Sometimes a gal just has to sit and be silent with her thoughts. The school year has come to a close and the bustle that goes along with that has kept me away from posting, but I've been busy in the garden. Here's one of my newest additions: art and nature doing their thing. Hope you're enjoying the arrival of summer and taking time out to soak in a little silence along the way. Happy Summer!
Today I walked with my kids to school. I say, “walked with” because they have made it clear they do not require my escort services, but I let them know I need the fresh air, exercise, the undivided time to talk with them and a scheduled “event” to get my day up and running. Since the start of the pandemic, I've needed to create more structure to the day, especially when school was at home and there was no need to "get" to school at all.
A morning walk has been the silver lining for me. So, we walk.
Normally I just double back on the same route after we reach the school, but today I decided to take the long, uphill way home. It adds ten extra minutes to the walk and usually reminds me how out of shape I am once the hill kicks in.
Today—instead—it reminded me that we measure our impact on others all wrong.
On the way up the hill I came upon a family: a mother holding the hands of her two, young sons (possibly twins?) and a father pushing another in a baby carriage. Much to my surprise she seemed to recognize me and said, “Hey, are you the lady I see who always walks to school with your kids?”
“Yes, I do. I took the long way home today.” I smiled and enjoyed my celebrity status for a beat.
Holding onto those two all-boy bundles of energy for dear life, lest they break loose, she continued, “You inspired me, so we are walking.” She told me. “I saw your kids with the umbrellas and I thought . . . those kids—” I forget the rest of what she said, but I’ll imagine something poetic about my kids being able to tolerate unpleasant weather in the future.
I busted in with a, “Well, I heard there’s no bad weather just bad equipment.”
We all laughed and continued in our opposite directions, but that encounter stayed with me for the rest of my walk. “You inspired me.” Echoed around in my ears and it made me think. I thought of how we never know who we are inspiring when we live our lives the way we do. Never assume you don’t matter or that you are not making a difference in this world, the environment, children's health and wellness or whatever you feel passionately about simply because you have not yet met the person who has been inspired by you—even in just one small, but meaningful, way.
Why did this woman being inspired by me, now walking with her kids to school, make me happy? It wasn’t a fleeting comment about my hair or something on the surface. Truly, it had nothing to do with me, but with my beliefs and how I've chosen to live those beliefs out.
I believe kids who walk to school (with or without a parent) are better off: fresh air, some nature, social time together, exercise, gains independence, builds self-confidence and when they get to school they are more content to sit down because they've been walking. Not to mention the Vitamin D, social skills like saying Good Morning to neighbors, and the list goes on.
Sure, you have to wake up a little earlier but you’re talking to a gal who detests mornings, so if I can get into the habit of forcing myself out of bed a little earlier, than anybody can. The payoff is just too good. Not to mention the peace of mind it offers me when I'm running late or cannot drive a child to or from school. They know what to do—how to find their way home. Driving is stressful and any parent who has ever dropped off or picked up at school knowns what a cluster it can be. Stress. Beeping. Honking. Fender benders. Getting all kids—especially young ones—strapped in and sitting down. It’s a logistical pain.
Here’s the other thing that hit me, and this landed in the form of a metaphor: Wall Street vs Main Street. It’s something we’ve heard a lot about in the past several years. How do we measure success, the economy, etc? This felt like a Wall Street vs Main Street moment which, in my mind, is also a parallel to Social Media vs In-person Socializing.
Success on Wall Street and Social Media is measured in broad strokes. There are numbers, peaks and valleys, money to be made, master manipulation and plenty of dubious characters running both—encouraging and ignoring addictive behavior in favor of financial gain. It’s wholly impersonal. It’s extreme and volatile. It’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees when it comes to Wall Street and Social Media. There’s no time and no interest. Things move fast. Emotions are high.
Success on Main Street and In-person Socializing is measured one person at a time. There are people with faces and feelings. There is eye contact and imperfect conversations—awkward silences. There is humanity and the desire to connect, to form a relationship (whether that is the owner of a store or restaurant hoping to earn a loyal customer or a neighbor wanting to be friendly). People are nervous, bombastic, shy, rude and really funny. It’s wholly personal. It’s small and often a slow process—connecting with other human beings, especially strangers. It’s all trees in all their individual characteristics with squirrels and birds and various shaped leaves when it comes to Main Street and In-person Socializing. There’s the need to take time and take an interest. Things move slowly. Emotions are real.
