Engaging "otherness," encouraging lives of "more," people flourishing for the common good...
I just added an entry to my calendar, and if the truth is told (which it always should be), the entry signifies an event which I rather dread.
Yet when I typed it in to my handy-dandy MAC calendar, I accidentally added an exclamation point at the end. Since it would be rude and hurtful to delineate exactly which social engagement I am not looking forward to in upcoming weeks, let me use an imaginary one: “Root canal while hearing fingernails on a chalkboard while eating my least favorite food, celery!”
See… doesn’t that “!” just take the sting out of something unpleasant? Shouldn’t it make me look forward to this outing?
I think this is the calendar version of a Bible verse I love. It says, “Rejoice always.”
What if all that we do and the interruptions that change our plans are all valuable, all part of life’s purpose, all part of our own growth and progress?
What if everything fits? What if every moment really is full of wonder and meaning? What if the present is where we ought to be, fully there, fully engaged? What if there are no encounters with other people that are wastes of time or unimportant?
Thinking about it this way, I’m rather transformed and feeling expectant as I wonder what might happen during that “root canal” appointment.
Which leads me to say, “!!!!!!!!!!”
It’s time for the French Open again in tennis. I went once; it was thrilling. On those clay courts, line calls are made by examination of the mark that the ball leaves on the court. There’s no high-tech instant reply screen. An expert chair umpire jumps down and trots over to determine the ball’s trajectory and settles a dispute over whether it was in or out, and the point is decided. I found an old New York Times article about it interesting.
Here’s an excerpt:
“It happens in almost every match, and sometimes several times. A ball hits the court. A line judge makes a call. A player disagrees.
“And so begins clay court tennis’s quirkiest bit of theater.
“The chair umpire climbs down from the midcourt perch. He or she hustles — not a run, not a walk, but a trot — to the point of contention.
“Dirt is examined. Sport meets archaeology.
“In an era of instant replays and computer-generated assurances, there is an old-world charm to ball marks, little imprints of evidence left behind in the fraction of a moment that a ball touches the brick dust of a French Open tennis court.”
This is what these chair umpires know — lines, ball marks, smudges. And they’re not all created equal, as the NYT tells us: “Lobs create perfectly round spots. Hard serves leave comet-shaped streaks.
Smashes, spins and drops leave variations.
Sometimes there is barely a smudge at all. Sometimes, usually late in a set and near the baseline, the mark cannot be picked from a crowded constellation of blots and footprints. And, hardest of all, sometimes there is only a partial mark near the white line, a phantom left to interpretation.
Chair umpires receive special training for handling disputes and decoding ball marks on clay, and the French Tennis Federation’s Web site includes instructional videos.”
So enough about tennis. My point is not about tennis. My point is about the development of eyes to see — whatever it is you want to see. (more…)
When I was a kid, I saw a book in a store. I didn’t have enough allowance to buy it, but I still remember staring at the paperback cover and journal-like structure of a book in which I was invited to record the lies that I had told so that I’d be able to keep them straight and not expose myself by forgetting what I’d said to someone. It seemed like such a good idea. And so sad at the same time.
I knew I didn’t always tell the truth, but it never occurred to me that there was another option.
Life happened; I grew up (mostly). I don’t remember a line I crossed beyond which I valued the truth, but somehow I came to deeply want a life of integrity. I came to believe that the truth would set me free.
I want a life where I don’t feel anxious about who is going to think what about me, where my friends can meet and not find out that they know two different people, where I don’t really care what anybody finds out about me because, well, it is what it is. I am what I am. That’s just true. And that’s what I want. (more…)
“Of the people in my past, fading faces in a waking dream. And though they never seem to last very long, there are faces I remember from the places in my past…. Sometimes I can laugh and cry, and I can’t remember why, but I still love those good times gone by. Hold on to them close or let them go…,” sings James Taylor in his wistful paean to “good times gone by.”
It’s true. You too, I imagine. We collect people, we remember places. Some of them last; others fade away. But it all forms us.
What if you listed all the places in your past, at least the potentially meaningful ones, and then you simply reacted to each one by writing the first thing that comes to mind? I promise you’d have a little personal history, truer than anything you could conjure up if asked to tell a chronological or accurate story of where you’ve come from.
What places in your past have made you who you are today? What’s happening now, in the present moment, that is choosing the road to your future? Is this thing, this life, going where you want it to end up?
“Hold on to (it) close or let (it) go.”
There’s a scene in the movie, Little Miss Sunshine (please go watch it!). The scene is widely considered to be funny. I watch it and weep; it’s the most poignant thing I’ve ever seen. A gawky girl, entirely out of place in the beauty pageant world, takes the stage in a talent competition to dance to Superfreak. The judges and stuffy audience are horrified by her unorthodox, slightly inappropriate gyrations. They boo her, and try to get her off stage.
Her crazy, dysfunctional family comes to her defense in the most beautiful of acts; they join her in her dance, gyrating and dancing as one.
I heard the phrase “companionship as soul medicine” recently somewhere. And oh, it’s true, isn’t it? Is there anything more powerful than just knowing that we’re not alone?
Regardless of the setting, we just need one person to say, “Come with me,” or “Here, take this seat,” or “I’ve felt that way too.”
We complicate it, thinking we have to be the solution to all the problems in someone’s life or that we must have the right answer to a dilemma.
But sometimes we just need to show up and sit there. And other times we need to join somebody in dancing to Superfreak.
One of my heroes is a woman who routinely cleans up the mess that others leave in bathrooms. You know the mess I mean… the stuff we all leave around because it’s “somebody’s job to pick it up.” It’s my contention that we each have two categories in this regard — the thing that OF COURSE I CLEAN UP and the things that JUST AREN’T MY PROBLEM.
We think about the latter category, “Yuck, those are someone else’s germs.” But we forget that our germs are not exactly appealing to the person who is paid to clean up after us.
But my friend looks for ways to do the job of the person whose job it is… figuring they might be pretty excited to have a bit less work to do. I love that!
Last weekend I was at the Kentucky Derby. There are attendants in all restrooms during the Derby. And they are busy. Supplying safety pins, refreshing paper towel and toilet paper supplies, counseling drunk women, and overseeing cell phones that are recharging.
One attendant was so excited to have received a $100 tip. That was the best story I heard all day. A woman gave her a $100 bill and said, “If I can get $100, I can tip you $100.” The woman didn’t think her banker would recognize her coming in there with a $100. It made my day.
So what I want to challenge myself with is this: why don’t I do more work that “belongs to somebody else?” And why don’t I do more extravagant things for others than I do for myself?
Leisure is radical. I guess that’s true, sadly so.
Pope Francis “believes that we must — indeed, that God is calling us to — relax.”
Here’s a blurb from the article:
Responding to the question, “Do we need to rediscover the meaning of leisure?” Pope Francis replies: “Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. But this is being destroyed, in large part, by the elimination of the Sabbath rest day. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society.”
What a radical concept it is that we can afford to rest, in fact that we cannot afford NOT to rest. I’m reminded of my husband’s grandfather who didn’t think he should take a day off from work lest his employer discover that he was not indispensable.
I think we labor under the false pretense that if we didn’t keep on keeping on we would lose the rat race.
I’d ask whether the rat race is the race we want to win… or even be in. What about the human race?
Do you do it? Do you say what you need to say?
Or are you building up a permanent lump in your throat, a lump around which you talk and around which you’ll need to learn to breathe and then even think?
Speaking from the vantage point of an older age, it seems that the later in life we start saying what we really need to say, the harder it is to do it. Think about how hard it is to speak up in a relationship where the other party has assumed (because you didn’t tell them otherwise) that all is well… but it’s not.
I remember being a newlywed and hearing about an older, distant relative who went to his wife and said that he’d been bugged by a boatload of things for 35 years and now couldn’t tolerate them or, as a result, the marriage. And she said, “I wish you’d told me sooner.” To which he replied, “Yes, that would have been good. But I didn’t. And now this is how I feel, and I don’t expect you to be able to change things that you’ve done for 35 years, so I’m leaving.”
There are about 1000 other things wrong with that scenario but it did stick with me as an illustration of what happens when we don’t keep current accounts and say what we need to say.
We know what people’s noses look like. And their haircuts. And what they wear is obvious too.
But we sometimes find out that someone is full of art, crammed with soul, packed with stories… and we realize, well, that we all are a wellspring of unexpected surprises. And that the exterior packaging just isn’t an adequate indicator of what’s inside.
Especially if someone works at a job that requires a soul-concealing uniform.
Today I went to the post office, my usual neighborhood spot. And I noticed intriguing, colorful photography of a New Jersey boardwalk. Really spectacular work. And I commented on it to a clerk who told me that her colleague, the “guy at the next window,” had done it. What ensued was a fabulous conversation about his road trips, his photographer’s eye, another wall of photography that I’d missed entirely, and places he hopes to go next. Which sparked places I hope to go next (Joshua Tree).
I left there excited about that particular man’s talent. I skipped out into the world with a renewed sense of how important it is to slow down and not make assumptions.
I wish that postal workers and everybody could wear buttons that say, “I’m not a generic, government automaton; I’m me,” with plenty of room for a full-blown coolness resume. I wish we all could.
The blog comment read, “Your writing is excellent, and I’m inspired by what you’ve shared. I’ll bookmark it and come back often for wisdom and encouragement.”
And I hit “DELETE” in annoyance.
Because an insincere comment from someone simply seeking a ping-back to their own site is as meaningful to me as a stranger whom I’ve never fed telling me that I make incredible Texas Sheet Cake. They just don’t know. So their words really can’t touch me.
We want to hear encouragement not only from people who actually know us, but particularly from those who know what our challenges have been, what almost kept us from succeeding, what demons we face, what progress we’ve made, and what we value.
You can tell me that I’m a good housekeeper (not true), and it really doesn’t scratch an itch. But if you tell me that I am a good mother, well then I’ll perk up and listen, leaning in, aching for it to be true… because that is what I value, where I want to be effective and thoughtful.
I read something when my children were small that encouraged parents to comment on things that the child could replicate and grow into — instead of commenting on superficial or potentially temporary things. For example, if I said, “Wow, I really saw you working hard on that project. You’re a person who sticks with things,” that can build confidence that the child really can continue to persevere.
Instead, if I said, “You sure are pretty. I love that about you,” well… you get it… what happens if that person’s looks fade or she’s marred with deformity or disfigured? She could assume she’s no longer valuable. (more…)