On a winter evening a few weeks ago, I disembarked from a cab on the south side of Central Park on my way to meet three friends. The snow had been coming down all day and had finally tapered off. Before I turned to cross the street, I was struck by the way the snow seemed to settle into a wondrous evening light. The street lamps had just come on and a steady and clear calm had descended.
I had been home for a week from my mother's funeral and the immediate aftermath, duties of unwinding a life. When the late afternoon emails started, "Are we still up for this?" followed by three confirmations, my relief was palpable. No mere snowstorm could keep any of us away. I hadn't realized how much I needed this connection; how much I needed to get back among the living.
Once inside, at a table overlooking the park, wine in hand, one of my friends told us about a series she was watching from Deepak Chopra and we got on the topic of transcendence. Had any of us had moments of transcendence? The two of us who had, referenced experiences as simple as digging in the garden when the air suddenly stilled and a window into the depths of existence seemed to open or as exhilarating as a feeling of oneness while alone at the top of a mountain. Even though our two friends looked at us in mild bewilderment, I was sure these moments are not just for the few. I am convinced we are all able to go beyond the limits of ordinary experience. Is it about being open? Aware? Lucky? Or, is it about Faith? And if Faith is the answer; faith in what?
Personally, I seem to have stumbled into the rare moment of transcendence even as I struggle with the faith part. And yet, Keep the Faith became my default book inscription when autographing copies of The Miracle Chase. Beyond the notion that I am referencing a 60's vibe and not any particular form of faith, maybe I wanted it to rub off on me, while hoping to free everyone else from the struggle. After all, Keep the Faith covers a lot of bases. It can mean faith in ourselves and manifest itself in resilience, tenacity and the fulfillment of dreams. It can mean faith in something or someone bigger or beyond ourselves, a place where transcendence springs forth or God "...by whatever name" is found.
Coincidentally, the priest saying my mother's funeral Mass repeated one of my favorite quotes, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." (Teilhard de Chardin) This would mean we all originated in a state of transcendence and, presumably, could check back in once in a while, if only we knew how.
Maybe, what struck me that evening, truly stopped me in my tracks at the end of a deeply winter day, was the way the light played on the dormant trees, how the calm after the storm seemed so full of promise. In the midst of feeling distracted and detached these last several weeks, the scene caught me by surprise and offered reassurance. Wishful thinking? I say, Keep the Faith.
I have never been a quitter. I suppose you could say that I have never been good at letting go either. When I was growing up, there was no room for just flopping on the floor in a bundle of tears and saying, "I give up; I can't do this anymore." It wasn't that we said we Cahills weren't quitters. It was more subtle; you never admitted to weakness of any sort. The way to survive was to think bigger, better, smarter, faster and stubbornly stick your chin out and bear it. A kind of Martyr meets Superhero approach to life.
Sometimes you just can't give up or give in. As with the case of making sure Liz, my daughter who is blind, was able to receive an education just like her sighted friends and her sighted brothers. I never gave up on making sure she had access to the best education she could get. Until the bitter end, I refused to give up on my marriage, even though it had been in Marriage Hospice for years and I don't regret sticking to my vows until they didn't exist anymore.
Wise therapists have said that dealing with really painful and traumatic events in our past by walling them off so you can get by, creates a situation where you cannot feel the pain, but you cannot really feel joy either. I have been able to stay afloat in my little life raft of existence in large part by focusing on the future; working to make things better, hoping that later will be better than now. While this sounds super great in a sort of change the world way, it also means that I am not living in the now. And so I've missed a great deal of today while working toward tomorrow.
This last month has brought some wonderful changes for my family. My oldest son is getting married. My youngest son was asked to take a full-time dot.com job that allows him to go to school and live on his own. My daughter has turned in most of her dissertation and hopes to graduate in June. I was sought out for and accepted a great new job where I can have more time for myself and still make a difference.
These changes have prompted me to look under the rug and I am starting to appreciate that underneath this "hang in there until you hang yourself" mentality I seem to have is probably something a little more insidious. I've started to ask myself the question of whether or not I have the RIGHT to let go and move on. Do I deserve something more than survival and getting through it? Is it really part of life to sometimes call it quits? Moving on means I have to let go of the past. For happiness sake I need to move towards my future and bring my whole self with me. Which means I have to face those walled off feelings, forgive and let the joy back in.
