There is wisdom in everything. Sometimes I have trouble seeing or feeling it and for me that means something is in the way. My ego. My hard-set beliefs. My fears. My reaction to chaos. My need to create drama. All of those can cloud my view of the wisdom in others, in situations, in elections. And in me. I’ve been digging deep lately while reading headlines and social media posts and while listening to sound bytes. Trying to stay connected to that inner wisdom. Trying to remain centered in my heart and grounded in clarity.
Today is my fourth birthday in my sixth decade, which is a convoluted way of turning 53. I’m loving my 50s. I couldn’t wait to join this club and with three years of it under my belt am officially declaring it my favorite decade to date. The 50s feel like a time when experience, wisdom and vision, come together with energy and drive in one powerful space.
Fifty years of living is respectable. You can claim to know a thing or two and speak with authority on occasion without anyone questioning you except my beloved 65-year-old friends whose advanced wisdom show me that I still have a long way to go. I actually love that idea that there’s still more depth of wisdom to garner. I get it. I thought I knew a thing or two at 30 and 40, and of course I did in a way, but I realize that I’m just now truly coming into a new, powerful layer of knowing. Sometimes that feels like intense, deeply-felt wisdom and sometimes it feels like I don’t know a damn thing. And I’m OK with both of those. It’s sort of my nature anyway to trust my intuition while suspending certainty, to live within the Shades of Grey courtesy of Billy Joel.
Some things were perfectly clear seen with the vision of youth
No doubts and nothing to fear, I claimed the corner on truth.
Now with the wisdom of years I try to reason things out
And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts.
Save us all from arrogant men, and all the causes they’re for
I won’t be righteous again
I’m not that sure anymore.
Shades of grey wherever I go
The more I find out, the less that I know.
It’s this wild vantage point being sort of in the middle of life. I can look back on 50 years and assess the powerful changes and patterns witnessed in myself and the collective AND I can look ahead to the next 50 with what feels like a clear, hopeful, realistic vision. My vision is one of connectedness and healing. And it’s a vision I feel like manifesting. My 50s have brought me renewed drive and energy to move into the world with this purpose. In fact, it’s all felt a little more urgent and exciting and the pace has picked up a bit because I now totally understand the concept that 50 years can feel like a lifetime and a split second simultaneously. It’s sort of a weird mind bend that can freak me out if I don’t just flow with it.
The pièce de résistance though of being in my 50s is that I care less and less about rules and conventions, expectations and outcomes. If I have something that feels like wise truth that needs to be written, I’ll write it. Something to express to someone – love, gratitude, a hard truth – I’ll express it. I can feel the worries about being too strange or forthright or loud or emotional sliding off of me in chunks like glaciers calving into the sea. Does every woman in their 50s feel this way? Men too? Should I start wearing purple with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me? Do you think that ensemble will clash with my blue hair? I hope so!
Dear Becky ~
Hang this art piece someplace you will easily see it every day. Stop and look at yourself in its mirror. Stay there until you’re done straightening your hair and checking your teeth and critiquing your skin. Go ahead. We all do it.
Then see the parts and pieces that make this creation – books, music, places and people you love. Read a line or two, look at the pictures, sing a verse. Whatever reaches out to you in the moment.
See Barry, your partner in life, who describes you as loving, beloved, a friend, accepting, strong, thoughtful and beautiful. See yourself as he sees you. As he loves you. “My sympathy – my better self – my good angel…I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.” (excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)
See your mom, beloved Ruth – remember her strong wit and sharp brilliant mind, reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel plus many more newspapers daily. See her keen interest in so many things throughout her 96 years, but especially in her family. In you.
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
“Youth shows but half; trust God: see all nor be afraid!”
(excerpt from Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning)
See your father, beloved Walt, a gentle soul with “a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside” enamored with you, embedding his love of literature in you as well as his commitment to service and youth. (excerpt from Tristam Shandy by Laurence Stern)
See North Lake, your beloved family home, embracing you and you it, serving you and you it. Offering a drink of strong, black coffee in its warm kitchen and at its neverending dining table, on its pier and pontoon, its hammock and comfy chairs. Providing, Loving, Remembering, Honoring – you and you it.
