Beholden

Periodically something will happen to remind me to be grateful for all the work that others do. Work that seems impossible to me. Work that scares me and fills me with an admiration and awe that fills my whole chest till I think it will explode. At these moments I am reminded of the ways in which we are all given gifts and not one of us has all the gifts it takes to live out any day, any year, any life. We are beholden to those around us to pick up the slack and to do things that need to be done. There is great freedom in this….even for those us who have like Anne Lamott….’tiny, control issues’.
These realizations came flying over my head last week while I was visiting one of our dear ones at a local hospital. Having made my way through the twists and turns of the hospital hallways, those mazes that can send any sane person running for the nearest door, any door, I found myself outside once again breathing in the fresh air, thankful to be outside and headed toward my car. At that moment of relief, I heard overhead a loud, thumping, chopping sound and looked up to see the emergency helicopter. I watched as, slowly, this enormous, flying machine hovered, seeming almost to stop in the blue, summery sky. It inched down, down, over, over, until it landed gently on a proportionately tiny piece of the hospital’s roof. It seemed impossible to me! How could any human do this? And how could any human be calm enough to land this huge hunk of metal while also carrying the cargo that was undoubtably someone in severe need of medical help? I said a prayer for those inside and those waiting to receive them. 
Getting in my car, I thought of that helicopter pilot and was thankful for their gifts and training, something so beyond my abilities or imagination. Then I thought of all those others whose work seems impossible to me……sky scraper window washers….surgeons….deep sea divers….astronauts…..jack hammer operators….semi-truck drivers. And then there are the others whose work brush my life every day and whose skills and gifts are so different than my own and who make my life easier, more enjoyable….the cashiers….highway construction workers…coffee baristas..cooks and wait staff….mechanics…receptionists….the faceless person who delivers my newspaper in the dark hours of the morning. I gave thanks for all those whose gifts and work I so often take for granted and reminded myself how intricately woven together we are. 

In the Christian scriptures the apostle Paul reminds us that we are each given gifts and skills to offer to one another and the world. These gifts are sometimes visible early in our lives. Other times they emerge or are honed through education, training and diligent practice. Often we are surprised by the gifts that can emerge in us and can find ourselves denying their presence, maybe frightened of what naming and claiming them might mean. But the truth of the matter is that the gifts and talents, the skills and training we discover is our passport to being a human in community. How we are able to act on and offer those gifts makes for a rich tapestry of life.

Every day we are beholden to countless people. Some we are aware of and others stand at the margins and in the shadows. Today might be a good day to begin paying attention to all the gifts that show up in each day, ways in which the offerings of others brush your life. Starting with the food on our plates is always a good place….what and whose gifts made breakfast, lunch and dinner possible? Imagining all the hands and lives that went into any meal can be a staggeringly humble experience. Taking the time to say blessing over the planters, the producers, the harvesters and the haulers can stretch a meal time by many minutes, even hours.

Once the meal is over, we could turn our hearts and minds to all the others whose gifts are offered each day. Before we know it the day is filled with blessing for all to whom we are beholden. And we can’t forget the helicopter pilot……

  

