reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the mission of goodness. [merely-a-thought monday]

when a business is transparent, it is not afraid to put it out there. it’s not afraid of feedback – good or bad. it only wants to be the best it can be, its actions to be the most positive. this automotive shop was up-front, honest and did the best they could in a short period of time with circumstances for which they clearly had heart. davis automotive in hays gets our recommendation and – if you find yourself in need of car repair in the middle of kansas – we suggest you go there. they stepped up and helped when we really needed it. and the sign above their door was sincere.

it is important for a business or organization, its mission statement and its actions, treatment of customers, employees and its community to be in alignment. i’m thinking that’s why people go to the trouble of writing such declarations. to have intention and to courageously be accountable to that intention.

lately i’ve taken particular interest in reading posts, brief mantras, vision statements or supposed purposes. more than once i have found these to be askew of the organization and its reality. more than once i have found posts about listening and compassion, assertions about avoiding harsh words and falsehoods, pronouncements about lifting others up and statements about participating in generosity – lovely words but, often, empty words of hypocrisy.

so when we drove up to this small automotive shop in hays and they wanted to know, post-repair, if we were satisfied, i had great appreciation for them, for their dedication, their compassion, their service, their courage and their – yes – transparency. they are indeed participating in the mission of goodness.

*****

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in avant. in après. [merely-a-thought monday]

avant: before.

there is before and there is after. it is with anticipation, maybe thrilled butterflies, maybe jitters, maybe weak knees, maybe even dread we live in before. it is sometimes with relief, sometimes with regret, sometimes with suffering, sometimes with satisfaction, sometimes with contentment we live in after. there is a journey between them – before and after.

there was nothing i could really say to prepare david for the loss of his father. and having lost both my sweet momma and poppo, i had a lot of words to describe it. but there is really nothing you can do when someone is living in before, except be there.

and now that it is after, there is still nothing i can really say to prepare david for the unexpected moments of sadness, grief raining down in a misty fog or pummeling hailstorm, or the unexpected moments of recognition, a glimpse of someone from the other side. even after these years of being-without and all the words in my heart, i can only just simply be there.

après: after.

the neon sign was hanging in the airbnb we took back along the way. we needed the space, not a hotel, to cook our own meals and simply be quiet. and i cannot think of a more timely message.

we are living in après. we are living in avant. both are true. both are real.

they are there too.

we are reminded, once again, for the millionth time – but not the last, to be present in right-now.

*****

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pointed at wonder. [merely-a-thought monday]

my yashica fx-2 35mm camera went everywhere with me. a prized possession i had gotten for my high school graduation, it opened my vision of the world, the things i looked at. in the days of film and negatives and developing, i was an enthusiastic participant, eating boxes of cornflakes so that i could develop the next roll and the next.

i passed through the minolta auto-exposure-auto-focus phase when my children were young. it was easier to grab the camera and snap a picture of them doing something amazing or indescribably adorable with the auto-camera.

then came the sony tiny-cameras you could slide into your pocket, also easy and accessible. that camera and the minolta and my treasured yashica are still around here somewhere, lenses for the 35mm in a hard-shell briefcase my dad designed with foam fitting around the wide-angle and telephoto choices.

in these days i carry my phone. it is the height of easy and always right there, ready to record a moment. in recent years, i have rediscovered the utter joy of taking photographs, of recording the sun glimmering on dogdog’s fur, of capturing the blossom as it wanes and the curl of the wave and the way the mountains look in a dark sky. a camera pointed at wonder.

“come forth into the light of things. let nature be your teacher.” (william wordsworth – from today’s daily wonder app)

i haven’t opened the “daily wonder” app in a while. i discovered it when we chose and featured the movie “wonder” on island. a single snippet of thought for your day, it is a tiny gift i had forgotten about, often reminding you of the wonder of simply being here.

we carry the not-so-wondrous around in heavy baggage, somewhat unwilling to part with it, feeling as if it somehow defines us. how buoyant we might be without it, how resilient. letting go might yield a smidge of wonder.

one evening, watching “life below zero” one of the intrepid alaskans said, “bring the wonder back in life” and i grabbed my phone to jot it down. as we travel to his memorial service to honor columbus’ life and his earnest grasp on happy-living, intentionally marveling, i know he would immediately agree with the person who said that.

undoubtedly, he would laugh a little and add that the wonder was always there.

*****

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mini-marshmallows and gogo boots. [merely-a-thought monday]

if you are wondering where mini marshmallows come from, wonder no more. clearly they grow on white baneberry bushes in dr. seuss-land. passing it on the trail i could not get over how oh-the-places-you’ll-go this bush was. a standout in a green forest floor, confidently colorful and nicknamed “doll’s eyes” for obvious vintage-china-doll reasons, it got my attention and it piqued my curiosity.

we watched a silly movie a couple nights ago. my sweet momma loved sandra bullock so every time i watch a sandra bullock movie i feel like my mom is right there with us, giggling or cheering her on. the movie was “all above steve” co-starring bradley cooper. its silliness is comedic fun, particularly on an evening we were not looking to be intellectually challenged. but there was an unexpectedly sweet message in this movie. mary (sandra bullock), a brilliant young woman who is a crossword puzzle constructor and has a brain full of random knowledge and would kick anyone’s patootie playing trivial pursuit, is trying to be “normal” to fit into the world. in the end she discovers the power of standing in her own shoes, which were, in her case, red gogo boots.

artists are often looked at as misfits, a little outside the box, not quite fitting in. perhaps more colorful, perhaps louder, perhaps more questioning, the job of an artist is to elicit movement in thought, in action, in emotion, in sensitivity. we are hot-pink-stemmed mini-marshmallow plants in a world of green underbrush, ever being told that exposure will grant us the ability to live in this world, to pay our bills, to get ahead. artists everywhere under the sun shudder upon hearing those words, “think about the exposure.” we don our courageous metaphoric gogo boots, go to town trying to be ‘normal’ and realize that we were really ok all along, in our own skin.

often i have heard others comment on the re-purposed stuff in our house. empty window frames, screen doors, travel-worn suitcases, branches wrapped in lights, old coffeepots doubling as canisters. we’ve been asked, “how did you think of that?” i don’t know how to answer that other than “how couldn’t i?”

i’m guess i’m not ‘normal’. in the world of christian louboutin and jimmy choo footwear desires, i’m wearing old navy flipflops and hundreds-of-miles hiking boots. in a world of oscar de la renta and ralph lauren aficionados, i’m wearing my dad’s old flannel shirt and jeans. in a world of cle de peau beaute and guerlain and creme de la mer, my face is lucky to see an oil of olay original and coppertone 30spf combo.

and i, just like artists everywhere, love to be reminded, time to time, that we were all born to stand out. each and every one of us. artist or not. no matter the road we walk. no matter the red gogo boots or hot-pink stems. stand out. in our own skin.

mini-marshmallow, anyone?

*****

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light or apathy. [merely-a-thought monday]

normally i would shudder at this sort of sentiment. the “above ground” part is so … grim. yet, as we were walking down by the marina, on the 20th anniversary of the horror of september 11, it got my attention and i went back to photograph the back of the pickup truck.

like many of you, we immersed in shows and conversation about 9/11 this weekend. interviews and video and photographs, all visceral remembrances of a day when everything stopped.

so walking along the lake on saturday we were well aware of the anniversary, revisiting where we were at each moment of impact that day, each moment of devastation. we felt inordinately fortunate to be taking a leisurely walk on a warm and sunny afternoon, twenty years older than we had been.

cnn offered a special on saturday evening and spoke to “tuesday children” – adults who, as children, had lost family members that day twenty years ago. “shine a light” also featured two men – david paine and jay winuk who began 911day.org, a non-profit whose “ongoing mission is to transform the annual remembrance of 9/11 into a worldwide day of unity and doing good, and to encourage millions of people to remember and pay tribute each 9/11 through good deeds that help others and rekindle the extraordinary spirit of togetherness and compassion that arose in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.”

goodness in real life. instead of that day continuing to be about evil, they set out to redefine the day into acts of doing good deeds in the entire spectrum of good-deed-doing. it has since become the largest day of service in the united states with over thirty million people participating annually.

i couldn’t sleep last night. something woke me up and then my brain does that thing it does in the middle of the night, jumping around, topic to topic, no apparent thread of connection, just one concern after another. my restlessness woke david and we sat talking in the middle of night.

we had both been moved -yet again – by the footage of this tragic day in the history of our country and we had both been moved – yet again – by being reminded of the acts of kindness and heroism that were so much a part of this day and the days after.

yet last night, as i lay there, the breeze coming in the window, we spoke about how our country – so united in those days – has regressed, no – has twisted – in more recent days. why have we not all come together in the same heroic spirit of 2001? why have we not all embraced whatever it takes to save each other’s lives? why, when 2,996 people were too many people, aren’t over 660,000 too many?

we are lucky to be above ground. yes. everyday above ground is a blessing. yes.

do we need – in our above-ground-state- to be reminded to push back against evil – global terrorism, global tyrannical leadership, a deadly raging global pandemic – to practice goodness?

“he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. he who accepts evil without protecting against it is really cooperating with it.” (martin luther king, jr.)

“apathy and evil. the two work hand in hand. they are the same, really…. evil wills it. apathy allows it. evil hates the innocent and the defenseless most of all. apathy doesn’t care as long as it’s not personally inconvenienced.” (jake thoene)

hannah arendt’s words, “evil thrives on apathy and cannot survive without it.”

apathy (noun): lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

“the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” (elie wiesel)

and what is beyond indifference, what are the intentional misdeeds committed by people who are living in community with each other?

how much light might be shined by simply wearing a mask or being vaccinated?

might it be possible to “rekindle the extraordinary spirit of togetherness and compassion that arose in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy”? to love one another?

what a blessing that would be.

*****

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just love. [merely-a-thought monday]

we watched ‘the wedding planner‘ the night before we left for milwaukee to officiate a wedding. sweet and predictable, it was exactly what we needed friday night as we headed into a weekend that would spell bliss for a young couple.

this morning i read that pete and chasten are parents. there is a photo of them with two babies, newborns, a girl and a boy. the article made me cry for them. they are in their bliss.

in just this last week our dear friends welcomed a second grandchild and a daughter-in-law. their family grows, love begets love – love is just that – love – and they are blissful.

we danced last night at the outdoor patio reception and i was reminded of my weddings. both times filled with love and anticipation and the simple-profound complexity of the moment and the moments to come. no guarantees, no instruction books, no wisdom-of-the-universe or sage advice granted with the words “i do”. just love. both times bliss.

love is just love. we muddle through the highs and lows, the mistakes and grace, the celebrations and regrets. and love is still just love. pure and ridiculously complicated, our hearts swell as we love, love more and love again: partners and babies and added family members and dear friends. for seasons, for forevers, we punt our way through life and love, trying as we wake, trying harder the next day. moments rich with hearts flawed by humanness, hearts stirred by emotions too intense and too gossamer to grasp.

i think it all really boils down to this. all of it. no boundaries, no definitions, no exclusions. fragile and yet ever-powerful, ethereal and sustaining, love is really just love. it’s that easy. it’s that intricate. it’s tangly and it’s linear.

massimo actually spoke a few more words in the movie. adoringly and with respect he said, “love can’t always be perfect. love is just love.”

*****

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in half and in half again. [merely-a-thought monday]

anna quindlen writes about it in “a short guide to a happy life“. the dividing line between before and after. we all have them. though mathematically incorrect for this lyric, as “sawed in half” only leaves the other half, many of us have more than one dividing line, more than one qualifier of our lives, more than one change agent.

i remember my first apartment. it was on long island in a basement partially paneled and partially wallpapered with red brick wallpaper. my dog missi and i moved in with my old piano, a convertible couch, beanbag chairs, a bookshelf and a bistro set. i had free bank-account-giveaway plates and cheap silverware my grandmother gave me, forks, spoons, knives still in my drawer to this day. i had a tiny kitchen in this studio and, though i cooked often, missi and i both ate plenty of cornflakes for plenty of meals. it was not fancy but it was mine.

after i was sawed in half i had to move and, ultimately, found myself in florida, seeking safety from a man whose aggressive pedophilia was predatory, for whom vengeance was foremost. everything was different. from those moments on. there was no going back, no return to innocence. the dividing line was stark and, in 1979, there was no real resource for processing it.

