Good GRIEF

Everyone of us needs someone who is willing to go looking for us if we go missing in the Sea of Sorrow.

I read the most heart opening article on grief and loss in The Sun magazine last year titled, “The Geography of Sorrow,” written by  Francis Weller,  psychotherapist and author.  Grief, loss and sorrow and how we humans cope with them is a topic that I have read about and privately researched for years. This has been a challenging year and many people  are struggling to negotiate that particular lonely landscape of grief by themselves and it is a fact that the coming holiday season may serve to compound the feelings of anxiety and separation. Mr. Weller wrote brilliantly about how it is impossible to think your way through grief. He said that you must have a personal interaction with it and by doing so will you find the right amount of attention and separation from it. This action will help to turn it into something that will serve your life instead of being the thing that completely undoes you.  There are great depths to be plumbed in this topic, and, while it is not an easy one to negotiate, I believe it is more important than most of us can ever know in the great scope of our lives.  Mr. Weller wrote, “Only if we learn to grieve can we keep our hearts responsive and do the difficult work of restoring and repairing the world.”

I love this quote from Rachel Naomi Remen, who is one of my many mentors, “Our deep listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts in another person.”

Let the healing, repairing and the restoration begin…

 

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Fun People

Wanda Wallenda ( of the Flying Wallenda’s) once said that, “Being a Fun Person is the  hallmark of true maturity.”

Fun people are on my mind today; we all need a few of them in our lives. Being a fun person does not, in my mind, involve whoopee cushions, joy buzzers, playing mean practical jokes or infer a shallow or frivolous nature. That being said, here are some things I notice that show up repeatedly in people I would call fun:

  1. Someone who is interested in many things.
  2. A person with a good appetite.
  3. A great capacity for laughter and a witty sense of humor.
  4. Observant with fresh and interesting insights.
  5. People who ask questions and are curious about the How and Why of things.
  6. Pays attention to the small details.
  7. Knows that anywhere and anything can be a starting place.
  8. Thinks that most EVERYTHING is or can be interesting.
  9. Notices patterns and makes connections.
  10. Lives a bold and brave life by just being the very one they are.

I would also include people who have learned the art of real conversation and the ability to listen and express genuine interest in the lives of those around them.

If you want to attract Fun People into your life it is important to strive to keep yourself interesting as well. I think a dash of silly works well in the mix, but there are not too many adults who can cozy up to silly on a regular basis and feel comfortable. There is something satisfying about being ( or knowing) the one who can tell you where Clyde Peelings Reptiland is, should you ever find yourself in Allentown, PA. with some extra time on our hands. NOTE: Check out the book, “Roadside Attractions In America.”

All pursuits of fun need a few guidelines and boundaries, for without them the potential for getting lost, hurt or shunned are greatly magnified; mine are knowing where and when to stop and make sure to harm nothing and no one along the way. I have  learned that young children are masterful teachers in the game of learning to be a (more) fun person, and encourage hanging out with them on a regular basis.  I think  many adults feel that we are just too BUSY, COOL, SOPHISTICATED, EDUCATED, URBANE or OLD to cultivate fun in our worlds.  Nonsense. Stop that right now.  My RX for a happy life is to try to have some fun on a daily basis, learn to keep surprise close at hand and to expect the unexpected. Yeah, time for those Baby Fun Steps.

Waving and smiling from my own fun little corner of the world and thinking about what Wanda Wallenda said.

 

 

 

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On Light and Love

Phototropic; some of you may remember that word from your high school biology class. It is an adjective that means growing towards or away from light or taking a particular direction under the influence of light.  I like this word and am thinking about it today in the context of human behavior. When I was in my mid-twenties, unmarried with no children, I decided to go through the interview and selection process for the Big Sister Program in Seattle.  I was accepted and ended up being placed at The Ruth School for Girls ( aka The Ruth School for Incorrigible Girls) in Burien, WA. It was emphasized to me that this was going to be a challenging post, as no other Big Sister had lasted there longer than a few weeks. I was told that most of the girls ranged in age from 13 to 17 and that each had been judged in  Juvenile Court to be “incorrigible.” I looked up the word incorrigible in my old red Webster’s Dictionary and found this: Incorrigible. (Of a person or their tendencies) not able to be corrected, improved, or reformed.