Oasis

Oasis… a fertile or green area in an arid region (as a desert)…….. something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast. I have been thinking about the word ‘oasis’ lately and noticing how for many people who live in climates that can be frigid much of the year, summer can be a sort of oasis. People drink of it, storing up what will be needed when green no longer is visible, when color has become drained from their sight and the warmth of the sun reflects not off moving water but the brilliant white of snow and ice. Summer in Minnesota can have both an edge of laziness and a frantic quality. Giving into the heat and humidity, we allow our rhythms to slow down and take on a pace associated with our southern brothers and sisters. While at the same time we are frantically counting the days, trying not to miss any of the experiences and delights that only come to us for about 12 short weeks and just so many weekends. We can have a sort of grabbing movement as we try not to miss a thing.
As humans, we all need oasis time. It can come with any season and it represents that ability to know when we need to slow down, to drink from a stream that will quench our thirst, to find relief from the pace or the pain of our living. Mostly, an oasis is not a fancy place but a cleared out bit of territory where we can remember ourselves. An oasis can be a hillside or a favorite chair. It can be a few moments in our car sitting in the parking lot, radio off from the bombardment of news, staring at children playing, soaking up their child-laughter, the kind that causes you to smile despite yourself and the world’s woes. It can be a walk with a friend, especially the kind of walk and the kind of friend that allows silence in your steps together. An oasis is not flashy but it is necessary.
Several weeks ago now, while on a trip to see the Seattle sons, I happened on an unlikely oasis. We were staying in a neighborhood and walked one morning to the lake nearby. Crossing streets and down the hill past well manicured lawns overflowing with colorful flowers, we came to an intersection with a round-about. This round-about was also filled with a lovely, little garden and nestled among the flowers was a bench, perfect for two people. It even came with its own bird feeder. The bench was literally in the middle of the intersection. It was too good to pass up so we walked in and sat down. We had found an oasis that defied traffic.

I don’t know how long we sat there…..long enough to finish our coffee and have a nice conversation while planning the day ahead. It was early morning and people were making their way to work or whatever their days held. As people curved and turned going left or right or in circles, we simply sat there. Some people moved through the intersection as if nothing was there…..no flowers, no concrete circles, no bird feeder, no humans. Others smiled at the two people perched in the middle of the street. At least one gave that nod of the head we tend to give in greeting to people we don’t know but still want to acknowledge. It was a sweet and curious experience.

An oasis. This experience caused me to think about all the people I know who often believe they have no time to slow down, as if somehow the world will stop spinning. I can often count myself among them. Finding that bench in the middle of the intersection has become a metaphor for me of how it is we can always find a place to rest and recharge even with traffic moving around us. Sometimes this very place of cars whirring and driven movement is the most important place of all to claim an oasis moment. 

What does your week hold? Are you taking the gifts of summer for granted? Have you strolled down your street or walked around with lake with no real purpose except to store up the color and the beauty for a time in February when ice abounds? The poet David Whyte reminds us about the beauty of slowing down, of finding a ‘pleasant contrast’ to the haste of our days:

Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life

we have refused 

again and again

until now.

Until now.

May today have you finding some oasis moments……

  

I & We

They are the we of me.”…..Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding

For the most part we move through the world as if we don’t need each other. At least in this country, we come by this honestly. Most of us have been raised to be what has been called ‘rugged’ individuals. Writing those words brings the image of a kind of cowgirl, adventurer, Ayn Rand character who can do what needs to be done in all situations, without anyone’s help….thank you very much. Being able to accomplish any task, moving to the top of any ladder, has been the bedrock of the American dream of success. It is what we have been trained to do since childhood and the way we have often come to make judgements, right or wrong, about other people.
A few weeks ago I was riding in my car…..all by myself….half listening to the radio when this phrase caught my attention: “At some point, the ‘I’ became ‘we’.” Moving along in my solitary way in my tin can with wheels, I rifled through my purse to write down the words in one of the small notebooks I keep nearby for just such a time. I said the words aloud to myself: At some point, the ‘I’ became ‘we’. A feeling of calm and a certain joy engulfed me. I felt my shoulders relax and my breathing become deeper.

I have found that it is hard and difficult work to move through the world as an ‘I’. While my steps up or down any ladder may momentarily bring a feeling of accomplishment, it means nothing until I share the experience with someone else. The joys are not as joyful. The pain can threaten to overwhelm. Not to mention that it is simply not as fun.

