“No Worries”

I want to leave my worry today.

That’s what I said to myself at the end of my morning yoga practice.  Rachel, my teacher, suggested that we might want to set an intention for our day or name something we want to leave. I wanted to leave my worry that woke me up that morning.

I use the idea of “worry” to cover a multitude of sins.  I woke up worrying…  I was so worried… what worries me… all the worrying… that worries me…

What I worry about is often that “skilfully wrought impression,” as author Carol Shields muses, that is a life.  What I worry about is wrapped around what I might do, or not do, for the sake of someone’s good opinion of me.

Even more derailing are my worries about what I imagine to be true and what matters about me.

When I’m almost asleep, I can be jolted out of sleep’s release.  When I awake at 2:00 a.m., I rehearse those conversations that matter in the dark.  Even after a full night’s sleep, I might awake to one perseverating premonition.

One day, I wrote that the panic or anxiousness or sadness that I feel is not a reaction to my usual worrying, but I’m not sure that is the truth.  Beneath the worry is my furtive desire to change, manage, and control people, situations, or circumstances that I cannot and are not mine to manage, change, or control.  My impulse is disguised as worry that helps and even cares for others. 

My own skilfully wrought impression?  The bringing together of what I fear? Or some of what I off-handedly reveal that sums up why I matter in my world?  (More co-opting of Carol Shield’s words.)

Jesus said, “Don’t worry, be grateful. Does it add anything to your life?” 

And Mary Oliver came to a similar conclusion and gave it up.

So today, I’m leaving my worry here and I will be ready to lay it down again… and again.

I Worried

by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.  Will the

garden grow, will the rivers flow in the

 right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not

how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will

I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing,

even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,

hopeless.

In my eyesight fading or am I

just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying

had come to nothing

and gave it up.  And took my

old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Troubling Bodies

You have to look hard to see where I hit the car. Maybe, I’m just saying that to justify what happened.

The car, a stylish white SUV, sits in front of the house across the street from my house.  Rarely does it move, even last winter before the pandemic restrictions began. I don’t know who owns the vehicle; the house has 3 units and I don’t often see the occupants.

I can’t even remember what month it happened, maybe early November.  I know it was raining and kind of dark that morning.  The daylight is markedly shorter in the winter.  Now the dog gets us up around 5:00 am and I go to bed around 10:00 pm, all in the light. 

I have a back up camera on my car. I suppose I either didn’t use it or it was hazy with the wetness and dim light. I was on my way to yoga and had just enough time to make it; parking places are scarce on most mornings.

In that moment, I forgot about that white car that is always there. I was startled by the thud. I pulled forward and stopped.  Could I have actually hit something? 

I eased out of the car, leaving my door ajar. Usually, cars only travel one-way on the street where I live.  Looking closely enough, I thought, I saw no visible damage to the parked car or my own.  Just a slight bump, I reasoned.  So, on I went.

Winter days are mostly cloudy and rainy, yet, I watched the parked car in the dim light for days.  It didn’t move.  I did ask Mitch to take a look; I still had a feeling the impact was more than a gentle tap.  “There is a dent above the parking light,” he matter of factly reported.

Late November, I remember. After a ten-day trip to California, I renewed my daily watch out the front window.  My eyes fixed on the front bumper of that parked reminder each time I pulled out of my own driveway. I saw clearly the imperceptible indention, glaring above the parking light. 

A, B, and C: one letter on each of the three doors.  The tenants of B drive a stylish red mustang. Door C must be in back.  There is a compact grey vehicle in the driveway beside the red one and an older van on the other side of the house.  So who owns the white SUV?  Door B seems most likely.   

A few weeks before Christmas, a couple with suitcases emerged from door B.  It was about 5:30 a.m. and they were picked up and whisked away, I’m guessing to the airport. Even the red mustang was gone for the holidays. The white car stayed in its place until January 6, when Mitch and I left for another trip to visit our daughter this time.

In the June 9, 2020, episode of podcast On Being, in the midst of new conversations about race reignited by George Floyd’s murder, the host, Krista Tippett, opened my mind to embodied racism; a visceral fear that is obscured by rational minds.  She noted that she was born in 1960 and that it seems like much progress occurred over the years, that laws were passed (gender and race) that were, in a way, revolutionary. Except, we changed the laws but we didn’t change ourselves. 