Wow. Ok–I decided I was up for the challenge. I was working at the time for the Highline School District as Assistant to the Art Director. My office was at the ERAC Building, the district headquarters, and  I had access to any kind of art materials I wanted to borrow. Marie Dunstan, my supervisor, was fully supportive of my Big Sisterly endeavors and said I could use whatever I needed out of the leftover supplies area.

My first foray into the murky world of Ruth School was much less than optimal. I had gathered a selection of art materials and showed up at the school with a confident smile. I remember thinking, “Hey–I do not flap easily and I had always had a way with young people–how hard could this be?” I was shown by the Matron into a small, starkly furnished room with two old beaten up tables, around which were thirteen young women, each sitting in a green plastic chair giving me her version of the Suspicious Stink Eye. The matron introduced me and asked me to step out in the hall with her where she told me I had ten minutes to choose one girl to “Big Sister.” The unchosen girls would then be sent back to wait until another Big Sister came along. Well, that was one of the longest ten minutes of my life and it was filled with some serious snark and some big-lip attitude. What the program director did not tell me was that I was the only person who had agreed to this placement. A couple of the older girls told me that they had not had a Big Sister show up for over a year and that they had run the last one out in two weeks.

Fast forward three months… You have probably guessed that I did not choose just one girl. I went back in that room and asked those seated around the table if they had chosen to be there or was this something they were told they had to do; they had all chosen to come. I asked them why they came , since it did not look like they were very excited to be there and not too happy to have ME there for that matter. I asked them what they expected to happen during our weekly visits if I decided to stay and let them  know I had plenty of art supplies for everybody who wanted to use them. I said that IF we mutually agreed that this was something that we would like to do, I expected everbody to show up every week, just like I planned on doing and if they missed two weeks in a row, they were done. No exceptions. I talked to the Matron, I talked to the Big Sister Program director and it was a done deal.

I showed up in that institutional looking room with the ratty furniture every week, bringing enough material for everyone. We “did art” and talked about many things together over the next six months; life, love, hairstyles, makeup, music and even books. My finest memory is watching those young women, girls who had survived physical, mental and sexual abuse along with drug addictions, sitting around that table absorbed in their art, listening to me  as I read them A Girl of The Limberlost. Many of these girls had never had a story read aloud to them before. Ah, Yes. Those day were, as Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. There were times when I did not know if I could make it another week, as  it was so hard to hear what these girls had been through in their short lives. There were also two of the older girls who never really did warm up completely  and they could both pitch the stuff with the best of them.

OK, back to the word phototropic. I believe that these young women were waking up and responding to the light of patience, humor and simple kindnesses. I was just naïve enough to think that some leftover art supplies, my time and a couple of really good read-alouds could help mend these broken hearts and spirits. I have thought about these now-adult women many times over the years and wonder where they are and how their lives turned out. I will never know the answer but I do hope they can remember that time when they were valued for the very one they were in the moment. I never saw these young women as incorrigible.  What was given to me that year was an incredible opportunity to learn about what Parker Palmer and Thomas Merton have called The Hidden Wholeness.; that unquenchable, resilient place inside us all.

Remembering this Mother’s Day that no act of nurturing kindness is ever wasted and that it ALL matters a very great deal.

 

 

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Hitting the road

I love road trips. I grew up with a mother who was and, at almost ninety years of age, still is a strong proponent of the Sunday Drive. This weekly foray out into the not-so-wilds surrounding our home, whetted my appetite for not only these one to two hour jaunts, but car travel in general. I was happy to give my younger sibling the front seat so I could rattle around alone in the spacious, pre-seatbelt area of the rear seat.