Leaving anything is messy. There are always things left unsaid and things left undone. As my children take their giant steps into their future, there are all the moments of their childhood that I didn't get right or that I wanted to do more of; the things that I thought I'd get to tomorrow. And while I have more to contribute to the friends and colleagues I've made in my current position, leaving means I can bring my gifts to another possibility. Sometimes whether it's in relationships or jobs, holding on isn't what makes you strong; sometimes letting go can make you stronger.
At last, I have begun to realize that Joy is not the opposite of sadness. Joy is what you feel when you are living the life you were always meant to live. Your whole being knows it and sings. I take a deep breath and sing the song of my life, a song of gratitude and amazing possibility.
After all, don't we deserve happiness? We would love to hear your thoughts.(Meb)
You have got to be kidding me: a jumbo jet crossing the country at 35,000 feet and we have to stop for gas! I am nearly a million mile flier, and while I love seeing the people at either end of my sojourns, I hate the flying part: the loss of control, the uncertainty of the air ahead (I could go on...) By the time the pilot came on with his message (strong headwinds, bad weather, uncertain landing conditions), we had already been in the air for over 5 hours and still had more than an hour to our unscheduled stop in Salt Lake City. Oh well, I told myself, suck it up, smile at the guy next to me and try to play peek-a-boo with the infant in the seat in front of me who had already cried his heart out for the last thousand miles. This was going to be one of those trips!
In what seemed like forever, we began our descent into SLC to find ourselves landing in a landscape that can only be described as cosmic: the Great Salt Lake etched in white, the Wasatch Mountains swathed in colors displaying a kaleidoscope of colors on their peaks and ski runs. It was magnificent.
After a fashion and confined to the plane, we ultimately got our gas and headed back into the sky once again for San Francisco. 9 1/2 hours later we arrived. Exhausted, but happy and relieved to be at our destination.
Life is like that, even when we know where we are going, and think we are on the most direct (supposedly, non-stop) route, there are often detours and unscheduled stops along the way. We can choose to let the aggravation of changed plans absorb us, or, opt to find the opportunity in the journey that unfolds. Just as the plane needed gas to help us complete our journey safely, we too, need fuel: soul food to keep us connected with the who we are and the what is important.
January, as we begin a new year, is the perfect time to look for ways to maintain the joy of the holidays and find the sustenance that bolsters our spirit, even when our plans go off track. Advice columns suggest keeping a gratitude journal or saying out loud at least one thing we are grateful for everyday; it's a good start and a daily reminder not only to take note and pay attention, but also to connect with joy even in the midst of the mundane and frustrating events that are a part of life. Still, I have always thought this begs the question of those things in our lives that we aren't so grateful for. As I celebrate my 15th year cancer-free, I recognize cancer wasn't a journey I chose, and yet there has been joy in friendships I have developed with my cancer survivor sisters and in the understanding of the gift of another day upon this earth not to be squandered or taken lightly. For me, maintaining this joy has to include a reminder to accept the journey - as much as the anticipated arrival at my destination.
My 2015 resolution is practicing mindfulness in the moment and striving to live the words of the Serenity Prayer in accepting the things I cannot change (air travel included), finding the courage to change the things I can and seeking the wisdom to know the difference.
We would love to hear about the detours life has thrown your way and your progress on any New Year's Resolutions. (Joan)
Anyone who knows me well, knows I'm an uncomfortable flyer. I say an Our Father and a Hail Mary before taxiing out to the runway as if my life depended on it, a definite show of more enthusiasm than usual, which I'm guessing doesn't fool God (or Mary) one iota. My phobia goes up even more when there are weather issues, as happened on a flight from Miami in May. There were giant thunderstorms up and down the eastern seaboard and we needed to fly several hundred miles inland to avoid them, adding over an hour to our flight time. On our final approach to La Guardia that seemed to go on forever, we were in a thick and dark cloud cover with lots of turbulence and I kept looking out the window hoping to see land. Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore, we broke through the clouds. The plane was just at the southern tip of Manhattan flying north at maybe 3000 feet and our delay meant the lights of the City were all on, illuminating landmark buildings, the lights of Broadway and a home game at Yankee Stadium. The night below us was crystal clear as if every particle had been absorbed into the clouds above and all those colorful lights felt close enough to touch, a truly magical display. I wasn't the only one who noticed. A little girl behind me said, "Look Mommy, it's like Christmas!"
I don't think there is one among us who doesn't know the feeling of being stuck in the muck, unsure if we will ever see the light. As we find ourselves in the midst of the Holiday Season, it seems a good time to remember we cannot live without light in all its manifestations. The Festival of Lights, Hanukkah (Dec. 16-24 this year), celebrates the miracle of one day's worth of oil burning for eight days until more oil could come to light the rededicated temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. In John's Gospel, John the Baptist speaks of the light of the world, he who is to come; Jesus' birth is the light made manifest. The first words God speaks in the Old Testament are, "Let there be light." This is a few days, as the story goes, before the sun, moon and stars were created, so even the ancient writers knew of the importance of a larger concept of light.
All of us have the ability to experience this light when we arrive at a point of wisdom, when someone's eyes light up with joy, when we have faith and believe without "seeing." It seems to me, light comes into the soul when we experience grace or goodness, or the beginning of peace when we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most importantly, in a world where we have little control over so much, we can be the light for one another.
Edith Wharton wrote, "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." Light is contagious; pass it on. (Katie)
Many of you know that my daughter, Elizabeth, was abused by a license-exempt provider (nanny) and blinded for life. The judge convicted the nanny of felony child abuse, but shockingly, amazingly and seemingly without regard for other families and children, allowed the person who tried to kill my daughter to be a nanny again, stating that it "was good to have a job while on probation." The nanny was given a $100 fine.
This was too much for me to bear. Not only was my beautiful, 6-month old baby blind, unable to move the right side of her body and having seizures, the 'system' I thought would surely protect others had failed before my eyes and ears.
I decided to change child care laws in CA, and the journey to what later became the California Child Care Trustline Registry began that day (www.Trustline.org). That journey, in and of itself, was a series of miracles that I partially chronicle in The Miracle Chase. But there is more, and this is the amazing miracle I want to share with you now.
This year, early education and child care has been a focus for many who care about and work on behalf of young children. The reauthorization of the eighteen year old Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) finally made it to the top of someone's list and a majority of our legislative folks in Washington were on board to pass legislation that would ensure that the funding could continue, but with many new, updated and important changes to make child care safer and better administered.
Unfortunately, a couple of legislators wanted to hold up the passing of this nearly unanimous legislation. After many advocates and the sponsors of the bill put pressure on them, there was only one man who was the hold out. (The way Federal legislation works is that you have to send the bill out for signature by the President before a certain date or the bill dies.) We needed his vote to send the bill on.
Here comes the miracle. A mother was at a child care conference for parent advocates, because her son had suffocated by being placed in an unsafe crib; she was determined to make the death of her child mean something, to ensure that no other family would suffer what happened to her own family. She Googled women who changed child care and came up with the story of the Trustline Registry. But the story of Trustline didn't launch her advocacy. It turns out that our book, The Miracle Chase, also came up on Google. So she bought the book, which tells the story of how Joan, Katie and I uncover what the miracles in our life have meant to us. She said that the wonder and nature of miracles soothed her soul and inspired her at a time she really needed it. She decided to come to the conference and through her voice and her family's terrible experience, she would try to make a difference.
Here is the amazing part: her hometown legislator was the "Hold-Out-Legislator" who was blocking the passing of the CCDBG. Well, we all know that No Thing is more powerful than a woman who is defending her children and one who is inspired by miracles is unstoppable. She walked into her Legislator's office and passionately told him her story, explaining why what happened to her family must "never again" be any other family's experience. Where cajoling by other legislators had failed, her heartfelt sharing changed his vote.
The rest is history, or maybe really, it is her story. God bless this mother and God bless the miracle of a change of heart.
To recap the Ripple Effect of the Miracle:
My daughter survived (our miracle) and I started Trustline. This mother found Trustline, and she found the three of us who wrote about miracles in The Miracle Chase. And then, she made her very own miracle by saying "Yes" to the unfolding of miracles. She made miracles happen for countless families across this nation. Who knows how many children will be spared death or injury because of her courage and passion?
As we say in The Miracle Chase, "Like the ripples in the Universal Lake, a Miracle is the perfect stone God casts in to the center of the still more perfect water. When we step back and look, we can see how the ripple cascades across time and space until God's miracle returns to another shore, like a wave unto itself."
Go out and say "Yes" and make miracles happen. They never end.