Over the last weeks, I have been in the presence of people who could never have done the work of living if they had approached their lives as an ‘I’. The circumstances that had come their way could only be handled as a ‘we’. It took hands reaching out from one individual to another forming circles of compassion. It took tears being dried with a gentle stroke of a hand not their own. It took words formed in love, meals delivered with grace, silence held by more than a solitary being……the most powerful kind of silence. At some point of rugged individualism, the tools of ‘I’ failed and the grace of community moved in to form ‘we’. That forming provided strength and hope and a faith to move through the days they thought to be impossible.

When I think about the sacred stories of the Christian household, I think about all the ways in which the Spirit moves people from ‘I’ to ‘we’. Rugged individuals….Moses, Esther, Abraham, Ruth, Mary, Paul,even Jesus…..staked their very lives on becoming ‘we’. Often we forget this in our Western tellings of their stories. We want to make them into the Hollywood version of themselves. But it would not be true and we and our faith communities might be gentler, kinder, fuller places if we were to remember this and delve deeper into the ‘we’.

At what point have you moved from ‘I’ to ‘we’? Who makes up the ‘we’ in your life? Who do you call when life falls apart or the joy is too great not to be shared? What circles surround you that help you question? That challenge when you need to be challenged? That affirm when you need affirmation? 

Today is a good day to let go of the need to be rugged and to instead reach out toward all those who are our ‘we’. The Universe teaches us that we were all created to be in relationship. We can see it all around. Today is a good day to celebrate our ‘we’. How might we all offer your gratitude for the ‘we’?

  

Ever Widening Circles

It is the little things. The little things that are so simple, so mundane that it is easy to gloss over them with the simple, mindless movement used for brushing teeth or wiping down a kitchen counter. It’s often the little things that bring a touchstone, provide a ritual reminder of who we are and what it is we value most. These are the places and times of pure enjoyment and recognition of the privilege of being alive.

One such quirky ‘little thing’ for me is the ritual exercised at the end of each month when I make my way from calendar to calendar in our house and in my office as I turn the page to the next month, the new month. Yes. I am one of those people who still, in addition to the digital calendar on my phone and computer, has paper calendars. Lovely calendars of beautiful artwork that makes me wake up and feel something….joy, beauty, blessing, hope…..when I look at their pages. The sterile, factual black and white letters and numbers of my digital calendar can never do this. 

So on Wednesday as I made my ritual walk from calendar to calendar,turning the pages from June to July, I looked back at what had been in those first days of summer. Memories of lovely time with family and friends washed over me. Just as I turned the page on June, these words printed at the bottom of the page of one calendar, echoed their truth:”We experience ourselves as separate from the rest….We must free ourselves from this delusion…by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” The words are those of Albert Einstein. Not bad as a source of wisdom. I jotted down the words onto one of the many scraps of paper I keep tucked into books and a compartment in my purse so I could spend more time with them later.

What I realized about these words is that they make up a piece of my own personal faith statement and what I hope guides my life. This being a part of an ever widening circle of connection has been something I commit to every day. It is what keeps me honest and sane and, hopefully, a gentler, kinder human being. It is also what fills me with wonder and awe and deep humility that I get to have this life, this living, on this floating ball of blue and green in a Universe I can never possibly understand or comprehend. This widening circle is what keeps me from making more statements of surety than I ought and nudges me to try….to try…to understand more fully all I might believe to be ‘other’. It is always what keeps me in love with the world in all its beauty and terror.

Over the past weeks we have been overwhelmed with talk about ‘other’. I cannot call them conversations because that implies a give and take of listening that has rarely been present. In all the various media, we have been present to the digging in of heels and hearts over love, how we care for one another in illness and health, what symbols we hold sacred. I have been hoping for an ‘ever widening circle of compassion’, one in which we can see how intertwined we are in this living, not separate as we often like to act and speak. This ever widening circle of compassion calls us to a humility about which all our faith traditions speak. It is the language of love…..even when we disagree, even when we are still working on edging out thoughts and beliefs of separation. 