I learned early on that road trips do not have to be lengthy or  exotic  to be thrilling for an observant child. I did note that besides having a car that could get you there and back again ( wherever ‘there’ was) and enough money for gas and a few treats along the way, WHO you traveled with was of the utmost importance. Many years have passed since those long ago days of weekly Sunday drives with my mom, but I still believe that choosing the right company for a road trip can be the boom or bust deal in all travel.

I have observed that if you really want to get to know someone, take a long trip with them. Seriously. I think there are very few things that are more revealing of  character than travel, particularly if you will be in close proximity to the other or others  24/7 for multiple days. The speed of character revelations can be revved up exponentially by choosing a destination that leaves all familiar compass points behind; things like your native language, currency you recognize and understand, time tables for public transportation that are easy to cipher, and radically different customs. Even a change in what is our normal climate can make a difference.  I know this last one well, as heat and humidity are not always my friends and  they can make me a grumpy gal faster than I would care to admit.

Travel builds character. Happily, my husband and I raised three competent and adventuresome travelers.  I think that traveling with our children to destinations  both near and far was one of the best gifts we gave as  parents. Travel with potential mates or pals can quickly shine a light on areas of convivial bliss or uncomfortable discord. I have often thought that it might be a good thing if we sent people off together on a journey prior to pledging their troth to one another; a kind of Travel 101 Survivor deal. Traveling together gets you to the REAL stuff quickly.

I am fortunate in that I have logged literally thousands of travel miles with my favorite travel buddies–planes, trains, automobiles and ships. Lots of them. Over time, seasoned travel partners tend to choose to be responsible for those parts of the journey that make use of their skills and are the things they actually enjoy doing. My friends will tell you that you do not want me in charge of directions; while I can read a map, I can get myself and others lost in a flash. My forte is in the planning.

Another plus is knowing those things that each traveler loves as well as those that are miserably tortuous to them. Concessions and adjustments can and should be made along the way in the name of equity; there are also certain things that are best discussed BEFORE you head out on the Great American Road Trip. These pre-launch chats will doubtless insure smooth(er) sailing, whether on land or by sea,  and allow those longtime friendships to continue after you get back home again and that is a happy thing.

Waving your way with a loves-to-wander wave from my neck of the woods to yours.

P.S. Don’t forget to Spring those clocks ahead one hour this Sunday night.

Happy Trails…

 

 

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The good, the bad, and the really awful.

I grew up in a family that included artists; artists of some renown I might add.  I was exposed to fine art early on and have maintained a life-long appreciation for all things beautiful. That being said, I now confess my lifelong fascination with, what some would call, low brow kitsch. If you attended elementary school in the USA anytime in the last 60 years, I can say with certain authority that you probably contributed to this epic body of work. Have you ever made anything that included craft sticks, match sticks, empty toilet paper rolls, bottle caps, decoupage, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, cotton balls, shells or hand attached rhinestones?  How about paint-by-number art,  a sock monkey, anything crocheted over Styrofoam balls ( like the octopus made by the mother of a friend for bed décor; you could arrange all eight arms to cover your pillow)? I must also mention the knit and crochets toilet paper covers which were very much in vogue for awhile and, of course, let us not forget all things macramé. This is just a tip of the iceberg but you get the picture.

Well, my answer is yes to many of the above. I made them, but did not keep them, as I was always the odd duck in my personal space décor, preferring to let my boxes of found rocks and my ever-growing bug collection really shine on their own.

The summer I was twelve, my best friend and I decided that we could generate some cash by making and selling things. There was much discussion as to just what the object d’art should be and we finally settled on the following for it’s overall aesthetic appeal and selling potential; crushed eggshell pictures! The creation of these gems  entailed getting old picture frames ( sans glass) then gluing down a layer of cleaned and crushed eggshells ( collected industriously at our homes) within the frame. Early on in The Project we realized that we could not eat enough eggs to get us the quantity of shells we thought we would need for mass production, so we asked our neighbors to pitch in. *Side note: later on, we would shamelessly try to resell these very same gussied up eggshells back to the kind people who had helped provide them to us.   When the eggshells were dry, we spray painted the whole works with GOLD spray paint. The piece de resistance was the single plastic rose we glued down smack in the middle of each picture on top of the eggshells( this took a LOT of glue) and then sprayed gold as well. We felt this masterpiece was sure to wow  prospective buyers.

