Pictures and a Story on The Way to Jury Duty in L.A.
by Jane Tawel
June 8, 2022
I walked this route from Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles each morning to the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. One morning I saw a thin, rather frantic young woman who had parked her shopping cart of belongings against the railings that are the only things protecting walkers from falling into the mass of cars on the freeway. She had a small bucket of red paint and she was painting something on the sidewalk. The next morning I found she had painted a love letter to some one named Amgtriky. I wondered what she had written but then covered over with a big red square. “I Love you Amgtriky you are my world.” I hope Amgtriky got the message and hope the frantic young woman gets the love she craves enough to risk arrest for defacing public property. Aren’t we all, in one way or another, trying to get our message out to the ones we call “our world”? Aren’t we all just living with our big red letters sloppily painted wherever we go in our hope that someone will answer back that we too are someone’s world?
Taking the metro about an hour each morning and evening was an experience in itself. Union Station is a truly beautiful architectural gem, both inside and out.
One morning I was going to stop at the restroom in Union Station before making my fifteen minute walk to the courthouse. The restroom was unavailable and there were about five or six cops and a couple station security guards swarming around the entrance to the women’s room. I never knew why but I found the paradox of what is shown in this picture quite a succinct comment on modern life. Outside the restroom is a “Lactation Pod” next to someone’s entire earthly belongings, carried around on a makeshift cart because they have no home. I wondered since the lactation pod didn’t seem to be all that practical or often used, if maybe we could give all the lactation pods to all the people who don’t have a home? We could call them “Humanity Matters Pods”.
At lunch I would, for a brief hour, escape the horrible weight of being a judge of someone else’s life and a carrier of a lot of people’s pain, and I would eat my little cheese sandwich and apple in this park that sits in the middle of all the justice halls that a big city like Los Angeles needs. This playground was unavailable and yellow-taped off. I don’t know why but there weren’t many children around at that time of day anyway. I found myself singing to myself Cat Steven’s metaphoric and prescient tune, “Where Do the Children Play”.
During my lunch hour, the thing that always restored my joy was a group of men who played a pick-up soccer game in the park. They were also enjoying freedom from whatever jobs or lack of jobs they might have had to go back to. I imagined some of them may have been the police or public defenders or D.A.s who had a bit of anonymity and a bit of fun in otherwise hard, stressful days. I had a lot of respect for not just the people who make our American legal system still what has to be one of the best things about America and our wanna-be democracy, but for all the people I met in Los Angeles. I got lost my first day and I was a bit over-the-top freaked out about it and yet so many people would stop on the street and help me reorient or calm down or figure out where I needed to go (I got lost quite a few times). Strangers can be so very kind, even in a big city like L.A. and it made me hopeful to know that as Anne Frank said, “people are really good at heart” — or they want to be, if we maybe just let ourselves ask for help. It gave me such hope for the human race, that even though I didn’t get to see children playing in the park because the playground was shut down, I got to see grown men playing in the park each day, and as long as grown adults can still play, maybe we can all somehow stop all this ridiculous violence and sorrow.
Every evening, on the way to the metro at Union Station, I walked past homeless encampments. Every unhoused person I talked to was very nice, although there were a couple of them now and then who had just “lost it” and I guess I would be crazy loco if no one loved me enough, here in the richest nation on earth, to at least give me a roof over my head and maybe some meds I might need and some daily bread, I mean, food. I often saw the saints of the world out on the streets, like the mobile shower people who park their vans near the encampments so the homeless can take a shower and feel at least a little more human. Each day the metro took me past the Homeboys Industry Home and I saw a lot of care given to homeless folks by strangers and city cops and security guards. I think it’s time we took all the guns and bombs and weapons in the world (or at least in our nation) and turned them into homes.
Going downtown by myself every day and serving on a jury, felt like a very brave thing for little old, stuck in the mud me to do because I am pretty well sunk-in to my careful little, often anxious but small risk suburban life. I ended up feeling both much older and quite a bit younger and also hopeful that my life wasn’t really all that set yet, and I could still live a more helpful, kind, — adventurous — and useful,caring life. I realized it is now time to find a practical way to give more to people who need another pair of hands to help them out. I have been volunteering from a distance, literally during the Covid pandemic years, but always a bit distanced metaphorically in how I choose to care for the stranger, the orphan, the homeless, the prisoner,or the hurting. But during my two weeks of Jury Duty I had been forced to be “present”. Each morning when the court clerk would call my number and I answered “present”, was like a vision of a future where the Great Judge of All calls the roll call. I want to start waking up each day, and be able to say, “I’m present. I’m ready. What is it that The Universal Good would have me, little old me, do for someone else today?” Because you know what — most of the good that gets done in this world is being done by “little old me’s”. And seeing all the “little old me’s” of Los Angeles made me realize that if anyone is looking for Christ, or looking for Jesus to return, I can tell them where to find him — he is in the City of Los Angeles, in the homeless camps and prisons and court houses and parks and sidewalks. All we have to do is look for Christ and we will find that Christ is here because Christ is waiting to be us.
And I realized, although I didn’t want to do it, that Jury Duty had been a sobering, emotionally and spiritually exhausting gift from God. After seeing the world that lets a young man join a gang because he doesn’t have any real family to help him grow up strong and valued and loved, or a world where someone gets shot by a gun while going to the grocery because we have become so greedy and stupid that we worship guns instead of life, or a world that walks past people without homes while other people fly into space on their chump-change, or a world that has been so very, very gracious to me, such a lucky world for me to be born and raised and survive in, while other people get the short end of the whole deal, after seeing a world where bad decisions became a life of no return, and good decisions can get you in trouble or killed, and where everyone is seeking the same things but some people just have the odds stacked against them and no one is around to help them find their way–help them find The Way; in world where every one is throwing their red paint around hoping that someone believes in them and loves them enough to say, “You are my world” — in this time and place that I happen to find myself in, I realized I need some skin in the game. Because this game? This game of life can’t be played from the sidelines.
Every day I got to come home to a home and a family that loves me and feels loved and where I have more than enough food and clothes and places to keep my stuff. I got to come home to a garden, and not just any garden, but a garden my daughter had made for me to enjoy. I got to come home to roses and I could avoid the thorns or get a band aide if I pricked my finger on a thorn. I thought about the defendant in the trial who would have many years where he would never see a garden, let alone tend one. I thought about the families of the victims who would never have their son or daughter make them something beautiful, like my daughter made my garden for me. I thought about the homeless folks who didn’t have any where but a cold or hot sidewalk to lay their heads at night. I thought about the judges and detectives and cops and prosecutors and defense attorneys and courthouse guards who every day go back into the world hoping for justice and also, I hope, praying not to get so jaded or worn down that they give up caring. And after my journey in the City of Los Angeles, I am still asking to know a better answer to the question, “How Shall I Then Live?”
When I was about ten or eleven, my mom moved her four kids to Monmouth, Illinois to be near our dad who had left us but we didn’t know it yet. And as I often say to Raoul, this could have been the beginning of my being a heroin addict or a serial killer, but instead I went into acting. Going into theater by way of getting an MFA, is the most expensive kind of psychotherapy a girl can get and it was worth every penny because today I am an ex-English teacher slash secretary slash waitress looking forward to someday having monthly Social Security checks in the high two figures. But then, I got to be a mom for a couple of decades, which is the hardest greatest best paid job in the world, so … Meh! to my dreams of sitting on the Tonight Show riffing about my latest accomplishments. Which brings me to the point – accomplishments.
This past week Raoul and I got to puppy-sit our only grandpuppy, Beni. Grand-paw and I have several adorable grand-cats but only one grandpuppy. And while this Grandmeow loves all her grandcritters equally, Grandpaw Raoul has fallen head-over-tails in love with Beni. Look at that face and you can see why we both are rather smitten (exhausted but smitten). And let me tell you something beneficial about loving one of God’s critters as opposed to loving one of God’s children. Loving an animal, especially a pet, especially a cute but naughty, tear-up-your-slippers, accident-on-the-floor, wake-you-at-an-unholy-hour, nip-at-your-calves little beastie –being in a relationship with a critter is a giant wake-up call to what I think God and Jesus and all other spiritually minded Beings mean when they try to teach us about “heaven on earth”. The reasons are many but here are a few I woke up to this morning, as my old girl Daisy and I adjusted to Beni being back home with his Mommy.
Why Animals “Get” Heaven on Earth More than People “Get” It:
Animals are very forgiving. They don’t spend any time at all stewing over past spankings or harsh words. They encourage their humans to do the same. If you are going to have an animal in your life, get ready to find forgiveness easy, which can be unsettling, because we really should find forgiveness and asking forgiveness much more easy with the people in our lives –like we do with our pets.
Many animals, but especially the dogs I have observed love everything that you share with them and that they can share with you. They love life. Everything is always new to a dog because it is a new moment to experience it. Same walk? “Let’s explore!” Bad smell, good smell, pee smell, food smell – “Mmmmgrrrr, I Love It!” The Mailman is at the door again– “ Who are you? WOOF! WOOF! Heeeelllllloooooooo!” Same ball thrown for the five-millionth time? – “This is so much fun! Here I brought it back to you, Mommy. Want to play tug-of-war again? Okay, throw it again! Isn’t this fun!!! Do it again! Again! Again!” Oh, if I could love living life in just this moment, like a dog does. That alone would bring me a heaven to earth.