“All of us carry the history and traumas behind everything we condense in the word race in our bodies… it was in my body, too,” she declared.

You see, I didn’t tell you that part.  I was afraid to just knock on Door B and ask if they knew who owned the white SUV.   “They” don’t look like me. I’ve never had a conversation or even acknowledged anyone who lives at the house. And yes, to absolve myself, I can say that I have friends here, close friends, who came from China and South Korea.  Why was I so reluctant to approach the possible owner of that car to make things right? 

What in me triggered my fear? That is what is so unsettling. I made assumptions in the moment that are unfounded. Did I think “they” wouldn’t understand me?  So, I might speak more loudly or slowly without even knowing their command of a first or second or third language.  If I’d hit my next-door neighbour’s car, I might have been humiliated to admit my carelessness, but would I be afraid to tell her since she is white and about the same age as me?

You see, I am an immigrant here, but I am white, and I mostly feel like I belong. I don’t know anything about my neighbours who live in that grey house.  I let my visceral reaction to their race rule my response; a hidden embodied fear of the stranger, more dangerous, I know.

A few years older than Krista Tippett, I am formed by a colourless Midwestern growing up that I thought I’d left behind.  That’s the disquieting part; how does my body catch up?  Being uncomfortable in that body is maybe a meagre beginning.

This week as I was looking over an absentee ballot for the Federal Election in the States, I noticed again.  As I searched for more information about the candidates from afar, I was struck with my embodied response to the faces I encountered.  What difference did it make that I was able to see the face of the candidate? 

What difference did it make to know gender identity and skin colour and all those defining “differences”—the family of origin, education, interests and even grooming? I was acutely aware of my hidden proclivities.  I looked at the white male with a traditional family as being more “electable” than the woman of colour who was single, when both had similar policy agendas. Being aware hopefully moved me toward more courageous decisions.

How do I as a white (insert plenty of other descriptors here) change myself on a deeper level?  When I pass the homeless man who sits everyday on the bench outside our church or see my neighbours in their yard or ponder my vote, how do I use that uncomfortable place to catch up to what my mind thinks it knows?

For 3 winter months, I watched to see who drove that car.  On a cold January day, I went out to get in my car and there she was, getting into her car.  I did not hesitate. 

I hurried over to the stylish white SUV, just as the driver shut her door.  As she rolled down her window, I began my confession.  She got out to look at the front of her car.  “Don’t worry about it,” she quietly affirmed as she waved off my amends.

I still don’t know exactly who lives in unit B. I noticed an older man and a young woman playing badminton in the yard.  I noticed a middle aged woman sitting once in the window late at night.  And yesterday, I saw her, the young woman who drives the white SUV taking in a congratulatory yard sign.  I wish I knew what she is celebrating.

 

CB+zyNlMTW61U2csfC3INw_thumb_902Linda, I love you with all of my heart. That’s what my grandma used to say to me. My sisters and I were the youngest of 26 grandchildren. I was Grandma’s favorite; she told me so.

When I was young, she often spent the night with us. She slept in my bedroom, on the other twin-sized bed and I was afraid that she would die there. My Grandma was the only elderly (in my eyes) person I was with regularly. And to be honest, I didn’t know what I would do without her.

There are lots of stories I could tell: the time I ran away from home and hid in her dirt-floored garage for hours, the times I spent the night with her and we shared popcorn with too much melted butter, the songs she sang to me and the stories she told at bedtime, homemade noodles drying on the kitchen table, variety shows (with clothesline curtains) in her back yard, and in later years her “streaking” through our living room when I had teenage friends over, her mind had slipped from the time she wrote that note.

After all these years and my regular purging of stuff that I don’t need to keep even for sentimental reasons, I still have that scrap of paper. My heart opened on paper torn from a small spiral notebook, the folded crease yellowed, the script of another era. I don’t remember when or where my grandma wrote that she loved me with all her heart. That scrap matters.

Heart space. Lead with your heart. From the heart. Heartfelt thanks. Open your heart. My heart is broken. Since Jesus came into my heart…

What does it mean to love with, lead with, open, break, or mend a heart? What is this heart anyway?

Parker Palmers considers in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, that “heart” is at the center of our being and knowing,

In this book, the word heart reclaims its original meaning. “Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge—intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know.