While in northern Wisconsin these last few days, I was reminded of this delusion of separation. Each day we were treated to an incredible sunset in which the Sun was hot pink, red, orange and various shades that seemed as showy as a Vegas dancer. Why? Because our skies are the same skies as those in Canada where fires are burning and sending smoke and color our way. While the beauty was amazing, the haze created kept us from seeing the night sky as we often can. A gift and a challenge. Isn’t it nearly always so?

In addition to the sky, we watched as a family stopped to prod a large turtle with a stick across the road to help hurry up its nature lest it be shattered by a less observant driver. Four humans poured compassionate connection onto this prehistoric creature. Only a few moments later a covey of grouse flew in front of our car while one of its members instead plowed into the side of our vehicle narrowly missing flying into the driver’s open window and my husband’s head. Shaking ourselves out of the shock of this encounter we turned our car around to check on its stunned body before watching it move quickly to rejoin those with wings. The experience widened our circle of compassion. 

How are you committed to widening your circle of compassion? The joy of it is that it is work that lasts a lifetime. The hope of it is the healing of the world.

  

Grace Squared

Grace squared. Grace multiplied by grace. It is a term Anne Lamott uses in one of her essays. I thought of these words, this concept as I drove through the Wisconsin countryside yesterday and was treated to field after field of wildflowers. All along roads and far out into fields, color dotted the green grass and flanked the pavement. It seemed almost too much of a gift to receive. Yellow, orange, dainty white and the occasional purple made brush strokes across the landscape…….all colors no one intentionally planted…..placed there simply to surprise and dazzle by an unseen hand. Grace squared.

The last weeks I seem to have been blessed by this grace over and over. In Washington a week ago, we climbed on the pathways of Mount Ranier. Higher above us snow covered the rock that climbers had come to conquer. Further down the mountain fields of wildflowers took my breath away. How did they get here? Whose plan was this? Why do they flourish so in all their variety and beauty? The sweetness of each blossom seemed to provide miracle upon miracle. Unlike the well thought out placement of the lovely flowers that make up our garden and the yards of neighbors, these colorful wonders have no particular rhyme or reason in their presentation and yet are more beautiful than any well manicured garden. The randomness only contributes to their beauty.

Driving along the country roads of Wisconsin, climbing further and further north, I became aware of the tall, white Queen Ann’s Lace that lined the roadside. I was reminded of a time when I was a small child. My mother and I had picked these dainty but showy flowers. At home in our kitchen my mother filled drinking glasses with water and drops of food coloring. Cutting the stems of the flowers she placed them in the colored water and I watched as the color traveled up the stem and into the petals creating a rainbow of flowers that had only minutes before been a pure white. At that moment I had the feeling that my mother must be the smartest and most clever woman who ever lived. These roadside wildflowers had created an experience of magic that dazzled my young eyes and heart.

Wild flowers are a sign for me of a God who wants us to wake us up. They are a visual reminder that there are things for which we do not, can not, plan. They are also another reminder that humans are not always the ones who create the beauty or paint the pictures of wonder. The seeds of these wild flowers came from……who knows where? They made their way to their planting place through the power of wind and wings and the walking about of mostly the four leggeds who carried that seed and then deposited it. From there the seeds spread and multiplied and created the blankets of flowers I have witnessed of late. It is a wildness we are a part of, a wildness that we don’t often think about or remember. It is a wildness on which we depend.      

Grace…..the free and unmerited, unasked for favor of the Sacred. Grace squared becomes a free favor that shows up in an abundance, that has us saying: ” What? Are you sure? You’ve got to be kidding! This is just all too much for little ‘ole me.” The appropriate response is then one of deep gratitude: ” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

And so that is what I have been doing for days now. Thank you for the Queen Ann’s Lace! Thank you he-loves-me, he-loves-me not Daisies! Thank you for the purple lupines! Thank you for the Marsh Marigolds! Thank you for the buttercups! Thank you for the Paintbrushes in all their colors….orange, magenta, scarlet! Thank you for the dainty lilies and especially the Pasqueflowers, spreading peace in their wake! 

