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Archive for April 2010

Oh Happy Day 043010: Lunch Hour

It’s Friday again! It’s the day I’ve set aside for my little gratitude blogging experiment — the Oh Happy Day! project. It’s my version of “TGIF” with the literal “thanking” thrown in. I try to pull at least one thing from the week for which I am thankful as a way of re-focusing my attention on the blessings of life and love and time. Honestly, it usually works. Gratitude is funny that way. (And, yes, I’m a bit sporadic about the project like I am with everything else. But, I know you’ve grown to accept my Junkie ways.)

This week, it was easy to decide my most gratitude-inducing experience. It was obvious the moment it occurred. Not every week is like that. Sometimes that choice is a bigger stretch. Sometimes there are so many things to be thankful for that it’s hard to choose one to act as Junkie subject matter. Sometimes, my vision is clouded, and I can hardly recognize even one of those blessings to inspire my writing (and thankful heart). This week started out in a move toward the latter. I began Monday tired and frustrated from some events of the prior weekend. A busy schedule and a full immersion in my own overthinking tendencies compounded my anticipation of a “difficult” week. Annoyingly, the mopes just tend to multiply, pushing gratitude further and further from my mind.

Then yesterday rolled around. It was the peak of my frustration, the final lap of my racing thoughts, the tipping point of my emotional balance. Lunch hour to the rescue! I opted for the local deli not far from my office and an outdoor table. Nothing adjusts the attitude like lunch outdoors. I ordered the usual… a cup of chili with crackes and a large sweet tea. This time I also got one of those giant sugar cookies simply because I was at the aforementioned peak. I sat down and was able to look around me. Outside. Outside of me. I felt the temperature of an unusually cool Spring day in April. I stopped taking my own temperature for a moment. I made notes in my journal about new blog posts and work promotions. I took note of something besides my own frustrations. I enjoyed a phone call from a friend, and I listened to a voice outside the one in my own head. Sitting there in my blazer and heels, trying to keep the napkins from littering the parking lot, I actually felt the wind on my face. I actually noticed for the first time that day that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was a breath of fresh air, literally and for my spirit. It was beanless chili with just the right amount of spice for my body, but it was food for my soul.

It always amazes me how a little thing can shift perspective. How a simple and mundane action can alter so many things when we choose to pay attention to it. I guess that’s why I write about it so much. Sometimes the daily things we do a thousand times are just the needed reminder that life is big and small all at the same time. Having lunch outdoors at the deli on Thursday–something I do quite often–turned me around with its sheer simplicity. Simple words. Simple tastes. Simple light. Simple sweetness. Simple deep breaths. Simple pleasures. It shifted me outside myself. And, that’s a good thing.

Thursday’s midday experience made me think of the other spectacular “power” lunches I’ve had this week–the ones that were lost in my internal involvement… Monday’s unexpected sandwiches with my Mom and Dad, Tuesday’s quesadilla with the Queen featuring project planning and sage advice, Wednesday’s enjoyment of leftover taco fixings at my desk catching up with cyberspace.

This  morning, I got the call. It was one of the girls from downstairs in our office inquiring about lunch. We call it “Friday Lunch,” and it’s become a tradition around here for whoever wants to join in. (I’m posting about it today in Quack! the other blog I write for the day job.) We decided on our chosen local carryout by the typical process of elimination and deferring of judgement. We sit to eat together. It has power. And, I enjoyed it.

This week, I’m thankful for lunch. Oh Happy Day!

My Yellow Bowl is Green

This weekly installment from the American Life in Poetry Project dropped into my inBox yesterday. It was a busy day after a busy weekend after a busy week before. My emotions were stretched and frayed from the stuff of life. I was having a hard time concentrating and a hard time catching up. I was immersed in that unique loneliness of my own thoughts. That quality of my brain that bars any intrusions. That part that keeps me focused internally and resists exposure. Then I saw this email. It stopped me. It stilled me. It enticed me to “bathe in the light” of this woman’s attention, as Mr. Kooser described.

