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.
It's been a rush of a three months and it's my turn again to say something miraculous for the Miracle Chase newsletter. I've worked through this summer at breakneck speed and I am truly grateful for an unexpected gift of time today. Right now, I am sitting outside the Exploratorium in San Francisco on a work field trip, enjoying this breezy, sunny day in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Exploratorium is an "eye-opening, playful place to explore how the world works." It's full of creative, thought-provoking exhibits, experiences, tools, and projects that ignite curiosity, encourage exploration and and lead to profound learning. For me, it's also a great place for a little R&R.
All around me, friends, lovers, parents and children play, laugh and explore the mysteries of how and why things are the way they are; together, they expand their relationships and their minds. I feel blessed to be here and to be alive, right now at this time. One of my co-workers walks by and we comment about what it was like to grow up with the Exploratorium. Many exhibits have changed and the whole place has grown along with all we have learned about science, art, culture and people. We marvel at the new space, now located on a Pier 15 next to the San Francisco Bay. I marvel at the gifts of time, talent and treasure that made this experience possible.
The last time I was at the Exploratorium, it was located across town at the site of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition/World's Fair held in 1914-15, one hundred years ago. (The Fair was held to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, an idea whose time had finally come.) Our family had become very involved in supporting the Blind Babies Foundation and I started to help them fund-raise, calling the little group I formed the Fun Development Committee. Our first major event was called, "Touch the Stars!" - an evening inside the Exploratorium that was closed to the public and opened up just for the family and friends of the blind and visually impaired children being served by the Blind Babies Foundation. What a wonderful time it was, to be able to "see" everything one wanted to see, taking as much time as little hands could handle, to learn about how things worked without worrying about long lines or impatient staff or parents. We even invited a blind astronaut to join us and sign autographs - a man whose job was to listen for life on other planets. Roaming around that night, getting excited about all the new experiences and being able to follow curiosity wherever it led, made anything seem possible!
I wonder: What makes something seem possible or conversely too overwhelming to try?
Those who envisioned the Exploratorium, this homage to curiosity and science, certainly must have met with challenges along the path to make this new facility happen. Each exhibit is underpinned by mostly unknown or unheralded scientists who followed their own passions and questions, leaving behind some nexus of learning that found its way here. Thinking back about how it felt to take each day one by one as we raised our totally blind little girl, we met challenges in some similar ways. What sometimes seemed insurmountable could be broken down into smaller steps and with luck, determination and love, we found our way.
This past Saturday, Liz and I were in Santa Cruz at another event hosted by SPIN (Special Parents Information Network) to honor the teachers, community members and parents who support their work. I was reminded again of just how miraculous Liz's recovery truly is - My heart expands when I see her in front of the crowd of well-wishers as she helps my friend, Cece, pull the winning raffle tickets from the hat, joking that there should be no question as to her integrity since she can't possibly see the numbers on the tickets.
Things seem to be pretty "perfectly imperfect" these days, to steal a phrase from Lee Woodruff, author of a great book by that name. To me, to be able to say that with some contentment is nothing short of miraculous. I treasure this time of relative "pause" and take a moment to appreciate the friends and family and angels that have walked with me and brought me here - pretty much in one piece. So my miracle this month is not a thunderbolt, hit-me-upside-the-head-hard type of one. This miracle snuck into my heart, in the space between then and now, just as a little laughing child ran by, flying past me towards what is possible. (Meb)
Love comes in many forms. Technically, the Summer of Love was back in 1967 and though I was just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the action, I was too young to fully understand or partake. "Love" took on new meaning that summer: Free Love and Make Love Not War became the battle cry of flower wearing hippies. The Greeks differentiate types of love and talk of Eros and Agape; Shakespeare writes of love's incalculable value in his Sonnets. Most of the world's faith traditions elevate Love to the highest of virtues, even to proclaim as John does in the New Testament that God is Love.
2014 is hardly the Summer of Love. ISIS is so horrific that even
leaders of Al Qaeda have distanced themselves. Boko Haram, with the kidnapping
of nearly 300 school girls, has reigned terror in Nigeria. My younger daughter
Allie called several days ago to say, "You can stop worrying Mom,
we've decided not to go." She and her husband were headed to the airport
in a few hours on their way to Israel. My son-in-law had emigrated as
a child and he still has many friends and family there. Their difficult
decision was in the wake of the murders of three Israeli teenagers, the
subsequent murder of a Palestinian boy and the constant barrage of rockets
from Hamas extending their reach to Tel Aviv with retaliatory strikes from
Israel. How terribly sad this world can be.
At the end of our talks we often quote Willa Cather: "Where there is great love, there are always miracles." But where is God and Love and Miracles in all of this mayhem and suffering? This is not a new question. In fact, it is the question for anyone whose faith is shaken by the state of the world.
The day after Allie called about her change of plans, I went with friends who were visiting NYC to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, a powerful experience I highly recommend. I wasn't expecting to chase any miracles there, but at the end of our formal tour, I asked the guide how many people were in the twin towers when the terror began to unfold.
"There were 17,000 in the buildings at the time. So, roughly 14,000 were able to escape."
But then, he added, "The amazing thing is there was an unusual combination of factors that day that meant thousands of people who would normally have been in the buildings at the time weren't. The night before, the NY Giants played on Monday Night Football and lost badly to the Denver Broncos. People are up late on the east coast for these games and some of them either came in late or not at all. It was also Primary Tuesday. Some went to vote first and also arrived late. And, it was the first day of school, so some parents dropped their children at school that day. They didn't arrive on time either."
My husband Jim was supposed to be at the towers that morning, but wasn't. His was a story like so many others - of choices that seemed innocuous and turned out to be about life and death.
After the tour, we went to the more difficult parts of the museum. We saw the faces of those murdered that day, heard the voices of loved ones from hijacked airplanes and towering infernos, the tragedy made personal at every turn. We saw a movie that spoke about Hope and Strength rising from the ashes, and heard about First Responders going up as others were coming down, about ordinary citizens like a young man with a red bandana who stayed behind so others might escape. At the intersection of hate and terror, Love triumphed.
Going 7 stories down into the wound of 9/11, I expected a painful reminder of a tragic day. I didn't expect to come away with a better understanding of how in moments like this humanity connects, transcending barriers of culture, language and even religion. If God is love, then striving to love "greatly" is our highest calling as many on 9/11 were able to do.
Maybe that is what Willa Cather meant, that miracles relate to Love because Love relates to God, that this ideal pushes us to be more than we are, transforming us and others, leaving a lasting testament. No wonder her words of wisdom resonate whenever we gather and consider how a miracle experience alters who we are. (Katie)
Until the night he died peacefully in his sleep, my father believed he led a charmed existence. Born in a rural mountain village in southern Italy at the start of World War I, his father soon became a POW, held in N. Africa for the next two years. With the war finally over, Italy was in shambles; by the time he was 7 he and his mother left Italy for America to join his father now a shoe worker in Massachusetts. From his diary written some seventy years later, he describes his first day of school, walking from the cold water flat in the brickyard: NO English, straw hat, short pants - a caricature certain to be mocked. By the end of his high school years he was class president, basketball captain and a star in debate. Driven to learn, his parents thought him crazy to stay up late studying and working to excel. Though Harvard accepted him, it was not to be. There was no way with a piece work seamstress and a shoe maker for parents, even with his own $1/day job at the butcher shop and the radio ads he did with his resonant voice long since devoid of any accent. Fortunately, Boston College still catered to the area's large immigrant population and allowed payment in arrears, so off he went and was forever grateful.
When World War II intervened, smart enough for flight school, he learned he was colorblind, and instead became an on the ground radio man with a heavy bomb group in England. He rarely discussed the war, but was forever changed, an Anglophile for life, full of respect for the hardships they all endured. Motivated by what he had seen, he strove for diplomacy and via the GI bill studied the law at night and later represented veterans rights.
Always passionate and a thinker, he wrote letters to presidents and popes, even medical researchers who graciously wrote back commending his wisdom, offering their blessing and considering his ideas. Married to the love of his life for 47 years, living in a house they built together, he labored as a staff attorney to send his 4 children to the college of their choice. He was proud I followed him to BC where Eagles soared.
He was full of advice and admonitions. We had rules, curfews and he worried about each of us (though admittedly I probably gave him the most to worry about). He cautioned us not to be self righteous, to recognize the frailty as well as the power of the human condition. He insisted that we know when to ask for help: a little inconvenience was never worth a trade off leading to true trouble, even if it meant he would have to get out of bed to be at our side. He signed on wholeheartedly to the Jesuit credo of being men and women for others and encouraged us to do the same. He believed in being happy...it was our job on earth, to make the world a better place and enjoy doing it. As part of the "greatest generation" he was about service and duty and providing for others. Forget Superman, he was my first hero.
In later years he wrote plays, books and poems where the true depth of his feelings burst through. He would sit at his desk for hours, occasionally with pipe in hand, committing his thoughts and fears for the world to paper. I loved watching and soaking in the aroma of his thinking. As the ravages of dementia took over, it was painful to lose him in pieces, though his faith in God and love of his family never wavered.
People tell me I am too optimistic, too positive, too Pollyanna-ish. I wonder how I could be any different. You see, I was touched by a charmed life. (Joan)