A great deal of our post-art-production summer was spent trying to peddle our product. I can sum it all up in a few words by telling you it was not a rousing success. My mother bought one, my friend’s mother bought one, the eggshell donating neighbor bought one and I think I sold one to a visiting Aunt ( thanks, Donna) and that was  about it. While our eggshell pictures were not the success we had hoped for, I still applaud our naïve creativity and the courage we had to create them.

Jane and Michael Stern, in their Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, quote art critic Clement Greenberg who wrote that bad taste, “has gone on a triumphal tour of the world.” One of the things that attracts me to this genre is it has an uncommon ability to reflect our times and culture.  There is also the fact that it continues to pop up to astonish me in ways I would not ever have imagined; just when I think I have seen it all, along comes some amazing new décor idea or fashion trend. When I see anything that someone else  has made, whether it falls into the good, the bad, or the really awful slot, I recognize that the creation was thought about and labored over and probably gave its maker some degree of joy and satisfaction in the effort. For me, at the end of the day, that is the thing that matters most.

Did I ever think my eggshell pictures were a thing of beauty? Most likely not. I do remember that I was surprised that they did not look as good as I thought they would when they were just a potential in my mind. It was probably the gold paint, as I have never been much of a gilt gal.

Waving your way with a genteel reminder that macramé is coming back and I have seen crocheted shorts on men with my own eyes this past year.

 

 

 

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The 13th Slogan

Tonight I am thinking about the many paths that lead to cultivating a gratitude practice.  ” BE GRATEFUL TO EVERYONE” is the 13th slogan from a list of 59 slogans or mind/heart training techniques  from the Tibetan Buddhist  lojong teachings. The function of this particular lojong is to help the student learn how to make peace with people we find challenging  as well as to heal aspects of ourselves that need healing. I have observed that the most difficult people I have ever encountered in my life, the ones who have brought me to my metaphorical knees, have actually been what I now think of as “cosmic couriers”; the messengers bringing chances  for change and growth. In my lowest moments I confess to thinking of them as A.F.G.O.s, which is acronym speak for “Another @$%^?!# Growth Opportunity.” Coarse but true.   These times have provided me with a mirror and an opportunity to befriend and release all of that old baggage that I had been hauling around. I am typing this from a different place in time and in a calm, reflective manner but I can assure you that in the moment there probably were tears and much gnashing of teeth.   Rumi wrote, “Pain lops off the branches of indifference.” Very true. When we are able to practice the 13th slogan with any kind of awareness, we can recognize the Crazy in our lives as Crazy and, instead of crawling into bed with the covers over our heads, we can make an effort to learn from even the hard stuff. Practicing the 13th slogan does not mean checking your wits and common sense at the door and just blithely accepting all the tough things that come your way. It is really more about a change of attitude about everything and everyone that shows up in our lives.  “BE GRATEFUL TO EVERYONE” means to me that all situations have the opportunity to teach me something. In my life it has been the fire of the hardest times that has burned away some of the dross and afforded me a chance to respond in a different way to those people who push my buttons. Everyone can probably name at least one person in our life who we always seem to meet in a place of challenge;  dukes up, snarky comments poised to fly.  These are the people that I have occasionally (and fervently) wished would just GO AWAY.   Sometimes they do go away, but–surprise– they just pop up again wearing a new face and a new name but playing the same old game. There it is–the same annoying  situation repeating itself like my own personal Groundhog Day movie. Barbara Brown Taylor once said that if we are willing to stay awake, our painful situations can become reliable alters in our world. I love that. In  my highest moments of awareness I may realize that, GEE, it appears that I have found another teacher. This is where I am hoping that my memory and compassion kick in and I can try to practice that 13th slogan and maybe even get a glimpse of the Good working through the other person. It is a tricky deal to be conscious of this dance.  Being grateful to everyone is for me  the journey of a lifetime… compassionate action is what I aspire to and though I do not always hit the mark, most days I am grateful to just be striving to BE GRATEFUL TO EVERYONE, especially those who come to meet me at the places I am most stuck…Namaste.