See DebbieandDavid – one word, one entity plus MollieGlennRobinLeo. Dog people filled with loyal, unconditional love for you.
See your boys and your girls-in-law – your three turned ten in a blink of an eye – gathered around you for a rare, still, photo moment. See your Katya and her beloved clan expanding those who dearly love you to reach the other side of the world.
See your grandkids intently, excitedly signing their names to you for this piece, cherishing your undivided attention and loving you easily in return.
See your O’Connor sisters with their animal prints that never go out of style. Laughing and loving you. Committed. Forever family.
See Hershey, your beloved Mexican friend, both of you treasuring your 45 years of sisterhood.
See Gail and Jim, friends with whom you travel through Boundary Waters and Snowy Woods, with whom you share promises of living full creative lives with social justice at its core.
See the gifts you’ve made – the care packages you’ve sent to nieces and nephews, the cherished clothing and costumes for grandkids, the hats and scarves for the rest of us. Connecting all with patterns of love, thread and yarn. Offering pieces of yourself in the giving. Feel our love and gratitude in return.
See your students climbing into your lap first and now climbing into their adulthoods, forever seeing you looking from waist up as beloved Mrs. O’Connor, that someone who came along as both a true friend and a great teacher. Their Charlotte.
And “Oh for the love of God”, please see your colleagues in teaching, in drama, in book fair – laughing to survive while emboldening others to grow. Hi, Fives to all of you!!
See your church, those served and those walked with in faith. “Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks and sing!” with the same gratitude you feel for their presence as they feel for yours.
See your love of traveling, your love of theater, your joyous love of music – your willingness to open to new cultures and see the beauty in the world. And be reminded that the amount of beauty we can witness and absorb is equal to what we know and carry within us.
See your love of literature. Its truths and tales that open you and ignite you to glow and be alive. “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” (excerpt from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)
Please listen to this. Quick! See! Don’t wait any longer!!
After you’ve read and admired and remembered all of these truths from all of your beloveds – when they’re solid in your heart and settled in your bones, when each cell swells and you feel full to the brim – look yourself straight in the eye and before you blink them closed even one more time, say,
“I. Am. Beloved.” Read More
This blog was initially written July 25, 2016. An addendum dated Sept. 21, 2016 follows.
Our thoughts and patterns and structures create our emotions and become reality.
I’ve known this truth for many years and repeatedly come back to it whenever I find myself in a place of fear, worry, anger and hopelessness. After reading headline upon headline in the past several weeks – gun violence, refugee crises, the escalating hatred and bigotry expressed during this election season – I could feeling myself swimming in those reactive thoughts and emotions once again. Thankfully I was snapped back to the truth by this image taken by Jonathon Bachman of Reuters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. More of his powerful photography can be found here on his website.
Stillness in chaos.
A different emotion and reaction, a different reality than the pervasive norm. A purposeful movement toward solid inner calm. I saw this image and I remembered that it is possible to react and learn and teach and elicit real change – to live – from this place of profound calm.
What was keeping me from this beautiful place of brave stillness? What thoughts was I carrying or sharing with the world that were contributing to the chaos? Fear of violence, worry for the lives of people I love, anger at those who choose to blame and discount, hopelessness that the fears and injustices are all too ingrained in us – ALL of us – for any change to occur and any efforts to be worth it. Limiting thoughts and emotions that serve no one.
What could I carry instead? Understanding of the structures and systems that are so much a part of my everyday that they aren’t always clear. Hope that we can make the enormous shifts needed to come together. Compassion for all – ALL of us – as we unravel our belief structures and reweave them in new ways with each other. “We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, peace activist and Buddhist monk.