Sometimes, I do know when my heart is opened, but I don’t have the courage to go along.

If my heart is that center place where all my ways of knowing come together, maybe that is also some of the mystery when tears start to well up behind my eyes, my nose weeps with those backed up tears, and my voice gets a little quivery—if I actually even need to say something.

I’m always surprised by these experiences: the time the lady at the pay booth at the airport parking lot waved me through sensing I needed a break with reality; when I turn a corner and am caught by the beauty that stands in reminder of the steadfastness of the earth’s care; when my eyes fill while watching a television show or movie and I have no idea why. Are these moments that are beyond the definable ways we connect our spirits?

Mitch’s friend, Drew, a pastor near New York City, wondered about social distancing and the importance of heartfelt connection. He discovered that while we may remain two meters or 6 feet apart, our heart energy extends beyond that distance. He said that scientist and theologian, Barbara Holmes, emphasizes that the vibrational field of the human heart stretches out ten feet in front of us, and 10 feet behind us. That’s four feet more than the 6 feet social distancing requires.

Several years ago at the large university where I worked, I was walking in an area of campus I didn’t typically visit. I noticed a man sitting in a lawn chair in a grassy area, just a bit off the walking path. He had placed another lawn chair a few feet away from his. The scene seemed wildly out of place. As I got closer, I noticed his clerical collar and a tented sign near the sidewalk. I don’t remember exactly what the sign announced but I do remember he was offering a deeper conversation with whoever passed if they chose to stop and sit and open their heart.

In my experience, I know that it is true that the reach of our heart is palatable and stretches beyond our conception of time and place and emotion. So, I’m wondering if this being human is a heart pause—to be a person first—instead of after the calculated considerations we usually make. The heart is that deep center where we aren’t afraid to risk being ourselves.

Parker goes on to say,

The politics of our time is the “politics of the brokenhearted”—an expression that will not be found in the analytical vocabulary of political science or in the strategic rhetoric of political organizing. Instead it is an expression from the language of human wholeness. There are some human experiences that only the heart can comprehend and only heat-talk can convey. Among them are certain aspects of politics, by which I mean the essential and eternal human effort to craft the common life on which we all depend.

… to have the courage today to love with all my opened heart.

 

 

 

Come from Away

But even without talking, she taught me to let into my insides the real of this place. From her I learned the deep of here.

Strange As This Weather Has Been, Ann Pancake

 

Come from away is a common moniker on the easternmost island off Canada, Newfoundland.  I live on Vancouver Island, off the opposite coast of this country, and I am considered a “come from away.” Literally, I came from roughly 3000 miles or 4800 kilometers away, not very long ago. I might be asked by Newfoundlanders, “where ya ‘longs to?”

For a few days, I’ve been reading an old journal from spring 2014, where I lived two homes ago. I wanted to find an incident that happened around that time that I may have written down. Sometimes I can remember events in relation to where I was located in time and place. I didn’t look further for that one event, though.

The beginning sentence I’d written in the notebook I dug out was intriguing enough. “New for more reasons than the other journal is full—this one is beginning because I am.”

As I continued to read what I’d written before, I found unexpected familiarity—those pages could have been written yesterday, longing to belong, to find my place.

My old journal notebooks are also commonplace books, where snippets of whatever I’m reading are nested into musings about what I’m worried about or celebrating or just considering. The quote from Ann Pancake’s exceptional storytelling was just there on one of the pages where I had copied it without making the usual connection to my current circumstance. Now, the grandmother’s wisdom stands out.

Re-reading those surrounding musings rekindled some of myself that I’ve missed.

I see my longing to belong and be at home with myself. I also see the separation, independence, the fret, and disillusionment of trying to “do” what seems worthy or in line with what may or may not actually fit me. Maybe that is part of my hope for the first line about newness and beginning. I had just finished my dissertation and was struggling with the voices that demanded I prove myself and do something relevant and the constant striving and relying on my own intellect, always with more to do and prove.

Reliving my wonderings, I remember the sustainable reason I do daily writing that I keep forgetting—to discover truths about my life so that writing is a spiritual practice, not for intellectual striving or proving my worth.

