“we’re guided by the spaces in-between the facts,” she stated. and then continued, “instinct, faith…”
standing outside, inside the beauty of creative lighting, feeling as if we were somewhere between graphic and real, it was easy to wrap around these words. the spaces in-between, the rests between the notes, the white space, even the kerning. all the space in-between counts.
the moments of instinct – action based on sheer gut. the moments of faith – action based on exposed heart.
joey is back. every now and again he is posting a wild country backpacking trip. we are somewhat relieved to see him again; he hadn’t been around in a long time and we weren’t the only ones who seemed worried. we watched him pull out maps and trail books and choose the space in-between all of it, the wilderness through which he could instinctively find his way. joey coconato’s guiding star is not conventional. maybe that’s why we love to watch him.
the fulcrum of balance in daily life is a challenge. balancing the very real needs of living – paying bills, staying healthy, doing good work – with the very real needs of living – the moments, the recognition of time flying by, the autograph we leave behind. in-between the stuff of accumulated years we seek the space of minimal. in-between the daily barrage of tasks we seek the space of quiet. in-between the challenges and troubles we seek the space of grace, of peace.
there is the day we stand in the kitchen – each arguing for our “side” of the story, full-steam ahead fueled by accumulated stress and anxiety – when we look out the window and it has begun to snow. suddenly, there is air, a little space. suddenly the facts-of-the-matter seem less important. suddenly we realize that this moment of discontent counts too – and, just as suddenly, we realize we are tossing the heart out with the angst.
we read an article written by a philosopher/psychologist in finland. he referenced that “for five years in a row, finland has ranked no. 1 as the happiest country in the world”. since david and 20 are constantly trying to convince me to move to finland, i thought it in my best interest to read this article. surely it would shed light on why those sisu folks are so darn happy.
there were three basic tenets. the first – “we don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors.” the second – “we don’t overlook the benefits of nature.” the third – “we don’t break the community circle of trust.”
just reading those made me think – for pretty obvious reasons – that the united states of america is doomed to unhappiness. i sighed. it would seem that finns walk in the spaces in-between more than we all do. I am hoping my quarter-finnish ancestry will help me list that way.
so how do we find the balance point, i wonder, that space between.
walking at the chicago botanic garden – in the middle of graphics and lights and magic and real-live-nature called “lightscape” – helped. the way home was a smorgasbord of holiday lights and displays. we passed lake bluff’s stunning square, all green and blue and twinkling white lights.
we arrived home, grateful to have taken the space in-between everything else – the worries, the busy, the not-enoughs – to appreciate awe without measure, to be outside on a cold winter’s night, to delight in what we saw surrounded by strangers who delighted with us.
this morning i read a lovely piece about an elderly woman who made it a point to dress each morning by 8 and was ready for her day, looking fresh, put together and smartly attired. i instantly felt guilty. it gets better, though. the piece then went on to say she had just made the decision to move into a retirement facility and was waiting in the hall for her room (note: room, not whole apartment) to be readied for her entrance. an aide was describing the room to her and this generous woman’s reply was, “i love it!” the aide commented to her that she hadn’t yet seen it and the woman nodded. she said that she had decided to love it, regardless of how it was arranged or how it looked. she added that her happiness was a choice she made each day and, no matter her aches or pains or worries, she was going to choose to be happy in the moment she was in, in the circumstance she was in. so now i felt even more guilty.
how many mornings have i risen with worry in my heart, trepidation for the day, feeling dissonance or hurt or angst-ridden?
i read aloud the piece about this sweet woman to david over coffee. he said we should print it out and hang it somewhere. i suppose that i could do that. but instead, i’d rather just try to remember it. to do the best i can each day to rise and be smartly dressed by 8 with an ‘i love it’ ready at my lips. to not worry about the guilt of seeing that printed and any shortcomings i might have, any times i don’t measure up, i fall shy of the happy-choice.
as the cooler air filled our room early-early this morning, we pulled up the blanket. it made me sigh with relief to feel the gentle breeze blowing through the window and as i look out now, there are a couple monarchs flying over our deck. a few cherry tomatoes are ready and the basil and lavender are smiling. beautiful. a fresh day. everything is green, vibrant, healthy.