For wildness and those who sow it and for the Sacred’s wake up call, my heart is filled to overflowing…..thank you!

  

Lost At Sea

Last week in Seattle, I had one of those recurring experiences that can happen when you remove yourself from your every day surroundings and begin to immerse yourself in ways of life uncommon to you. One afternoon we walked along the harbor and looked at the large fishing boats and yachts that make their way from the waters of Puget Sound out to the ocean. Many of these vessels were luxurious and beautiful with exotic names. We wondered about what we would name such a boat if we were ever to have one. Others were definitely working boats…paint was well worn, nets were scattered on the deck and nearby dock, coolers and lobster traps littered the area around them. 

In addition to the boats, people….mostly men…walked about in tall, rubber boots and what looked like overall waders worthy of their wet work. The clothes they needed to do their daily tasks was so far from anything I need that I had to laugh. Many of their faces showed the leathery skin of those who have spent much time in the sun and salt air. Lined skin relayed the hard work of the sea and being married to the lure of those waters.

Being a Midwesterner all my life, with only smaller lakes and rivers as the water that calls to me, these boats and this way of life is not familiar and is something I may want to romanticize. Many of the sites that caught my eye that afternoon belied the difficult and dangerous work that these who provide fish for dinner tables across the country face every day. A difficulty and danger that I have never considered. 

That is until I stood at the monument to ‘Those Lost at Sea” and began to read the names etched on bricks that lay beneath my feet. It was in a sense a memorial for the sailors who had given their lives…..some recovered from the sea and others not……so that we may enjoy the sweetness of salmon and the flakiness of cod deep fried on a Friday night. I marveled at the number of them, some who perished decades ago and others who were lost only last year. Like many places honoring the lives of loved ones, some of the bricks had flowers laid nearby. Others displayed little trinkets now faded by the sun. I watched as one man read each brick one by one making his way from the lost to the lost. It was as if he was paying homage to each soul now departed.

The truth is I do not have experience with the concept of being lost at sea. It is not something I have ever thought much about. But I do have a memory of a knitter friend who told of how women from the Celtic lands would knit particular patterns in the sweaters their fishermen wore, patterns that allowed them to be identified by the swirl and knots of yarn if they were lost at sea. I have never looked at an Irish sweater the same since.

It is unlikely that I or any of my nearest kin will ever be lost while sailing a boat on large waters. But we, all of us, will be lost from time to time. It is a condition of being human. We lose our way at some point of each and every day. We forget to notice the beauty around us or are distracted by the minute details that draw us from the path we hoped to travel. Sometimes we get lost trying to make our way toward a cherished dream or as we traverse a relationship. Other times we get lost trying to do the right thing or trying not to give into what we believe to be the wrong thing. Getting lost and being found is a part of the dance of life.

When I was in high school I sang in a choir that did a medley of the anthems of our US armed services. My favorite of the group was the Navy hymn. I loved how the bass part rolled like the waves of the sea: 

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, 

Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in peril on the sea! 

For all those who are in peril on the sea this day, prayers of protection. For all those in danger of being lost at sea, prayers of rescue. For all of us who may be wandering in some state of lost, prayers of finding solid ground, prayers of finding home.

  