I’ve been saying that, in one way or another, over and over. And over and over, I am wavering in the discipline to do this kind of writing, daily, and forgo the need to say too much. I have been writing to uncover that deep inside. I write in my journal, or morning pages, or to figure out something on scraps of paper, or in more formal places. But, somehow there is that old striving and proving that creeps in to keep me on the surface of the deep.

The way forward is to keep on. I know that.

Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird that she wants, people who write to crash or dive below the surface, where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see…to plunge through the holes—the holes we try to fill up with props. In those holes and in the spaces around them exist all sorts of possibility, including the chance to see who we are and to glimpse the mystery.

All those things, all my reading, my puffed up and everyday writing, those notes on random pieces of paper and in notebooks, the books I’ve studied and read for pleasure, the lessons and contemplative moments I’ve experienced have contributed to the deep. We do need discipline, formation, ritual, and even teaching, however, these are little more than channels or props for the lived experience of something deeper.

That’s what the writers who have been formative for me do; they tell the stories of their lives. I don’t always see the deep cold in everything I write, it doesn’t come by crafting or striving. That deepness will be visible by and by, if I just keep telling the stories, making the connections I love to make. So that my day’s words, however brief or long, I can tell them and let them be—and they will rise up to teach me when the time comes, and that might take a while.

Back in 2014, near the end of the journal that I said was a new beginning, I posed a new question: What is another way?

I, of course, posed a few possibilities. One way is writing, I said, and thought I could write other things than the push of academic scrawl. And then, I wondered, if the way might be:

  • Away from everything I know how to manage and survive
  • Out from under reputations I’ve built for myself or maybe even more apt, visions I’ve built for myself
  • Away from the high expectations and disappointing returns

I am a “come from away.” What are the ways to let into my insides the real of this place and learn the deep of here?

Today

Yesterday, I told my husband, “I’m going to do less, today.”

A funny thing to say, it might seem, since every day now is kind of a day off.   Maybe though, it’s a change of heart rather than habit.

You see, for two days, Sunday and Monday, I kept a time log of everything I did. I want to spend my time more intentionally —to limit the time I watch television or read emails or whatever else I fall into that isn’t nourishing or necessary or productive in my mind’s eye. When 8:00 in the evening rolled around, I was spent and needed to sit a spell.

So, that is why I said that yesterday was going to be a day to “do” less. As I look back on the day of letting go of expectations, an odd thing did happen.

It started first thing in the morning. I read a book instead of my usual morning routine of Lectio and centering prayer. Okay, so the book was Putting on the Mind of Christ, but I just wanted to get back to this book that I laid aside a few weeks ago. I didn’t write down any significant revelations in my dandy notebook, I just stood fast in the few pages I read at that moment.

At 9:15, my usual zoom yoga class began without me. I thought I might catch an online offering later on, but I didn’t. Sitting in a meditative pose to read and later a restorative child’s pose to rest was enough for the day.

I kept reading—short pieces—and watched video lectures for the first week of an online class my friend and I are “visiting.” I say that because we are participating, but at our own pace and assignments are optional. Since I don’t have to adhere to the have-to’s, I stopped when my interest had peaked.

I did wash a load of towels. I seem to be doing that more frequently these days. The glorious part was that I leisurely hung them to dry on my makeshift clothesline. The warm sunshine and gentle breeze did the work of drying and infusing them with that smell and crunchy texture that make me happy. And I experienced that warmth and freshness all over again when I reached for a towel this morning.

I continued to clean the microwave that I moved to a table on the deck. Hopefully, the fresh air and boiling vinegar will work to dissipate some of the odour—I burned rice on one of those days I was keeping track. Hopefully, this microwave, too, just needs some time to heal itself.

As the evening rolled around, I made a familiar supper. I know my mother’s directions by heart. She wrote them down for me before she died in 1993. I can’t properly say I follow her “recipe,” since there is no “amount” of any ingredient. It fits in with doing less today—no need for measurements.

And then I remembered my capacious heart that I wrote about in my journal and found the William Maxwell book to savour that one short story again, and posted a blog, inspired again by that last line of the story.

 

Today, I did join my zoom yoga class, a restorative one and guess what my guide read? Mary Oliver’s poem from A Thousand Mornings.

 

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

 

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

 

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

 

Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.

 

Ahhhh, it is another day to fly low, my friend.