Unfortunately we measure so much by how active we are on social media or how many followers and likes we have. I’m not on social media and have no plans to be anytime soon. I think it’s toxic to humanity. I think it’s the worst thing to has happened to our young people in so many generations—it’s a poisonous flower. It may look good and sell well in the shop, but it’s not something you want to bring home or let your kids touch. It’s a flower I could never sell with a clean conscience. So, I stay away. I encourage others to stay away, especially with so many better ways to spend time.
The feeling of satisfaction that meeting that young family offered me has not evaporated. It didn’t disappear with the next click. It felt so good and healthy and human that it prompted me to write—to tell you! Maybe, that mother won’t be the only one I’ll inspire to step outside and walk with kids or her decision to walk will inspire another family and another. Perhaps I can inspire you too to walk more, but also to reevaluate how you measure your success. Are there ways to live what you believe? Maybe there's one small habit you can form to reflect a passion of yours.
Not enough people are imploring us to ask ourselves: Is social media doing more harm than good in my life? Am I living my life on my own terms or by somebody else’s standards or rules that deeply contrast with mine in a way I can no longer ignore?
Let me tell you—you are inspiring someone right now. You may never meet them, but it is the human part of you that is the inspiration, so embrace that. Know that it doesn’t matter how it is received on social media. Connect with one person, maybe two, in-person and you’ll have a better sense of what is worthwhile. Less is, so often, more. Particularly when it comes to people. When it comes to words, I still have work to do in that department. I write a lot of words. I'll have to accept it as one of my flaws:)
Go take a walk without your phone, all alone—in the big wide real world.
See the forest for the trees. There are some amazing trees out there!!
The other day I was reading The Last Story of Mina Lee. And that got me to thinking—so much so that I wasn’t remembering the first half of a sentence by the time I got to the last half. The book is about a daughter who hadn’t seen her mother in a year. There were complicated feelings there. When one is not sure as to the categorization of such feelings, the word “complicated” sums it up. And so, I was reading. She went to visit her mother and found her dead, face down on the floor.
There ends a visit and begins a process. Grieving, yes. But, also the process that anybody who has ever lost a close loved one knows is unpleasant to say the least. Sorting through belongings. Wondering what they meant. Are they clues? Rallying help to move furniture and put it—where? Someone else must live there now. That life is over and all the messy bits tidied up and thrown away, given away, taken in as gifts from the departed, sold. The mind churns and we grasp for things. Why? What are we trying to solve? Are we trying to solve something? Sometimes we are—especially when the last days of the departed were spent alone and the person left in a way that seems anything but natural or straightforward.
What of the departed reflects the person no longer living? What reflects us—those left behind? Perhaps that is why so many are drawn to reading and viewing mysteries fictional or true. The word "searching" sticks out in my mind like a clue. And so, I wonder what we search for when a life has ended. What are we clinging to as we see the decline of health and therefore the ticking of the clock of time?
I think the answer is: Stories.
It feels like a natural instinct to demand a beginning, a middle and an end. We as humans seem to desire the rising and falling of an arc. Things need to make sense to us. So, we crave happy endings or justice or something that seems close to an appropriate reflection of how a story began. Were the decisions a person made good or bad? What influenced the journey now that we see where it ends? What do we hope to gain by knowing any of it---by possessing a certain artifact or document—some sort of tangible clue?
We need to digest the story because we feel it will inform our own story—the one we are writing right now with our body and our mind, our emotions and our actions. Archeologists are diggings for stories. Scientists are hoping to influence stories or discover them or predict them. Historians immerse themselves in nothing but stories. Faith is built from the foundation up, one story at a time—passed on one person, one page, one witness at a time. Math and the codes of technology are stories being told using a different language.
As I read The Last Story of Mina Lee I felt within myself a sudden urge to ask my own mother to tell us about herself. We’ve heard so many stories from her but have never written them down or recorded them. The details were sometimes hazy. The people’s names forgotten.