Hoarding

These are dark days. Even though the Summer Solstice greeted us with enormous light over the weekend, I couldn’t help but feel the overshadowing weight of what happened in South Carolina blocking that light. Even the brilliant sun throwing its entrance to summer party was lessened by another reminder of the terror humans can visit upon one another. The groaning of Creation and Creator cut straight through the warm and yellow rays of a brilliantly beautiful day. Our collective hearts are broken and at the same time numbed by the horror of events like this that seem to be happening over and over again with no end in site, no wisdom gained, no change made.
At some point of the last days I realized what I wanted to do was hoard…..that’s right…..hoard. I wanted to begin hoarding all the kindness, gentleness, beauty and hope I could fit into the cracks and crevices of the brokenness. I wanted to pile high the lovely words that have been spoken, will be spoken, in a lifetime. I wanted to spend time looking at the tiniest of creatures and marveling once again at their being, their impossible being. I wanted to spend time listening to a young child’s laughter, the kind that makes it impossible to not also laugh and hear the way children break into song at the drop of a hat. I wanted to join in that song until voices become raw with the joy of the music. I wanted to sit still and be present to the gift of the present moment and to know myself blessed beyond believing.I wanted to hoard all of this….in closets and drawers, in hallways and garages, in the deep recesses of my heart.

Flying out to Seattle on Friday morning, I noticed a young man’s t-shirt as he made his way through the aisle of the plane. It was a brand new shirt, gray with bright blue letters: ‘Team William’ it read in large letters across his slender chest. Below it the signature hash tag mode of communication of these days:#BillGetWell. I wondered who Bill was and who this young was in relationship to him. Father? Uncle? Teacher? Coach? Friend? Was he coming to Seattle to do some kind of benefit for Bill, something to help with the financial implications of his unknown illness? I reflected on this young man’s desire to be a part of William’s ‘team’ and all the care and concern, the commitment to another’s life it communicated. 

In the shadows that prevailed, I held this young man’s movement as a sign of what is right with the world. The truth is that there are more people like this young man making their way through their lives than the one we now know caused so much pain in a small, historic church in Charleston. There are more people choosing to stand side by side with those in pain, illness, despair, hopelessness than there are those who are bent on destruction. I found a special place for all those who are signing on to be on someone’s Team today to the hoarding I am doing.

It would be easy to say that this hoarding I crave is a way of avoiding the issues, of putting my head in the proverbial sand. Perhaps, that is partially true. But I believe this act piling and holding onto things is doing something else. It is allowing the building blocks of hope to have a more solid ground and from that hope change is born. It is ground that is a reminder of our goodness as humanity, of our being made in the Image. A ground that is stronger in love and compassion than it is in hate and indifference. It is a grounding that is a reminder of the invisible lines of connection that hold us all together and, in the end I believe, will not let us go and will propel us to face up to the racism and injustice that runs through our veins and through the tributaries on our nation.

These lines can make us weep with despair and also rejoice with elation. They can take our breath away with beauty and also with terror. They are lines that pull us toward facing the work that must be done before we can become the beloved community we are called to be. Some see this more clearly than others which is one more reason to hold on through it all and to continue to hoard what will become the reminders of our goodness, of our strength and of our power. We need all the best of each other more than ever at times like this.

And so I am hoarding all the good bits……

   

The Act of Noticing

Do you remember Monday? This past Monday, I mean. It was such a nearly perfect day that I am still trying to conjure its presence. Waking early, I walked through our neighborhood allowing the morning creatures,those who also rise early, to serenade me. Birds whose songs I enjoy but cannot name created a soundtrack for my morning walk. Everywhere I looked color was bursting forth into the world. Dew lingered on hosta leaves looking like tiny lakes for fairies that must live just beneath these enormous, green umbrellas. People and their dogs were out…..animals with noses in the air experiencing something my human abilities could not fathom. Runners moved along morning routes taking it all in or, sadly, plugged into something that was keeping them from the morning concert. At least one young child, still in pajamas with bed-head hair hopped around outside, the memory of last night’s fun still present in his summer mind.

My drive on Monday took me along my leisurely path, the one I use when the day requires more meditation than speed. Most other people refer to it as the East River Road. Monday it was flooded with bikers. Coexisting with them as I was required to do made me think of the skill needed to drive in Amsterdam where bikers zip and fly, ruling the road over cars and walkers. It took all my energy to be present to them as my eyes were drawn to the day’s beauty unfolding, offering itself to me. Pay attention! Lives are at stake!