Animals have a sure, secure, and content sense of who they are without having any ego at all. Name one animal you have met with an inflated sense of ego? (Well, okay, cats. Let’s just say, cats have an ego, but can we really say it is an inflated ego? I mean, maybe when kitty gives you that look, they really are trying to communicate to you: “Oh, foolish human, do you not yet recognize a goddess when you see one?”)
But back to the sense of self of animals (probably sans kitties).
On the flip side of animals having no egos, name one beast you have met that isn’t completely content and at peace with being who they are. It doesn’t matter one bit to your chihuahua that his isn’t as big as the Great Dane’s or to the alley cat on your street that the Siamese in the mansion has a more expensive fur on than hers. Animals exist in the absolute center of what psychologists and spiritual people call the “True Self”, not the “False Self”. And one thing I noticed about Raoul and I during our pup-sitting week, we became more our True Selves – more loving, more giving, but also more needing and more accepting – of the love we each shared together and individually with our grand-puppy. Granted, we would not sustain this if we had him for years instead of a week, and I know this because we have had dogs our whole family life and sustaining the kind of love we had with Beni this week is an impossibility, which brings me back to Thank God! our pets are so forgiving. Living in the kind of world we think of as a perfect world is hard work, just like taking care of a pet, but it is the kind of hard work whose greatest and perhaps only accomplishment is a loving relationship where I know myself as I am and accept you as someone you are and we both are at peace with who we are while also trying to be better together. If we took care of other humans as well as we do our pets, what a heaven on earth this would be. Maybe for a while we should think of The Golden Rule as saying, “Do unto others as you would have your pets do unto you.”
Finally (for today’s revelations) Animals help us think differently about Time. We didn’t “accomplish” much with Beni around, at least not as much as we could have if he weren’t around and that was wonderful –because we were with Beni –and today we will get to go back to accomplishing more and it will be a bit sad and depressing, and lonely and not as meaningful – because we aren’t with Beni.
And when I look at my life, so many of the truly meaningful parts were when I wasn’t really accomplishing all that much. I never did accomplish a great acting career, and yet, my theatre teachers, and my experiences when I was acting, were some of the critical ones that shaped and defined me in ways I am still unpacking.
And my memories of my children growing up? I don’t treasure all the things I “helped” them accomplish or the things we accomplished together, or the trophies or awards they got, nearly as much as I treasure the times we snuggled in the Big Bed reading or singing or just snuggling. Or the times I sat in the yard or by the pool and just listened to them play. Or talks around festival tables. Or traditions we shared. Or bike rides or walking dogs and picking up fallen leaves or pretty stones or shells on the beach. Or the times we splashed in mud puddles or laughed at silly jokes or took pre-technology-kid-coma-inducing long car trips, or….. we just were us together, accomplishing nothing. Nothing but relationship.
So my mom took us to Monmouth, Illinois to accomplish something with my dad, but it didn’t. It was always a great sorrow to her, which I only understood much later. You know, my mom passed this summer – I keep waking up or being startled at odd times during the day to realize that all over again – she is gone. wow. If you have someone in your life that you deeply loved that died, this year or fifty years ago, you know what I mean. Time changes forever when that person you loved so much is no longer in the same Time-plane that you are. I don’t know what Time-plane my mom is in now, or what any of my departed loved ones live in now that is a kind of “Heaven-Time”, but I think they must be in something like an Eternal Puppy Time; a Pet-Time when there is nothing more important to accomplish than loving everyone and everything around you. And smelling stuff. And snuggling.
When someone you love leaves, like Beni left us last night temporarily, and my mom left us this summer, less temporarily; then you realize that it sure didn’t always feel like heaven on earth when you were with them, but that you can, if you try, hang on to the heaven on earth moments that happen in all true relationships and in all True Selves. Because it was really heaven on earth when they were with you because heaven is just another word for Love—the kind of love that loves others with a sense that renewal and newness are in our power to create together, with enjoyment in doing the same things over and over, with the kind of love that forgives and asks to be forgiven knowing that soon you will both forget the bad thing ever even happened. Heaven on earth is simply loving what you are, not what you can do, and loving relationships more than accomplishments.
Heavenly love is the earthiest kind of love there is because we are all just critters of this amazing, wonderful Earth, full of smells and accidents to be cleaned up, and sounds, and the same people who can get on your last nerve but keep showing up, and an Earth rooted deep in Time and yet ever expanding, expanding just enough to keep holding on to each other and also allowing each other to run. We are all part of the Earth, revolving into days and nights and if we try hard enough to stop trying, part of the great DNA Dance of All Living Things, things and humans and beasts that can for a little while – maybe even a week — lose track of Time completely because we are caring for a puppy and we are in love and because of someone else, we are loving life so much that heaven is on earth.
Living like you are worthy of living in heaven forever is really just living like you are the most special person to the most special pet you have ever known. One of my husband’s favorite songs when he was growing up was one that Donny Osmond sang and the famous refrain was, “And they call it puppy love”.
Find your “puppy love” today, whether it is in an actual doggie pet, or kitty-goddess, or human man-child, or needy friend, or that other-you that needs you to love her today. Go into the world looking for the messes you can clean-up and the forgivness you can offer. Apologize for your wrongs to others as if you just kicked the dog who wasn’t doing anything other than being herself. Sniff things, and touch things, and enjoy your feed even if it is the same chow you had every day this week. Look into the eyes of the people you care about and let them know you need them and that also you are there for them when they need you. Take a nap when you are tired and don’t feel guilty about. Take a walk. Take lots of walks. And if love is something you are desperate for, like it was for my mom when she moved to try to find love with my father, but only finally found when she had grandchildren — if you want love — then don’t hang your tail and let your ears droop and give up. Never grow weary as you keep chasing and fetching and bringing love back to lay at the feet of Love. Just keep doing it. Just keep loving and asking for love. Keep the ball in play and you will find heaven on earth. Again, and again, and again.
A long, long time ago and only yesterday, the materials for making my little life’s boat, were gathered in secret by the DNA of my Scottish, Irish, American Indian ancestors. But the real craft, the trued and tried boat itself, was crafted by the Great Crafter in the secrets that stretch back to the Beginning and stretch forward to the End of Time which never is. Like all carrying agents, large and small, puny and mighty, all that sail on this Ocean we call Life, or The World, my boat is unique and also it is exactly like every other little boat as well. My little boat, so small compared to others, yet just as specially made, will sail, in spurts and starts, or travel full-steam ahead, and go and go until the boat is moored someday as it was meant to be in the Eternal or until it crashes on the rocky shores of Ego or Despair. This is the truth about all sailing crafts, though many never know it because we either tie our boats up on shore, or we create a false shore in the water. But all true Truths try to teach us that our boats were made for motion in the ocean.
I am a little sailboat, who has long had the need for The Wind in my sails. I am lucky that quite early, I was taught what sails are for and what they are not for. I was as unlucky as many when my sails were brutally torn or holes were punched in the hull, the very soul of my ship. But I was not as unlucky as many, and I have managed. So, I have rebuilt my little boat many times with the help of others and that thing that true sailors call luck and that saints call grace. I have kept my faith in The Wind, which no one can control, and yet it exists. I have often sailed in the right direction with the North Star and Morning Star as guides. I have often sailed in the wrong direction and lost my way. Mostly though, I regret to confess, I have mistaken a mirage of my safety while moored to the dock for what I was meant to live as life on a boat.
There are many great ships that have sailed The Ocean, and sail it still, mighty and amazing in their superiority to most of our little folks’ small crafts. There are great ships with names like Caesar, or Pharaoh, or Titan of Industry, and many of these boats become enormous, powerfully engine-ed ships, making their way through The Ocean without need of The Wind, barely feeling the waves, never fearing the storms, and barely knowing they are moving at all, more like stagnant cities in the water than moving vessels. They put aside their sails and have no more need of The Wind. They take what they need from the Lands they conquer and leave behind. They take oil and slaves and buy more life vests than they could ever use; they sail their gigantic boats, boats that could house whole nations but only have enough room for one’s self. These have stopped being boats at all, and we look at those ships and we all want to have one of those ships, too. We want to be safe and saved and unafraid with everything we will ever need forever and ever, amen. And we look at our little tiny battered, torn-sailed little boats and we hate them and we hate us and we want to be them, the big safe ships. We look at the great steady cruisers and we long to have no need of The Wind; and we yearn to be in the Ocean but to control the way the Ocean takes us, like the great shipbuilders seem to do. And we forget that we are all created to be working sailors, not passengers. And we ignore what our heart tries to tell us, that even those with the biggest ships, will one day too find that The Ocean is bigger than they are. Perhaps when The Wind has wrecked the big ships upon the shoals of shallowness, or the sandbars of Eternal Truths, they too will long to once more sail a little boat.