I picture my children with a microphone or a camera asking her questions that start from the inside and grow outward in a circle. Who is she? Her family growing up? Her parents, grandparents, siblings? Reaching back as far as her memory might go---seeing those stories in the water as they float around us. We in the boat lunge and pull the sopping wet stories out and up and into the boat—save them from sinking to the bottom of the sea never to be seen, at least not seen through that same lens, from that same angle and perspective.
What will we do with these stories once we’ve collected them? I don’t know, but I can feel the universe pulling me towards the work of saving stories, relating, understanding, witnessing humanity—together.
Spring in New England is like fishing--not that I fish all that often. But, I've done it before and I've watched Jaws. You cast the hook and hopefully something bites. Spring? You start to reel in. If it's a big strong spring you let the line out a bit. Let it run so you don't snap it. Then reel. Then run. Warm. Cold.
Finally, the fish.
Spring creates a conundrum for me. In or out. Dirt or paper. Where and with what should I work. Rain makes the decision easy. Sun makes it impossible. Some people go to the gym, but I go to the garden. I dig and pull roots and lug wheelbarrows and imagine color, snapping peas and figure out how to keep bunnies away.
Raised garden beds.
Chili pepper flakes.
Form is so fun. I think it's what draws me to the written word and to the garden. Interesting shapes and intriguing colors are the goal for both. It's art--all of it--in the end. If we could just admit that art is everywhere then we wouldn't be so hesitant to call ourselves artists: in the kitchen, the garden, the page, the clay--life.
You are an artist. Even if you can't admit it.
Embrace it. It's a good thing.
Now, go create!
In the repetitive days of a pandemic, there aren't too many surprises, but yesterday I got one. Writing in my journal--as I do each day--I flipped through the journal and discovered that the second half of the journal was made up of blank pages.
I flipped through three more times in mild disbelief and a bit bewildered, "What do I do with blank, unlined pages? I'm not an artist--not a visual one. Or, at least, I don't consider myself a visual artist. But, the the thing about the unexpected is that it often presents an opportunity. It goes a little somethin' like this:
How exciting during such a boring time of year. I think I'll start today. (I wrote this yesterday.) Bad art at its worst, but that's how a beginner begins in art, in music, walking, swimming, public speaking, parenting, styling hair, painting nails, cooking and doing life.
We almost always start poorly and try again, work toward improvement, learn and hopefully we end better than we began.
If we end worse off--time to try something else:)
I received this daily meditation booklet back in November. It has three months of one-page writings to contemplate. Today's passage felt too fitting to keep to myself so I thought I'd share. It feels like something for our country to consider at this pivotal moment in time. This is taken from Our Daily Bread Ministries booklet publication (Dec/Jan/Feb). The painting that serves as a backdrop to the small, but powerful, page was done by my small, but powerful, daughter Madeline:)
Confusion: Dark, orange cloud of chaos.
Confusion: Invisible, deadly cloud of coronavirus.
One powerful man, plus one powerful virus, equals
Life, liberty, love--
Destruction, disease, depression--
Only tears to make stone soup,
The stone sits and sinks—stews
waiting . . .
but nothing is added
doors remain locked, neighbors silent.
The bell’s toll proclaims profound need.
Ingredients hoarded, people hide behind the invisible cape of their keyboards,
flying and fighting.
Heroes of the ether—online, in their own minds.
Alone (in disguise) in reality.
But—reality is a memory,
Folklore, near-forgotten fable.
Confusion has replaced community.
Confusion has erased common sense.
Confusion is a blinding light
—manifestation of evil allowed to slither up and around—engulfing.
to speak or act or care—out loud and in person.
Surrendering to be swallowed, spit out . . . swallowed again.
Shuffling from one display of drama
to the next,
fearing the silence more than anything.
Resisting the feelings we ignore
denying reality at all costs—at every opportunity, after each tragedy.
We let the mind work its magic:
Hard edges soften.
Lessons dissolve unlearned, unintentional, unimportant.
Leaving the cycle to start again: same bed prepared, toxic seeds sown, take root and grow--
into more monsters, more mayhem, more of--
That menacing character continues to reinvent and take control,
while we revert to our time-honored history of hypocrisy and
our beloved bevy of distractions (they salivate and wait patiently).