true, then I better not be a passive person in my own life story. While I might want to be like that beautiful tomato in my garden, hanging on, just trying to ripen over time, as a human being, more is expected of me. ARRGH!
Sometimes a miracle is found in a series of coincidences. It was one of these cascading, synchronistic miracles that occurred when Joan (who doesn't really even like poetry) forwarded a poem from a friend who received it to commemorate the sudden death of her husband 15 years ago. As I painfully struggle with the thoughts of prayers being answered or not, the meaning of dreams, fear of the future, the realities of the real world, this poem appears. It is exactly what I need at this precise moment. ("The Dance," Orian Mountain Dreamer, from The Dance, San Francisco, 2000.) Oriah says, "Letting go necessitates being with the fear that comes when we become aware that all that we love in the world - our very life itself - is impermanent. It can bring tremendous relief and rest to let go where we are trying to keep the same those things which by their very nature are constantly changing. This does not mean loving life and the world any less fiercely. Loving well and living fully are not the same as holding on."
I have always loved fiercely. It can make me hard to live with, but it makes me who I am. My fears, longings, persistence and stubbornness are largely about trying to stop the action and hold onto what I think I need, what I think I love, what I think is best for someone I love. I am learning in spite of myself - Autumn will have its time; Winter will have its time. Letting go, releasing the past, forgiving and giving myself space to breathe can signal rebirth. I believe, like I believe in Spring, I will rise. Thank God for my garden and for God's Nature all around me, teaching me season by season how to live well, how to be more alive. This year, as Autumn unfolds her colors and then lets them go, I harvest the joys in my life with gratitude and release what I could never hold, letting go of the past I can never change. (Meb)
What a difference a day makes. On Sunday a few weeks ago, I was happily ensconced at wedding central, serving coffee and Prosecco to a beautiful and talented group of young women in preparation for Allie's march down the aisle. The wedding was inspirational. The shared love and happiness of family and friends was palpable as the bride and groom mingled their Jewish and Christian faiths under the meaningful chuppah. The rabbi opened the ceremony with "It's time to celebrate our common union." The truth and beauty of his sentiment resonated with my own deep-seated belief. Yet it is a sentiment I struggle to hold on to in the midst of the daily news.
I had no idea how prescient and meaningful his words would be a mere 24 hours and 3000 miles later. Gene and I left Allie's wedding, arriving at JFK en route to the Caribbean island of Grenada. We flew there to celebrate our son David's white coat ceremony, marking his entrance to St. George's University School of Medicine. Although I have visited a number of Caribbean islands in the past, somehow I never imagined myself in Grenada - one of the Spice Islands, in this case, nutmeg, who knew? Unable to sleep on the plane, I watched as the beautiful starry night transformed into a sea of Monument Valley-esque pillars of clouds, rising from the ocean and back lit by a yet-to rise sun. As the plane bobbed and weaved between the eerie and yet magnificent sculptures, I wondered what I would find a ahead of me. Would Grenada be an island of misfit toys with medical students clinging on to unrealistic dreams? Would it be safe? How would we ever navigate driving on the narrow roads, in British fashion on the left, no less?!
Between the bumps, no sleep, and the worries of an overactive imagination, I was relieved when we landed - over an hour late, but safe again on the ground (always a near miracle in my book). As I descended the steps of the plane, I looked up at the sky and ahead of me was the most spectacular rainbow. "It's a good sign," I told my husband. Maybe this place would be OK. Maybe instead of exile, as I had been thinking about it, I should focus on the opportunity, alive with possibility. I realized I didn't understand a lot about St. George's, a for-profit university; it wasn't the usual not-for-profit type we have been so involved with over the years. I realized that the solid medical education they offer as evidenced by the high pass rates on the US Medical Boards, is not unlike Kevin Costner's approach in Field of Dreams: "If I build it, they will come." What I didn't know was how many students would come or how far they would come from to learn to become physicians.
As I sat on the steps of a side aisle in the packed auditorium, we were greeted by the Prime Minister of Grenada who charged the students to be ambassadors of this small country, where part of their national pride comes from simply being nice, helpful, and friendly (a gift we had already experienced more than once.) The notion of celebrating our similarities here is intrinsic and I smiled as I remembered the rabbi's worlds. Then it began, the reason we are here: the robing of the students on their first day of class into the traditional white coat that is symbolic of the healer.