IMG_0372The final paragraph in William Maxwell’s short story, The Thistles in Sweden, is 36 lines. I love his abandon.

The short story is about nothing and everything—it chronicles the lives and details the surroundings of the narrator and his wife, Margaret, and their cats that live on the top floor of the brownstone on Murray Hill. Maxwell’s style expands Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy decades later—a story about the minutiae of daily life that adds up to something.

Much like all our days during this unprecedented time of being homebodies, Maxwell’s sense of time in his short story is malleable—the story is written in the present tense. Time doesn’t exactly stand still though. At one point, the narrator reminds himself that time passed in that apartment “is not progressive or in sequence” but “horizontal surfaces divided into squares.”

The narrator reflects on those squares in the last paragraph:

Now when I walk past that house I look up at the windows that could be in Leningrad or Innsbruck or Dresden or Parma, and I think of the stairway that led only to the trapdoor in the roof, and of the marble fireplace, the bathroom skylight, and…Mrs. Pickering sitting in her bedroom chair with her eyes wide open, waiting for help… the guests who came the wrong night, the guest who was going to die and knew it…the sound of my typewriter…a paintbrush clinking in a glass of cloudy water…and Margaret’s empty days…

 And after many more lines of quotidian sacredness, he concludes:

…and I think if it is true that we are all in the hands of God, what a capacious hand it must be.

And I believe that might be true, today, as one day blurs into another without our usual markers of time.

I woke up in the morning with a capacious heart. My heart is expanded with gratitude. I don’t recall a time when I just started out feeling so grateful. I didn’t try to “feel” grateful, or pray a prayer of gratitude, or even “be” thankful; it just was there. A capacious heart, breaking open to what is right now.

I am grateful looking out my kitchen windows to see trees open with new life. For new growth emerging from the harshness of my paved patio, yes, up through the cracks, never mind that some might arbitrarily call them “weeds.”

I am grateful for Mitch, the one I spend 24 hours a day with now. I am awed that he isn’t daunted by what might not seem possible or probable or difficult to pull off now that will bring new life to our circle of influence.

I am grateful for my adult children, both at great distances physically, but closer than imaginable. Yesterday, my daughter called for practical advice and I am reminded that I don’t have to strive to help or offer unsolicited advice, but simply be available if and when she asks.

I am grateful for a reimagined relationship with my son. He called yesterday, too, deeply reflective, to share his insights about daily living in these times, to ask what we were reading, and to share his own recommendations for films and books to savor.

I am grateful for close friends, some physically far away, who quietly provide for their families doing what naturally flows out of a deep center.

If I lumped all those sentences together in a William Maxwell-esk way, I, too, will end with:

I think of the happy green grocery on Mackenzie Avenue who stocks the freshest produce, the friends who bring ice cream bars (carefully wrapped in newspaper) sharing Mitch’s birthday while sitting 2 meters away on the lawn, and our son’s birthday letter, and our grandson dancing barefooted in the kitchen with his winter hat still on his head, and the sound of lawnmowers that mean that spring has arrived, and the mountains in the distance still covered with snow in the bright sunshine of a clear day, while we wait to cross the street on our walk around the neighbourhood, while bicycles race by on the not so busy street, and

I think if it is true that we are all in the hands of God, what a capacious hand it must be.

News Worthy

This is not the story I wanted to write. One week left and I have slowly and ever so cautiously slipped.

It is not my usual custom to deprive myself of chocolate or rutabagas for Lent. I do take seriously that this particular season is a good time for deep reflection and mediators, that take many forms, do help. In past seasons, I’ve worked through particular themes or wiser people’s Lenten studies. I have taken on new or reimagined practices (often overcoming some fear) that have stayed with me, like my studio yoga practice.

This year I needed to give up “the news.” I might need to qualify that I mean news from the United States that was sucking the life out of me.

Five weeks ago, I began my Lenten journey with the story of Jesus’ temptation. I wondered in my journal: What temptations rule me? I knew I wasted both my energy and my imagination checking the news—an easy and addictive diversion to whatever I could be doing that would be more filling. Even though it was not my intention to get immersed in the milieu, I had some level of desire to see the drama unfold that was US politics.

I wanted to believe that somehow, somewhere, there are people who are honest in their desire to make the world better for everyone, right? Well, I do want to believe that, but it is not the reason I clicked on multiple news outlets. So yes, I do have less than noble reasons for checking in on the day’s “spin.”

