It’s Today!

Last week I wrote that the world’s not ending yet, although in anticipation of a scheduled power outage people doomsday prepped as if it might.

The power went off just before 11 pm, almost eleven hours after originally scheduled. And within two hours, a fire broke out in open space about a mile as the birds fly from our house. Though we weren’t in immediate danger, because we back up to open space, every home on our cul-de-sac evacuated.

Imagine this: Guy was out of town. The kids and I went to bed around midnight. The barky dog woke me, a neighbor banged on my door with the news, and we had to lickety-split pack up our (ahem) sixteen pets. It didn’t even occur to me to grab all the things you’re supposed to: documents, photos, laptop. Nope, I had my kids and our pets and let’s go! We need a better emergency plan…

Fortunately, the fire department quickly got things under control and we returned home before dawn.

Days later, not one but two earthquakes shook the Bay Area, magnitude 4.7 and 4.8. Which prompted the question: power outages, fire, and earthquakes? Maybe the world will end sooner than we think.

Truly, that’s the kicker: who knows when “the end” will come, and what it will look like?

Only God.

So we might as well live every day like it’s our last. Carpe diem and all that jazz.

In the midst of that unusual week, I attended a cabaret concert by the delightful Nicolas King. He sang a song from Mame I’d never heard called, “It’s Today!” Apparently, the lyricist’s mother inspired the song. He came downstairs one day to find her all dolled up, setting the table with the good dishes. He asked what was the occasion, to which she replied, “It’s today!”

Light the candles,
Get the ice out,
Roll the rug up,
It’s today.
Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,
And though it’s far from the first of the year,
I know that this very minute has history in it, we’re here!

Later in the song comes the line: There’s a “thank you” you can give life, If you live life all the way.

Yes. So much yes.

Therein lies the challenge. We get caught up in routine, in ruts, in each day is so much like the other, that it can be difficult to know what will be special about this day. And yet, miracles await even in the mundane.

It reminded me of two quotes. St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” The other I learned as a Sunday school song: “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

So what will you do to celebrate being fully alive on this particular day? I took my dogs on a long walk through the park and soaked in October’s golden light warm on my skin. Returning home, I sat my butt in a chair and wrote hard all day. I took my lunch, a reheated bowl of homemade lentil soup, outside on our patio while I read from Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift. Later this evening our family will gather around a meal and catch up on the day.

Simple, yes. And good. It’s today!

Life Well Lived

How do I measure my life?

I saw a documentary a few weeks ago at the California Independent Film Festival called Lives Well Lived. The filmmaker, Sky Bergman, was inspired by her 99-year-old grandmother lifting weights at the gym. As she shot some video footage, she spontaneously asked Grandma to share words of wisdom; later, editing her short video to share with family, she realized she had a project. Bergman set off on a five-year quest to collect the wisdom of 40 people between ages 75 and 100. This film is the result.

I felt awed by their lived history: the Japanese internment camps, Krystal Nacht, the KinderPassage train, extreme poverty, losing parents and spouses. They worked hard, kept their spirits up, followed their passions, made their lives successful.

What struck me most was how positive, happy, they were despite the unbelievable hardships they had faced. They didn’t let circumstances level them; they showed no symptoms of trauma; they had grit and kept going.

They talked about staying in the present, living fully, expecting something wonderful to happen every day—holding on in faith that, though sometimes the wonderful is delayed, it will happen. A few mentioned 50 as a turning point, and never growing too old to try something new. That age is an irrelevant number. They encouraged younger people to stop worrying: the past is over and the future is coming no matter what, so enjoy right now. One said, “Work a little less, spend a little less. Enjoy life a little more!”

Recently I came across this article by Darius Foroux about how to measure success. So many people measure success by their bank accounts and investments, their houses and cars, their exotic vacations. From his extensive reading by foremost experts in business, management, personal development, and health, Foroux found something surprising: the most successful people measure success by their energy, work, and relationships.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound so surprising. If you have sufficient energy, you work harder and have more to invest in relationships. Yes, and that’s not all.

Energy: how do I feel? If I want to feel better, the equation is pretty simple: eat healthy and exercise. Do this most days, if not every day.

Work: what else can I learn? It’s not about a paycheck as much as engagement and curiosity. Since I am in a work transition period, this one particularly resonates with me.

Relationships: how am I giving to the most important people in my life? I can’t control how others do or don’t regard me, but I can control how much I invest in my people.