Making my final turn before merging onto the frontage road that would take me onto the short distance of freeway left before arriving at the office, I saw the one person who had truly dressed for the day in an appropriate manner. In the crosswalk as I waited for the light to turn, a tall, stately Somali woman sauntered leisurely across the street. Her long, flowing dress was of a deep, rich green with swirling, colorful paisley patterns just at the hem and moving up one side. Over her head was a long, kelly green cloth outlined with green sequins. My face opened up in an enormous smile. She looked like the Queen of this perfect morning. I looked down at my drab, understated clothes. This woman had dressed for the day. I wore a uniform.

All these experiences reminded me of something I had heard while listening to the radio on Sunday morning. I heard a person being interviewed say “There are things you don’t see when you are sleepwalking through your daily life.” It is true, isn’t it? Most of the time I am a sleepwalker. Are you? Quite often I can move through whole swathes of a day and not remember having been in those minutes, hours, experiences. 

And then there are days that will not allow this kind of behavior. Days that seem to work overtime to get our attention. Monday was one of them. I remember thinking that it was a shame I couldn’t simply give myself to that day, that I couldn’t just continue the work of noticing and never make my way into the office. I was fairly certain the young child in its pajamas I had seen earlier would do the work of noticing all day which is, after all, the work of children. I was also sure that the dogs would spend the day following their noses, breathing in the full, rich odors of an early summer day. And the woman in green? Her clothes would allow her to be a part of the celebration moving through the masterpiece the Earth was creating with each passing moment. There was a sadness of responsibility and loss that washed over me that I could not join their company.

Perhaps it is not possible to live a whole day doing the work of noticing. But it is possible to at least give attention to some moments or parts of the day, to wake up from our sleepwalking with an attention to the things we do not want to miss in these precious, fleeting days of summer. Can you do it? Can you choose a few moments to notice? It is risky business. This act of noticing might send you outside in your pajamas……or with your nose held high in the air breathing in the goodness. Or better yet, it might even find you dressing up to walk regally through Creation claiming your place as Queen or King of the day. 

Perhaps it is a good day for each of us to wipe the sleep from our eyes and begin noticing.

  
 

I Was Here

As humans, one of our great desires is to know that our living has made a difference, that somehow others will notice that we are here….have been here. This takes many forms. Some are heroic and prophetic. Others are gentle and understated. The chronicle of this happens as we consider our legacy or even write a resume. “Here are the ways I have shown up in the world.”, we say with each black slash on the white page, with each word that is spoken. As we live out our days which is after all the living of our lives, we cut away at the stone that will remind those who come after that we were here, that our lives mattered. It is actually a BeyoncĂ© song that seems to speak to this……I wanna leave my footprints on the sands of time…..Know there was something that, meant something that I left behind……When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets……Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget…..I was here…..I lived, I loved……I was here.

It is something I was reminded of on a walk around Lake Como last week. Taking in the emerging spring on one of the few days without rain, my husband and I made our way around this sweet lake. People were out on the lake in paddleboats begging summer to arrive. Others walked dogs whose noses pointed heavenward as they took in all the fresh smells that had not long ago been buried beneath ice and snow. We observed ducks with young ones lined up behind the parent, learning how to maneuver the lake’s waters while on logs nearby turtles lined up to sun themselves. Honeysuckle sent sweet scents into the air and water irises bloomed on the banks. People were fishing and stood poised in hope. We followed a monarch…..yes!….from leaf to leaf as we tried to snap a photo of its early and longed for presence. It was a pure experience of pastoral beauty.

As we made a turn in the path and headed toward our car, I noticed a large stone. On the stone was a 21st century ‘cave’ drawing completed with gravel that had been found nearby. It was an image of a little girl created by placing stones into a form that delivered the sweet innocence of a child. I stopped in my tracks and took the time to notice it realizing that to notice the creation was also to honor the one who had created it. The image said….”I was here….I am alive….I was here.” 