So I have set about with an even deeper intention to continue shifting my thoughts, the building blocks of these, my intended emotions. For me, I am starting with understanding the structures and systems. This means seeing patterns, seeing history, understanding the whys. Educating myself outside of the means with which I’ve done so in the past because this learning requires a new brain and heart, an unfamiliar and uncomfortable curve, learning about biases and history to which I have always been empathetic, but have never personally known. Allowing the truths of others to become a part of my knowing so much so that I can speak and listen, both without judgment and with integrity, as well as with the ability to discern when to do which.
In the event you are interested in knowing what this purposeful learning has been and is for me – this intentional movement away from fear and toward calm action – here are a few of the things I’ve found helpful. I hope you share with me your own learnings and openings, as this is a modest beginning of a list.
- Te Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me. Beautiful, thick prose that I read and reread slowly to fully take in. Anytime someone tells their story so honestly, bringing me into their world, my heart opens to a new layer of understanding.
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I’m only on page 55, but am stunned at how little I know about America’s Great Migration – its whys and its impact on past and current events; the fears that created the injustices, both of which are so ingrained in all of us.
- White People Do’s and Don’ts Facebook group – You have to be accepted to this group as it is a safe place for discussion on ways to act in solidarity with People of Color. I have learned so much by reading (listening to) these posts – sometimes painful and angry, always informative. Something I more than likely would have shut out in the past in an effort to not offend, but realize now how critical it is to listen and allow and hear. It has given me much practice in the art of seeking profound calm in the middle of painful realities.
- Innumerable TED talks. Here is a great list that helped me a lot. Again, great practice in staying open to new thoughts, new truths from those who tell their stories, and allowing the emotion , discussions, and realities to shift as a result.
- Poetry speaks to me. If it speaks to you too, then you might like this list that SoulPancake provided a month ago or so. Also, this and this poem are powerful for me.
I will continue to add to this list as more resources flow in.
ADDENDUM – Sept 21, 2016
I wrote and posted a blog several weeks ago entitled ‘Stillness in Chaos’ – above. That title felt right at the time. However, I’ve experienced more learning in the time since, and witnessed so many more inequities and injustices in the form of police shootings and protest outrages. Because of this, I’ve pumped it back up to the top of my blog feed and renamed it – ‘Stillness in Action’. It’s still Stillness – of heart, of mind – a place of profound calm from which to move into the world. This place is good, yes? But leaving it at Chaos felt unfinished when I went back to it. It was missing Action. I alluded to it and felt pretty bold to put it out there in that moment, but now it doesn’t feel bold enough. And so, Take Two!
So what is this bold Action I feel we need to take? We have got to get this. We simply have to come together and heal this longstanding wrong. We have got to understand that we are all part of this chaos. Every single one of us. We have to stop denying and ignoring, judging and justifying, getting indignant and self righteous. We have to ward off complacency and the idea that this is ‘just how it is’.
People of Color (POC) are hurting here. Real people are hurting. And from their hurt arises anger and frustration and feeling scared and at a loss of what to do differently to change it in order to keep their children safe. Their children. My mother’s heart simply aches. My human heart is breaking with and for them. We are bound together in this – POC and non-POC. All of our hearts need to be hurting – together.
WE (primarily non-POC) need to help change this. The root of the word ‘responsibility’ is the ‘ability to respond’. We have that ability. We have that responsibility. We need to change ourselves so we can be present in a new way – get still and open and HONEST and aware so we can be part of the healing.
We need to be healers.
And so, some things I’ve recently come upon in my search to learn more and open wider are listed below. Maybe they’ll resonate with you (and by ‘resonate’ I don’t mean agree with or feel comfortable with, but rather that they make you feel something that upends your structures, your place in the world. That’s when you know you’re into the good stuff that will shift things, enable you to heal, embolden you to take action – speak up, share, listen. And through it all – keep your heart open.)