Control is a key word. For the most part, I control how I feel in my body, mind and soul; what I will do about those things that pique my curiosity; and how I choose to offer myself in relationship. Hopefully some of that will also pay off in a paycheck, but there’s more to life than money.

And still, gentleness, grace, and gratitude in all things. As SARK reminds us, healing and growth often happen not in forward motion but in spirals, in layers. Sometimes we loop back a time or three before we develop the strength to conquer the next hurdle.

And that’s just fine. I’d like to imagine I’ll still be hitting the gym when I’m 99, but for now I’ll remember: the past is over, the future is coming, so I’ll enjoy this moment.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Give Good Gifts

My nephew came to visit and brought me a gift from my sister. She thought I needed some encouragement, so she put together the best care package ever.

Gifts are her love language, not mine. Time and good company are really all I need to feel loved.

But this gift…! She packed a small box with so many individually-chosen-for-me items. Every single item made me laugh. I smiled. I oohed and aahed.

The first thing thing I touched—rainbow metal straw—had me belly laughing. The previous evening I had put iridescent metal straws in my Amazon cart for her! She included cork coasters with cute cartoons/sayings. A notebook to carry in my purse. Floral napkins, because our grandma always gave napkins as gifts. An eye shadow palette (she is a makeup maven) in just the right colors, and a coordinating lipgloss. A coffee mug with a delightful unicorn reminding me to “Stay Magical.”

My sister loved me with every item in that box. She knows my likes and dislikes, my sense of humor, what will tickle me. The gift was so perfect it was as if she’d taken me shopping, shown me each item, watched my expression, and put it in the basket because it was just right.

Looking at the box’s contents, our sons thought we were silly (they’re not wrong). We are so different and still share the same sensibilities. They don’t quite understand that yet.

A long time ago, I remember my sister saying that she dislikes gift cards. If someone wants to give her a gift, they should choose it carefully and specifically for her. I understood what she meant at the time, but now I completely get it.

Coming out of a season where I have felt invisible, I have been sad. Every end is a new beginning. There is freedom in walking away, and there is loss. My sister recognized that. This gift collective tells me that she sees me. I didn’t really need a gift, but then again, maybe I did. Each time I reach for any one of these items, I will know I am seen and loved. Isn’t that what we all want?

 

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

Smell the Roses

It’s rose season!

I take a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures of flowers. Roses especially, but any beautiful flower that captures my attention.

Taking pictures—just on my iPhone, nothing too fancy—is for me a joy-filled discipline of noticing.

I stop. I lean in. I frame the subject. I go for a better angle. I see the flower, its unique bloom. The way the petals curl, the nuances of color, the contrast with its foliage and/or background in the frame. This flower, in this moment, this beauty.

I allow the bloom to give me pause, to be present to the goodness in the world. It is good for my soul.

And then, generally, if the picture captures anywhere near the truth of what I saw, I share it. Because we all need more beauty, more goodness, more joy and peace in our lives.

This may seem an obvious omission, but what I don’t always do? Smell the rose.

I read recently (because I’m always reading) that someone took a breath so deep that it was like inhaling the smell of a rose all the way down to her toes.

Yes!

That phrase captivated my imagination. I could see myself leaning in even closer, phone down, sticking my nose inside a gorgeous, single white rose in full bloom. Inhaling all the way down into my toes. What a way to slow down and become present.

So I’m adding “smell the roses” to my discipline of noticing, whether or not I have my phone in hand.

I discovered this blessing the other day, and it seems appropriate to share here:

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.
May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.
Amen. Let it be so.

(John O’Donohue’s Blessing for Solitude, from The Road Back to You by Cron & Stabile, p230)

Library Love

“A world of reading brings a bounty far beyond us, and we find it creates a legacy to stretch far past us into every next generation.” Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening

Yesterday I made a library pit stop to return two books and pick up another five waiting on hold. I left at home several more books I’m reading or will soon, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these new adventures. I also scanned the “Lucky Day” shelves, the ones that hold high-demand books, and found another contender.

The summer heat blistered our little town and the library felt blissfully cool, so I took my new stack to a corner chair to peruse my new finds. I chuckled as a little one holding his mama’s hand loud-whispered, “Hi, Library! Hi, Library!” When I checked out, I was surprised to discover that I’d whiled away an hour in cool bookish delight.

The Library is one of my favorite places on earth. It doesn’t matter which library, so long as it has stacks upon stacks of books and quiet nooks in which to cozy up between the pages.

