Though earlier this month Mother Teresa was officially made a saint by the Catholic Church, many had her pegged as a saint long ago while she was still alive. Someone once asked her if they could help her mission of serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. "Find your own Calcutta," she is purported to have replied. While you might say that Mother Teresa, herself, created miracles every day, she understood well that each of us is surrounded by the opportunity, like author Regina Brett says, to "be the miracle" for someone else.
I saw a story on the nightly news recently about a photo taken of an elderly man pushing his paleta (popsicle cart) in a Chicago neighborhood. The man who took the photo started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $3000 to do something to help this man who appeared so defeated by his daily grind. 14 days, 17,000 people and over $380,000 later, 89-year old Fidencio Sanchez can finally retire. Turns out his wife could no longer help him due to illness and they had just buried their daughter.
Supposedly, the smallest of gestures can cause enormous consequences. The Butterfly Effect in nature suggests that one flap of a butterfly's wings can cause unpredictable and large scale weather events on the other side of the world. Kind of like one photo galvanizing, inspiring and connecting 17,000 strangers to change a life. On the teensier scale, I've convinced myself that letting someone else go ahead of me in a traffic jam or a long line at the grocery story could pay dividends later for another random stranger, that it somehow alters the chemistry of everyone involved (it's true, according to studies, endorphins are released whether we are the givers or the recipients of a random act of kindness.) And then there's the added possibility of the pay-it-forward concept, that our simple gesture is contagious and prompts another and another and so on. We hold the power to light a spark for goodness sake. Think about it; that's a lot of power at our fingertips. As Meb says in the The Miracle Chase, "Sometimes miracles happen when we show up as ourselves and do what we can, when we can..."
I used to believe that the idea of "creating" miracles was too "new-age-y." I've come to realize that when we embrace the Divine that is part of each of us, we can exercise the power to partner with God. I like to pretend I have control so to "be the miracle" seems like a better bet than hoping for a thunderbolt from the heavens.
I admit it. I love summer. I love the warm sand between my toes, the rough and tumble waves of the ever-changing ocean and the fact that at this time of year no one questions my year round propensity to live in flip flops. I actually have a lot vested in my footwear of choice, so recently when my favorite beat up Reefs were missing from the beach entrance, instead of just walking away, I mounted a full scale search and rescue mission.
After too much time looking, there under a pristine white surfboard that had been carelessly plopped in the sand, were my precious sandals. As I reached down to get them still balancing my beach towel, chair, book and now the overturned surfboard, I heard a voice, "I got you." Looking up, I saw a young boy who casually bent down and easily recovered my shoes. At my thank you, he shrugged his shoulders with a casual "No worries," his impish grin lingering as he ran off to his waiting car.
It made me think, how many times have I heard my own son say those words. I got you? Initially, it sounded like slang to me. I wondered whether the appropriate motherly response was to say, "You need to say, 'I'll do that...for you,' or 'I've got your back.' Speak in full sentences or not at all." But then I realized, "I got you" has gone from the first words in the title of one of my favorite Sonny and Cher songs to being a "thing."
If I wondered about this at all, I only had to watch the Women's 5000 Meter race in the recent Rio Olympics. As the catastrophic collision between runners Abbey D'Agostino and Nikki Hamblin aired worldwide, we saw an I Got You moment in real time. Touched by Abbey's encouragement to get up and finish the race, Nikki recognized, "Regardless of the race and result on the board, that's a moment that you're never, ever going to forget for the rest of your life, that girl shaking my shoulder like, 'Come on, get up.'"
It was the epitome of one of Katie's favorite quotes by CK Chesterton, "We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty." In today's vernacular: we can do this...I Got You.
At a recent lecture I attended on Jewish-Catholic relationships and the importance of faith, I recognized that for me, faith is the ultimate I Got You. And whether it's grammatically correct or not, Thank You God, because it's a good feeling. (Joan)
A few years back I was strolling through Central Park on a spring day, breathing in the hint of warmth in the air, marveling at the new growth coming up on either side of me, and talking to my mother on the phone. I was gushing about my adopted city; how great is the change of seasons, walking everywhere, the culture and culinary and people watching... and then I stopped mid-sentence remembering who I was talking to. My mom was fairly devastated when I left California. I had been her point person for the twenty-five years since my dad had died and my leaving was not easy for her. I had, until then, been understated with her about how much I loved our new adventure, because I didn't want to rub it in or want her to think we were never coming back. There was a pause and then my Mom said something I will never forget, "Well, honey, when there's ice cream on your plate, it's time to eat ice cream."