there is something about green grasses i love. even out on trails i photograph grasses, on my knees at the level of chipmunks and daddy long legs. it feels somewhat dr. seuss-esque to say i love them on the trail, i love them in our yard, i love them in the mountains, i love them in our gard-en.
probably because of our proximity to the lake, our soil seems to speak to ornamental grasses. they grow really well in the gardens around our house. other people have many beautiful flowers and there have been times that i have wondered why i do not seem to be very good at growing various flowers. we have had a spot in the front that was blank. the plant we had planted years ago, despite any effort we made, was just not thriving. last sunday, in a moment of brilliance – preceded by much research that ended where we started – we bought an ornamental grass to go there. i took a peek at it out the front window while the sun was still low in the sky and it is happier than happy. and so, with my newfound wisdom this morning, i will choose to celebrate how well we grow grasses. not yard-grass, per se, for that is another one of those not-quite-there’s, but graceful ornamental grasses that send up beautiful plumes, that help with erosion control, that spread naturally and that make us look like successful gardeners…of a sort, anyway. celebrate what we do well. dressed smartly and looking fresh.
and i will remind myself, especially in these times, to rise gently. to hold this morning, tomorrow morning, that morning someday – any day – close to my heart. with gratitude. bowing to the sun and gracefully moving in the wind.
dogdog never paid attention to the green and yellow toy. until babycat decided – suddenly and temporarily – that it was his favorite thing in the whole wide world. b-cat lay, with his face in the streaming sunlight, and held his new favoritething. he rubbed his face on it and you could see his smile. and his favoritething was happy being loved on having been ignored for long periods of time. since that day, he has gone back to ignoring it. but that day? it was the one simple route to his bliss.
dogdog now carries this toy around from time to time. you can tell he is trying to discern what it is that babycat found magical about it; he furrows his brow and lugs it from room to room, shaking it to and fro from time to time as if to wake it up, make the magic happen. he is wondering, “how do i make the bliss start?”
a million years ago i bought a little black book that was published by eddie bauer called ‘balance – a guide to life’s forgotten pleasures’. inside it stated, “this book won’t change your life. it won’t solve any of your deep-rooted psychological problems. it won’t make you rich. and it definitely won’t make you sexy. it may, however, remind you that we, as humans, are basically okay. and that it isn’t very difficult to get a little balance in our lives. so, have fun. slow down. take a deep breath. things are gonna be fine.”
this tiny brilliant book has 45 ‘how-to’ instructions like: how to turn your hand into a plane. how to unplug the phone. how to make noise with a blade of grass. how to catch a snowflake on your tongue. how to watch clouds. how to sleep in. how to make a shadow puppet. how to hug. how to go barefoot. how to take a nap. how to do a somersault. how to have a picnic. how to follow a bug around.
i called the company and bought all the copies they had left and sent them out with my third album this part of the journey to radio stations, listening walls, retail and wholesale outlets. it seemed the right pairing to me – a peaceful and original instrumental album to listen to while you read a book with 45 sets of instructions on how to find bliss.
maybe it’s not so hard. finding bliss. maybe we all are basically ok. maybe things are gonna be fine. maybe it’s simply lowering the expectation of what ‘bliss’ means.
maybe it’s not a measure of wealth or status. maybe it’s not calculable power or control. maybe it’s not your stock portfolio or your hedge fund. maybe it’s not your house or your car or your wardrobe. maybe it’s not your collection of iconic christian louboutin pumps. maybe it’s not your degree or your certification or your designation. maybe it’s not fancy food or exquisite bubbly from the vineyards of champagne.
maybe it’s your face in the sun, following a bug, catching a snowflake, giving a hug, loving on your favorite toy.