It was not an expensive or fancy monument to a life but it was a monument none the less. I thought of all the times in the scriptures when stones were stacked to create an altar or at least a reminder that someone ‘was here’ and that the Holy had moved in that life. I also thought of the ways the Celts and other indigenous cultures stack stones to mark an important moment. All are ways for the human to say “I was here” and to remember that we are forever seen and known by the One who breathed us all into being. 

Many times we can feel invisible. Is anyone noticing that we are here? The greatest gift we can give another person is our presence to their living. It is what we all long for even when we cannot name it. How do you long to be noticed? How can you offer the gift of being present to another this day?

Each day we lay another stone that says we were here. May this day and every day be blessed with noticing. 

  

A Certain Order

There is a certain order to most things. That is, until there isn’t. I got to experience this first hand last week while staying at a hotel while attending a conference. It is a hotel I stay in nearly every year so I have a certain order, a particular rhythm to my arrival, my waking and sleeping, my departure. However, this year many of the things I had come to expect and count on were upended. Upon arrival I was thrown into the renovation of the hotel lobby as it changes from one owner to another. Walking into the space that had always been sleek and orderly, I was confronted head on with boxes piled high, floors that were ripped up and in the process of being tiled, chairs and sofas wrapped in plastic and stacked like doll house furniture. It was immediately unnerving as a feeling of having walked into the set of a DIY show washed over me.

At first I wondered about the noise. What time did the workers arrive…..as a saw that cut tile blared in my ears? Is the health club open? No. Will there be breakfast? Yes, but in a different room….one you get to through the torn up hallway and up the ramp. But I was soon to learn that the noise would be the least of my concerns. Over hearing that a wedding was happening in just two days and the space had to be ready, I began to notice how the tilers were still working at 10:00 o’clock at night and may literally have worked throughout the night for all I knew. I winced as we traipsed across the tiles, newly laid, not yet grouted. “Aren’t they supposed to ‘rest’ awhile before people can walk on them?” Someplace this cautionary voice from some long ago home project rang out in my head.

Coming down in the early morning, and I do mean early, the workers were already there, painting, hanging wallpaper, tiling, grouting….all simultaneously. Standing in the wings, others waited and as soon as one of these tasks was nearly completed, they swooped in to hang drapes while the wallpaper was still being smoothed. (My mother would have been horrified.)A few feet away surrounded by boxes both empty and still full, another worker was wiring up the large screen television setting the channel to a pastoral landscape that seemed so incongruous to what was going on all around. Scrape, swoosh, slap, bang. The sounds of frantic remodeling and decorating continued. 

As I walked into the lobby and climbed over yellow ‘caution’ tape,I noticed one nook of the lobby had been filled with furniture and there were now books on the shelves. Only a few feet away workers knelt still laying flooring and others stood on scaffolding, painting and hanging wallpaper near the ceiling. “What if the paint drops”, I thought, “or the wallpaper comes crashing down on the unprotected new furniture?” 

Each trip through the lobby raised my anxiety level. Upstairs, hotel staff were working away preparing the room where the wedding reception would happen. White lights twinkled in the doorways and across the ceiling. Tablecloths were being spread on tables while the dance floor was being prepared. Downstairs was pandemonium and upstairs everything was slowly unfolding.

Since I have returned from this experience, I have thought back so many times about what it all triggered in me. I recognized that it was not the clutter or even the work that seemed impossible to complete in a timely way that got to me. It was that the process they were employing seemed so out of an order I understood. Floors, painting, wallpapering,then furniture, artwork, drapes. That’s an order I get. But who said it had to be that way?

My sense is that the couple who was married and had their reception at this hotel won’t have a clue as to what took place the days before they arrived in celebration. It won’t matter a lick that the drapes were hung before the floor was finished and that the television was set to go before the furniture was in place. In the end, it all worked out which is all that really matters. 

There is a certain order to things……until there isn’t.