My children rejuvenated my library love. Before they arrived, I had come to associate libraries not with the joy of my own childhood reading but with academic research, starting with my third grade research paper about mice. I felt particularly proud of my illustration of two little grey mice nibbling on a juicy red berry.

With my kids, we regularly visited the library. At only two years old, my first child knew his way around: where he’d find his favorite books, where he’d discover new animal documentaries, and where he’d locate Mom or Dad looking for books of their own. And all the librarians knew him (whether they wanted to or not).

One of the best things I did as a parent, I believe, was to teach my children the joy of reading. We read all the time. We read at bedtime, of course, but also throughout the day. We carried books everywhere. We read at the park and the beach, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the car between appointments, and at the dining table. When the big kid had to keep his own reading log for school, he regularly read perched in a tree.

At 20 and 15, these days my kids read mostly for school. I get that: when reading becomes a requirement it may lose its luster. Like PE class takes the fun out of playing games. My hope for them is based on both investment and experience, that someday they won’t “have to” read but will choose it for pleasure; and that someday they will  read with their own children, letting little hands drag them down library aisles in anticipation of new discoveries to share together.

Be Where You Are

For most of the last eighteen years, our family has spent one week each summer vacationing in Pacific Grove, California, a NorCal coastal town nestled between Monterey and Carmel. Many years before our annual vacations began, while we were dating and newly married, Guy and I would drive from his childhood home in Santa Cruz to walk along the rocky coast, to picnic, to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For almost 30 years this place has inspired me with its beauty.

When our boys were little, we had to get up early to exercise them. As they got older and required more sleep, I began to get up early to exercise me. All year long I anticipate with physical longing my morning walk/jogs along the trail paralleling Ocean View Boulevard.

I am not a morning person, so it’s truly something when I can yank myself out of bed, start the coffee while I get dressed, swallow a half cup and be out the door before anyone else stirs. I’m at the beach, I reminded myself. I’m only here for a few days.

Every morning without fail I hit the trail, either walk/jogging toward Monterey or walking the longer, less even trail toward Asilomar. My body felt tired but healthy. Stronger. And my will felt stronger, too, more determined.

I told myself it was the view that pulled me outside. It was, but I wondered: if I lived here, would it motivate me 365 days a year? Would it ever grow old?

I live in a beautiful, walkable neighborhood. I love walking my dogs, walking with Guy or friends, walk/jogging myself around our neighborhood. I can take a slightly different route every day of the week, though by now they are all familiar.

But I live here, so it’s easy to say I’ll get outside later, or tomorrow. That we can take the dogs to the park, or I can go to the gym.

I came home from vacation with a new resolve to stop making excuses and get outside to appreciate the gift of living in this particular neck of the NorCal woods. And so I have put on my shoes, leashed the dogs, and gone outside each day since.

I live here, and I am going to soak it in with gratitude.

Laugh More

Last week our family saw a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CalShakes, my favorite Shakespeare play at one of my favorite theatres.

CalShakes always makes for a great family outing: time together over a picnic in the grove and a good show, and my kids both enjoy live theatre which feels like a parenting win. This wasn’t a perfect production, but it contained some terrific performances. Best of all, I heard myself belly laughing throughout the show.

Laughter is the best medicine, right? But somewhere along the winding path of personal and professional stress, I fear I misplaced my sense of humor. I may have become too serious for my own good. I used to be silly and laugh easily; I need to unearth that version of myself.

Besides, laughter is healthy, and life is too short not to enjoy; there will be plenty of time for being grave, well, in the grave. (Although, I just wrote a ridiculous line because I plan to spend every non-second of the afterlife whoopin’ it up for a grand ol’ eternity).

How about these quotes:

Laughter is an instant vacation. –Milton Berle
I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter; it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong. –WEB DuBois
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. –William Thackeray
A day without laughter is a day wasted. –Charlie Chaplin
Laughter may not add years to your life but adds life to your years.
You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.
Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my leg.

[Are you laughing yet?]

Psychology Today outlines some of laughter’s benefits for body and mind:

Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. They abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience. Of course, laughter also enriches social experience, by strengthening relationships, helping to defuse conflict, and allowing people to successfully operate as a team. The benefits of laughter, for both bodies and minds, show that contagious convulsions are anything but frivolous.

To that end, I am making play my work. I am actively eliminating stress from my life and spending time with my pets and my loves, outdoors and in. I am looking for opportunities to laugh, whether I’m cracking myself up or laughing at funny things outside myself.

Like this clip from The Ellen Show:

And who doesn’t laugh at laughing babies?

So how about you? What makes you laugh?

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay