How will it end - 2019?
It may seem silly to ask that question at this moment, when it has literally just begun. And yet, having just finished 2018, relishing all it brought, and considering how it ended, perhaps at the beginning is the time to ask, 'How will it end?'
For many, everything begins with the end in mind; however, setting goals and making plans are not exactly my forte. I tend to put my time and energy into many endeavors all at the same time, trusting that all paths will lead to something good. Not all do, but for the most part, this serendipitous way of life serves me and others well.
The reason serendipity does serve me and others well is because the end I seek is wellbeing for myself, my family and friends, my community and world. While I may not excel at choosing specific ends for my efforts, generally the fruits of my existence lead to wellbeing.
May we all begin 2019 with love and joy in our hearts, giving what we can to the greater good, trusting that an uncertain path will lead to that good, so that we all will be able to answer the question 'How will it end?' with 'Well' for all beings.
'What Will Your Story Be?' is the title of a chapter in JOY: What My Heart Taught Me. The message is that we know not what our history or story will be when looking forward. It is only when looking back on one's life that one's story unfolds.
Today, I have been moved to tears by the stories of the life of George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States. Most are familiar with that chapter of his story, but his story is so much more than that. And while he may not have been admired as President at the time, it is clear looking back that his Presidency, and so much more of his life, have had a profound impact on our nation and the world. He was a respectful and respected soldier and statesman, a generous man who put our nation's wellbeing ahead of his own
As if that part of his story were not enough, for most of us will never achieve such greatness, George H.W.'s story reveals him to have been a kind, funny, humble, and loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend. Those who had the privilege of knowing him best will likely remember this part of his story best.
May he rest in peace.
May we joyfully lead lives that weave a story worthy of remembering and retelling.
November has me thinking about Thanksgiving, probably my favorite day of the year. I love our tradition of a Thanksgiving meal shared by my family around the large table in my Mom's home. We come to that table each year with gratitude in our hearts for the bountiful and delicious food, the laughter brought by stories from our past, the interest in all we are doing now, and the hope we share for what our future will bring.
In addition to food and gratitude, we each bring our unique selves to our Thanksgiving table. Of course, my sisters and Mom and I share some traits, given our shared genealogy. Likewise for our children and each of us. Yet we are all quite unique!
My brother-in-law is a sports nut. His dream job was to be a sports reporter; sadly for him and for sports fans who will never know him, his dream didn't come true. He knows the stats on the players, the dirt on the coaches, the fan chatter, etc., for nearly every sport. He may not be on TV, but he keeps us entertained with his insightful and brilliantly delivered commentary.
My other brother-in-law is a first generation US citizen. His parents ran a dry-cleaning business when he was growing up. They spoke almost no English, and lived a quiet existence, working hard to make a better life for their children, which they have. His appreciation for his upbringing is always felt when he speaks, and we appreciate it, too.
My husband owns a small business. He always has a story to tell about mishaps due to employee poor decisions, client first-world-problem syndrome, or Mother Nature. My husband is someone who can work through anything that comes at him, and then laugh about it. We all appreciate his ability to let go of life's small crises.
My sister is a nurse practitioner. She tells stories that literally make us drop our forks mid-bite, swearing to never allow ourselves get to the unhealthy state in which so many have gotten because they don't take care of themselves. We appreciate her efforts to get them back on the path of healthy living, and we take her advice to heart.
My other sister works for the government. I'll let you imagine what she brings to the table. We appreciate her ability to tolerate it.
The kids, most of whom are now young adults, bring their fresh perspective on all that they're doing and seeing in the world around them. We all appreciate their new ideas, optimism, and hope.
My Mom brings her smiling countenance, taking it all in, grateful for her legacy. I tend to be like her.
We each bring something special to that Thanksgiving table. We embrace our differences, knowing that our unique experiences and personalities add to the collective wisdom and perspective we all take away with us, which we then bring to "the table," a metaphor for gathering, wherever life takes us.
May you find gratitude in all that is brought to your table this Thanksgiving, and always. Embrace it and share it.
