Posts Tagged #gratitude
Think big thoughts
Relish small pleasures
–H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
I’ve been drunk-binging on nature lately, pulled from my grind-screen work and what I ‘should’ be doing to spend hours just gazing at the wonders of the fall. I end up working way too late to compensate, but you can only see the foliage in the daylight.
Such transformation is amazing. It gives me hope. As in, “I am living in a miracle world, pure, uncut amazing! Anything might happen!”
Well. It’s not all Indian summer breezes, after all. Nope. It’s a world awash in constant pain. Turn on the news or read the stream or listen to the couple behind you in line for a burrito sniping at each other–pain, pain, pain; see the face of the worn-looking woman waiting for the bus, see how a knotted thread of anxiety is pulling her features toward the center of her face, into a pinch of ache. She’s in pain, emotional, physical, spiritual–it doesn’t matter what kind of pain, does it? She’s a human, and she’s hurting.
This week I read a story in the New York Times about an Italian marathon-runner, and not an experienced or well-trained one, who came to New York to run. He was with a loosely-organized group of Italians. He spoke no English. Somewhere along the route of the marathon, he dropped his small amount of cash, along with his hotel key-card and his subway map.
He went missing for around 48 hours, wandering New York in his running clothes, disheveled, hungry, alone. Unable to communicate. After running a whole marathon, so he must’ve been flat-out depleted. He made his way, somehow, to the airport, knowing his group would be flying out the next day. Security kicked him out, because they thought he was homeless.
A policeman noticed him on the subway the next day, and realized he was the missing foreigner.
According to Office Yam, “He kept turning and looking to the map. He seemed like he was under duress, like he happened to be lost or not knowing where he was going.” Thanks to the officer’s alertness, the hapless marathoner was saved. Happiness! Truly, it was a joyful ending to what must have been a terrifying experience for him.
Still, no mention in the news article of all the actual homeless people who are disheveled, hungry, alone and unable to communicate, who also do not know where they are going, and who are moved along and cursed at and rarely rescued. They have no group to join, it seems. Imagine the marathoner, wandering weak and scared for two whole days. Now imagine wandering—indefinitely. In the cold, in the rain. In the days that come after this golden time ends.
Sometimes I just want to not want to help, to care, to crave, to feel at all. Because I don’t know how to fix it. I can barely manage myself.
But then: the trees.
The trees are divine spirits. They won’t let me fade into numb oblivion. They remind me that no matter what else is going on, no matter what hurts or what is messed up—that beauty is there, not caring if I eat it up or ignore it, but there all the same. Doesn’t that mean something? I take a picture. I feel pleased, and then sort of shallow at the rush of pleasure all this beauty brings. My inner scold chides me. A picture of an amazing blazing autumn afternoon won’t heal the world.
A little voice says it might heal some tiny corner of it.
It might remind someone— someone who gets lost fighting things she cannot change—to remember to appreciate the gift of being in this world, on this day. To breathe this autumn air, and feel gratitude.
And maybe that is a tiny little start?
It’s not nearly enough, but you have to begin where you are, and work up from there.
“Hope without power is no match for fear with power.” –Caroline Myss
Maybe if we empower our hopes, there will be a little less fear in the world?
I visited a heavenly place last weekend, where the breeze off Lake Michigan made the daisies dance, and the peaceful energy of the Bahai House of Worship filled me with hope. I don’t know much about the Bahai faith, but the tenets are inspiring: that no religion is superior to another, that all people are deserving of respect and justice, that racism must be overcome.
There are nine inscriptions carved above the entrances of the Temple:
– The earth is but one country; and mankind its citizens. (my favorite)
– The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me.
– My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure.
– Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.
– Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.
– I have made death a messenger of joy to thee; wherefore dost thou grieve?
– Make mention of Me on My earth that in My heaven I may remember thee.
– O rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My Trust.
– The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His glory.
The idea that we are put on the earth to seek justice and to love and feel joy resonates with me. I know there is a lot of work to be done and the world is full of injustice and rage, but it seems to me the starting point for healing is to find the peace within and radiate that outward.
(For the dust. It makes me sneeze.)
My fifth hand is clutching a steaming mug and my sixth hand is wasting time on Facebook. My seventh and eighth hands are clasped in some kind of prayer, for forgiveness and strength, and all my other hands are clapping a rhythm to keep the rest of us on task. (Futile).
Later, the right hand will order pizza while the left opens a beer and the others will rest, their weary knuckles lined up still as the stones and shells collected along faraway hills and shores, the useless stones and shells that I tell myself I do not need in this next life.
Stones and shells held in younger palms once, stones and shells cold now, but once warm with the energy of discovery. Every stone, every shell: the most beautiful, the smoothest, the whitest, the thin-as-a-dime, translucent ones, the one black as the cold Pacific on a moonless night, the round one full of holes and light as a bite of sponge cake, the tiny snail shell spiraling the way my heart does, these last days in this home where I spent more years than any other.
(One of my sleeping hands wakes, shakes a finger at me, silently chastising me for being so impossibly sentimental. I tap it with my Ikea hammer—not even that hard, just a little tap—and then feel badly as it recoils in pain. Makes me think of the witch’s foot when the house falls on her in the Wizard of Oz.)
Back on task. My extra hands snap softly, whisper-snapping a nice quiet beat, ceremonial sort of, as I plunge my two hands into the bowl of stones and shells.
It’s a big heavy bowl, overflowing with memories—the brightest, the shiniest, the darkest, the ones dyed ugly purple-pink with my own shame. A few marbles are mixed in: a topaz one, cat’s eye, like the cat who doesn’t live here anymore. There’s a pointy triangular piece of sharp-edged sea glass and an orange gem from a Mancala game, shiny as little girls’ laughter. I have to stop. It’s time. They are only stones and shells.
Such a rattle in my heart, settling and unsettling, as I move on at last.
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
– Wu Men, 12c Chinese poet
(transl: S. Mitchell)
To the churning of the world
How my brain flares as I dream of you, electric spark
illuminating songbirds fast asleep, hidden in branches dark
a single egg met a particular sperm in warm depths and became you
a miracle like every seed sprouting green from the loam
now your eyes widen at the whispered ocean inside a conch
your laughter, how it spreads, fanning like spores on the wind
oh, see: the perfect geometry of magnified snowflakes? Look closely.
what is more beautiful than the curve of a femur or a rib or your smile?
I’m in love with the snaky way freshwater travels to the sea, undulating
mystery like my fingers knowing my thoughts before my mouth can say
how patterns repeat: rivers and streams forking, ever narrower, ever finer
just like the web of arteries and veins inside my body, your body, every body
the churning of the world, the tides turning to and fro, to and fro, endless
impulses firing, boom-pump, boom-pump inside your heart,
and my own steady drumbeats, echoing yours, beating together—hearts
thrumming together, together, together, that pulsing soundtrack: life
Early stargazers coined the word
influence to describe how
ethereal fluid ‘into us flowed’
changing destiny: starlight, steering us
think of starlight flowing, think of it with me:
a glimmering river of it flowing,
washing into black velvet voids
filling the endless emptiness
changing darkness to insight—
pixie dust of healing
invisible oftentimes but— Oh!
how caring words can be forever felt
an ache in the sunny yellow kitchen
of my heart, where loopy cursive poems
were crayoned on construction paper
while soup bubbled, a brightness like
the stars the night of our first shared smiles
shining still, even on this dark January night —
beaming through time, flooding the bottomless
hollows of my heart, helping me steer
I lie on my belly on the asphalt sidewalk. It feels cold, even through my down jacket, but the pond has frozen overnight into such beautiful swirls and filigrees of ice, and the morning sun is skimming the frosty patterns in a way I cannot resist. And so I lie down to get a good look. This is a benefit to being older. When I was younger, I was stupidly self-conscious. I’d have worried about what a passerby might have thought, how dumb I’d look. But now I’m at that wonderful age, an age I am trying (when not terrified) to appreciate. Middle age.
I don’t care anymore what people think when I’m taking my daily photos. I contort to get the right angle, I twirl to get motion effects, I regularly lie down on sidewalks if the shot requires it. Luckily, I’m not old enough yet that getting up again is hard. Though I’ll admit my knees groaned in the cold today, and hey—who am I kidding? Odds are good that I’m past the middle, maybe well past.
The clock that runs like a crazy squirrel in my head sometimes runs away with me. I count down backwards. It’s less than 10 months until I hit the age my father was when he died. Or, more hopefully, in thirteen years and eleven months, I’ll hit the age my mother was, when she succumbed. Or it could be tomorrow.
I count the other way, too, to counteract the gloomy final ball-drop thoughts.
Lying on the freezing cold sidewalk, studying the tamarack frond suspended near the icy edge of Burnet Pond, I think of how life’s edges are always so sweet, and how maybe instead of thinking of being in the middle, it’s better to live at the edge, in a place of wonder and appreciation. I’ve been to the edge. If I focus that direction, it all comes into sharp focus. Every new season, every morning’s perfect slant of light, every shared smile, every ached-for kiss — fills me with light.
Two years and eight months ago, my light nearly went out for good, and just a stone’s throw from this pond.
I rise up from the sidewalk and stretch my cold legs, remembering. As I take one last shot, my iPhone dies in my hand. Right then, the light in the treetops across the pond flashes, catches fire—the morning sun is reflecting off the top-floor windows in the tower at Good Samaritan, just over the hill. I know from memory that the light is streaming through the wall of plate glass at the end of the hallway on the Cardiac Telemetry unit, where I stood not so long ago, wired up and monitored, gazing down at the greening canopy of Burnet Woods.
The day I didn’t die, but might have. Every sunrise since has been a bonus. Even so, frozen within me are ancient worries, hard-wired worries about death. But I’m alive. I try to stay right here on the edge, feeling this sliver of now.
Now. Here, and alive.
It is the last day of Autumn, a cold, thick-oatmeal gray day, and finally: I put on my rubber boots, and I’m raking leaves. It’s the first time since mid-October that the sleeping leaves have been disturbed, and I quickly realize it’s a bigger job than I thought it would be.
I live on a beautiful street in a center-ring suburb, one of my city’s first suburbs, with century homes and century trees—both the houses and the trees are big and sturdy. Maples, oaks, sycamores, beeches, mulberries, pears—their leaves fell all fall, layering up, narrowing the front walk until suddenly it was just a forest footpath. The decaying leaves built up along the edges of the walk, damply clinging and narrowing it like plaque in an old artery.
So I rake, scrape, pile and gather leaves up on an old blue tarp. Pile, lift, carry down the drive way and across the backyard, heave-ho up over the fence, letting the leaves cascade into the ravine. The heaviest clumps of wet leaf mold settle in the folds of the tarp, reforming into a mass with heft, like a body. I know now how it feels to lift and dump a body.
Over and over, I rake and repeat, dumping body after body into the grave of the old stream that used to run through here. All the while, I play a Patty Griffin song in my head. The song is “Making Pies,” but I have reworked it to suit my task.
You could cry or die
Or just rake leaves all day.
I’m raking leaves
This song makes me smile, on this, the nearly darkest day of the year. I can’t carry a tune, but I’m singing aloud because it feels good. (And also because no one else is outdoors! The neighbors all use lawn services, and I’m sure they will be thrilled to see I’ve finally decided to reclaim my yard from the wild woodland drifts.)
It strikes me, on this shadow-less day that is soft-lit and diffused, that there have been brighter days when I’ve been unable to see the very sharp shadows right in front of me. The shadows that are part of me, and of all of us. I was afraid of my own shadows, my long, looming shadow side that I now know is there to help me understand the light.
What joy there is in sharing darkness, in holding it up instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. I tried that—‘thinking positive thoughts’— and while I’m all for gratitude journals and happiness projects, I now see that you can’t dump the shadows like bodies. You need to hold their hands and embrace them and honor their existence. And then be grateful for their lessons.
I am so grateful for every beloved fellow traveler, my dear friends, both new and old, who showed me their shadows, and gently helped me see that mine are just part of me, and nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to run from. I thought pain was something I could or should try to skirt. Your shared darkness brought such bright light.
Darkness is as beautiful in its way as light. It is a sharp thing, brittle and bitter and raw and rough and dark and painful as wet bark scraping your skin when you are running from things and you fall into arms waiting to catch you, and you feel held, and warm.
That’s when you see the light in its brightest form: when you are so cold your teeth are chattering and tears are freezing on your cheeks and you are enfolded in a hug that feels warm, like a blanket straight from the dryer, wrapped around you, and you take a breath, and know you will be okay.
Even when the arms that hold you are your own scraped-up arms, and even on the second-darkest day of the year.