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Mr. and Mrs. Shields

Hello, travelers. I have noticed that as we humans get older we simply become more of what we have always have been; like petals in a flower, each layer is slightly different, but all are connected in the continued unfolding.   The summer between 5th and 6th grade my family moved from Renton, WA. to a home in the south end of Seattle.  Our new neighbors to the right were an older couple named Mr. and Mrs. Shields and the Wilson family lived on the left.  I quickly learned that both Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Shields were the crotchety type. Neither one of them appeared to like children, not even Mr. Wilson who had four hooligan boys ( and geese, but that is another story for another time). Grumpy neighbors aside, this new neighborhood was packed with kids AND  the back yard at this house was long and deep and the perfect place for the gang to convene for games of Red Light- Green Light, Red Rover, softball and tag.  Some of you reading this probably played in that very yard. Whenever we headed out into the back to play, Mrs. Shields would take that as her cue to step out her back door and shout instructions over the fence  telling us to keep the noise down and to make sure no balls went over said fence as they might hit her iris collection. I wish I could tell you that this was an incentive for us to change our behavior, but it was not, nor did it put the hoped for damper on either the noise level or any game playing plans. What did happen was if and when any ball or balsa wood airplane went sailing over into Mrs. Shields yard it was scooped up and put into a big wire bin she had next to the fence; a holding tank for toys that had crossed the line that was close enough to see but too far away to reach.  Now there is also a Mr. Shields in this story and  Mr. Shields DID like children. Mr. Shields would wait until his wife left to get her hair done or go grocery shopping and then come out into their back yard and toss a few balls or toys back over the fence into our yard. This was a Covert OP and he never spoke while doing this–he quietly pitched them over and I would run to retrieve them and then get them back to whatever kid had lost whatever it was.  The one and only time Mr. Shields ever actually talked to me was the weekend we were packing to move to a bigger house just down the hill. He came over to the fence and told me that he really liked hearing us having a good time playing out in the back yard.  A couple days before we moved I noticed Mrs. Shields getting into their big old Buick and I went back into my house and dashed off a note to Mr. Shields on a piece of red construction paper. I ran over to their front porch, knocked on the door and blasted back to my side of the fence. I heard the door open and Mr. Shields picked up the paper I had left for him. It was a short note that said something like, “Dear Mr. Shields, even though your wife is kind of grouchy, the kids all like you and I want to thank you for being nice to children. Your friend and moving away neighbor, Penny Thornburg.”  I do not know what the whole story was regarding Mrs. Shields, but I am certain that there was a story. Mrs. Shields seemed to take actual pleasure in bullying the local kids and that was the part I never really could get. Now, from this much older ( and hopefully wiser) perspective, I notice how some people feel that the mere accumulation of years gives them some kind of special dispensation to be rude and ill-mannered– like they have earned the right to be the Mrs. Shields of their own neighborhoods. To this I say PHOOEY. I also believe that there are many more folks around like the Mr. in this tale than the Mrs.   Final note: I confess that never really liked Mrs. Shields. I tried to like her, but mostly I just felt sorry for her–even as an 11 year old  I thought that anybody who is that scary and grumpy must be pretty unhappy most of the time. Wasn’t it Abe Lincoln who wrote that people are only as happy as they make up their minds to be?  *Waving at you from a far-away place in my memories today and remembering that we all have a choice about how we are going to show up. Ta for now…

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