Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks

It is the last day of November as I sit here capturing this thought.  The Christmas lights have been officially lit on 'The Plaza' and the Mayor's Tree is aglow.  The seasonal songs have long been playing on radio stations and in stores.  How we do love to rush our holidays in this country!

Oh, I love the nativity and the carols and the coming snow and the twinkling lights and presents under the tree, too.  But it is this holiday of food and family and parades and footballs games and gathering together that I am most thankful for.

Because?  Because of the promise that Thanksgiving makes to all of us.

It is the one day that, all family strains and cares aside, we really do understand we are expected to stop and reflect and be thankful for everything in our life.  Every wee thing.  Every major thing.  Everything.

And I am.  Boy howdy, I am!

At a recent writing workshop we participants were given a list of journaling tools to help our writing juices flow.  One of these tools is to keep a 'Gratitude Journal' in which we would write every day three things we are thankful for then answer why these good things happened to us.  What did we do to bring these good things about?  Then, once we understand what led to these, keep writing what else we are grateful for.

So, I wrote.

I am thankful for my family:  For my mother, who prayed me into existence and who lived selflessly all her life for her children.  For my husband who knows me better than (almost) any other human being on this planet.  Who understands my passions and moods and need to GO!  Who has loved me through the ups and downs of an often-tumultuous marriage and has stood by me when I needed encouragement and behind me (pushing or kicking) when I needed a little more.  And for my children without whom I do not honestly know how I lived before.  They are the reason I was born. 

What did I do to deserve these precious people?  This is a hard question to answer.

I lived and loved.

I am thankful for my healthy, strong body.  I am incredibly aware that I am fit and strong despite my years.  This isn't an accident.  I spent plenty of years being not so fit and healthy, just getting by, getting on airplanes, going from one hotel and one company event and meal to another and not really paying much attention to the toll it was taking on my body.

Then one memorable day I was in Colorado traveling with my young children and husband and looking at the sign at the head of a mountain trail deciding if I 'had it in me' to make it up what had been warned was a 'strenuous' trail.  I was saddened and dismayed that at the tender age of 40-something I was really questioning whether this trail was something I was capable of doing.

So, what did I do to bring this thing about?

I listened to my heart's desire and started walking.

At first I used my poor dog as an excuse to get me going.  He walked with me until he just couldn't anymore and would lie down in the shade getting his second wind, looking at me pitifully to just, please, stop already!  And I kept walking. Eventually I walked 60 miles in 3 days as part of a cancer awareness walk.  Then I walked 27 miles in one day just to know I could.  Now I am hoping to walk across my state of Missouri next year with a delicious band of Wild Women who will be walking across the U.S.A.

I am thankful for my mentors and teachers and friends.  They have instilled in me my wish - my prayer - to speak and live my truth with courage and wisdom and love.  They have encouraged me to use my outside, out-loud voice and not be afraid of what will come out.  I thank you Diane and Orlando, David and Charlie and Jim.  Thank you Kim and Jenny and Diane, Susan and Sheri and Helen.  Oh, the list is so long and I pray that I have told you who you are!

What did I do to bring this 'good thing' about?

I listened and I loved and listened some more.  

What other things can I think to be grateful for?  Oh, is there ever enough room to record it all?!  For wine and music and dancing.  For beautiful food and romantic movies and books.  For glowing sunsets and crisp sheets and snow.  For thunder storms, birthdays and soft April afternoons.  For trees on fire with fall colors and reflections in the water.  For last first kisses and whispered dreams.  For love and laughter and baby-powdered baby-bottoms.  For the ability and forum and freedom to write these words.

For enough days to say 'Thank You'.

It's really a great exercise.  I recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shadows

Last week was one of those exquisitely beautiful autumn weeks.  The air was simultaneously warm with a light chill, the leaves were dancing circles on the breeze to the ground and the sun was coming at the most interesting angle through the remaining leaves on the trees creating a golden glow.

Everything seemed just a little magical and other-worldly.

I happened to be in Indiana, my home-state and where my mother and many of my friends can still be found and somewhere I go as often as possible to escape my now and step back, in many ways, to who I was a lot of yesterdays ago.  And as is my custom when I am home and have spent too many hours in the warmth and stillness of my mother's kitchen, I walk the country roads that are laid out in such grid-like precision that miles are easily stepped off and exact measurements of time can be given to worrying mothers so they won't, well, worry so much.

And I had my camera.

It was late enough that the sun was starting to sink in the west and the shadows were getting long.  I love that time of evening especially for the light and shadows, regardless of the season, but especially in the fall for the additional colors that are showing up on tree-tops and in field furrows.

As I walked this particular stretch of CR 800, I came upon a tree still standing but shattered by time and weather.  I am intrigued by trees.  One might say I am passionate about trees, especially when they have been defrocked by the seasons and are standing proud and strong, showing their species by their bare-boned limbs.  This one, though, had been standing naked for a long time.

I stopped to take in this tree, watching the play of light and color from the setting sun behind me and tried to find the best spot to capture the tree's remaining essence.  I also liked the idea of capturing me taking the picture via my shadow.

The picture was snapped, and I continued on my walk finding many other lovely Indiana fall images that would make it into my camera and, eventually, my photographic journal of this particular trip home.

Back home again in the heartland, I reviewed all my pictures and was particularly pleased with this one.  The colors were lovely, though the tree wasn't quite as singular in the picture as it had been the moment it was taken.  I am always amazed at what the human eye sees in the moment that somehow the camera never can capture.  Still, I liked this picture.  And it haunted me.

 I was reminded of the spiritual lesson of the continuous shadows in our life - the lesson to be conscious of the shadow, ever-present, that is really working for the accolades of 'job well done, good and faithful servant'.   When we work at the soup kitchen in order to show compassion for others who don't have the luxuries of plentiful food and dependable shelter, is the compassion shaded with the relief of 'thank God that isn't me' or the hope that this small kindness is building another step on our stairway to heaven?  When we write a check to the homeless shelter or the soup kitchen or the church, is it considering the need at the other end, or the tax deduction on ours?  When we ask for prayers for another, is it truly lifting that person up or is it a more acceptable, elegant form of gossip?

And my personal shadow game is that of jumping to judgment or conclusions about another only to honestly have to admit that what I am not liking in their actions is something I recognize and dislike in my own.  My lovely teacher and mentor reminds me again and again that we cannot see in another what we don't recognize in ourselves.

That lesson applies to the beauty and talent and specialness we 'recognize' in another as well as the ability to see and label bad behavior.  A friend of mine routinely flies into fits of road rage when fellow travelers aren't driving in a way to suit him/her, but is one of the worst drivers I know.  Another friend is  the first to love the gentleness of a human spirit, but fails to recognize their own gentleness.  Another announces they 'hate liars' but doesn't seem concerned about the small deceits that pepper their own reality.

If I am wounded by a lack of compassion or understanding, have I given any thought to my inability to empathize with the one who is the seeming perpetrator?

I have caught myself jumping to conclusions and judgments recently and thankfully am recognizing the sameness of those judgments and lingering guilt inside of me.  Not only is it time to release my opinions of others, it is time to finally let go of the corresponding sadness inside of me.

Shadows are everywhere in nature - outdoors and internal.  Sometimes they are nearly invisible, when the shining light of personal recognition is directly upon us, and at other times they stretch long into our horizon.  Shadows aren't bad or good.... they just are.  Just like that weathered tree.

So I labeled the picture - A mere shadow of her former self.