“whenever i feel afraid i hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect i’m afraid.” the tune from the king and i has gone through my head more than once in my life. the feel-good song you carry with you can make a difference (this is directed to our jaded babycat).
we have watched national geographic’s life below zero for a few years now. it’s not hard to develop “relationship” with the people on the show, especially now, in times of pandemic when you see few others. the hailstone family is based in noorvik, alaska. it’s brutally cold, removed and not an easy place to live. agnes hailstone, the 40-something matriarch, has a can-do attitude. the striking thing about this family is their positivity. what they are like off-screen is of question, but on-screen they are encouraging, supportive of each other, never undercut what the other is doing, and always have a more positive zeal than i ever could muster out on the negative-temperatured tundra in dim light and a freezing-wind stormy day on a snowmobile going 40mph for miles and miles across a frozen lake in search of a fish or maybe two from a tiny augured ice hole. “you can do things happy or sad or mad,” agnes said on a recent show, “but it’s best to just do things happy.” she adapts to new challenges, weird-stuff-that-happens, and seasonally-repeating obstacles as they arise and has passed her can-do-ness on to her children, her grandchildren, her spouse. she doesn’t give up. she is pretty heroic in my book. she must have bobby mcferrin humming in her head, “don’t worry. be happy.”
but what about in the quiet? what about when all is silent, when all lyrics have slipped from your ready grasp, when you can’t think of a song to save your life, as the expression goes? then what? what do you draw from?
i suppose that’s the reason my sweet momma started the day by saying “good morning, merry sunshine.” or why my sweet dad would look at things that were challenging and simply say, “well, how do you like them apples?” after living lives full of challenge and the roller coaster of emotional heave-hoes, they chose to greet the world in each of their experiences with positivity. hearing my dad’s whistling told me everything i needed to know – they were ok in the world, no matter what. they chose it.
agnes hailstone and my mom and dad would like each other. and dogdog. dogdog too.
this world will never be the same. we need to ponder, we need to dream, we need to imagine:
a better place, a more fair place, a place that is based on equity and equality, kindness and compassion. a place that assumes virtue and intends the same. a place that protects its peoples, that encourages individuals to care for each other. a place that doesn’t incite rancor, celebrate the weapons of violence, or create enmity and spite. a place where the downtrodden are lifted up and those with excess are generous. a place where inhabitants don’t self-aggrandize or strategize to find ways for more-more-more, ways that take from those with less, ways that undermine those in need. a place that doesn’t normalize language of vitriol, hatred, and antagonism. a place where all races are equivalent, all genders are respected, all ethnicities are indistinguishably included. a place where the environment counts and sustaining it beyond our own time on this good earth is a priority. a place that recognizes the sacred in the out-of-doors, the borrowing of this dirt, this water, this air for the short span of time we are here. a place where we are always seeking ways to better life for each other, to enhance daily living, health, happiness. a place of truth. a place of goodness.
yes. this world needs your good imagination. or we will never get there.
my sweet poppo ended up in solitary confinement. shot down over the ploesti oil fields in romania, he was a WWII prisoner of war and was being held in a prison camp in bulgaria. he was courageously condemning the rat-eaten stale bread the prisoners were served, throwing it down, and he was hauled off to solitary confinement. after months of imprisonment my dad, along with others, was able to escape this POW camp and find his way to freedom. freedom.
each of us has our own freedom route, courage to summon up. i look at both of my children as they make their way in this world. they are courageously carving out their lives. they are scrappy and they make sacrifices to seek happiness and freedom from fear of any kind. my sweet poppo is cheering them on, both of them.
this calendar page hangs in the choir room. the words seemed particularly timely to us, for many reasons, on many levels. we looked up the person to which they were credited: thucydides. a studier of human nature, he: “also has been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the political behavior of individuals and the subsequent outcomes of relations between states as ultimately mediated by, and constructed upon, the emotions of fear and self-interest.”
we owe the freedom of our country to the veterans, like my sweet dad, who we honor today and to wise, thoughtful, inspired leaders of this country. we have much to be grateful for.
and yet. these savvy words of this ancient greek historian…”the emotions of fear and self-interest”. this is relevant.
