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)
Maybe it's because as a girl from Boston, I married a guy from Colorado and instead of some far more erudite movie, a favorite of mine has always been City Slickers. Something about Jack Palance's crusty character, Curly, as he curtly explains to a troubled Mitch (Billy Crystal), that the secret of life is about one thing. The fact that no one can tell you what your one thing is, that you have to find it for yourself, speaks to me. Probably it's because for a long time, like Mitch, I too had a problem figuring out what my one thing really was. In writing The Miracle Chase, we came to realize our one thing that allowed our three diverse personalities to work together was Generosity of Spirit. We found that it doesn't happen overnight, or just because you want it to; Generosity of Spirit happens once we allow ourselves to experience a new perspective, free from judgment.
As imperfect beings we all have prejudices and thoughts of how the world should look, or act, or be, and yet, sometimes things or people are not what they seem. My recent experience with a hulking cab driver in an unfamiliar city was one such occasion. Admittedly I was nervous to even get in, as the driver saw me struggling with my unwieldy suitcase and did nothing to offer assistance. I was surprised as our conversation ensued, monosyllabically at first before expanding into a deep and meaningful one, and a connection was forged. It was a connection of understanding, of hope and of goodwill. To get there, my perspective had to change, and so did his. By the time we reached the airport, some hour later, not only did I get my suitcase taken out of the trunk, but I also got a warm embrace. It was an opportunity (or more honestly, one of those 2x4 upside the head moments) that reminded me of the importance of taking the time to understand our differences and to find common ground in spite of them.
Miracles live in this land of in-between, often we don't see them as our vision is clouded by our inability to change our perspective. Consider the Müller-Lyer illusion, where the lines are the same length, though most us us will disagree as one for sure looks to be longer. We know we often see things differently than others, but it takes courage to step outside of our comfort zone and consider situations in a new way.
It also takes courage to announce that change publicly. We certainly experienced concern as we went public with our miracle experiences. In the same vein, I think courage is behind the #MeToo comments of so many that has served to change the paradigm of sexism by not only bringing it into the open, but setting a new standard of acceptability in interactions. After so many years and so many stories this could be its very own miracle unfolding right before our very eyes.
Maybe with renewed Miracle Courage, we can find our way to consider new perspectives and spread the Generosity of Spirit that we need this 2018. So rather than the usual New Year's Resolutions aimed at healthy living, I'm going to take it up a notch. In place of preconceived notions, I will try to see both the old woman and the young, and instead of jumping to
conclusions or making snap assumptions, I will use Miracle Courage to build bridges of understanding, of openness and spread Generosity of Spirit. Now, that would be a great #MeAndYou movement to share.
Most of us wonder if there is an after, an after-life or heaven, a spiritual existence that goes on. I'm guessing few of us today wonder much about before, a before-life if you will (reincarnation excepted), as Wordsworth did back in the 19th century. The idea that our unique essence, or soul, existed long before our physical birth is not new. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggests, we are "spiritual beings having a human experience" and not the other way around.
When my younger daughter was 3, we were driving down highway 80 near Berkeley CA when I commented to her about an unusual and beautiful cloud formation we could see out of the car window.
"That's where Papa Dickie is," she said.
"What do you mean?" I responded.
"He's in the clouds and I talk to him there. I talk to him all the time."
Her comment sent shivers down my arms. My father had been gone well before her birth and his death was not something I discussed with my toddler, though she certainly had seen a photo and knew his name. I took her at her word that she had some unearthly knowledge of him.
I had forgotten that story until recently when I was holding one of my two new grandsons (born 12 days apart in October) as he strained to see the light coming in a nearby window. Maybe his limited vision drew him to the brightest object or, maybe, he saw something we can no longer see. I took in the wisps of clouds as they floated by, but he was mesmerized and fixated on a particular spot. As William Wordsworth's poem continues, "Heaven lies about us in our infancy!" And then the wonder fades; babies become children who then become adults that get bogged down in the human experience and forget about what may have come before.