- Let’s start with the mothers. Google ‘The Mothers of the Movement and see where it takes you. Learn about these women who lost their children to gun violence and have now come together in their profound grief to open our hearts and bring us along on their now-teaching path. Here’s a start: https://www.google.com/webhp…
- Shaun King is the senior justice writer for the NY Daily News and a prominent voice in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. His FB page is filled with truths, stories, opinions, ideas. Some may make you uncomfortable. This is good. That’s when you know you’ve hit the sweet spot in learning. You can Like his page or sign up for his newsletter right from it.https://www.facebook.com/shaunking/
- There are a lot of articles, videos, posts that explain the intention of Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest of the National Anthem. I suggest reading through them with the intent of just trying to understand another human’s experience, another angle or perspective on something you feel you already have a good, solid understanding of. You can ultimately keep your own perspective and opinion, but open to another experience. This is just one to get started: http://ftw.usatoday.com/…/colin-kaepernick-racism-social-in…
- Glennon Doyle Melton is an author and speaker, active in social justice with a focus on supporting the world’s children through Together Rising. She wrote this blog a year ago that I thought was super helpful in understanding how we can be kind and loving individuals and still be prejudiced, thus contributing to the chaos rather than healing it. I honestly used to think I couldn’t be both and so defaulted to the ‘kind, loving’ part and ignored the ‘prejudiced’. “When we know better, we do better.”~Maya Angelou
- At the end of her blog, she recommends a book called Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria. It’s been on my ‘next to read’ list for awhile. If you’re going to read it, let me know. We can talk about it.https://smile.amazon.com/Black-Kids-Sitting-T…/…/ref=sr_1_1…
- I’m still working my way through The Warmth of Other Suns – also strongly recommended (and possibly should be required reading.) I’m usually a speedy reader, but this one is full of info that is making my mind explode and readjust what is my center of knowing. Again, if you’re reading it, let’s talk. https://smile.amazon.com/Warmth-Other-Suns-Am…/…/ref=sr_1_1…
There are more resources listed in my blog and even more on Facebook and at the library. The internet is an amazing web of connections. One resource quite literally leads to another. Take that winding path for awhile and see what you find. Then share it with me here and tell your friends to read it and then go find more.
We’re not done walking this learning, healing path until POC say we are. Period.
[This writing is no doubt riddled with missteps and all sorts of things I’ll cringe at when I learn more, but for now, I’m taking the chance that speaking up awkwardly and emotionally from my wide open heart is better than waiting until it’s all perfect. There’s learning in the action. Thanks for understanding and please let me know what I’ve done wrong or worded incorrectly so I can get clear and correct it.]
The Journey, by Mary Oliver – a biggie for me. Resonates deeply. Every day is a new start – a new facing off with the voices that shout their bad advice. I feel myself addressing those voices – thanking some for their past service, asking others to get the hell out and don’t come back, directing still others to go sit on the couch and take a nap for the afternoon. A conscious choice to move into a different flow with my own truest voice on the bullhorn. I’ve learned to recognize this true voice and keep it close and alive and flowing and welcomed. Determined to save it!
The video is Mary reading her poem aloud. Here is the text:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
So I had a lot of time in the car last week making my trek up to Wisconsin to see my mama. This means that after I belted out a few of my favorite tunes, I hunkered down for some podcasts. My fav these days is Magic Lessons, courtesy of one of the authors on my shortlist of “people I’d love to have a beer with someday” – Elizabeth Gilbert.
She has a new season of podcasts, but I had to finish up season one in which she interviewed another awesome storyteller – Brené Brown.
So here’s why I loved this episode. You know that saying, ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ Good one, yes? Gets the dreaming self fired up. But here’s the twist from Brene…
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO FAIL? What would you still pour your love and creative juice into even though you don’t know the outcome and it could be bad. Really bad.
Without missing a beat I thought, ‘I’d write my story.’ Which I’m actually doing. Actively. Daily. But sort of always with that little niggle of wondering if it will work and be accepted and read and successful and make any money and bring any opportunities and…
But truth be told…if I’m really honest…yeah, I’d like a little kickback from it all, but that’s not the point. The truth is that it’s gotta be out there regardless of outcome. My gut will literally not rest for an eternity if I don’t do it. It’s consuming me 24/7 – while I write at my little attic desk, but also while I walk the dog and sleep and talk with my friends and binge watch Arrested Development…24/7. And if I miss more than a day of bringing it together, I feel ‘off’ and sick and crabby and a little lost.