No one reading this newsletter is a stranger to difficult times. This, of course, makes ice cream times all the sweeter. But I wonder if we relish the good times the way we should. I, for one, grew up with a heaping scoop of Catholic guilt sprinkled on most of my (just) desserts. This meant that in and amongst the job, the kids, volunteering, housework and making sure everyone else was happy, ice cream moments were rare. When they came, rather than savoring the moment, I looked around for what I must be missing on my to-do list. This recently spotted bumper sticker spoke directly to me:
Do not feel totally,
responsible for everything...
That's my job. (God)
On this topic at least wisdom came with age. Because maybe with age, difficulty takes on new meaning. Parents and friends die, serious or chronic illness presents itself and takes its toll. I've learned to recognize and savor sweet "moments." As the wise and beautiful poet Alberto Caeiro wrote, "What comes, when it comes, will be what it is."
Meanwhile, Joan and I had the privilege of talking miracles with NYC alumni of my (and Meb's) alma mater Santa Clara University in a literary salon setting in my living room. Lively discussion, intriguing questions and a retired superior court judge to remind me, "You're right, his plan was to kill you." Miracles are the gift that keeps on giving!
Speaking of moments and miracles, in April I became a grandmother. All the joy of parenthood without the angst, sleepless nights and eighteen year uphill slog. A triple scoop of chocolate chip!
It's late July and it's hot. My summer wish for you is that you find your way to relishing the ice cream moments. May your bowl be overflowing. (Katie)
I've been thinking a lot about perspective lately. Like many of you, I have been working on my Gratitude; really, really working on it, but there are still moments where I think the Universe absolutely conspires to frustrate me - and these are the moments that seem to go on forever as if caught in their own expanding time warp.
I am grateful for my computer and printer AND I pull my hair out when one or the other inevitably has a bad day on the very day I am under a deadline. I love the Bay Area AND unless you time it perfectly, you'll spend more time in traffic than you do watching the movie you went out to see in the first place. I am happy I don't have food insecurity AND now, thanks to Weight Watchers, I'm reading every darn label and calculating each bite I take by way of some algorithm I hardly understand. Mostly, I love my job, AND I am truly thankful for having a job, but today, the plane is late and the lines at the airport are crazy long. Also, this morning, the intricacies of a garage door opener that has a mind of its own had me stumped and I had to disconnect it just to get out the door and to the airport on time. Which thankfully, I did, and thankfully, though the lines were long and the plane was late, I got to where I was going, which is for work, and, did I mention I am truly grateful for work? Thankfully, I got here in one piece. Really working at this gratitude attitude!
I don't know abut you, but I can get in a bad place where I end up reacting to and focusing on what's broken and in need of fixing (or in need of my intervention to prevent imminent disaster) maybe more than I focus on what is going well. This trait might have had a Darwinian benefit at one time in history but in this modern era, when I catch myself not being really grateful, I feel guilty for demonstrating a very dis-grateful "attachment" disorder (e.g. If I wasn't attached to the outcome, I wouldn't feel irritated) or worse, a marked shallowness in character. Good Grief! How did a nice girl like me get into a headspace like this?
I could possibly have the First World "Flu." I hear it's going around. Last week, I was at a meeting where a group of women were complaining that they had bought the book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and were trying to follow its principles of de-cluttering and letting go of what doesn't serve them, make them happy, isn't useful, etc. They had inherited sets of crystal and china from parents who couldn't take it with them and having their own, they wanted to give the inherited ones to their children. But their kids didn't want any of it. At first, my friends felt irritated and then they realized they were just sad to think that their parents' belongings had no where to go but to Goodwill.
Marianne Williamson said, "Every irritation is an invitation to love." Maybe being irritated about something or by someone is really about your heart and not about what your thinking head tells you. Maybe under your irritation is a crazy feeling that if the little things in life can't be organized and kept in working order, one is not in control of anything.