my poppo sat in a prison camp cell representing a country fighting against leaders filled with self-interest and the indiscriminate propagation of fear and atrocities upon innocent people. his courage was buoyed by the courage of his fellow soldiers. my father was staunchly determined to put others’ needs first.
i fear what is happening in our country today would sadden him; his response would be that our leaders are not acting out of courage, not out of a rallying call for equitable independence of all, but instead, out of bullying and grandiose self-serving.
and i believe my sweet poppo would throw down the rat-eaten stale philosophy of this current government. with his great courage. in true freedom.
so i’ve decided that there is a difference between us and our pets. you roll your eyes and think, “she is clearly a little slow on this…” but i’m not just stating the obvious. i watch dogdog and babycat through their days and find wonder in their absolutely joy-filled acceptance of the moment. for dogdog and babycat, there is no continuum of how-am-i-going-to-feel-right-now; it is simply always at the apex of ‘happy’.
dogdog runs around the backyard gleeful. our neighbor and friend john says he can practically hear him thinking, “oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” he meets us at the back door when we arrive back home or when we ask him if he wants to “go on errands”, vertical-jumping to challenge the best of basketball players. at the end of the evening, when he is sure it is time for “sleepynightnight”, he rolls over for a treasured ‘belly-belly’; nothing else matters to him at that moment. all of his actions are based in the moment. all of them assume the best.
if babycat can’t be laying curled up next to you, he seeks the sun and follows it around the house. he sits on the chest in front of the window (just as in this drawing of chicken marsala and babycat) and gazes outside, clearly enchanted by everything ‘out there’. he gets most excited by mealtime and a ‘treat’ will literally make him come running and put him over the top. all of his actions are based in the moment. all of them assume the best.
why is it that we function so differently? why is it that we cannot assume the best? we tend to pre-form our view about our day, our challenges, our life, our conversations, our relationships, our, well, most everything. we drag all the old baggage along with us, all of which contributes to heavy-hearted-difficult-to-circumvent-or-navigate negative assumptions of what is to come. what would it be like for us – as individuals, as couples, as families, as a community, as a country, as a world – to assume the best? to assume awe?
a couple sundays ago i had the honor of speaking for a few moments to our church congregation. normally, the hat i wear at trinity is a minister of music hat, but i was happy to speak a few words (ok, maybe more than a few…i am not the most succinct person on this planet) during that service. the service was called “a joyful noise” sunday and it was day dedicated to a hymn sing.
taking into account the lessons to be read during the service and expanding on a recent writing, i prepared a few words on Joy. a couple of people have since asked me to publish this here and so, this is what i said:
This is a view-master. It’s pretty old-school. Each time I push the lever a new snapshot is available to look at, to ponder. I recently realized that this is the way I write. And so, with respect, I’d like to offer a few viewmaster moments that make me think about joy.
It’s that time of year. There are pictures in the Kenosha News of students moving into campus at Carthage. Any day now there will be pictures of the first days of school at Unified. Nine years ago, right around now, i stood on the University of Minnesota campus. We had packed up the little Scion till you couldn’t even fit a Snickers bar into any of the spaces left. The entire car was glowing pink. The girl – that’s my daughter Kirsten – and her roommate were decorating in pink. Pink everything. Pink comforters, pink bins, pink rugs, pink shower pails. We unloaded into the dorm….traipsing with everyone through the halls, lugging huge futon boxes and armloads of clothes. Organizing the dormroom through the day I struggled to keep finding tasks, maybe to delay my leaving for just a little longer. We walked outside and started to stroll on campus when she turned to me and said, “I think I’m going to go.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I am going to go – to the union.” I realized it was time. Every word of wisdom I had wanted to relay to her dropped out of the synapses in my brain and I stood staring at her. I told her to go be her, to be amazing and I loved her. She walked away, with great anticipation, grace, excitement. With great joy. I stood and watched, tears in my eyes. My cellphone buzzed. There was a text from her. It read – “Don’t be sad, mom. Be ecstatic. I love you.” I drove home – alone. When I got there I put on laundry, cause that’s what my mom did when she was upset. In the putting on of laundry, I had to move one load into the dryer. I took out a dryer sheet and out of the dryer sheet box flew an index card. It read, “Thinking of you. With love from Minnesota.” The girl had hidden 31 of these around the house. Bringing joy.