As the chancellor read the names of the students and their home country, I was struck, not only by the 700 students, but by the universe they represented: Korea, Poland, Botswana, Syria, Africa, the Caribbean Islands, US, Canada and Saudi Arabia to name a few - representing 6 of the 7 continents. I saw tall, striking African women, Saudi women, Asian and Indonesian men, Vietnamese, Iraqi and Iranians and yes, New Yorkers and Californians too, all bound by a common desire to become physicians and minister to humankind aiding in the relief of suffering. The school's philosophy is a humanist one. Treat the patient with competency and concern; treat each other as peers, with respect and kindness. The message was clear: your presence here is a gift, learn from it, then go out and share. I was surrounded by a real life scene of my favorite quote: The purpose of life is to find your gift, the meaning of life is to give it away. It was my vision of what Pentecost must have been like, but here, instead of 'tongues of flame' and a message to go out and teach all nations, these students transformed from a sea of color to a united sea of white sharing a mantra to go out and heal all nations.
There were no ivy covered walls or ornate gates to pass through and yet I knew it was hallowed ground. I was witnessing first-hand the three great tenets of faith, hope, and charity. On the faces of the parents beaming with pride, I saw the faith they had in their student to do their best. The glow on the students' faces reflected their hope that they possessed the right stuff, hoping to endure and master the challenge by giving it their all. They too had faith that by being charitable with each other in the work they believe they are called to perform, they would survive and go on to advance the human condition one patient at a time.
Like miracles, the rainbow, my own special talisman and one I talk about in the August 2012 enewsletter, was a sign to me, to be open, to try to be full of grace as I looked at this class - full of promise and anticipation and full of the world's hopes and dreams. By the end of this magical evening I know I had taken one step closer to achieving it. (Joan)
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg shares her own story, provides up to date research on gender differences, and offers lots of practical advice to help women achieve their goals. I could not help myself. Even though I already knew what the literature says, I found myself needing just one more person to light a fire under me and tell me that no one but me would be better to promote, support and encourage myself to show up for myself but me. Sandberg recounts how many of us have chosen to Lean Out. We take ourselves out of the workforce, out of activities we love, out of homes and communities that nurture us, out of our own bodies to get through the day, sidelining ourselves in countless ways just to please or make things work for everyone else-- our families, our husbands, even our employers. We Lean Out when faced with a lack of flexibility, quality child care, support from loved ones, and most of all, confidence in our own abilities. Given lots of cultural and organizational messages to back off, postpone or to give up our plans, dreams and visions to make room for the dreams of others or for the “good” of everyone else, we Lean Out. I sure did.
So late last night, I ordered Sandberg’s book, downloading it to my new IPAD. Struggling with finding a sense of security, trying to find my balance in my new job, letting go of a long-term relationship, still grieving the loss of my Dad, I guess I was looking for an “Atta Girl” to keep me going.
It worked. Sheryl helped me give it to myself.
Something shifted. For one thing, I cried for about an hour. I grieved for the younger me that wanted some things so much but decided she couldn’t have them if she wanted a happy family. After I got over crying, I got really down on myself, telling myself ‘you knew better’ and ‘Giving up your professional life wasn’t really good for anyone’ while also telling myself that by berating myself, I was just adding more fuel to the martyr’s fire. Then I found myself thinking this: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven.” Ah, a possible biblical antidote to the myth of having it all.
Five months ago, I started this new job based in downtown San Francisco. The first time I went to work, I popped out of the Bart underground station on Montgomery Street, looked up at the shiny buildings reflecting the sun on their marbled sides and felt like throwing my hat (which I was not wearing) into the air like Marlo Thomas did on That Girl. Do any of you remember this iconic scene that opened the show where Marlo hops out of the taxi and looks around at the downtown buildings, beaming, so happy, so proud, the woman of the seventies who can have it all? After a week of getting up at five in order to get Bart parking, I was definitely not feeling The Marlo. Free to Be You and Me was going to be my theme song but it morphed into something more akin to Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine.
Folks who teach about resilience tell us that you must have a personal mission statement for why you show up at work each day—not the organization’s mission statement mind you, but your own one. Thomas Merton talks about finding your calling, your purpose, the reason you are here on this earth as necessary for spiritual growth and connection with the Divine. It occurred to me, that I wasn’t giving myself credit for having followed my own personal mission statement, albeit a rather ill-defined one “to make a difference in the world” when I failed to acknowledge my two best achievements: raising three great kids and starting a program called Trustline that protects children from abusive child care providers. If I was feeling scared or insecure now, perhaps I needed to Lean In, and reconnect with my personal mission statement, to answer the question about why I wanted to pop out of Bart on Montgomery Street every morning and if I couldn’t answer that question, to find out why not.
At my age, I don’t resemble That Girl. But I do resemble many of the women Sandberg describes. We all do. Sandberg suggests that fear is at the root of so many barriers that women face. She asks, “What is your greatest fear?” My fear is to be my whole - wonderful - big - open - full of feeling and creativity - Self only to have someone say to me, “We don’t like that. Could you tone it down? You are too much.“ Sandberg asks, “What would you do if you if you weren’t afraid?“ As Katie says in The Miracle Chase, I’d “go big or go home.”
I have prayed about what I could do if I weren’t so afraid. I ask for Guidance. The other day, as I was driving to a meeting in Sacramento, I prayed for the wisdom to know where I should be, what I should be doing and who I should be doing it with. A song came on the radio just then. It’s called Kings and Queens by Audio Adrenaline.
Little hands, shoeless
Lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent too brief
On their own, on the run
When their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won't let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved.
Martha Beck says that she has an angel that sends her songs on the radio at just the right moment. If Martha Beck can have a Song Angel, I can too! I took hearing this song at this moment as a bit of a Miracle. A sign. A Message that said I was on the right track.
I am going to Lean In. Do the thing I am most afraid to do. Be 100% me. I am going to make sure my mission statement continues to be to make a difference for children and families, but I am adding that, whatever I do, I must show up for myself, honor my gifts and talents and seize opportunities that come my way.I hear that tonight, the year’s best shooting star show is starting. Meteors are streaking across the sky in a light show that is as inspirational as it is beautiful. I'm pretty sure this is not a coincidence. (Meb)
Have you ever been so happy you wanted to do somersaults? Well that was me on the 4th of July as I finally got back on my road bike for a real ride. While my stationary bike provides exercise and a great opportunity for catching up on reading, is just not the same as being outdoors. To be honest, I have to admit to a bit of trepidation; after all, I broke my hip in January just walking on the sidewalk. But it’s summer and part of my ritual is a 15 mile ride by the ocean nearly every day. As I was gearing up mentally for this year’s maiden voyage, I thought about the multitude of comments made about my propensity to fall – usually from doing too many things at once and the fact that at age 30 my bones were already well into their 90s. My husband looked into body armor before he decided on designer sneakers. My friends had all sorts of suggestions to keep me safe; I just thought I needed thicker skin to navigate the reality of life with a walker and then cane. Like the Maine lobsters of summer that shed their hard skin in the warmer water, we all have our moments of vulnerability before our skin replenishes itself and we are once again whole.
As I drank in the salty Pacific Ocean air, pedaling along and proud of myself for mastering my fears, I thought about this notion of toughening up our outer layer. My mind wandered to the summer movie schedule and the weekend’s top grosser, Man of Steel. I realized that while Superman debuted nearly 75 years ago, his appeal is ageless. Unlike the countless other superheroes who turn colors or don costumes bordering on the bizarre, Superman was the real deal: quiet, unassuming, reticent. A red cape, blue tights and he was transformed, saving others and leaving the credit behind.
Thinking of Superman, I had time to think about the Superwomen that were important in the lives of my friends and recently lost. They were mothers and friends: tough, focused, proud and resilient. They didn’t wear body armor either, just their hearts on their sleeve – relentless, loyal and fierce. I thought about the Superwomen I have been fortunate enough to know and I realized that like Superman, the Superwomen in each of our lives save us. Thankfully, most of the time, the issues were not quite the life or death scenarios illustrated in the comics. In the real circumstances of life these women support us in our crises of faith, the times when we are paralyzed with doubt or fear of failure. They sustain and nourish us celebrating our successes and our survival. Whether it’s a phone call at just the right time, a plate of cookies or even a funny or beautiful email, they have a way of stepping in and stepping up for us. We learn from these Superwomen by observation and imitation, through dialogue, sharing our life journeys and finding mutual respect and understanding. These unsung heroes may not have a movie of their own, but it feels good to take a moment of reflection to recognize that we know who they are and how they shape us.
I'll fall and probably break again. It's inevitable. With my Superwomen surrounding me, those here present and those who have passed on, I know that like the summer lobster my shell will harden, my resolve will always return, and I will get back on the bike or the horse or whatever and be saved. Just in case though, I think I will go out this week and buy a pair of bright blue tights. I may even buy some extras and toss in a cape or two to hand out to my superhero friends. (Joan)