I have this light pouring like water, only mine floods the dining room or a pink and green bedroom. I have this rug, only mine is the brick of the front porch or the glean of the hardwood floors. I have this yellow bowl, only mine is green and filled with lemons and Granny Smiths. I have this song. I’m singing it bent over the faces of my own babies. These easy words and descriptions jarred me from that internal immersion, that loneliness that comes from being bound by thought. They directed my attention around me to the mundane activity there. To the simple giving and living. Like you, perhaps, I spend much of my life in the silence of constant motion, of a thousand activities and conversations and concerns robbing stillness. But, here in this newly recognized place, the loneliness of hardship and disappointment and busyness and thought is misshapen. Now, it’s only quiet. And, quiet is ok.

[I’m continually astounded by the power of words, whether composed in verse or in paragraphs. Poetry, in particular, possesses the ability to speak into our common experience and pull from it a varied meaning. April is National Poetry Month. In these last few days of celebration, reacquaint yourself with American poets and their amazing clarity. The American Life in Poetry project is a great place to start.]

American Life in Poetry: Column 266

The great American poet William Carlos Williams taught us that if a poem can capture a moment in life, and bathe it in the light of the poet’s close attention, and make it feel fresh and new, that’s enough, that’s adequate, that’s good. Here is a poem like that by Rachel Contreni Flynn, who lives in Illinois.

The Yellow Bowl

If light pours like water
into the kitchen where I sway
with my tired children,

if the rug beneath us
is woven with tough flowers,
and the yellow bowl on the table

rests with the sweet heft
of fruit, the sun-warmed plums,
if my body curves over the babies,

and if I am singing,
then loneliness has lost its shape,
and this quiet is only quiet.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by David Lee Garrison, whose most recent book of poems is Sweeping the Cemetery: New and Selected Poems, Browser Books Publishing, 2007. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 14, No. 2, Winter 2008, by permission of David Lee Garrison and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

tiny messages . A Time to Cease

I spent most of this week with Baby Girl. She was feverish and fighting an ear infection, the pain of teething and a viral infection that settled in her sweet little mouth in the form of fever blisters. She was discontented regardless of the situation, but intent on communicating her wishes. Only, she didn’t know the words to do that just yet. The one phrase she actually mastered was “No, Mommy!”–something I heard quite frequently during my attempts to comfort her. She was completely unlike herself. My normally smiling and happy-go-lucky daughter was restless and sleepless and often distraught from the pain and discomfort. And, that’s quite a disturbing situation for the Mommy in the equation as well.

During the week, I found that the front porch swing became a great comfort. Something about swinging with a gentle breeze blowing and the somewhat silent scent of nature seemed to settle her down. This child who was pushing against me, crying for some unknown comfort that she couldn’t communicate, resistant to my arms and the rest they might provide finally slowed down with the help of that pendulum motion. She slowly allowed herself to lean against my chest and give way to the need to stop. She finally settled into a relaxed position, her breathing beating a regular rhythm, her hands involuntarily clutching my tee shirt. The posture of rest.

Even when she’s well, Baby Girl often goes through a similar process to reach a similar conclusion. She plays and plays and plays, a constant picture of experimentation and inquisitiveness and busy-body activity. She resists the insistence of nap-time or bedtime until it finally takes over in a sudden pause. When she finally embraces the need to rest, it’s immediate. With pig-tailed doll in hand, knees pulled under and her bottom in the air, she gives in and lets the time to cease take over.

What a blessed relief it is to be given the opportunity to cease! To take the opportunity. To enjoy the opportunity unencumbered by ought tos and should bes. The willingness to finally give up the command of activity, the command of the moment, the command of the day is an undervalued discipline in these times of constant motion.

The concept of shabbat, celebrated as the seventh day of the Jewish calendar, beginning at sundown on Friday, has been commonly construed as a “day of rest.” However, I’ve read where the word is actually translated “to cease.” It’s an interesting and somewhat expanded explanation–imbuing it with much more meaning that a simple nap might provide. In fact, the notion of shabbat is one sort of lost on most of our culture today. Realistically, it’s lost on me almost every week. No kidding. The “act” of ceasing is not usually in my repertoire.

The Jewish faith seems to have revered the command given in Exodus–the blessing–far more than those in modern Christianity. The concepts of sacred and holy are largely lost in the 21st century traditions of Christianity, and perhaps the Sabbath rest can rightly withstand a modernization according to the culture of the day. But, the need for ceasing is still quite relevant. Through the millenia of persecution (given and received) and displacement and replacement, Judaism has managed to retain an appreciation of the sacred and its incorporation into the daily occurence of life. There IS something sacred and awe-inspiring in the normal mundane existence of life. To be given that existence is quite profound in and of itself. I’m convinced that this sacred existence must gain some sort of elaboration through the act of ceasing. After all, God Himself chose to cease.  Regardless of whether that “ceasing” is celebrated on Saturday or Sunday and whether the concept of “work” is an activity rigidly defined, shabbat is clearly worth consideration.

The act of ceasing the normal can remind us of the sacred of life. It pushes us to celebrate that which is plain and common. That which we otherwise might not even notice. A shabbat cease from whatever activity that may be clouding our vision or watering down our perspective often refreshes and redeems our view. Somehow the act of standing still brings healing.

As surely as I can look at a feverish and fretful Baby Girl and know that her greatest and most healing action is a nap, I can recognize that often in times of feverish activity and mental engagement, a time to cease is the most healing step for me as well.

Gift Tags are the tiny messages God continues to include with our gifts — 2 little joys of boys and 1 little jewel of a girl, each with open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and much to teach. “Behold children are a gift of the Lord…” (psalm 127:1)

Oh Happy Day 041610: Glass

Hello Friday!

My office is on the second floor of our building in the Starkville Industrial Park, and I have a window that faces the north side. I regularly enjoy the decision the Queen made to let the crape myrtle trees next to the building follow nature’s course and grow to their hearts’ content rather than chopping them off at the fork in the branches (read metaphorical knees) like some poor myrtles endure. This particular landscaping technique (letting them grow) has often afforded me a wonderful view out of my window despite the standard pre-fab metal-sided glimpse of our industrial neighbors. “My” crape myrtle has been home to several bird families over the years. It’s offered beautiful blooms interspersed with blue sky on summer days. It’s displayed the waning colors of fall among bare branches and revealed the new growth of Spring. Right there on the other side of the glass, it’s given me a walk through the park in the middle of industrial manufacturing central. It makes me smile.

However, this week it’s brought me a touch of jaw-dropping surprise and just a smidgen of annoyance. This week I (and my crape myrtle) have been visited by a very persistent bird. And, frankly, he (and I’m assuming he’s a he) seems to be highly ticked off. At me? I don’t really know. Sometimes it seems like it. But, maybe that’s presumptuous and possibly a bit delusional.

Maybe he (and I’m assuming he’s a he) thought he saw a hot little birdie mama in the glass reflection he’d like to build a nest with among the newly sprouted crape myrtle leaves. Maybe he thought he saw another available boy bird honing in on his crape myrtle territory. Maybe it was seeing the great beyond through the slivers of light at the other end of our building. Maybe the very existence of the glass itself just ticked him off. Maybe that transparent, but obviously apparent boundary just pushed his buttons. I don’t really know.

Here’s what I do know. He had his eye on me. He scoped out the glass. He flapped his wings with everything he had. He moved back and forth from side to side right in front of the window without ever touching it. That’s the part that brought the jaw-dropping surprise. He opened his tiny beak. And he SANG. Repeatedly. Persistently. LOUDLY. Much more loudly than expected from such a tiny beak, from such a tiny bird. So much so that it got his little feathers all ruffled. And, although that’s the part that brought me the smidgen of annoyance given the disruption to my thought process it produced, it’s also the part that I really sort of respect. What a bird!

He walked flew right up to that glass wall–the one that caused him doubt and fear and maybe anger. He did what any self-respecting bird does best. Intimidated or confused or not, he sang the loudest and most defiant song he could muster. It got MY attention. He hauled off and sang. He showed me.

And he did. Show me.

Fresh on the heels of nature’s little object lesson, the report for today’s Oh Happy Day! gratitude project has me thinking about boundaries. And about singing. And, oddly, about how grateful I am for both. We all have boundaries whether internal or external. The boundaries make themselves most apparent in times of transition. When we contemplate change–a change in perspective, in thinking, in lifestyle, in action–sometimes all we can see are the boundaries. Within those walls, we feel our own limitations. It’s easy to lose our vision, our gumption, our selves there.