I casually pursued headlines and occasionally listened to cable news elucidation that viscerally affected me. I wanted my side to prevail, you know, the people who share my worldview.  I wanted to read that the people who, according to me, misuse their power or privilege are called out by the masses, lose, and even fail. I wanted to hear my own beliefs echoed back to me as I chose shallow and complex engagements over deepening simple truths.

The season of Lent offered me a charge to be better. Change is always possible. Some speak of the parabolic imagination where reversals are possible and sinners become saints and the blind see, see the world as it could be and participate in that transformation. I thought that by refocusing that time I spent that precipitously derailed me, I could develop new relationships with trouble.

I decided to still read the local Times Columnist and watch the Vancouver Island News in the evening. I have seen glimpses of a different way of viewing the news. There was the story about a little dog determined to carry a tree trunk (rather than a sensibly sized stick) along a narrow trail. His owner inspired by his tenacity and sagacity.

I found inspiration myself in the story about a formerly homeless man who has transformed his rented apartment into a work of art with an eclectic accumulation of stuff. Even in this time of unprecedented news making, I find relief in the most constant face of the pandemic where I live, the calm and steady voices of caution and compassion— three women who are provincial and national health ministers. Dr. Bonnie Henry ends each day’s briefing for British Columbia with: Be calm, be kind, be safe.

How could I build a better relationship with troubles? I’ve slowed another anxious part of myself by not checking “news,” or whatever might be tempting that I know is soul-sapping.

How might I build a Lent that becomes a life and cultivate a closer relationship with goodness? I can seek out those voices that are kind and true like our Health Minister and maintain distance from those that are not. I am learning ever so slowly to observe my thoughts, even the ideas that incense me, without commenting or judging or expanding upon them. Let them pass. That will take a lifetime, I know.  I wonder if this is the wisdom of building up treasure; the kind that is seen in secret and will be reward enough.

I am reminded of Socrates’ advice for choosing our words: “Is it true; is it kind, or is it necessary?” Maybe I could apply that filter when choosing news to hear—worthy news.

Living Questions

An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion.

It sharpens your eye for the road.

Rachel Naomi Remen

That’s the tricky part—being able to hold fear and release, sadness and joy, assurance and mystery— that is surrounded by unexplainable hopefulness. 

How do we experience God and humanity, not as a rescuer or fixer or even a comforter, but as an abiding presence?

Rachel Naomi Remen reminds us of the power of questions that confound our lives.  My wondering today is an evolution of that question that has been with me for most of my life: What is my responsibility for my life and what is God’s and what just happens?

Again and again I bump up against what eludes explanation, the aligning of freedoms of choices: God’s, mine, and stuff that doesn’t fit into that binary.  I’m faced with facing what is, trusting in the moment without second-guessing what is already done, and at the same time, I am still trying to control outcomes that are not in my control.  How do I let go of boundaries of time, of expectations, of accomplishments, and whatever else occupies my attention in a state of brace, instead of giving space to what I cannot predict or even imagine?

Well, this seems to be one of those times.

Most of the things I do have been radically altered.  I actually like being home and released from the tug of social obligations—even though most of those encounters are life-giving.  I didn’t have to choose where to meet my friend for coffee or whether to invite her to my house instead.  I didn’t have to figure out a meal suitable to take to a friend or whether to invite another to my house because that is not comfortable for anyone right now.  I didn’t have to plan the English class I lead or wonder what my responsibilities are for Sunday church.   I didn’t have to feel guilty about deciding to skip my yoga class or dreading a trip to the grocery store for things that I didn’t really need anyway.

In the wake of all this release, I have actually been sleeping soundly all night.  The imaginaries that visited me at 3 a.m. have vanished or taken on a new perspective.  

I have been concerned that our immigration paperwork—that makes it easy to travel to see my family—expires in July.  Even though we know Mitch has a contract extension, I had conjured up all kinds of scenarios about what could and might happen during the renewal process.  Without knowing the “real” requirements, I have agonized over an imagined time line and the ill effects of delays. 

In order to stabilize the procedure, we were frantically preparing for an English test we were to take, even though English is our first and only language.  We sent our education credentials for a costly “official” review, knowing we have advanced degrees.  I applied for a job at the local University and was encouraged by the response and at the same time terrified of the possibility. I even imagined where we might live if it wasn’t where we are and couldn’t even come up with a place that made any sense.

The English test has been canceled.  The degree review is delayed because the company employees are working from home.  The University interview was canceled because there are so many unknowns about when classes might resume and how.

We are part of the fabric of this community and the formal paperwork doesn’t seem as pressing right now as I previously imagined.  We are grateful that Mitch’s job pays him to continue transforming what it means to do his job in unforeseen circumstances. We are grateful for simple encounters with people that matter. I’ve made more phone calls and reached out to more people this week and it has been without fear or obligation.  

Whether it is God’s choice, my choice, or someone else’s choice, or the aligning of freedom of choices, I don’t know.  My question hasn’t changed but I have been forced to let go of some boundaries and what might be possible that kept me looking and longing instead of living into what is.

That’s the tricky part—being able to hold what is and abide in the presence of Love where fear and release and sadness and joy don’t require resolution.  And the future is pure mystery.

Neither the end or the beginning…

The story isn’t finished; the stories I connected in my last blog, that is. The story in the movie It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, the story behind the Jewish teaching Tikkun Olan (to repair the world), and my own story are linked in an odd conflation of time. I realize how life unfolds, not “in order,” but it emerges in disorder, maybe even haphazardly at times. The disorder engenders reflection and wonder when I pay attention.

My adult son asked me to expand upon the idea that systems of public education celebrate submission to standardized thinking and dictate acceptable social roles and norms. It was a tall order. Looking back through some of my own academic writing, I uncovered this story about a young man I tutored more than ten years ago. There is more to see here.

Along with the part of town where he lived, Michael was seen as lacking.  Michael didn’t measure up to either the academic or social expectations of his teachers or community leaders. He wore labels that schools generate and use to describe deficiencies and predict outcomes for a lifetime.

Michael’s dad, John, beamed that Michael had failed the test to qualify for a special class as a prospective high school freshman. His son was “too smart,” he said, to be accepted into the class that would separate him from the mainstream. John was looking for a tutor to teach 15-year-old Michael to read before school began that fall.

The director of the Neighbourhood Center contacted me to ask if I might help find a tutor for Michael. I had a long history with the community and knew the family. I decided that the tutor could be me.

During June and July, Michael and I met twice a week at the Center. He regularly brought a book of stories about his favourite cartoon characters, books from the library about dogs or famous people (like Albert Einstein) and his cell phone as reading material he wished to share. Considered a “non-reader” in school, Michael admitted he let teachers read aloud to him as he navigated his way through the school day, in and out of the special services resource room for extra help.

In our time together, Michael found his way to online reading sites (he particularly enjoyed Greek mythology for early readers), read signs in the driver’s manual I thought would be of interest to him, and played online family feud, one of his favourite games. He told stories about cruising the neighbourhood on his bicycle and about the 1964 Ford Galaxy he and his dad had recently purchased to fix-up. Together, we wrote down a few of his adventures to use as familiar texts that supported his rereading. To find another way for Michael to share his stories, I encouraged him to photograph the car he’d been telling me so much about.

Michael used his photographs to create a digital story that he wrote as a short narrative, read as a voice-over, and completed with country music he remixed to add to his video. We made an official-looking CD to share with his family and the Neighbourhood Center’s staff. Michael’s dad watched the video, listening to his son read with tear-filled eyes.

How Michael actually used literacy did not neatly conform to the linear standardized conceptions of what counts as “meeting expectations” at his new school. In contrast to the school community’s perception of Michael as a failed literacy learner, finding Michael in his own stories allowed me, his family, and the community center staff to see Michael in ways that counted in his life.

Yes, it was a Fred Rogers kind of finding. Michael’s story articulates a discourse of possibility that is what Fred Rogers had mastered.

At the end of the summer, I was preparing for a new semester and arranging for Angie, a community volunteer, to take over my weekly meetings with Michael. In our conversations, I eagerly shared: “he likes… he knows… he wants to find out about… he’s really good at… no, he doesn’t like to… he’s kind of scared about.”

Angie was enthusiastic about possibilities, not just for Michael as a reader—we both knew his strength and his struggle—but for Michael as a young man, growing into his strengths. Angie ended the conversation with:  We spend too much time remediating and not enough time encouraging.

Yes, to capaciously find the hidden light in each person; to lift it up and make it visible once again restores wholeness to part of the world that we can touch.

Seek to Find

Personal stories don’t really have a beginning, or middle, and an ending. Things happen. One thing follows another and some things lead up to what we thought might have happened first. The effects, implications, and the lessons we gain along the way are never finished. A pattern forms that is sometimes hidden from plain sight.

We do make sense of our lives by constructing a story – it doesn’t have to be written down. Stories connect us—to each other and to larger truths.

This story could begin with a Christmas habit; one our family took up quite a few years ago. It happened when our children became young adults. After eating a big breakfast, opening a few presents, and sustaining dwindling conversations, we would retreat to an afternoon movie at our local theatre. This past Christmas, it was just Mitch and I, and guess what? People in our new town shared our family’s holiday escape; the cinema was packed.

We decided to catch the 4:00 show and narrowed our choices down to two: CATS and It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Our quick watch of the official trailers made the decision easy. At the downtown theatre, we indulged in the almost leather reclining seats and a $14 bag of buttery popcorn. Truly, it was a holiday event.

We were assigned seats in row 3. My neck was grateful for the 14 ads for upcoming attractions that gave it time to adjust to the view. It took me a bit longer to get used to the actor, Tom Hanks, playing Mr. Rogers. I’m still not comfortable with that choice. But it didn’t matter.

The movie, to me, was more about the actual relationship that framed the story: the transformation of the journalist, Tom Junod, who was assigned to interview the children’s television icon in the late 1990s. The official movie trailer touts: “It only takes one person to inspire a world of kindness.” While there have been several news and magazine stories that say this is the lesson our world most needs right now, that is not the essence of the movie I watched.

Sure, Fred Roger’s was kind. However, what I witnessed that made a difference in Tom Junod’s life was beyond kindness. I am unable to find adequate words to describe the ways Fred Rogers celebrated, no, uncovered goodness in a person that people like you and I don’t easily see. Goodness isn’t exactly the right word either.

Fred Rogers recognized an intangible something— making an attitude, an insight, an observation matter to encourage another’s life. Fred’s gift was his ability to recognize and name a kernel of Tom’s being (in this case) that was healing to name. Evidently, Tom Jurod was an interrogator with a reputation, not a good one. The fact that Fred and Tom developed a relationship is another miracle of the Fred Rogers’ sort.

Events of both these men’s lives were remixed in the movie. I found myself searching for more evidence to flesh out what was Fred Rogers. I watched videos, read and watched interviews, and reread articles both from the time of the events and those that the movie has generated in recent weeks.

I found this line in the original article in Esquire magazine that Tom Jurod crafted back in November of 1998:

He finds me, because that’s what Mister Rogers does—he looks, and then he finds.

Tom is recalling a time when he met Fred Rogers at Penn Station in New York City. “Find” seems like an appropriate verb for meeting in a large place with lots of people. However, the verb “find” that Tom uses transcends an act of physically locating.   Different than being kind, or gracious, or even good, Fred Rogers looks and then he finds—the person—the real person deep inside.

The story isn’t finished, of course. And this story (the one in the movie) came up in my mind and in my daily writing and is woven into daily relationships both after and, I realized, even before I watched it.

Six or seven months ago, I read a story in Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. I marked the story and wrote bits of both the tale and Krista’s interview in my journal.

On her podcast, On Being, Krista interviewed Rachel Naomi Remen, who told this story in response to a question asking her to recall the spiritual roots of her life. Rachel’s Hasidic rabbi grandfather gifted her this story that is behind the Jewish teaching, Tikkun Olan, to “repair the world.”  Rachel Naomi Remen’s story begins,

…when there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, this world… emerged from the heart of holy darkness as a great ray of light. And … there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

According to Rachel’s rabbi grandfather, the whole human race is here because

…we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.

Both lived stories, the one wise woman Rachel was told by her grandfather 63 years ago and the one I watched in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and beyond, tell us that we are healers of the world. Both stories open a window of possibility.

As Rachel told Krista: “It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you.” It is a collective task.

That’s what Fred Rogers had—the courage to be unselfconscious enough to practice that kind of looking and finding.