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.
Sometimes, most of the time, in fact, the miracle doesn't come. Wandering around Europe these last couple of weeks, constantly shadowed by the Holocaust and the brutal regimes that followed during the Cold War, this fact is ever present, reinforcing the difficulty in believing in miracles in the first place. Why don't we just give in to the feeling that miracles are a silly notion when confronted with such unspeakable cruelty and suffering?
In Budapest, I walked alongside the Shoes on the Danube depicting worker's boots, shoes of fine leather and children's shoes all in a row along the edge of the river, marking the spot where scores were shot in the back and fell into the icy water during the winter of 1944-45. One night, the Nazis brazenly broke into the Embassy protected neutral safe houses and rounded up 150 people to be taken to the river. Several members of the Budapest police, led by Karoly Szabo, risked their lives by following and confronting the Nazis and freeing the group.
In Vienna, the founder of a small museum is intent on acknowledging the truth of Austria's complicity in WWII. There, we heard the story of Elfi, age 10, who was sent to Sweden by her parents to escape what was now too late for them - certain deportation to a concentration camp. She was eventually taken in by a local pastor who went home to his wife and said, "We have four children, how do you feel about five?" The pastor and his family adopted Elfi as one of their own. Inexplicably, both of Elfi's parents survived the camps and they were reunited seven years later.
And, in a Czech ghetto an artist named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis smuggled paper and drawing utensils to teach art in order for the children to find emotional escape. She left 4,500 drawings in two suitcases behind, including the names of the young artists, most of whom perished, as did she.
Anne Frank somehow recognized, "...a single candle can both defy and define the darkness." These stories of courage, love and the selfless care of others endure and set the bar for all of us; to do what we can, where we are, in much easier circumstances. Perhaps, she left the miracle door ajar in acknowledging the candlelight. And, in something else she said, a message that rings true across the decades, "Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."
Living between a number of golf mecca sites, you might think I actually played the game. But that answer is no, if I wanted to spend my time looking for things, I would only have to go as far as searching behind my washer or dryer. However, like living in Boston, where one is required to be able to talk about the Red Sox for at least 10 minutes, the same is true for golf, if you live in Pebble Beach. Wanting to hold my own in conversation, I have listened and learned by immersing myself in golfing discussions over the past few years. While I still think the game takes too long, I have come to appreciate that golf does offer some important life lessons. Here's my Top 10:
1. All men and women are created equal; some just have higher handicaps! Golf is a great equalizer; public courses or private, the game is the same. And, in what other sport can the Club Champion not be the best player?
2. Mulligans are allowed as a legal do-over. It's simple forgiveness by another name.
3. Learn from those in the trenches. Caddies know how to read the greens, not just how to carry your clubs and often offer excellent advice. Pride and position are irrelevant. Be willing to listen and follow directions.
4. Finishing the course is key; so is keeping the faith. Sometimes our plans go exactly as planned, other times we have to take a more circuitous route to our goals, even when we are nearly there. A great drive never guarantees that the putt won't lip out.
5. Individuality is accepted, even celebrated. Does anyone care that no one looks good in the Master's green jacket? Have you ever seen some of the wacky golf costumes? Lighten up, even the serious don't need to be serious all the time.
6. Savor nature: smell the roses, walk in the rough, explore the weeds or the woods. Wherever your ball takes you is where you are meant to be. And while you are there leave it as you found it: sand trap etiquette 101.
7. Like divots, most things in life can be fixed. Apologize, try to put everything back as well as possible, spreading new seeds and moisture as needed. With tenderness and attention even deep wounds can be healed.
8. Seek alternative options: Can't walk, no problem, take a cart. Can't carry, no problem, take a push cart or caddie. Excuses wreak havoc.
9. Change up the game. 4 Ball, Best Ball, Alternate Shot, it doesn't matter, rules change. Life requires flexibility, bring your A game anyway.
10. Celebrate the strengths, not weaknesses of those around you. Holes in one are not always made by experts. Luck, like a miracle, is often freely bestowed and altogether unmerited.
As I thought about writing this newsletter over the past few weeks, I gained clarity on how even something you don't really like can be an instrument of learning. I found useful life lessons in a game I once thought frivolous. Chasing miracles, I learned that a change in perspective brings understanding and a new appreciation of the connections that are forged as a result of shared experiences. Now, for the first time ever, I can't wait to get to the 19th hole. We would love to hear your stories of finding new perspectives as well...
I am anticipating my youngest child boomeranging back to live with me in what used to be called my "empty nest." I spent the better part of three weekends organizing my garage so there will be enough storage space for his stuff. This was the motivator I needed to finally get rid of boxes and boxes of two houses worth of things I once absolutely could not part with. I have edited, given away, tossed, cried over, laughed about, let go of, and kept.
Now that I have an organized garage, (at least until #3 moves back in), I can finally find and label my holiday boxes, which should allow me to decorate my house for every season once again.
When I was a mom with young kids, decorating for holidays was a source of joy and an outlet for my creativity. In fact, Joan and I bonded over making Halloween ghosts for her house from ones we saw in a Martha Stewart article. (She still has-and uses-them.) After the kids moved out and I moved into my own place, decorating for holidays wasn't as much fun. I didn't have a place for all my special things and many of the items were laden with memories of raising children and a married life that didn't exist anymore. What I've now kept fits my new space - both the physical house I live in and the space inside my heart. I've let go of most of what I don't need or what doesn't make me happy, keeping only the very best.
Celebrations like the 4th of July can ground us in history and remind us of what stays solid while the sands of change shift around us. This month, I took my 4th of July plastic container down, put out my flag and arranged my Red, White and Blue items around the house for a few days. But traditions can also carry us forward into the future. For example, I recently hosted a Mermaid Party, inviting new and old friends to come and play for an evening. I decorated with shells and coral, aqua and blue. We munched on Seasar salad and Sandwiches, fresh shrimp and amazing ahi poke burritos wrapped in Seaweed. We drank foamy drinks that were sweet and refreshing while ocean sounds played through Pandora. Some of us told tales of times when we opened up to "sing" and others shared deep feelings that surfaced in this mermaid-safe place with listening friends. It was such a special time that I've put together another plastic container called Mermaids, because I'm making my Mermaid Party a Meb Summer Tradition.
Life is uncertain and these times seem particularly so. Traditions, especially seasonal ones, remind us of what went before, but will soon come again. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes that traditions, "Mark the passage of time in a happy way. They provide a sense of anticipation, security, and continuity...They provide connection and predictability, which people - especially children - crave." I crave celebrations because I need times of pause and shared moments with friends and family that act like a parenthesis of safety and love in my busy life. When my world feels shaky, I can take these moments out when I need them, knowing I will have special moments like them again.
When we celebrate our traditions, we make space for special moments. One thing I've learned by chasing miracles is that sometimes you have to make space in life for miracles to happen. We know that only Change is predictable, only Change is certain. Traditions help us move through the changes we must inevitably face by grounding us, helping us to move forward in every moment with a more graceful and grateful heart.
Old traditions are so important in life, but there is also room to make up new ones. So in honor of Tradition Day, I am here to wish you all a very Happy Miracle Chase Day! Now go out and make it special and let us know what you did to celebrate! (Meb)