since then i’ve had a few more dividing lines. but, i have found in many purposeful meanderings through my lifeline in recollections and in much intentional parsing out of cause and effect relationships, that many of them relate back to the first sawing-in-half.

having children did not ‘saw’ me in half, but it indeed sawed time into before and after, for nothing would ever be the same and all my after has been waking and going to sleep thinking about them and wishing for their good health, good relationships, good work, love. there can scarcely be a parent who has not been profoundly changed by having children. before. after.

the loss of my big brother came as a mortality-blow. i had lost grandparents at that point, but their lives had been full and eight and nine decades long. my brother had merely reached his fourth decade – forty – an age twenty years ago now for me – and it was premature and devastating. he had been a stalwart rock for me in my years-post-first-sawing and to lose his wisdom and strength had me questioning how the world could go on without him feeling it. it divided time – from a more casual look at life to a more intensely emotional connection to those around me than i already had. if i am needy, emotionally, it is grasping on to beloveds. though i know i must not hold too tightly, i have likely not always succeeded at that, but i try to be at least close enough to always at least feel the wind from their wings. it’s not always possible and it’s sometimes impossible, and i yearn to have my family right close to me as many friends have, but i try – that word again – to trust life and its gifts.

the day i realized that there was no one left to ask questions of my birth, my childhood, my teenage years, the intrepid and enduring memories moms and dads have, i stared at lake michigan. i won’t forget that moment. i was wondering about my first time on the lake on a sailboat and i suddenly was aware that, without my sweet momma and poppo still here, there would be no answers that i could not remember myself. it came with intensity and orphan-hood surprised me – even then, at 56.

there are other lines in the sand, other befores and afters. relationships, jobs, places, mistakes and learnings, successes and failures. they all count, like every slice of blueberry pie making up the whole, even every rich ingredient making up the slice. the passage of time is a vast bakery of experiences, some more contingent on others, some more independent.

so when the song “life is long” came on at the end of the grace and frankie episode while i was on the treadmill and david was on the bike i was struck by the lyric “sawed in half by the passage of time”. i spoke into my phone recording the words i had just heard, words that made time pause like the button on the netflix video.

and i stared into the timeline in my mind, thinking about life sliced up like pie – a little less vigorously than a saw – but with just as much impact.

*****

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love. no caveats. [merely-a-thought monday]

in a few weeks i will officiate a wedding. a gigantic honor, it is the wedding of dearest friends’ son. though i have known him over a decade, we sat in their backyard and he and his fiancee told the story of their romance, sweet and full of lovely vulnerable anecdotes. i asked a lot of questions and we all laughed a lot. there were a few tears – joy does that. they left it up to me to write the ceremony. gigantic honor. celebrating love.

in the weeks since our backyard circle together, we have wordsmithed and finessed, added ritual and music and i’ve reminded them to take their time, to not rush through this ceremony – that which is most important – to give themselves the space to be able to memorize each second of it. i want them to be able to see in their mind the look in each other’s eyes as they exchange the vows they have written, the scent of flowers on the breeze in the outdoors, the way her dress moves as she moves, the way he grins at her. slowly, deliciously, celebrating love in front of family and friends.

i have participated in so many weddings through the years. i have played pipe organ or piano or guitar and i have sang. i have run wedding rehearsals and i have offered thoughts on pieces of music that express what a couple might want expressed. celebrating love for each other, love for the unconditional support of those present witnessing their marriage.

i have also participated in many funerals through the years. again, playing or singing. again, offering thoughts on music. always celebrating love for the person no longer on the earth.

i read a disturbing account of a funeral this morning. the comments that followed were even more appalling. completely filled with -isms of all sorts, i was dismayed at pointed comments made toward the mayor of chicago, a woman of color, in a same-sex marriage, a different religion than the place of the funeral, attending to show her condolences. she was given communion and all hell has broken loose. the comments by hundreds of crowing allegedly-well-studied and righteous folks were enlightening. there was no love expressed here. only pious opinions, statements of judgment and wishes for her conversion, declarations of ‘faith’ rules, but no love.

clearly the people responding to this post about this funeral have not read anne lamott, “the movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening.” “…try(ing) not to feel and act so entitled” was apparently not in the wheelhouse of those writing. and, taking a breath before spewing, they clearly did not pray the words, “help me not be such an ass,” which, as anne writes, is “actually the fourth great prayer” after ‘help’ and ‘thanks’ and ‘wow’. i was utterly disgusted. celebrating love?

i keep learning. the lessons come each day. a little progress. i try to remember the movement of grace, try to express gratitude, try to let go, try not to be an ass. i check in at the end of the day and realize, once again, that sometime in that day i failed.

but the words of raymond carver (in his poem ‘late fragment‘) remind me of something: “and did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? i did. and what did you want? to call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” love.

all around us, people are celebrating belovedness – the challenges and the blisses. in new commitments, longheld relationships, new babies, children flying, new adventures together, routine days, mistakes, forgivenesses, long nights, new days.

“grace, progress, blessings continue to be given to you, because god gives. it’s god’s job.” (anne lamott)

no matter who or what deity in the universe you feel connected to, no matter what you call this supreme being, no matter your religion or not, i personally believe this. goodness pretty much is the bottom line.

when it was time to leave a visit together, my sweet momma would say, “be kind to each other.” she had no caveats. neither does love.

*****

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nine-million-dollar people. [merely-a-thought monday]

so, yeah, i agree with frankie of ‘grace and frankie’. nine million dollars would solve everything.

i once was in a meeting with a person-in-power who said to me that he could direct me to a financial counselor who would teach me how to budget. it was all i could do to not retort, appalled at his gall. i answered instead that – at that time – it wasn’t a matter of budgeting. it was a matter of not having enough money TO budget. as a life-long math-lover having grown up with a mother who taught me how to balance checkbooks and make soap-socks at a young age, remembering clearly my first $50 calculator and my high school math teacher both fondly, the act of budgeting – and doing taxes and paying bills – is something i kind of enjoy. especially with enough money. that would probably still hold true if i had nine million dollars.

what i do know, even though nine million dollars would be pretty amazing – keeping that out there in the universe – is that it hasn’t taken that kind of money to appreciate here and now, to be present. i know we would love the ability to be more altruistic and generous; those things are gifts that are more rewarding than the money in the first place. but we try to be giving the best we can in any circumstance we find ourselves. and for us, we find joy in the simplest stuff around us – the repurposed, the long-pondered, the deals. each little thing is something we celebrate as we bring it into our home.

there have been people over the last year and a half who have shown up for us. they have acknowledged hard moments and have helped in a variety of ways. when you break both wrists and lose jobs to a pandemic and tear ligaments in your wrist after you had finally healed and get fired from a long-term position – it’s pretty intense. civil unrest, political mayhem, isolation all spice up the anxiety.

but the nine-million-dollar people have written, have called, have sent cards, have helped out with generous gifts. they have surprised us in their magnanimity and we have been the recipients of bounty even from people we have not even met.

there have been other people, who, for some reason or another, have not been there. they have disappeared and would, i suspect, hide behind an end cap should they spot us in the grocery store. they didn’t bring casseroles when i had two casts and didn’t call or write to ask how we were. kind of salt on the wound-ish. but they have their story too and as max ehrmann in desiderata points out, “whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

life has a way of letting you know who the nine-million-dollar people are. they aren’t the ones with an actual nine million dollars. instead, they are the ones whose hearts are huge, who stand up for you, whose compassion is not measurable by budgets, who have reached out, who want to listen, who ask questions, who inquire what you need, who, oftentimes, just know.

this time of pandemic has been eye-opening in so many ways. it has peeled back layers. the isolation has taught us that, though it is difficult, trying at times, we can be apart. it has shown us those whom we choose to stay in touch with, those who stay in touch with us. it has shown us – with wistful hearts – who we miss, who we wish we could see, who we want to wrap our arms around. it has pointed out those who have stuck close by and those who have fallen off.

we don’t really need nine million dollars, though i doubt we’d turn it down. we already have that in the people who have loved us through this time, in one generous way or another.

and that, like those really wise mastercard commercials say, is priceless.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY