The grateful heart sits at a continuous feast. Proverbs 15:15
When I was young, I didn't think much about gratitude. All I wanted was to be tall, blonde and own a real Barbie (instead of a knockoff), none of which, BTW, ever occurred. Fortunately as an adult, I have spent a lot more time being grateful; maybe it's because I'm making up for lost time or maybe it's because my birthday is closely tied to Thanksgiving. And, it's my favorite holiday. After all Thanksgiving is all about celebrating with those you love, creating a meal together and taking the time to appreciate the myriad of gifts that surround us. What could be better than that?
For me, first up on my gratefulness list, having survived a diagnosis of cancer, is the gift of being alive. It's a challenge each day to live life to the fullest; to feel lucky each morning to be able to get up and face the day ahead. It is a great responsibility to cherish and appreciate the life we have been given and to make the most of our time here on Earth. I think about the things so many of us take for granted: being able to see as we walk down the hallway, the actual ability to walk down the hallway...driving a car, having a car to drive...cooking a meal, having food to cook, a place to cook it and a spot where it can be enjoyed. Little things are more meaningful now as the years have gone by: a child's note of thanks, a call to say hello, an unexpected card or email, a new amusing nickname by a friend, the beauty of a rainbow, a super-moon, a garden in bloom or one settling in for a long winter. Maybe, I'm getting soft (or old!), but each of these experiences touches my soul and brings joy. I think Henry Ward Beecher was right when he said, "Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul."
There is a joke in our family started years ago after the birth of our first child, (who, like me, arrived within a day of Thanksgiving.) I was overwhelmed by the number of thoughtful bouquets I received and my sister-in-law explained there were two things you could never have too many of: flowers or diamonds. Today, I would add gratitude to that list.
I was reminded of the Rolling Stones' lyric that I always loved, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need," in a story a dear friend shared after she lost her aged mother last year at this time. While she was happy that her mom was at peace, she missed her; it would be their first Thanksgiving apart. Trolling around our neighborhood thrift shop a few weeks later, she found an old Christmas ornament, the kind from our childhood, delicate glass with sparkly inserts. When she saw it, she knew the silver was perfect for her holiday table. She had no idea what the red bell that was also inside the package was, but figured it could always be tossed aside - a freebie as part of her $0.50 investment. Imagine her surprise when she got home and opened the package to realize that Grandma, her children's name for her sweet mother, was actually written on the bell; a connection, a realization that sometimes things happen that are meant to bring a smile and a knowledge that though there is sadness in the world, we all have much to be grateful for. This Thanksgiving as I travel to the home of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, I will exercise my tolerance and love for each other, even blessing the turkeys among us! (Joan)
October is the month of Hallowed Evening or Holy Evening - Halloween. While largely commercialized as an American holiday, Halloween, as we call it, is grounded in tradition from a variety of cultures. In the Christian tradition, the 'hallowed evening' started as the end of a three-day festival that honored the saints, the martyrs and the dead. In the ancient Celtic world, Halloween originated from the Gaelic Samhain harvest festival. Samhain means "summer's end" in Old Irish. There was a period of time in Ireland, when all the children dressed up, not as witches, ghosts, pirates and princesses, but as street urchins, not to beg for treats, but to get any food at all. And anyone who has lived in California for any length of time comes to appreciate the art, if not the sentiment behind the tradition of the Mexican Day of the Dead on November 1st.
I love the tradition, but I'm a little beyond helping my kids dress up for Halloween and don't have any grandchildren yet who will be out and about this year. Lately, the early darkness and the chill in the evening air has me thinking more about the Hallowed Evening and wondering if the old tradition of celebrating the mysteries of passing over to the world beyond isn't a really important thing to do. I think about friends and family who have died this last year and those friends who are so ill they could die - and of course, my own mortality. For some, this is scary thinking. But as I've gotten older, I've learned that the "veil between the worlds" is thinner than I was brought up to believe.
I ran across this beautiful poem that was written by Henry Scott Holland, an English clergyman in 1910 and popularized by Irish monks.
Death is Nothing at All
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
Which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better,
Infinitely happier and forever, we will all be one together.
We should never be afraid to take time to celebrate all the people we have ever loved, the living and the dead. Life is a gift and love is a gift. Wishing you a very happy Hallowed Eve.
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)