So…let go of outcome. Let go of fail or not fail. And so all of those wonderings and niggles and worries are just sitting next to me at my desk now, but they’re not writing with me anymore. They’re just hanging out tapping me on the arm every now and again and I’m shrugging them back to their spot. Not now.
Because why do we do anything creative that comes from our gut organically? Why am I getting gritty and sharing this story with the world? Why jump off the ledge into the abyss of the next creative endeavor?
“DO IT FOR THE AIR TIME. NOT TO STICK THE LANDING.” ~ Brene Brown
My hang gliding images abound. The views are amazing!!! Onward!
Thanks to both of them. Gosh, we were pals in the car. I hope they felt the love and laughter from my end!
You can find the episode to which I’m referring by visiting this link and choosing Season 1, Episode 12 from July 25, 2016 – Brene Brown on Big Strong Magic.
Man, did we have a good time! Partly because it’s D.C. and there’s so much to do, partly because of the wonderful company and partly because my nephew-in-law, Josh, scored us some special tours because he was in his last week as an intern in the Office of the First Lady helping with the Let’s Move campaign. (He’s kind of a big deal.) Here are the highlights including a few Instagram/Facebook posts during our trip with extra photos added in for this blog. (OK, so I just finished this blog and am now back up here with a warning that it got a little long. Keep in mind that we were there a long time and these travel blogs are mostly for me so I can have some sort of reference down the road when I need reminders of where I’ve been when and with whom. Onward.)
First, our rented apartment in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood just north of the city, conveniently located on Bus 42’s path. Never mind that on day 1 we were on the wrong side of the street waiting for Bus 42. Note to self: When your sister keeps saying “Why does it feel like we should be going the other direction to head downtown?”, you should listen. We’re not proud. We asked a local gal on her morning run which direction to the White House and then promptly crossed the street hysterically laughing. Our kids would have been mortified. Too bad they weren’t there since we would have relished that bit. Anyway, here’s the apartment. Oh yeah, third floor, no elevator.
A few familiar D.C. stops were sprinkled in throughout the week. The Library of Congress – no pics, but impressive and overwhelming. The Supreme Court building where we were able to sit in the justices’ chamber. Unfortunately they were on break so we couldn’t do any fan-girling over RBG, Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan. Also, capturing a point in history here…only eight chairs. (C’mon, Senators!!)
We ducked into the Senate Building as we wandered by and, even though they were on recess, we got a couple shots by two favs.
The hundreds of thousands of tombstones in Arlington are sobering and heart wrenching and even those descriptors feel inadequate. We were visiting during the wake of the profane comments of our current Republican presidential nominee directed at Captain Khan’s parents and thus felt the need to honor him with some sacred appreciation. We weren’t the only ones.
“There are a lot of roads to get where you’re going.” My nephew, Sam, said it was both humbling and relieving to witness this truth in his fellow interns during a 2013 summer internship in the office of Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States. Three of those interns are now lifelong friends of Sam’s. Blaine hails from Weatherford, Oklahoma; Christina from Clearwater, Florida; Brian from Annapolis, Maryland; and Sam from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their diverse paths brought them together for a few powerful months to learn the true meaning of civic engagement and then catapulted each of these leaders into an exploration of their personal paths to passionate community service.
The design of this art piece captures that sentiment. The four road maps start in each corner and converge and overlap in the center at the photo of the four of them at the gates of the White House. The yellow center lines are straight and direct leading to that center and then wind and twist around and through each section as their experiences did the same.
Those maps veer off and encircle four quadrants which depict the four main nuggets of wisdom that Sam garnered over the course of that summer – focus, sacrifice, fun and empathy – lessons learned and values deepened via his experiences, meeting other remarkable folks and remaining open and willing. Read More