Tomorrow is the service for my friend who just died of cancer. Next week would have been her 58th birthday. Random memories of our friendship pop into my head with regularity. I can hear her warm voice turning to honey as she responds with her honey endearment that she always used when we spoke. I study the art she has made for me over the decades of our friendship; seeing the thousands of strokes of color individually for the first time. In one portrait, I am young with my first babies laying on my chest. I think she drew me more beautiful than I am… I have always thought that and she always reminded me- no, truly, you are that beautiful. Real friends see your beauty first, often even before you do. They grab onto you in your sadness so you don’t slip too far down, forgetting yourself.
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One of my oldest friendships ended yesterday with the premature death of my friend, Janice. She was just shy of her 58th birthday, a day exactly two weeks before mine. I feel her all around me today. She is probably happy now to be free from her cancer-ridden body and all of the physical constraints that tethered her endless sense of beauty and spirituality to the ground. She held on loosely to this life- a fact that sometimes was hard to witness… but there was never any arguing with her about how she lived. It was too full of love. She was one of the first people I had ever known who never looked at me with judgment. I learned what unconditional love felt like from loving her.
If modern day politics and the increasingly large polarization that is dominating rhetoric has anything to teach, it is this: there are no solutions to be found when we are asking the wrong questions. Demanding answers to the wrong questions is a practice that often get trained into us in our personal lives. The wrong questions are easily identified as a product of our fears and judgments. At best, these questions help you identify the guilty; at worst you end up in a polarized argument, which is the foundation of seeing people who are more like you than not as the other. The wrong questions are a reflection of personal values more than an honest inquiry that could lead to a solution. Of these questions, one that is particularly divisive in our culture is the question of the right to marriage by same sex couples.
We can’t come up with real solutions for the diminishing resources we face as a society until we all agree to a few basic premises. The first premise, which at least rhetorically is shared by both parties in the current debate is that the most accurate measure of any civilization is seen by how it cares for its least fortunate, most vulnerable members. The Republicans family values are at their very core calling for a society that embraces the idea that we care for one another in the way that their Christian ideology dictates. The second premise that must be acknowledged is that in this humane society that both parties claim to create there must be a safety net, which provides a minimum of support for health care, food and lodging for those unable to provide for themselves.
“Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it.
But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” –Albert Einstein
Some days I deeply miss my old daily ritual positivity post. Back when my days always concluded with written reflection on the different ways of relating to my life positively, I enjoyed learning how to document what I was learning as much as the learning itself. Slowly practicing positivity in the world took up more of my time and in place of the daily writing I am creating on a bigger canvas. In many ways I have just as much, maybe even more to record than before now that I am actively leading so many positivity projects in the world. Still, there is nothing like the organized recording of a life to gain insight into where it is working and what needs more attention.
We are storytellers at heart and, in fact, the most powerful and instructive moments of our lives are the narrative that we share and even more deeply, how we know ourselves. For all the hundredth of second photo finishes or hundredth of a point deductions that make the difference between winning and losing in the Olympics, nothing stays with us as meaningfully as do the stories of the personal courage and the unrelenting drive to see a dream materialize against ridiculous odds. These profiles in what it means to find our own greatness and not be deterred by accident, injury or competition are what makes the Olympic games unforgettable.
It is unusual for a newly installed bee hive to swarm, and even more unusual for a new beekeeper to witness it happening. In fact, in the couple of weeks since my bees executed their escape, several people I know who have kept bees for over a decade have told me they have never seen it. Truly, it was a remarkable occurrence. I am rarely at home midday and even less rarely sitting at the only window that would have given me the view. In truth, I was sitting on my bed, looking at this screen when my 14-year-old daughter said, “Mom, this is freaky – what are the bees doing?”
I am learning to see myself in this newest version of my face. I wish I had appreciated the unique blend of features I had in my more youthful face. I wish I had loved the high cheekbones and paid less attention to the length of my chin back when my beauty was given with my youthful skin, still adhering tightly to my bone structure. I remember listening to Nora Ephron lament about her disappearing neck and looking in the mirror wondering what she was talking about. I still remember the first time I felt wrinkles under my hand as I brushed hair back from my forehead at 37.
Throughout human history, what has created community and provided the structures that build into friendship and intimacy is shared work. We have lost sight of this fact in our highly technological and automated world, and it is rare that we find ourselves at work with people of all ages, side by side moving gravel or tilling fields. Our Positive Change Memorial Courtyard is offering us this opportunity to work and build community and it continues to surprise me by how much I receive from the experience of giving.
Earlier this week, Gregg, one of the student government students messaged me that his class needed a work project and asked if they could participate ours planned for Memorial Day. One of my maxims is to never turn away willing workers. Plus, being together in our own Memorial courtyard project seemed natural and right today. I sent out several texts and emails asking for more help, but I am never really sure who will come or what we will be able to accomplish. It doesn’t work for my expectations to lead. The courtyard project is teaching me over and over again that it is all about being open to whatever comes and leading with gratitude for any and every effort.
For all my positivity talk and changing my thinking patterns, there is nothing like the 3D efforts of working to change the world we live in to bring a reality check. We spent the weekend clearing out most of the grass for the new courtyard design. Ideas are where things start; but truly, moving dirt and rocks, digging out stubborn clumps of sod out of hard clay soil is the real work of making the world a better place. Like a pendulum, I swung between grumbling about giving up my entire weekend to the efforts to basking in the sweet and surprising balm of building community in the process.
Yesterday, the community was only two heroic dads and I, who gave up their Saturday to a stubborn and inconsistent sod cutter. First off, a sod cutter is some seriously hard working machinery… I did my share of pulling the shaking machine through the tall grass (note to self- cut the grass) and when my spirits were flagging because of the weight of the work ahead, Alan, one of the father’s laughingly reminded me: “This ain’t hard work. Think of all the other places in the world where life is really hard. This is a walk in the park.” He then revved up the sod cutter engine for another go. He stepped in to help after another dad, Jim had accidentally broken a rib earlier in the week. Even so, Jim was there the whole time tirelessly moving cut sod, fixing, shifting gears, cutting burning grass from the gears.