Perhaps we will all, large and small, no matter how safe or how broken we think our boats are, someday find that The Ocean sends us an unlooked for buoy or a suddenly appearing piece of the Mast’s Wood; and we will each have one more chance to leave shore, and grab on to what The Ocean provides, and we will once more, like children, relearn a love of sending our little crafts out into The Ocean.
My boat’s sails have been tattered and torn so many times. I was not born a good sailor, and perhaps that has saved me. I have had to rely on The Wind’s benevolent appearing and disappearing, on the Ocean’s grace in storms and dead calm. I have had to depend on the help of fellow travelers who sailed alongside me, sometimes just keeping me company in the loneliness of Ocean life, sometimes teaching me something vital about how to sail, sometimes showing me what not to do by their own foolish choices at sea, sometimes sharing a compass that helped me navigate. And sometimes there have been those fellow sailors who, with great love, have helped me pick up the pieces of my little boat that I had allowed to break apart when I hit some shoals, or had left to rot in dock. And every once in a while, there was no one to help me, but only Someone to whisper across the waves:
“Fear not. Be still. Have faith. And know what you think you do not know. Don’t look at the waves. Keep your eyes on Me.”
I would like to say that I have been sailing The Ocean for six decades now, but I have mostly left my little boat docked uselessly in port. I kept thinking I was safer on shore, tied up to the Pier, with those I thought were peers and I felt already the salvation of knowledge of the things I had read about on “How to Sail” without ever needing to do the things it takes to set sail. I could tell you how to sail, but I rarely have experienced the thrill and dangers of sailing. So, I have spent a lifetime mostly feeling I should be happy that I had a little boat but never really knowing the purpose of my boat or why life seemed mostly rudderless and my sails sagged depressedly, longing for A Wind I would never risk meeting head-on. I have mostly lived by peering out, rather than journeying out. I have stayed on shore with all the best charts and maps but rarely finding the courage to launch my craft again and again, failure after failure, frightening success after frightening success, prophetically, mysteriously, in weakness and in strength, in death first and then life, baptized again and again by misadventure and death at Sea, and by setting my course, going into the Deeps, into the Pontus, into the waves left by The Wake of He who first Crafted and Who crafted the Sailor in me.
Last night there was a Red Sky and so I awoke today hoping for a sailor’s delight. But this morning the sky is still red- Warning! Warning! This morning the Ocean is covered over by Heavens which are a shade of red, red the color of shed blood; blood like the blood from two huge hands mangled by the nails of working His Boat and sailing The Ocean like no One has ever sailed it before or since, though we who know are supposed to have tried. And I am afraid. And I am uncertain I even know which direction to go. And The Great Sailor and all those before me who have managed to sail in His Wake are calling me to set out, while the sirens of safety in the numbers docked on shore make more and more knots in the ropes that tie me down.
What will my story’s end be? People call that a legacy, but most of us just leave with an unfinished story. I will not be leaving a beautiful houseboat, or massive warship, or richly outfitted yacht behind for those who carry on in The Ocean, those few who sailed close enough to my little craft to say, “I knew her” “My boat sailed for a time with hers” “I saw her boat on the shore”. I will have no lasting control over what becomes of those who carry on my boat’s DNA or those who may have learned something about their own boats by the teachings I have done or failed to do on “How to Sail”. But one thing I am learning. If I leave my little boat safely moored to this shore; if I am tethered to the sandbars of cares and needs and self and greeds; if I keep setting sail only to turn back again to dock my fears and doubts and insecurities and failings, instead of facing them head on, sailing into The Wind; if I do not daily, moment by moment, cure and polish and then test the seaworthiness of my little boat, I will never actually be in the boat. I will spend my Time, looking at my boat from outside of it. I will spend my Life, looking at my Life, from outside of it. If do not let the Winds fill its sails, my boat will never be what it was crafted to be. If I don’t let The Wind fill me, I will never be what I was Crafted to Truly Be.
A boat that is moored to the cares of the shore, can’t leave a wake. A boat leaves a wake when it is moving through The Ocean. We are each uniquely created by The Great Ship-Crafter to live life in the Ocean. We are given the ability to calm the waves and quell the storms, if we only have enough faith to start sailing, and once we start, to not look back at the sirens, and not look ahead at things that are mere mirages, but to point our little boats Due North, and let The Wind sail us towards what we were meant to call “Home”. Because if you are sailing The Ocean, one day you will wake up and realize that all along, you have been carrying your true home with you. Your little life’s boat has always been your Home.
Despite what any of us try to tell ourselves, none of us has ever seen the Far Shore from this shore. It is only when we are in The Ocean, that we understand that we were neither created to stay safely on this shore, nor were we created to try to reach the other Shore. We were created to row as hard as we need, to crew alongside those who sail within our latitudes and longitudes, to drift when we can’t feel The Wind and wait for Her to fill us again, to float and enjoy the beauty that is above us, below us, and all around us as we travel; to navigate with both honest fear and wise courage, and above all to be at Home when we Move and keep Moving within in and upon The Great Ocean.
What will I leave in the wake of my life? I pray that the flotsam and jetsam of my poorer decisions and weaknesses in sailing, will be carried away by The Great Ocean’s grace. I pray that my wake will leave a clearer sense of direction for those who sail behind me. I pray that there will be a small wake from my life’s little boat; a wake that leads others Due North, a wake that I leave when my boat is no longer seen by any but those on the Far Shore. I pray that above all, my wake will send waves to both near and far shores that swoosh with something that sounds faintly like something The Ocean would breathe, something like a person who had dipped her hands into the water and made small little circles of waves, something that sounds like what water would sound like if it were breathing in and out, ebbing and flowing. I hope that I will set sail enough times that my life-boat will leave a small little wake that sends waves gently lapping towards the world’s shores, and the children’s little life boats; a sound of waves in my wake that whispers something like this:
Shhhheeeeeee loooooved. Sheeeeeee whoosshhhh, llllllloved whiiiisssssh. She loved. She loved. She loves. She loves. Love….. Love……Love……..
One Thousand and One Things I Should Be Doing to Make My Life More Meaningful
(But For Now, Here are Five)
By Jane Tawel
March 31, 2021
Now that I am of an age, there are regrets, of course about wasted time and wasted energy, wasted dreams, and wasted relationships. But of course, looking back on regrets is worthless if I can not use them to make myself, or at least just my day better. With hope and a bit of luck, maybe I can even make my “Tomorrow Me” much better. You know the one I’m talking about; that Person that Tomorrow will be all those things She is meant to be.
Yep — hope springs eternal that with a little elbow grease and grace there may be within my life a confluence of context; a critical combination of conveyances to convey more meaning to my existential essence. Ah, that “thing with feathers”, that beats within, giving meaning even to the falling of a sparrow or the timely chirp of a chirpy-bird, that excruciatingly human attitude we call, “hope” shows up “asking nothing at all” but to remind me that The Greatest Meaning of All has created my being to seek and live out and unto others, a life of meaning.
Of course, maybe you are not like I am, always wanting to add more, je ne sais quoi? Maybe you are a girl who just wants to have fun*, or a just an ordinary average guy* (*song allusions intentional). But I am that “sort” — one of the ones who desire more sense, connotation and denotation, elucidation, substance, significance, more purport and implication. As Francois Rabelais might say, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”.
I think when you get to be my age, you want to find more meaning than you are used to because maybe you are more sorta kinda okay with the uncomfortable pauses and the untidy questions. That seems silly maybe? Maybe it is the young who are truly seeking, searching, defying, rebelling, hating, loving, and jumping into life to find true meaning, big meaning, small meanings, ultimate meaning, and just the meaning of choosing to make sustainably-grown-coffee-at-home meaning. I don’t know but I fear the young ones have been led astray that finding meaning is a waste of time if it takes them away from working towards success. I hope I’m wrong.
I fear the young ones, my own dear adulting children included, are a little afraid of using the best time of their lives wisely, not by being smart, but by being curious. I know I didn’t know how important that was when energy was in excess. And that word “use”– goodness what a horrible word “use” can be. I talk about how we “use” time but that is the Great Lie, the fallacy perpetrated by bosses and kings and a chimera of meaninglessness, followed like a mirage, like a Pied Piper — just up ahead — almost there –keep marching — one-two, one-two, one-two –struggling on scraped and banged up hands and knees towards an idea of Time we never reach. Meanwhile all there is to be seen on the road, all the glory that hides in bushes in weeds along The Way, that we speed by or plan to come back to someday, is ignored. But as Robert Frost reminds us, whatever road we take, whether the one less taken or the one equally fair, we can’t keep the time we spend for another day.
Time is not useful. Time is the dream. Time is not to be pulled and pushed like putty, nor molded like play-dough, soon to be flattened and reshaped in a new Monday, a new Tuesday, a new Wednesday and on and on and on. No, Time is to be coddled like the new-born infant it is each time we awake to it and each night when we put Time to bed. Time is to be caressed like the Lover we dare not take for granted, or it will leave us, deadened and dried up, longing for that first love of Time when we were young and thought we had all of it we could ever desire. Time is not a hive where we all, like worker bees, continue to stay busy, busy, busy, buzz, buzz, buzz, making honey-money for someone else, some other day, some storage unit dripping with nectar we never take the moment to taste and enjoy. Time is the thing that separates us from the birds and the bees, the essence, not the effect, the hint that our humanity is not created to be a slave to time but a partaker of The Dance of Timelessness. My search for meaning is, at heart, a search for how to give Time its due, to return to Time my love and to honor it for the precious gift it is.