Which brings me to Christmas, my favorite time of year. Jesus, also known as "the light of the world" never did seem to forget about what came before. But he did show up to remind us to keep our eyes fixated on what this light represents: to find a way to love our neighbor, to practice peace on earth in whatever way is available to us and to send out thoughts of goodwill toward all into the universe. May the light of Christmas shine bright this holiday for you and yours and into the New Year. (Katie)
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness...it is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. Thomas Merton
Joan: I don't know about you, but one of the first things I do each morning is check my messages: are the kids OK, headlines from a couple of news sources, the Daily Good blog, emails that effect my schedule for the day's events. Since it's before my morning coffee, I am awake, though generally not yet fully alert; consequently, I may be a bit more open, aka a bit less judgmental, to receive what the universe is sending me. Recently it was a request for a holiday stuffing recipe, a cancelled appointment and the words of Thomas Merton.
Never one to quickly grasp the message of many philosophers and theologians, still when Merton started talking diamonds, I listened. And I wondered, if our center is like a diamond blazing with the light of heaven, what comes next? Upon reflection, for me, the answer is really quite simple. It's what we choose to add; the people and the places that surround us in our relationships and the life events we experience.
Born princes and princesses in our parents' eyes, they become our first treasured jewels. Over time and with age, we select our friends adding more brilliance to our center along the way. Through some encounters we learn kindness, through others patience; the list goes on and polishes us with the warm embrace of understanding and support. These relationships help us develop the resilience we need to hold ourselves together in good times and keep our feet planted firmly on the ground in bad.
Inevitably in life, we lose a a bauble or two. Some we outgrow, some we lose by inattention or carelessness and some exit our lives through the natural course of events; we mourn these losses with sadness at their passing, but hopefully retain joy at having shared them in the first place. At times, unable to let go, we seek the assistance of others to help us find our way, or we beseech St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, to intercede for us.
As a dear friend sagely explained after suffering significant losses in the northern California fires, strangers have bonded together, sharing donated breakfasts, advice on how to seek assistance and dealing with the myriad of life details in what is now a changed landscape. These are the unexpected jewels of life, hidden in circumstances we would not have chosen. Pearls of wisdom shared amidst adversity, but treasured none-the-less.
Over the years we adorn ourselves with these jewels, even while recognizing that not all of them glitter. It doesn't matter that they are not always seen; they are a part of us. It's an embellishment of that reflection of heaven, a treasure accumulated here from our time on earth.
It has been a difficult month with disasters that have seemed to follow, one right after another. How do we keep life from hardening our hearts, when it seems there is so much wrong with the world? How do we stay openhearted when tragedy, fear, grief, abandonment and tit-for-tat anger seems to be all around us? To stay openhearted in today's world can feel risky and vulnerable, possibly ineffectual, even when we are lucky enough not to be directly touched by disaster. If we open our hearts to others and empathize with their traumatic experiences, we are bound to feel pain, maybe even over-whelmed, as the worlds's hurts are let in.
I've been looking everywhere for answers to my question of how to stay openhearted in a world full of pain. A part of me want to escape the news, hunker down and focus on protecting an spending time with the ones I love. Putting up a defense to pain seems like a good idea, right? If I stop letting things in, I can stop feeling the hurt. But, in her book, The Places that Scare You, Pema Chodron writes that if we don't dissolve the armor that prevents us from staying openhearted, we will always be held back. We will continue to obstruct our innate capacity to love without an agenda.
I know a lot of people who say that Halloween is their favorite holiday. It's fun to celebrate the darker side of life, to dress up as the evil enemy, an altered self, or become someone we want to be only for one night a year. It is a celebration of paradox: on this night, for example, parents actually encourage their children to take candy from strangers! It's topsy-turvy and fun, a great release, a night of in-between. We play with the dark and our fear; we play with the idea of mysterious things we cannot control; we play with feeling uncomfortable.
I am not a Halloween fan because I don't like to be scared or afraid. I think I am making progress with feeling fear. I am getting better at recognizing, without judging myself, when I am closing off to protect myself from feeling discomfort or resisting the uncertainty of what life is bringing forward. The little me continually seeks zones of comfort, while the me that is trying to become who I was put on this earth to be, wants to open myself up even more to the way that life just is. While this can mean letting pain in, because that is just a part of the world we live in, it also means I am better able to let love in.
Lately, I've had to remind myself that even within traumatic circumstances, one can find moments of beauty to celebrate. These are the places where raw love shines through the darkness. Here are a few of these moments I noticed and wrote down for myself this month:
- Let us remember that people died in each other's arms in the tragedies in Nevada and California.
- Let us remember the hundreds of heroes who chose to be vulnerable and to put themselves in harm's way and their lives at risk to save others.
- Let us remember the generosity of spirit within all those who came from faraway places to feed and clothe and care for those affected by the disasters.