"How are you feeling?" is the question I've been asked over and over this week, as our first daughter headed off to college. A friend sent me this photo, and I think it sums things up well:
As a mother, this photo rings true because I still think of my daughter as a child. Memories from every stage of her childhood are replaying in my mind as I go about my days: reminiscing our lying in the grass looking for shapes in the clouds after the picnic lunches we shared, as I weed my gardens; savoring our favorite dinner that has now been prepared for three rather than four; reciting in my head the books I read to her at bedtime as I walk into her room to make her bed, before realizing it doesn't need to be made because no one slept in it last night; hearing her laughter as I look at photos on the wall. All of these fond memories preserve my little girl as just that in my mind. The fact that this chapter of our lives is over has left a hole in my soul.
As the days pass, I feel new joy as I read the texts I receive from my daughter telling of all the wonderful things she is doing at school. Her words and photos make it clear that she is not the child of this photo. She is a young woman embarking on her life journey - a journey that will take her beyond the walls of her childhood. I truly could not be more happy for her.
How am I feeling? While my daughter's presence is missed, her present is filling the hole in my soul with new joy.
'What time is it?' is a question we ask often. Our lives seem to revolve around time. As a modern, connected, upward-moving society, we have come to rely on perfect timing to ensure that the cogs of what moves us onward and upward work precisely as intended and required.
While we generally concern ourselves with the time we measure in years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds, time also passes in less quantifiable increments. It's easy to miss these bits of time passing, if we are too focused on the minutiae of measured time; however, they are significant.
I recently attended the funeral of my uncle, who was a farmer. The officiant shared this Bible verse, as a metaphor for my uncle's life:
There is a time for everything.
There is a time for planting and a time for pulling up.
There is a time for the killing and the time for healing.
There is a time for tearing down a time for building.
There is a time for sorrow and a time for joy.
There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing.
There is a time for making love and a time for not making love.
There is a time for kissing and a time for not kissing.
There is a time for finding and a time for losing.
There is a time for saving and a time for throwing away.
There is a time for tearing and a time for mending.
There is a time for silence and a time for talk.
There is a time for love and a time for hate.
There is a time for war and a time for peace.
--Ecclesiastes 3 verses 2-8
This ode to time felt appropriate to honor my uncle, and all farmers, who certainly live by measured time like everyone else, but who also live according to this more imprecise timetable, trusting that everything happens in its time. Calves are born; cows die. Seeds are planted; crops harvested. Food is stored; waste removed. No one knows precisely when these things will happen, but all know they will happen.
Some versions of this verse use the term "season" in place of "time." "Season" suggests a span or stage, an age or epoch. Interestingly, the word "season" when used as a verb also can mean to acclimate or to soften. These two definitions of the word "season," taken together, suggest that time, or the season, will allow us to become accustomed to what occurs, if we are patient and trust it will.
As family and friends mourn the death of my dear uncle, we find peace knowing that his body no longer suffers, and that he will live again. At the same time, we anticipate the birth of our friend's new baby, appreciating the circle of life.
As I (and my sisters and friends) prepare to watch our children leave for college, the promise of an anticipated homecoming comforts us as we watch them go, as does the joy of watching them continue on their journey to become the people they are to be.
As we savor the fleeting summer days of August, we look forward to what Fall will bring, and then Winter, which will turn into Spring, before we are enjoying another Summer.
We trust that measured time . . . seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years . . . will never end. May we also trust that the seasons of time will also never end, and that every season of pain or sorrow will be followed by a season of peace or joy.
What time is it? Whatever the time, be joyful, for it too shall pass.
Is a mother's love unending?
As I mourn for and with the mother orca, Tahlequah, in the Pacific Northwest, who is risking her own life, desperately clinging to her calf a full two weeks after its premature death shortly after birth, it is apparent that her love is quite literally unending, as she is either unwilling to allow her child's life to end, because she believes her child is still alive, or she is unwilling to allow her mourning to end. Their story can be read via the link above.
As a fellow mother, I am suffering pangs of heartache, sorrow, and agony with and for her. I cannot fathom the depth of her grief, given the intensity of mine as a mere observer.
Tahlequah is giving all of herself for her calf's life. As mothers going about the daily work of motherhood, we can all relate to giving all we have so our own children survive and thrive. While most of us are not on the brink of literal death as we do so, sometimes it can feel as if motherhood is sucking the life out of us. And yet, we carry on. For our children. Because a mother's love is unending.
It is moments like this that remind me that a child is a gift. A child is an amazing gift. A child is the most precious gift. A gift to be cherished. A gift to be loved. Unending. When motherhood becomes challenging - and it does - we mothers need to summon everything we possess - physically, mentally, and emotionally - to press on to help our children survive and thrive. Mother orca is a role model for us all.