Now that I am old(er), I hate how much time I wasted but more than that, I hate how much time I waste on a daily basis. I don’t mean I hate having to work a job; I mean I hate thinking about how much I hate having to work a job when I am working at my job or even when I am not working my job. I don’t mean wasting time watching a show or reading a book; I mean wasting time watching something or reading something that isn’t edifying or inspiring or at least just plain darn well-done or good-fun. I don’t mean I hate wasting time talking with other people or doing stuff for other people; I mean I hate wasting time not really listening to people I care about; I hate doing stuff for other people because I “have to”, not because I love the fact that where there is life, there is still the ability to do things, to give something, to share or sacrifice, or even just to plain do the darn dishes for someone else. I hate wasting time thinking about politics and everything wrong in the world; instead of skimming the headlines and then thinking about what I can do to make the world a better place.
So though I wish every day I could expand time to do one thousand and one things more to give my life meaning; here are at least five things I am becoming, no I am committing to make myself, more aware of in order to try to make my life more meaningful. Just five to start with out of a thousand and one to seek and find, learn and love, and hold and share. They are little tiny things, and you don’t have to agree with my choices here, but I hope it will inspire you to find those small things in your own life that you can look and tend to, cherish or change, and give more meaning to who you are and where you are journeying in life today.
As the Ecclesiast says, “there is nothing new under the sun”, but that is also the amazing thing about time and the search for meaning — we share the passage of one and the search for the other with our ancestors. I hope we can learn to better preserve the preciousness of Time and impart the purposefulness of meaning for our future children.
Five Little Meaningful Things on My To-Do List Today
1. See, hear, touch, taste, smell. In other words, although words can not truly describe the quality of our five senses, I tend to think Fritz Perls had a point when he said, “lose your mind, come to your senses”. I just plain think too much. Life would have so much more little special moments of meaning if I just enjoyed whatever sense I happen to be using at the time.
Look and wonder or discover. Listen and take the sound into your heart, whether it is the sound of a friend speaking or the sound of a cricket or a bird singing. Enjoy the amazing ability to taste food from the time it touches your lips until it reaches your belly. Inhale a scent and let it settle in, making itself a mysterious acquaintance. Perls, the psychotherapist who discovered Gestalt Therapy believed that humans are a wholistic entity, consisting of body, mind, and soul. He was a great one for understanding that when we view ourselves in the moment, through our own eyes, and not by looking back into the past but by bringing the past into the present, we become more whole. Focusing on using our senses goes along way toward reviving the mind and soothing the soul.
2. Do it with purpose but not always purposefully. There doesn’t always have to be a goal to achieve when we do something. In fact, we need to do more things more often with no other goal than joy in the moment’s journey. For me, the example would be humming or singing. I find I am one of those people who just hums all the time, like a crazy person. But I hum, well frankly, just dopey sounds that do comfort me, I guess, and activate that old Vagus nerve, but I am trying to make this a more meaningful meaningless exercise in my life. So, whenever I find myself humming some stupid syllabic scales, I try to “change my tune”.
Sometimes now when I catch myself humming nonsensical garbage, I make myself focus on the fact that I believe all of life is spiritual and that the Divine is present; so I’ll hum something like “Be Still My Soul” or “For the Beauty of the Earth”. Sometimes however, I will hum something that just makes me happy, like Mr. Roger’s “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” or “Feeling Groovy”. Sometimes I make myself hum something that is fun and has the added advantage of bringing to mind a memory of someone dear to me like when I hum or sing my dad’s old stand-by “You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole” or I sing something I used to sing to the kids in our big bed at night like “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” or “On Top of Spaghetti”.
If you are not a hummer, I highly recommend it, but if it’s not for you, find that thing you do that maybe seems meaningless, but could do with a little attitude change directing it towards meaning. For instance, do you, as I have always done, play with your hair? This habit drove my mom crazy for some reason, but I realize now that it was a comforting technique. Do you have a habit you do that comforts you and doesn’t hurt anyone else? Then do it with meaning. If you are a hair-stroker, stroke with contentment and really feel the silky strands or crunchy curls or just be glad you still have hair to fondle! Maybe you are a “tapper”. I taught a lot of students, especially boys and young men, who were “tappers”. If you are a person who taps with a pen when stressed about a test or taps when you are working on a project or taps mindlessly when you are trying to keep your cool or patiently wait or someone who just enjoys the sound of drumming, then — tap with meaning! Do a drum beat and make your own rhythmic music. Mix it up a bit and see what happens if you use your other hand to tap out some beats. Let yourself feel primal and connect to the age-old and ancient art of beating. Whatever you do, tap to the beat of your own self-be-true.
We should remember when it comes to these habits or seemingly meaningless activities that we can give them meaning if we recognize they reveal something about how we are created and how we exist between the natural and the sublime. As animals we often unconsciously make sounds or fluff our feathers, but as humans we can consciously create and we can imbue with a greater meaning, those instinctual or habitual actions. We don’t have to be consciously purposeful all the time, but finding more meaning even in the instinctual or habitual can bring us unexpected enjoyment in random creative acts. We are those beings who can create our own delight or pleasure or calm, even in the boring, mundane or stressful.
3. Breathe. How many times do we have to say it? hear it? preach it? I am so sick of people telling me to breathe and breathe deeply, but the fact remains, we have just stopped breathing deeply. At least in my Western, uber-get-ahead culture, we decided as a species we no longer could waste time breathing deeply, feeling our chests rise and fall with the intake and out-take of air, enjoying being alive because our lungs work or our lungs are healthy. Ain’t nobody got time for that, man! Breathing is such a waste of time. So, we will do the minimum to stay alive and leave the deep breathing to babies and monks.
If you didn’t have Covid issues this past year, thank God or your lucky stars, but for those who did or suffered with someone who did and who had trouble breathing, it is one of the things this pandemic should make us grateful to be able to do. Instead of just shallowly breathing the way I have gotten used to doing it, as a rote bodily function for merely staying alive, breathing with attention, with a bit of meaning in it, is my goal to do at least as often as I can.
I breathe deeply for the sheer enjoyment of being able to do it, and for any of you spiritual folks, like I try to be, we should remember: there is a divinity in breath and breathing. The Divine is often pictured as revealing to us a holy spirit encountered through our breath. Without breath, no life; and without life, no meaning.
4. Stop complaining; Start Maintaining. This poem by Gunilla Norris is about the paradox of maintaining and her words and thoughts are more eloquent than I could ever express.
Paradox of Noise by Gunilla Norris
It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise when we first try to sit in silence.
It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.
It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us
so fully into life and being.
Our minds do not like paradoxes. We want things
To be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.
Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.
We each possess a deeper level of being, however,
which loves paradox. It knows that summer is already
Growing like a seed in the depth of winter. It knows
that the moment we are born, we begin to die. It knows
that all of life shimmers, in shades of becoming —
that shadow and light are always together,
the visible mingled with the invisible.
When we sit in stillness we are profoundly active.
Keeping silent, we hear the roar of existence.
Through our willingness to be the one we are,
We become one with everything.
— Gunilla Norris
People used to use phrases like “maintain your purity” or “maintain your integrity”, but now we don’t have much use it seems for maintaining things any more, in our easily disposable world of everything from disposable fast food containers to disposable relationships. The title of Norris’ poem reminds me that we too often let our inner lives become as distractingly, irritatingly noisy as is the constant noise we have to endure in our outer lives. But we have a choice about letting so much noise rule our inner beings. Stopping negative thoughts is one good way to begin to make a courtship with silence and to nurture a peaceful inner environment.
The Norris poem coaches us to see through the charade of complaining and to recognize that maintaining illusions of safety by needing things to be clear or black or white even just wanting to understand a thing or a person, are just that — not quite what they seem — illusory. We humans are the greatest paradox the world has ever known; demonic and angelic, foolish and brilliant and wise; fearful and brave; selfish and sacrificial; hateful and loving; anxious and peaceful; greedy and generous — we are paradoxes alone and a paradoxical community of beings and all of us are everything and nothing and it is rarely if ever as clear-cut as we make it out to be.
To stop complaining means to understand that the mystery of anything is much more holy and desirable than the knowing and owning of something or someone. To maintain an even keel through life’s ups and downs, is to keep balancing the teeter totter of one’s existence daily; flowing back and forth; swinging in the pendulum of the glorious idea and ideal of being fully and incredibly human. “For we are fearsomely and awesomely made”. Human maintenance requires a great degree of bravery in the face of all we do not know. Complaining is an unworthy shield to hide our fears behind, fears of sallying forth into the battle and possibly being victorious. We will never know until we put away the things of a childish attitude, and take up the things of an adult. Giving up grumbling leaves a pretty large, wide open field for all the things we can take up instead to do with our feelings and thoughts.