Be ecstatic. Joy. Joy is our right. Joy is our responsibility.
My momma was rushed to the emergency room. Because we were there in Florida visiting her, we were able to meet her there at the ER. She had fallen and was in tremendous pain. At 93 a fall was dangerous and there was worry about her hip. For hours we were in the little examining room, waiting, watching, reassuring. It was the middle of the night and the attending nurse was obviously exhausted. She was a capable young woman, but had little patience and wasn’t friendly or smiling much. My sweet momma, in her pain, gazed up at her, smiled gently and said, “I wish I had your beautiful smile.” That moment. The moment that she brought joy to someone else, changed everything. The nurse was deeply affected by her words, which changed everything in the room, and, I suspect, in all the concentric circles that reached outward, including ours.
Joy. Our right. Our responsibility. Doesn’t one lead to the other?
When I interviewed for the job of minister of music here at Trinity they asked me several questions. Then they asked me if I had anything I wanted to add. (As you would suspect) I said that I did. I wanted to add that my mission as minister of music had formed through about 25 years of work in churches and with people volunteering to be a part of the music programs in those churches. The most important thing to me to tell them was that I feel deeply that the music and the music program in a church is about JOY. It is not about perfection. Like any musician (or anyone for that matter) I love when things go perfectly. But if perfection is the mission that they wanted at Trinity, I was not the right person. I have found if you expect perfection, you lose joy. If you expect joy, you find perfection.
We worship together and sing in community. Each of the songs we sing is a moment in time that we bring to worship, whether it is in a traditional hymn or a contemporary song. We offer songs of praise and songs of love and songs of yearning and songs of hope. We don’t come here expecting to get joy. We bring joy. And that? That begets joy. Our right. Our responsibility.
We were walking through Menards (like Home Depot, for those of you not in Menards-land) and passed a sign that read “Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.” This immediately made me think of my best friend since the time I was three. This saying was what she had chosen to put in her yearbook under her picture. Somehow, forty years later, because I am ridiculously thready, I still remembered this. What was really funny was that when she and her husband visited this summer, she didn’t remember this at all. (I believe she just set about to live it.) These days we are surrounded by sayings and words of inspiration on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Menards. Sometimes they feel trite. But that’s only because they are so prevalent. They are no less real. No less worthy. They just flatten out because we see so much of them. We tend to not notice as deeply anymore. Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.
Sally’s momma’s farmhouse is for sale. Although, with a deep root there, she is able to find her way around the rooms, she doesn’t recognize it as hers anymore because she is in the throes of dementia. So when they were there, Sally said her momma saw the for sale sign and told Sally she’d like to buy it. Sally explained that then her momma would be far away – hours -from her grown children and they wouldn’t be able to be with her. She asked her momma what she would do all day. “Play the piano,” she said. “I’d play the piano.” Joy is not really complicated.
I read a striking CNN article about Hurricane Harvey and a man named Mr. Harding. I want to share part of it with you: One of his sons is an avid piano player and was concerned the family’s piano would be destroyed by flood water. When Mr. Harding found the water hadn’t covered the piano, he sat down and began to play. “I decided to take a moment and play and take it all in,” he told CNN on Thursday. He posted the video of the moment on Instagram with the caption, “I think it’s all finally sinking in a little. What we used to have going as a city is gone. I really think God is going to do something completely new here. I am excited to see the new beauty in the suffering.” Joy.
Early yesterday morning we sat in bed, sipping coffee, early morning sunshine streaming in the windows, a cool breeze crossing the room. We could hear the birds, the squirrels, the sounds of our sweet neighbors John and Michele clinking silverware and plates, making breakfast. Babycat and Dogdog laid on the bed snoring. No matter the worries or sadnesses, challenges or problems that would befall us in the day or days to come, that moment was a picture of JOY. A view-master snapshot of what is in our very fibre if we notice. Our God-given right. Our God-given responsibility.