Death, the literal end of life, cannot end a mother's love for a child. In this time of sorrow, may we all allow our unending love for our own children to bring us joy - unending.
P.S. Baby orca, may you rest in peace, knowing your mother's love for you is unending. Mother Tahlequah, may you find peace, knowing your baby feels your love, and that the love you share will be unending.
Driving through Indiana, I was in awe of the windmills dotting the landscape along the highways. Standing tall in rows as far as the eye could see, they were as soldiers, dutifully performing their task of harvesting wind to produce energy. I found it difficult to take my eyes off of the windmills, because their design is so elegant--tall, sleek, white, smooth towers, whose arms move in sync gracefully. Magnificent!
I noticed, as well, standing alongside the pristine windmills, the rusted-iron poles that carry the millions of miles of electric lines across our country. The contrast between these rusty poles and the sleek white windmills was striking. The physical appearance of the old electrical equipment unwittingly adds to the perception that many have of its outdated, no-longer-necessary status. Indeed, there are those who feel strongly that the old method of manufacturing power should be done away with completely, as it is not as environmentally sound as the new methods. The physical appearance of the poles and lines of the traditional system suggested they feel it, too.
Yet, it is simply not possible to maintain our current electrical grid with only the new forms of power generation. While most major power suppliers are adding renewable capacity as quickly as they are able, it is far too early to let go of our traditional methods, or their equipment, without risking loss of electricity to power our daily lives.
We are a people with great interest and desire to move forward. This is a good thing. Look at where our ideas and our values have taken us in our 200 year history. We have made significant progress on things like equality and fair treatment of all. While we are not perfect, consider that as I write this, Saudi Arabia has become the last country on Earth to allow women to drive. Our drive for more has also produced products and services that make us more connected, productive, healthy, wealthy, and wise. Where would we be without the technology of today?
So, what purpose does tradition actually serve?
Tradition is something that is carried forward from the past by people, because they believe it serves a purpose. History, on the other hand, which is studied to make sure we don't repeat past mistakes, is left in the past, because it serves no purpose going forward. Like not allowing women to drive cars.
While the finer points of tradition may change over time to serve changing times, tradition is carried forward. Electricity will continue to be carried forward by various methods, depending on which serves a population best. While midwestern United States may continue to be served by rust-colored poles and lines for years to come, other parts of the world will never see them, because they are just now getting electricity, and it will be delivered with the most up-to-date equipment available, as it should be. Likewise, our mail is not carried by horsemen today, but rather by car--in most places that is. I know of a city on a lake where the mail is delivered by boat, because cars cannot get to many of the homes effectively. Tradition carries on.
For me, tradition serves the purpose of grounding me in something certain, something I can count on to be there, no matter what. Like electricity. Tradition also takes me temporarily back into the past, allowing me to consider or experience something from a bygone era, something that may be an important part of my own past, or of history, in general. Either way, it brings perspective.
While I will continue to embrace our continued movement forward, I will also continue to embrace tradition. Like finding a jelly bean in the bottom of my cone of ice cream at Wilson's in Door County. Like the fact that Santa always tastes the cookies my children leave him to allow them to feel they give back. Like rusty poles carrying electricity to power my newfangled lifestyle.
Is Tradition a thing of the past? For me, it is definitely a thing of my present, because we all need something we can feel sure of.
'Where Does The Time Go?' is what I've been thinking as I pour over eighteen years of photos to fill a memory book I'm preparing for my daughter's graduation gift. Looking back at the photos of her as a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler, and so on and so on, has made me wonder how eighteen years could have passed by in what seems like the blink of an eye.
My daughter was born just as digital cameras were making their debut - we didn't own one at that time, because they cost a fortune, and the photo quality was similar to that of Impressionist art. Because of this, I had to search my printed photos box for a newborn photo. I found the one I remembered. It had been carefully glued to the first page of the a paper memory book I had begun to make, shortly after my daughter's birth.
The memory book I had begun was beautiful. The text was hand-written, using stencils. There were hand-drawn embellishments adorning each page. Each photo was carefully glued in place, and a frame was drawn around it. Turning each page, I was quite pleased with my work, and wondered where I had found the time to put this together. Until I got to the end of my not-quite-finished book, which was the page showing my baby bundled into her car seat for the first time, ready to go home from the hospital. Yes, that's right! I had made it to two days old! The most amazing thing is that I had put together eight pages to document two days of life.