5. Be Yourself. And yes — here one must add the old standby — because everyone else is already taken. And isn’t that wonderful! Think about how many “everyone elses” there are for each of us to get to know! And seize hold of the idea that you are unique and that that it is not only just “okay” to be who you are, but it is wonderous and inspiring and you are so very, very needed in the world because there isn’t another You.
No one else can connect the same dots of a life to make a “me” in the same way I can — it is exponentially impossible. Like a pointillism painting, my own specks of a life come together to make something uniquely lovely and meaningful.
So today, I will try not to let anyone, including myself be unhappy with who I am. I will accept I am not perfect, that I need to make changes, and that there are some things that need work. But I will find meaning in the fact that I am Wholly Me. And that is a Me-aning worth living and worth loving.
As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life”. The Great Perhaps becomes the Great Purpose when we choose to make meaning however, whenever, with whomever and whatever we can. It is our great Why and all meaningful moments make the Why the raison d’etre. What is the reason for my being today? The answer is simply and profoundly complicatedly — my life.
To get more meaning out of life, we don’t need a thousand and one ways. Starting with one or two will do. Again, I must turn to poetry to distill the important “stuff” about life. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the following about the meaning of our lives and the title alone gives me joy in the journey and meaning for The Way. May it be a Psalm for your life today as well.
A Psalm of Life
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
May we learn to love “acting in the living Present, heart within, God overhead” and may we each find joy in our own very unique journeys towards a more meaningful, wonderful life. Yes, we can make our lives sublime.
I was asked to write something wise about children, or rather something wise from children. And I thought, well, my own children are all grown now, off exploring the world with all the grace and aplomb that well-fed, well-loved children can muster as adults. I am proud of the wisdom they gave me when they were young, that they now carry out into the world, spreading it intentionally and randomly, like the dandelion fluff and seeds, they used to spread as they blew on the seeded-dandelions’ fluffy grey heads. My adulting children often call or come to see me and their father, and they manage to always blow out some of the fluff from our grey heads and it is good. So very good. My children converse with me now to teach me a thing or two, or just to share their lives, accomplishments, ideas — sometimes even to ask a bit of advice, as they would from a friend — and I feel that a person really can sometimes grow from the seed of parenthood into a flowering friendship. When my children are able to talk to me both as mother and friend, I feel something of me blown out and gone, like fluff, ready to grow something new, somewhere else inside me, or perhaps, something new out in the world; but I also feel something of me grow even deeper roots; learning from my own children makes something take root inside my life as a human being, a thing that is permanent, eternal, never-changing-always-changing, as the love of a parent, or the love of a child, always is.
Imparted wisdom is like a seed, after all; you share it, plant it, but it only grows if the soil is fertile and well-tended and nurtured. Parenting is a bit hit or miss, in terms of imparting wisdom and tending the soil of our children, but most of us try to do our best and then pray or wish on a star or a wishbone or a ladybug or a wish-flower, that somehow the good of our parenting will stick and that the bad will wash away from our children like dirt down a bathtub drain, after a day of hard play. We also have to hope and pray that even some of our mistakes or bad stuff, will grow into something our children don’t nurture as weeds, but will turn into something beautiful like dandelions.
I have written recently of “my” little wee birds at the bird feeder, and how much my time with them teaches me. And this morning, I was meditating on the birds again, and how much I love just sitting and looking at them and listening to them coo and sing and squawk, and I looked over at the array of pictures I keep on a little table, to one side of the big, front-room window I gaze out of. I looked at pictures of my children and the faces and bodies, and hair and clothes styles, from various ages of those dear children once mine; once my chicks, but flown the coop and nesting and soaring elsewhere. I remembered how privileged I was back when they were young to be at home with them. I remembered my four children when we were young, and their loud squawking games outside, and their quiet, cooing games inside in the hallways and on stair landings, and their songs and stories sung or made-up together in the labyrinths of their play-times, and prayers and songs and stories before dream-time at night, and the family road-trips with squabbling and singing in the back of the minivan, and trips to the library and nursing home, and grocery and toy store, and the dinners around the big table and the picnics in parks, and the bedtimes as we snuggled in a big pile, reading or singing, falling asleep like a floating pod of sea otters, drifting off to sleep in our big family bed. And I love to remember all the things we did together, but also all the things I didn’t do but was just able to be.
And I remembered how much I once loved, sitting somewhere in the next room, or nearby but off to one side, maybe doing “parent-stuff”, or guarding over them like the mother hen I was, and being there but slightly removed from their circle of activity, and yet, aware of them, watchful, observant, in tune with their tuneful voices, in my silent acquiescence, and oh, so very present and sometimes needed as referee or boo-boo fixer or to hear something “cool” or funny one of them just said or to see something amazing one had just discovered or to sometimes dry some tears because something incredible they had just made got broken. But mostly, as I thought about children and wisdom, I was reliving some memories of just being with them, doing nothing and being — Just me, with just them, just me alone but not at all alone, listening to and watching my children.
I remembered how almost excruciatingly delightful my whole being felt just to be in the same space as them. I remembered how my heart felt full to overflowing, just to watch over them, and to observe not just their accomplishments in crayon or creative imaginative role playing or the structures they built out of sticks and paper and leaves and tin foil and boxes and a huge belief in their own abilities to create; but I also remembered how incredible it felt to me to just look at a little arm covered in small-person peach- fuzz and often a good bit of dirt or mud; how lovely to see a tangled mass of hair fall over a face bent over a picture book, how awe-inspiring to watch tiny toes wiggle, or mouths open wide with cookie crumbs and laughter spilling out, or the absolute heavy stillness of a child who falls asleep in one’s arms. How glorious it was to hear the small shrieks of delight or giggles of shared “secrets” that of course no adults no matter how close could hear. How awesome even the arguments of dissent over what to play or how to play it were, as they began to navigate how to discuss and how to stand up for what they believed in or how to learn the art of compromise (“Okay, you can go first THIS time, but next time…”); and how I might even over-hear them apologize, and say “I’m sorry”, and how happy I was if they did, because it is so much harder to learn how to say you are sorry when you become an adult. Coos and squawks, laughter and imagination, boo-boos easy to fix, and tears that quickly dry, and the play and hard work of children growing-up, and I, having the best seat in the house — an audience of one mom, listening, watching, loving, learning, becoming more wise.
I think about all the things I loved not about “doing a mom” but about being a mom. Yes, I remember sadly all the things I messed up horribly and did wrong and can apologize for now, but can’t undo. And I wish I could have do-overs on it all, to live more fully all the good, and to at least get a bit of a better score on all the tests I failed. But the bottom line as I sit and remember? — -
I am privileged beyond belief to have within my memory, and within the depths of my heart and soul and mind, the visions and sounds and feels and feelings of all of it — all the fun, all the tears, all the laughter, all the fears, all of those days and nights of living with and loving with children. But the truth is, no one has to be a parent to learn from the wisdom of children — we just have to observe and listen to them and try to be more like them.
What my children taught me, among so many, many other things, but which seems so pertinent to our lives today in 2020, perhaps as never before since we were young because of, well, just because of everything; one very wise thing my children taught me was how full and amazing life can be if we only learn to look and to listen — to everything around us and to each other.
To become like a child, is to believe that love can turn weeds into wish flowers. To find the wisdom of children is to know that being is always more important and fulfilling than doing.
And as we all grow up and hopefully want to become better adults, maybe we all need to see ourselves as imperfect, but loving parents and to learn to delight in how beautiful the world and the people in it are, and then we can choose to take care of the world by truly listening to its needs and when it is at play and by watching-over each other.
We don’t have to be parents to be taught the wisdom of children, because we were all once children ourselves. Our child-like selves have much to teach us, if we will look at the world and each other with the eyes of the children we once all were. But today as I get ready to go play and splash in the soapy water of dirty dishes, and as I zoom around the house pretending to be a superhero, or I imagine what it would be like to fly like a bird as I walk to the grocery, and as I prepare tea for my silver-headed husband and listen — really listen — to him because there is so much to learn when adults talk; and as I cry hard with big tears and an ugly mouth screwed-up, over the unfairness of the games of cheaters and the meanness of bullies and over my own failings because life’s not fair and it hurts to get something wrong; and as I laugh loud and long at a joke I once heard; and as I keep a secret in my heart that I won’t tell anyone cross-my-fingers-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye; and maybe as I take a nap after reading a good book, or as I just sit and stare at stuff cuz there’s nothing to do; or I just listen to the tick-tock of the clock of time gone-by and memories of lives shared — as I do my day, and live my life, I will try harder and let go more easily in order to let the wisdom of my childhood rise up in my soul and I will just be with me. I will wish on stars, and ladybugs, and wish-flowers, that the world and I and my husband and of course, my best teachers of all who were and are now my very own children, will keep growing like seeds, learning like children, and loving like good parents. I will wish on the wish-flowers of my very best hopes that my children will take more, have more time to just be — listening, observing, and loving what is right there in the same space they are, things that are not them but are with them and that they will know, as every child of the world should know, that they are never alone and they are dearly loved.
I will send seeds of wishes into the world with the hope and prayer that we will all know that we are all beloved children with much to learn, and much to teach, and much to love.
Today’s Wise Lesson from my children, Justine, Clarissa, Verity, and Gordon –
Listen and be filled. Observe and be at peace. Take in to your true self, that which is not you, but is still a part of you, and take care of it and tend it with hope and joy. And let the seeds of love and wisdom, planted in the hearts and souls and minds of all children, just as the seeds of the wish-flower do, go out from you and into the world so that all may flourish and grow and be beautiful.
I have more time lately, and reason, to meditate on all the “What If’s” and “Instead Of’s”. Some days, this is instructive and hopeful, such as “What if we realize people in essential services need to be paid more in the future and billionaires need to be paid less?” And some days, this is mind numbingly depressing and futile, such as “What if they win again, and Canada still has closed borders?” Perhaps we all have been made more aware of this frame- work of Possibility Thinking during this “Impossible- to- Imagine- It- Could- Happen-In-Our-Lifetimes” Time. I mean, even dear John Lennon, didn’t “Imagine” this. I truly hope and pray that with all we are all thinking, writing, experiencing, doing, that we, the human race, or at least The Good Guys and Gals, decide to use Possibility Thinking for a better world for all of us. A healthier, saner, safer, kinder, more peaceful, restful, equitable world would be a nice “Instead Of” Outcome.
Though I am rather obsessed lately with the What If’s of the Future, we most often use this rhetorical device for thinking about the Past, and not the Present or Future. It’s human nature, after all to pick over the spoils and pick at the scabs incurred in our Pasts. And of course, it is vitally critical to look at the Past — or should I say, Pasts — plural. We have all gone egregiously and just stupidly wrong in not learning from our individual Pasts, our communal Pasts, and our national, religious, planetary, and world-wide Pasts. It is one of the things that elevates us as humans, this ability to change course, to envision something better, and yet we foolishly continue to so seldom use it. Rather than evolve by learning from past mistakes or last night’s sins, we so often choose to devolve into either helpless or stubborn beast-like creatures, chalking it all up to some other beastie’s problems or some innate inability in ourselves to grow and change. But being a human being was meant to be a glorious thing — a unique thing, a godlike thing. As human beings with souls, we are uniquely placed on this planet to live into the reality of “If-Then’s”. And therefore, when we go wrong, we can live into the miracle of “What If Instead Of this, We do that Instead’s?”. We can choose differently today than we did yesterday. We can regret. We can repent. We can hope. We can imagine. We can change. We can ask, What If we did this Instead Of that?
Now the “What If’s” are closer to home for many of us on a day to day basis now they seem to be more personal and more a very real matter of life and death. We don’t have to imagine quite so hard what it is like to walk in another person’s fragile, vulnerable shoes. We don’t have to try so hard to think what it is like to be afraid of going outside, of being imprisoned, or of not having enough money for the future or even the present day, or what it is like to work among dying patients in a war that makes no sense, or what it might be like to be very ill, afraid of dying and physically impaired in a world meant for only healthy people. Some of us don’t have to rely on memory alone any more or try to imagine what it is like to have pollution- free skies, or birds singing in the morning, or time to just be still and relax and rest. Some of us are finally experiencing a small sense of the prejudice and injustice that people of color have experienced their whole lives. Some of us are mourning over the senselessness and randomness of death.
Some of us are finding out the joys of the “Insteads”. We are finding that it is freeing to make do with less. That love starts at home but you have to be there to be part of it. We are discovering that creating things is vital for every human being and that everyone, no matter how faceless and nameless, matters deeply and intimately to each of us personally. A few of us may be realizing the “Instead-Reality” that we were meant for more — maybe it isn’t completely clear yet, but it is glimmering up ahead as a faint, dream-like Possibility. Most of us hopefully have some clue that instead of getting ahead for just me, myself, and I, Life is more fulfilling, and the Future more plausible, if we realize that we are all in This together.
And so, we may find ourselves asking, “What If we want things to be more like this in the Future?” What if I want to care more about others less fortunate than I, now that I have a better idea of what their lives have always been like? What if I want to help heal the planet from the outrageous things we’ve done to it? What if I want to work less and live more, and try to make sure that everyone has that same opportunity — to stop living for our work and start working so that we all might live — more equitably, more freely, more safely, and more joyfully? What if I want to spend more time in creative pursuits and supporting those who create art — whether it is on a stage, in a gallery, or in a garden? What if I want to spend more time outside in a world made for our enjoyment? What if I want to help protect the things in nature that before I have endangered? What if every day, I want to look at those I love and be more forgiving, more accepting, more understanding, and more selflessly helpful? What if everyone I love becomes Everyone? What if everyone I love includes you? And what if everyone I love includes myself — me?
What if I carry the lessons of the Past into Today to change myself in order to be a part of a better Future for the world? What if I become an “Instead Of”?
At this crossroads time in the history of humans, we are forced perhaps like never before in most of our lifetimes, to look backwards and wonder, “What If”. We ask it of the whole world: “What If they had done this Instead Of that?” We look at our leaders and weigh them in the balance of this equation. But it will never mean a thing if I am not asking the What If’s of myself. If we are at all honest and seek any kind of life of understanding or at least desire something better up ahead, we must look within our own hearts, our own minds, our own individual wills. We must peer with intention into the very essence of what makes us human — we must look within our souls. While we have been picking at the Past scars of What If’s that we can not change: — What if I hadn’t let Grandma go to work that day? What if I hadn’t gone to that birthday party where that woman was coughing all over the buffet table? What if Uncle Pete hadn’t gone to sing in the church choir that Sunday? — We must now let the scars heal over, and begin to seriously look at the “Instead Of’s” from here on out going forward. The What- If’s of our past choices should be given a very short shelf life. They are rather useless “what if’s” unless we can create a Time Machine and go back in Time to change them. (Let me know please, if you do. But I must warn you, I have a rather long list of changes I’d make.)
Some people spend a life-time on “What If’s”. What if I hadn’t married her? What if I had taken that job? What if I had majored in something else in college? What if I hadn’t gotten drunk? What if I had told him how I felt? What If’s can only change the Past-Self if we let it change for the better our Present-Self in order to grow into our best Future Self. We can evolve, we can be born again. That is the glory of our status as sentient, sensible souls. What If’s can pull us under with regret, remorse, anger, sorrow, lack of initiative, brokenness, and a host of other short-term and long-term emotions and ploys for convincing ourselves and others that change is impossible. Emotions without goals for change merely serve to sap our desire for a better life and deplete our energy for action. What If’s are only helpful if one understands that “though I didn’t know it then, I DO know it now”. What If’s are only helpful if you look at the Past and decide that Today, you will choose “Instead Of’s”.
If you grew up “back in the day”, when I did, with any sort of Biblical or Judeo-Christian Worldview, you have grown up to believe that every thing is, in fact, a “life or death” decision. Ideas like, “what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?”, or “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”, used to be the bedrock of a belief system that supposedly was based on a Savior who lived and died in such a way that the whole world might be changed for the better. Tragically, this isn’t at all a popular or wide-spread belief among the most vocal of those who claim this particular religion these days, so please don’t be fooled if you look to those who espouse a religion in name only, and not in deeds. Unlike what we hear today, the Judeo-Christian belief system was meant to be pretty much completely a religion of straight-up, unadulterated, no excuses, no holds barred — Love-First actions. I say that with a great amount of regret and repentance before God and other humans, for my own Past, a deepening humility for my Present lack of virtue, selfless love, wisdom and dearth of loving actions, and my plethora of selfish wrong-doings. I say it with a great desire for a Future that is definitely based on a lot of “What If’s”. What If — I can change — be reborn — starting today? What If — God is real? What If — human beings are meant to live most practically and healthfully when we love others as we love ourselves? What If — we were put here to care for a planet? What If — we will only keep our human souls alive if we make sure that the least and most struggling among us is as essential as the highest and most powerful? What If — Jesus was an example of what we all could be — Miraculous?
So Today, I look outside my window, and hear the little grey sparrows and the large black crows, and I say, “What If God’s eyes are on the sparrows and the crows, and what if I can trust that like a Mother Hen, She is watching over me?” What If I truly have nothing to lose by living in love for all others, by doing right and speaking truth, by choosing to do Good, by changing my worldview, my heart, and my actions, and by hoping and praying that the whole world might be “saved”? What If I have everything to lose if Instead Of that, I choose my freedom and rights over other people’s safety and health? What If I choose my will over their lives — “not Thy will but mine be done”? What If I choose my convenience over the planet’s safety and health, if I choose my pleasure over other people’s needs, if I choose to be right rather than righteous? What If I gain the whole enchilada, but piece by piece, day after selfish day, lose my soul?
Ah, hurrah, hurray, it’s another grand day! To be alive! To be alive to choice and change and chance! To be alive to the idea of being a better human being today than I was yesterday. What If — ah Glorious, Glory-ing thought! What If by believing whole heartedly in the lessons of the Past, by studying them deeply and with humility, I can change. What If by making less of me and more of others Today, there will be something of me Tomorrow? What If by loving others with heart and mind and will in the Present, I can save the very essence of who I was created to be, I can save my soul, and have more than a temporal happiness, have Instead, an eternal life of love, and light, and joy?
What If today instead of Death, I choose Resurrection?
What If my Future, and the Future of the Earth and the Human Beings that inhabit it could, Instead of This be……………? Imagine……
It is time for each of us to plan for the “new normal” of our First Post Corona Virus Pandemic Lives. I say, “First”, because there will be more, not maybe, but definitely, if not Pandemics, then other world-wide paradigm-shifting events. My advice – Get Your Inner Kid Back On.
If we all begin to think and act like children again, I think we might have a better chance of not only survival but more enjoyment of life. If we hark back to attitudes, behaviors, warnings, and beliefs from when we were kids, we might deconstruct and then reconstruct where we have gone wrong as adults. Time to get our inner-kid and outer-child in gear, ramped up, and ready to roll.
I have included a minimum by the way of explanation or example in my list below of Lessons from Childhood. I figure every reader will have their own of both. If you have forgotten what your parents tried to teach you when you were a kid, ask them; they will not only remember but probably still have your score sheets for how well you did.
A lot of what we learned as children wasn’t learned from our parents, but from our time spent with our friends, and it has been interesting during this Pandemic Sheltering-in Time, to find out who our real friends are, and what we can learn from each other. Popularity doesn’t matter so much right now and neither does being the teacher’s pet. So, we are all reassessing, maybe a bit. What cliques do we want to belong to when we get out of this “thing”? And what purpose do we want to find in life beyond “grades” and “praise”?
During this world-wide sheltering-in, we haven’t gotten as much play time with our friends and family, but we have learned a lot and found creative ways to stay connected. We’ve actually had to be a lot more like kids again. We’ve managed to get to bed on time, and make our own lunches. We’ve had to find something to do if we get bored. I think a lot of us have remembered how fun doing simple things can be, and how much we love the people we live with.
There are many lessons that we can learn if we remember the lessons from our childhoods. They will be very helpful – critical even – for our life in “the new normal”. Here are some I think we should start with.
Important Life Lessons Learned from Childhood
Treat everyone close to you as if they might have cooties. They might.
Don’t let the people close to you breathe your air. It’s yours and your little sister can’t have it.
You can talk to strangers but don’t get close enough to them that they might grab you. Or give you cooties.
Smile with your whole face.
Enjoy every time you get to wear a mask by imagining every day is Halloween. Go up to people and say: “Trick or Treat” and see how much candy you can come home with.
Treat your money like a stingy allowance your parents give you. Remind yourself that your parents only give you an allowance so you can “learn how to take care of your money”. Remember, you won’t get any more until next week, so save it up for something you really, really, really want.
Save whatever you don’t spend of your allowance, along with any loose change you find on the sidewalk or in the couch where your dad usually sits. Keep it at home in a jar on your dresser. It will earn at least as much there as it is earning right now invested in the stock market.
Make good choices. You almost always have a choice. Some are good, some are better, and some are best. Take time to make the best ones.
It is better to be safe than sorry.
Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
Spend every free moment playing.
Get your work done fast, so you have more play time.
Go outside and play.
You have to include everyone and let everyone play, even if you don’t like them.
Everyone gets to be on a team.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you’ve played the game.
Clean your plate. There’s going to be a lot more starving children “over there”. Think of them and finish everything on your plate. Which will remind you to not let your eyes be hungrier than your stomach. Take only what you can (should) eat.
Eat your vegetables.
Don’t chew with your mouth open. It’s disgusting (and spreads viruses).
Clean your hands. You actually DO know now where they’ve been. Wash them. A lot.
Stop picking your nose. In fact, stop touching your face.
Practice makes, if not exactly perfect, at least makes you good enough to stay in the game. Keep practicing and you’ll get there.
You have to share. Period.
I call shotgun! (That has nothing to do with good lessons from childhood, I just wanted to call it first before we’re allowed to travel again.)
Turn the lights out when you leave the room, do you think I’m made of money?!
God helps the one who helps himself (and who helps others).
Honor your mother and father so you can live long on the earth.
Parents, as long as they live, will never stop being totally irritating for trying to tell their children how to live. We owe it to our parents to irritate them right back so that they know how to live.
Remember, our parents brought us into this world, and they can take us back out. Of course, now we know that we can take them out too, if we aren’t careful.
Do as I say, not as I do.
It is time for us, the “children” of the world to appreciate the lessons of the parents, and to do the right things they have tried to teach us to do (whether they actually did them themselves or not). We should all be grateful for what we learned as children and appreciate the life-lessons of our elders. We should grieve for all the people who didn’t have parents, or at least, have good parents, but all that means is that those of us who did have good parents, need to do the heavy lifting and the hard work. As the good parents told us, “we should know better”.
No matter who our parents were or are, we can try to believe that they tried to do their best with their children, and now we need to try to do our best for the future of our children, and our children’s children. It is a critical time for us to do much, much better. Better than our parents, but also better than we were all doing before this whole thing happened.
Whatever the unsettling, even catastrophic “thing” is that happens in our lives, our families, or our world, we need to remember and re- believe that human beings, like children, have an infinite capacity for creative do-overs.
Let’s call “do-overs”, okay, Kids?
Adult Friends of Mine Playing – 2016
We are a world-family, and if we didn’t know it before, we should recognize it now. We can do great things, if we all work together like a happy, hopeful band of children. Let’s begin to look at the world with the same eyes and hearts that children do when they are rebuilding a fort, singing rounds in the back of the car, going on a team scavenger hunt, making breakfast to surprise mom, working in the garage with dad, making mud pies in the yard, selling at a lemonade stand, playing hide and seek, or jump rope or hop-scotch, or doing any of those things we used to think were fun and important because we were doing them with people who were our friends and our family.
If we get our “inner-child” back on, we might find that the greatest games in this Game of Life, are played best, when we play nicely with others.
Let’s love each other as if every older person were our very own beloved parent and let’s love every younger person as if they were our very own beloved child.
Let’s act like children again in all the right ways.
And finally, the most important lesson of all that we can take away from this time, and that we need to believe as sincerely and as deeply as children do is:
You are the very, very, very best gift in the world. You are loved to infinity and beyond.
My son, Gordon and I playing, wearing noses he made for us
Yes, it is true as perhaps never before in most of our lifetimes, that this is a great time and opportunity to really look more deeply into our beliefs about our lives, our souls, our jobs, and minds, and hearts, and relationships, and communities, and countries and planet. Not necessarily in that order, but. . .
And by “looking more deeply”, I mean, assessing the importance of things we have taken for granted and weighing the consequences of past behaviors and attitudes – behaviors and attitudes we all had a mere couple of months or weeks ago. For most of us, there has been a paradigm shift in thinking about “What do I want for the future?” to “What do I want for Today?” There has for some us perhaps been an opportunity to meditate on the question: “Do I really want to keep my beliefs and actions from Yesterday”? Most of us are at a minimum needing to look at Time in whole new ways, as our Time both contracts and expands in rather mind-bending, choice- assessing, and relationship-shifting ways. This is something that many of us are finding, would have been a better way to think all along, and so we have a unique opportunity if we survive this latest means to death (there is always some means, don’t forget). We have an opportunity to change the way we think and live, and to determine, “What are the things I want to keep doing”? “What must I really stop doing for the benefit of any of the stated arenas of a life as listed in the first sentence of this essay”? “How do I want this gift of Today to change the World’s Chance at a Tomorrow?”
I like the philosophy that has been going around in various constructs, that as we hope to someday return to normal, we should decide what of “normal” is worth keeping. So, although I didn’t feel like writing today, I do feel that writing about things and sharing ideas with others, is a normal I want to keep. Hence, I started a list of things I have been doing while quarantining, and fighting the Corona Virus one immune strengthening regimen and protective action at a time; and a list of a kind of “off the cuff” reassessing of what I would like to change, if I am lucky enough to have a tomorrow to change for. I started thinking about what I want my new “normal” to be more like than my old “normal” was. I highly recommend you start your own list, much as people used to do with Bucket Lists. Maybe share your list with people who will stay important to you in tomorrow’s normal, and find out what they hope will change or stay the same for them. May you seek goodness and find love wherever and whatever your normal is today.
My “Return to a Better Normal” List
I want to continue to be a better “reacher-outer” to friends and family. I want to keep calling, texting, face-timing, emailing them about their health, both physical and spiritual and mental. I want communication to be both more important as well as something that feels normal, not special. I want to listen more and enjoy more the little stories and shared perspectives. I want to keep giving advice to people I love and taking advice from them seriously. I also want to stop giving advice, and just “be” with others. I want to just enjoy the presence of another human being in that very moment as the most wonderful miracle of my day.
I want to keep believing that it is important to take care of the animals that we let into our lives. I want to keep spending ridiculous amounts of money for my old dogs’ care until they just can’t go on living their happy little lives. I want to forgive their incontinence and grumpiness and Daisy’s Sundowner’s barking at all hours of the night and morning, and hope some human will do the same for me when I am like that. I want to treat the neighborhood cat that comes calling as the majestic beast he considers himself to be, and enjoy his willingness to hang out with me sometimes. I want to really listen without commentary to the songs of birds. I want to mourn the death of every bee and feel anguish at the wild animals displaced from their homes by people’s greed and ignorance. I want to think of the friendly beasts as my brothers and sisters, and regain some sort of native spiritual relationship to their presence on this planet. And I hope someday, that when I am on my way out, that I will die with the same amount of dignity and love that animals die with, leaving behind as much joy in people’s memories of me, as our animals do for us.
I want to keep listening to music, but I also want to keep making music, even though I am not good at it or famous and never will be. I want to sing and play guitar and piano more often, and be an active participant as well as an appreciative, listening audience. Music feeds. That’s all that needs to be said. We need music like we need food, and listening is nourishing, but creating music is like cooking a homemade dish to enjoy. I don’t need to be a competitive or famous chef to make a meal that I and others enjoy. I don’t need to be a concert pianist or a rock star to make music that feeds me. I just need to enjoy “eating” it. This is true for my writing as well. I thrive on reading other’s writing, but I grow from writing myself, not as an ends but as a means.
There are many things in the world of art or nature, that you might want to substitute for my thoughts on music and writing. Whatever it is, take time to feed yourself and feed others with those things whenever possible. If you are never going to climb Kilimanjaro but you love hiking or walking, do more of it, for the sheer pleasure of feeding yourself. Nature is Eternity’s Best Artist, after all.
If you love museums or movies or plays, imbibe more of them more often, and then find your own way to create. You don’t have to be a great artist to enjoy painting, or quilting, or gardening. Using our senses to see and taste and hear and touch and move are those things that most deeply feed our souls. Using our abilities to create, no matter how small or humble that creation, is a gift – to ourselves, to others, and somehow, mystically and spiritually, to the Created Universe. Food is meant to help us grow, after all. So dine on what best feeds you and grow by creating it yourself.
I want to stop buying so much stuff. I want to accept that except for food and drink (and of course, now we realize, toilet paper), I have enough stuff to last me three life-times, probably. I want my new normal to see constant shopping, as the raging addiction it has become in America, at least, and in my own life. I want to believe that true simplicity is something I can still accomplish, even though I will never realize my dream of becoming Amish. I want to believe that it is better to “hold things lightly” in my hands. I want to stop grasping so much and so hard, and walk through the world with open hands and an open heart.
I want to keep focusing on the humanity of anyone who is within six feet of me at any given time. I have long thought it oddly frightening to see people pass within “hello-ing” distance of other people – on a sidewalk, or a grocery aisle – and not even make eye-contact, not say “hi”, not even admit that there is another sacred, valuable, important being right there close by. To me, that has been one of the most telling indications that we have become zombies. During this quarantine, people have ironically been friendlier and more connected now that we are more aware of the community around us and have more time on our hands to stroll outside with six feet of separation. But there are still people who think that even if you are six feet away, they will still “catch something bad” from you and I have no doubt these kinds of people will, once released from quarantine, continue to wear the Mask of Stranger, and wield the Protective Weapon of Busy with My Cell Phone, and be The Inhuman Zombies who no longer act human except for the fact they can still locomote. My family laughs at me for being a “stranger- magnet”, and I hope if I survive this illness, that I will continue to be that person who considers another human being important enough to take note of, even if they don’t take any notice of me. I hope I will still find even a stranger within six feet of me, more valuable than anything but the most important of cell phone calls. I hope I will not give up my humanity, even when we are all back to long lines at stores and jam-packed freeways.
When and if, I get to be one of the privileged ones to return to normal, I hope I will continue to think about dying soon. I hope I will, as the ancient monks used to do, “keep death daily before my eyes”. Some monks used to have a real human skull kept on a shelf in their bedrooms to remind them that death is only a heartbeat away, and that we are to “die daily” to the bad things and live for Good. Thinking that today is possibly my last, is a good way to embrace life. But I want to embrace a life worth living – more worth living that my life was yesterday. I want to live for Good. I really want a more normal view of the importance of a life that strives for truth and love in equal parts, that speaks out against injustice, ignorance, and lies, that is kind and forgiving without expecting anything in return, that is spiritual without being proud or hypocritical, and a life in this very moment, that is humbly accepted with joy – a momentary gift that is given, not as something I am owed, but as a great and miraculous gift for this glorious day.
In the new normal, I want to remember this time as the time I learned that you have to care for others if you want to survive. I want my new normal to be putting others before myself. I want to understand that the World’s Great Golden Rule, is exactly that: a rule. Loving others as I would have others love me, is a rule like sheltering in place, like washing my hands, like coughing into my elbow, like only taking essentials and not hoarding, like taking better care of first-responders and medical personnel, like caring for the least of the least, like old people, and homeless people, and like giving up something I merely want to do or have, for the good of others, to protect them and care for them, and treat them with the respect for their lives, hearts, souls, and health, that I would like others to do for me – living into the idea of a perfect world for myself as I do for others.
This Great Golden Rule is meant to be a rule, like our communal rules for survival during this pandemic. I wish that religious people had been living according to The Great Rule, but now we may understand that the Great, True Rules of all Beliefs, All Peoples, and for Eternity are not rules for religious reasons. Just like rules during a pandemic cross all political and religious barriers and lines, so must I believe that the rule of “Loving God and Loving Others as I would be Loved” are not held uniquely by any belief system but by a Reality that crosses all Time, all History, all Space, all peoples –All . We are not following rules right now for our own selfish gain, but for survival reasons. And that is what the new normal must realize– that true, even sacrificial, loving is necessary for the survival of the planet, for the survival of our very lives, and, if one does believe in a spiritual world, for the survival of our very human souls.
I want my new normal to be as slowed down as these quarantined days and I want the world’s children and this young generation to realize they can – must!—slow down. There is nothing worth more than this very day and this very day is all there is. I hope the metaphoric treadmills across this nation will stay as still as the gym treadmills have been during our stay at home times. I hope this time of enforced slow-down, will make a new generation (and my old one) realize that we have been speeding our lives along to no purpose; we have allowed ourselves to work too much and take play too seriously. We have forgotten how to live as we work ourselves to zombie-like existence. I hope when we all return to normal, that we won’t allow power and money and fear to keep telling us how we have to live to get ahead. I hope we will value much more the people and professions that truly add value to all of our lives. I hope resistance will be the new norm, and that by resisting together, we may find rest together.
There is actually a town I used to live near, called Normal, Illinois. I want to think of the future as a place as real as that city of Normal in that Midwestern State. I want to think of Normal, America (or whatever country one finds oneself in) as a place that we will make better, clean up, care for, think of as our home that we share with others. I want to make a home in Normal, The World, and help others realize it can no longer be a place where living as a loner is accepted, or where being an individualist, while it may take you far in terms of money and position, will not protect you from pandemics, from loneliness, from unhappiness or despair, and will not protect a single human being from the inevitability of death. I want Normal, The World, to be a place where we love our community and realize how much we all need each other. I want the tombstones in Normal, to all have this epitaph: “We Cared for Each Other. We Put Love First. We Live-On Forever Because We Loved.”
Seeing the future as a real place is a little like people used to see Heaven or Shangri-la. I say used to, because now people see Heaven as a reward for certain beliefs, rather than a place we are meant to work for. I want to believe that this Earth is also meant to be, as the prophets say, “The Kingdom of God” and I am meant to work for it, in it, and for all those here, now as if they too, are meant to be in a different kind of Kingdom, a different kind of Normal.
If we can learn anything from this pandemic, shouldn’t we learn that we are all connected, all in this together, all worthy of life and love and all a part of making the world a better place? And most importantly, can we not at least remember what is truly better – what we truly need for a better world, what we need to start doing? Can remembering what was good and best about this difficult time, not help us take that good and best into a new normal? Can keeping the new normal of our sheltering, quarantined days, please help us create a New Normal that, with a bit of imagination and individual sacrifice for communal survival, can be a Real Place? Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to walk out of these dark days into A Kingdom of Heaven here, among us, a new normal of love and light and kindness and hope and joy and sharing and peace?
My List of Items Today for a Better Normal:
Joy in the Journey.
What will be my new Normal if we survive?
And now, for the closing “ditty” to lighten your load perhaps.
I’ve found myself uprooted,
Cuz going out’s been booted,
Not to the curb exactly,
But since matter-of-factly,
We have to shelter in,
If Life is going to win,
Rather than think this strange,
We must decide to change.
Let’s buckle up and live right,
And let this dark, sad night,
Help us to stop our moping,
And get-on some group hoping.
It hasn’t been too easy,
And most of us feel queasy,
From fear and boring pursuits,
But let’s put down some deep roots.
Let’s plant seeds in our souls and hearts,
And make some headway, or a start,
In caring for each other,
And for the Earth, Our Mother.
And while we talk morality,
Is that the same normalcy,
We really want to have again,
For future X, Y and Z Gens?
This is it — our only time.
So please forgive this silly rhyme,
But please find ways among these days,
To toss the bad, and keep the good always.
And may your best loves guide you,
And when I hope you’ve got through,
I’ll see you on the other side of sorrow,
To make together, a better Tomorrow.
Stay strong. Stay sane. Seek love and joy. Seek change. Be healthy and hopeful. And care for others in the way you would like the future world to care for you.