My friends and I have been talking lately about how it's easy to feel terribly out of control about the BIG stuff going on in the world. We've been told, over and over we can "only control ourselves" but we want the world to be different. We share a collective heartache.
The burden of being a compassionate person who feels impotent in the face of refugees, cancer, extreme poverty, gun violence and impacts of economic upheaval is real. Many empathetic people like you and me feel genuine sadness and loss - our heart aches - when we view or hear about other people's pain and suffering. Did you know that trauma experts found that children who watch scenes like the Twin Towers falling down or scenes of the devastating effects of Katrina, or depictions of child refugees from Syria on the TV news can be more affected, show more symptoms of PTSD, than the children who are in the actual disaster? It's easy to feel child-small and not know what to do in the face of so much world craziness and pain.
Katie is fond of saying, "Go Big or Go Home." Maybe we should also say, "Go Big and Not Small." In addition to finding something to be grateful for each day, I can work on intentionally opening my heart up when I am irritated, instead of making my heart smaller like Mr. Grinch to protect it. As a child, when I got hurt my mother used to say, "Offer it up." Back then, especially as a teen, I thought this was insensitive. But maybe in her way, she was saying, "Raise it up to the Heavens, because Heaven knows all the world's pain and we are all in God's hands." She was telling me to Take the High Road, so to speak. Like AA says, give it over to God as you understand him.
What would it be like to love myself enough so that when I am feeling really irritated about something, I take a deep breath, disconnect from the sense that everything in the whole wide world is getting broken and out of control, and imagine my heart opening up to Love? How would the world be better, if when we feel irritated at someone we open up our heart and focus on how we love them instead? Viewed this way, an irritation is just a warning signal that I am hurt or sad. It tells me to fix that; I need to trust I am being held by a loving God who has brought me through the big stuff and can get me past this irritating event. And wow, this makes me feel grateful!
Now this is irritating. I have to stop writing. I'm here in Las Vegas for work, which I am grateful for, remember; even it it is Sunday, and I am on a deadline to finish this newsletter. Can you believe this? The hotel fire alarm just went off and we have to evacuate. It's 110 degrees outside, People!
Working on opening my heart, visioning my heart opening up...I'll let you now how this goes!
May might just be my favorite month; a time of new beginnings and opportunity. A creature of habit, perhaps I am rooted in the ending of the school year and once "finals" were over, the opportunities always seemed endless - even when they weren't.
Once I began high school, summer was a time of less structure and more responsibility. My usual hospital shift began at 7 am, and unlike classes where I was my own timekeeper, I always had someone waiting anxiously for a test result or a medical care issue to be addressed. Work and responsibility aside though, summer was a time that fun was expected, allowed and wonderfully celebrated. Picnics, bonfires, bike rides and dreams of the future provided hours of entertainment shared with friends and family. I loved lightening up physically and emotionally, trading layers of winter clothes and boots for shorts and sneakers. Somehow part of the weight of the world I carried on my shoulders lightened up as well.
As I have gotten older, I have come to understand that summer really is a state of mind. While I don't always exercise it, I do have an ability from within to alter my approach to how I live and how I perceive my life. The wise words of Albert Camus, "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer," offer a level of self-understanding that has taken me years to recognize. Too often I forget the words of Confucius, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." It is a good reminder for those, who like me, perhaps take on a few too many responsibilities, then adamantly refuse to abdicate any of them. Maybe that's what our ruminations on time this year are all about: savoring the moment, remembering to be still and keep open to the miracles around us.
Always interested in gerontology, I have been reading a book on life lessons from the "experts," some 1,200 people over 65 years old. who offered their thoughts on the important elements of life to sociologist Karl Pillemer. It has been a wonderful reminder that our life view is not dictated by circumstances or the outside world, but is up to us.
Even though I now spend my winters far away from the cold, except for the occasional foray to enjoy a winter sport or two, the beckoning of summer still has the appeal of lightening up. Like the song says, "Summertime and the living is easy." Truth is, at this stage of life, summer isn't any different in terms of the intensity of our responsibilities, but with a little help and self-knowledge, it can be our time to shine. (Joan)