That's when I began to think about how when our babies are very new, we count days. And we are in awe at all that happens on any given day. As time passes, and our babies grow, we start to count things in weeks, then months, then years. Perhaps this is because meaningful change seems to occur only in those longer time frames than it does in the early days of one's life.
And that seemed sad to me.
We as a people are always lamenting how little time we have. How we have so much to do, and so little time to do it, despite the fact that we always seem to be doing something. And yet, when asked what we've done, we tend to think we've done nothing much at all.
And that seems sadder to me.
This idea of the passing of time has turned my thoughts to appreciating time in smaller increments, as we do when our babies are new. To recognize things changing around us all the time - the sun rising and later setting, the moon and stars brightening the night sky, cloud patterns forming, grass growing, birds singing, flowers blooming, trees leafing, food smelling and tasting delicious, a child's song filling the air and her dance bringing a smile, a dog's gentle breathing as she sleeps at your feet, a husband's arm resting on yours as you drift off to sleep, . . .
Where does the time go? If we view life through the lens through which we view the life of a newborn, rejoicing in the beauty and joy of each moment, as if it were new, we will know that the time is always present.
Why May Baskets?
When I was a young girl, on May 1, we made May Baskets out of milk cartons and pipe cleaners, filled them with small flowers and candy, and left them on the doors of our friends. In Europe, where the traditions celebrating May Day began centuries ago, many said traditions live on today. May Baskets are an American tradition, which has not lived on, sadly.
My Garden Club recently made May Baskets (pictured above), and today it made my day to secretly leave them on the doors of my good friends. As expected, a few who caught me in the act, or suspected I was the giver, have sent messages thanking me and letting me know of the joy they brought.
Why May Baskets? They bring JOY!
'What Do You Want To Do?' is a question my oldest daughter is asked a lot right now. She's a senior, and is on the verge of choosing a college.
There is much to consider when choosing a college, as it is a time and place where young adults continue to learn and grow as individuals and members of a community, preparing them for what they ultimately will do as members of the global community that is the world. Given that the goal is to prepare young people for what they will do as adults, the question generally asked and pondered is, 'What do you want to do?' A fair question, indeed. But also a difficult one. I, for one, believe it is illogical that at 17 or 18 years of age, one would know exactly what one wants to do with the rest of one's life. Some feel quite certain they do know, and that gives them an advantage, at least in terms of where they begin. Others are quite unsure, which makes it more difficult. Or does it?
Knowing what one wants to "do" generally refers to knowing how one wants to earn a living, what one wants as a career. Finding joy in a career is a wonderful gift, as for most, it is how we spend a great deal of our time. But what if you don't know?
As I journey through life, it has become obvious to me that many don't know what they want to do--at age 17, or 30, or 50, or 70, etc. Life for many isn't lived by setting a particular goal, crossing all t's and dotting all i's toward achieving it, and then relishing the success before moving on to the next goal. I, for one, am a terrible goal setter--at least when it comes to setting specific goals for my life. I'm not lazy nor uninterested; quite the contrary, I have many interests, and I give my all to everything I undertake. And that makes it challenging to choose one specific goal or path. I'm often heading down many paths at any given moment. This gives my life meaning. It also makes my track record of achieving at a high level in any single area of my life disappointing, at times.
I have learned to prioritize channeling my best efforts at all cost into the few areas of my life where I unconditionally expect success. The best example of this is in being a good parent. I have placed advancing in my career, and often other goals which are important to me, on the back burner in order to ensure that I will give my absolute best to the goal of being the best parent I can be. It's always good to know what one's top priorities are, even if we don't know everything we wish to achieve.
The other way I live my life of wanderlust, without feeling the sadness of underachievement, is to remember that my ultimate priority is to live a life of joy. If I allow the joy in my heart to guide my daily life, seizing opportunity as it presents itself, whether or not I was seeking it, I generally find myself on the right path, even if it is twisted and winding, confident it will lead me to the ultimate goal I have of feeling my inner joy and channeling it toward making the world a better place.
My daughter, despite not knowing exactly what her job title will be one day, has already demonstrated that she is on the same path. I trust that her own inner joy will take her on a wonderful winding path toward wellbeing--for herself and the world. I may also be on the verge of being successful in the one area I insist on it. Keeping my fingers crossed.
What do you want to do?
author of "JOY"