Yet, if we look carefully, most boundaries are glass. Humans have the unique capacity to see the transparency and the transiency of limits. God designed us with the ability to hope, to imagine, to see beyond, to see through.  And, whatever real or imagined situation we see through that looking glass, we can glean new perspective and new courage to push against those limitations–to alter and expand the space in which we live and move and breathe. Whether through the time-tested promises of faith and hope found in the Bible, or the caring words of others that often shift our perspective, or our own sheer defiance of a particular situation, we can haul off and sing. We can sing the loudest and most persistent song we’ve ever sung. We can push through a week with a sick and crying Baby Girl in need of Mommy’s care. We can juggle and act based on our own priorities, rather than those of the world around us. We can bend a creative block and make it produce something fresh and timely. We can change a situation that has caused us pain for too long. We can learn to do something new. We can choose to do what brings us joy. We can say “no.” We can say “yes.” We can say “enough.” We can say “more.” We can sing. Out loud.

This week I’m thankful for the singing lessons of that little bird. I’m thankful for the songs of faith and of faithful friends and family I’ve heard this week. I’m thankful for boundaries. And for recognizing their transparency. I’m thankful for the ability to sing.

Oh Happy Day!

Moon Shine

Yesterday was an interesting day. I was watching moon shine.

I was actually watching someone watch others in their difficult hours. But it’s sort of like watching moon shine. I’ve been observing and listening to the reactions of a friend who’s been challenged by the troubles of others. It’s an interesting third-party perspective–one that has opened my eyes a bit to the nature of shining.

For those engaged and entwined with the world around them–the people around them–there is an inherent risk. That risk is the inevitable reality of being touched by that world, by those people. The reality is being affected by what rocks that world or what disturbs the peace in those people. I’ve called it the downside of investing in others. It makes you vulnerable to the acute impact of ups and downs. It’s a by-product of giving yourself, your time, your energy. That reality is the true cost of paying attention. And it’s hard to take sometimes. It’s risky. It makes us vulnerable. It renders us helpless in times when we most want to make an impact. Yet, it offers us the greatest opportunity to shine.

Earlier in the week I was driving home and in a bit of a funk. I was frustrated by various situations and taking it out on the steering wheel. Dusk had just slipped by, and the full impact of the darkness had taken control. I had experienced a minor and temporary disappointment, which turned the actual dark of night into a metaphorical darkness of spirit as well. As I made that typical right turn on to Hwy 12, I saw the moon (at the risk of repeating myself). Hanging there in a brief visual respite from the signage and neon found between Taco Bell and the junction at Lousiville Street, that “ruler” of the night was completely full. It was a perfect circumference of light in a sea of cloudless midnight blue. Stunningly bright. Even in the presence of street lights and neon signs and car high beams, it was outstanding.

That full moon simply invaded the night of my mood at that moment. I could not escape the fact of how noticeable it was. I could not escape the fact that I wouldn’t have noticed it at all during the day time. I wouldn’t have noticed it without the pervasive darkness surrounding it. But, thanks to the night, I could see moon shine.

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was an enlightening day. There is a brightness of spirit sometimes found in people that can be quite rare. It shows up as an ability to offer light, peace, hope, or companionship in dark situations. It shines in the ability to be moved by the pain of others–to be moved to simple action. A phone call. A visit. A word to enstill courage. A tear on behalf of another. A shared sorrow. A renewed perspective. A bolstered possibility. I was a third-party to it in observing my friend. A hidden witness to that circumference of light standing in contrast to the night. In being privy to the darkness, I saw moon shine.

It inspired me.

It reminded me of some lessons on the nature of dark and light from last July. A portion of them bears repeating here, in “light” of yesterday’s witness to moon shine:

“Amazingly, light dispels dark rather quickly, efficiently and indiscriminantly. Light is generous, and despite the unfortunate efforts we sometimes impose on ourselves and others, it is uncontained…. the blackest dark loses its way in the presence of even the smallest light. Even a weak light reflecting its true Source spreads with uncommon power. The light I have to share, though small, can and will impact any sphere in which I choose to shine it.”

I aspire to that light. To that kind of shining.

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