Monday, April 27, 2015

Little Feathers: Cracks in the Sidewalk

Little Feathers: Cracks in the Sidewalk: Nothing is perfect. But maybe that is not true. Maybe what I see as imperfections are exactly what make something the way it was intended to...

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Nothing is perfect. But maybe that is not true. Maybe what I see as imperfections are exactly what make something the way it was intended to be.

On Saturday I was lucky enough to walk 12 miles of the 26 mile first day walk of the Avon 39 with Nicki Beglau Black. Houston was a challenge. Raining buckets for the first three hours, it was the muggiest steambath ever for the last five hours. Hundreds of walkers who had raised 2.7 million dollars to fight cancer made their way along flooded and cracked sidewalks (cracked is a misnomer...they looked like a major earthquake hit), braved blisters and hurting parts and heat prostration to show how much they care that others not die of cancer. People walked with names written on their shirts to honor those who have been in the path of cancer. Nicki raised over $33,000 dollars herself, and her team of five came in 6th overall for fund raising.

It was hard for me to admit that I should not do the whole walk when Nicki first told me she was going to do it again. We did it in 2011 but I had multiple injuries before the walk began and could not do that one entirely, either. But I kept telling myself this time that harming my own health doesn't cure any cancer. Nicki had to make that tough decision also, after finishing the 26.2 mile marathon the first day, her knee was so bad that she could not walk the 13 miles on Sunday. It hurt her to admit it, and to let it go. Sometime it takes a lot of courage to surrender. I am proud of Nicki for the hard work and dedication she put into her fund raising and training. I am also proud of her for have the courage to let her team finish in her name.

So, where was the perfection in that weekend?  In the success of those who could make the whole 39 mile walk? Yes. In the success of those who raised tens of thousands of dollars? Yes. In the steps of those who quit at the lunch break? Yes. In the hearts of those who had to get on the bus when their bodies gave out? Yes.

Cracked sidewalks. What was once smooth and level has been turned jagged and menacing to those who don't keep their eyes on the path. Upheaval caused by tree roots. Those exact same trees that offer a beautiful canopy of shade to streets and yards. One walker pointed out that if people had been content to make gravel sidewalks those roots would not have caused any trouble. But someone thought in inflexible sidewalks would be better.

Tree roots are messing with my concrete sidewalks, and I am beginning to understand that my definition of perfection is more realistic, more honest and more germane when I see the canopy above me as part and parcel with the gnarly roots. More gravel. Less concrete. More compassion, less judgement. More humility, less control-freak. More open mindedness, less self centeredness. More humor, less hubris.

Today a beautiful 44 year old woman I met on the walk will have her call-back 3-D mammogram. I am convinced that I sat on a blanket with her, cheering as walkers went by, because I could share my story with her. In 2011 I had a call back in the days just before I went to the walk. I was blessed to meet survivors with many different stories to tell. I am praying that Ashley will get good news today. Either no cancer or really early detection like me. When you read her name, I hope you will lift her up with thoughts and prayers for courage. Ashley, wherever you are, the sidewalks are cracked, but the canopy is wide and the shade is enough.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Little Feathers: Pride, Gratitude, and Christopher Reeve

Little Feathers: Pride, Gratitude, and Christopher Reeve: Yesterday my husband, Bob, read a quote by Christopher Reeves. It had to do with not being proud of your appearance, because the looks you w...

Pride, Gratitude, and Christopher Reeve

Yesterday my husband, Bob, read a quote by Christopher Reeves. It had to do with not being proud of your appearance, because the looks you were born with, good or not, are not an accomplishment. It got me thinking about lots of other opportunities for pride that are more likely to be opportunities for gratitude.

It's obvious, but I didn't choose my 5'10" height. Or my bone structure. Or, for that matter, being born to white parents in a free country. I didn't choose any of those things. In fact, I've joked all my life that I would have picked different "parts" from my ancestors. Dad, I love you, but your feet! Sheesh! But I am truly grateful to have been born with strong bones and musculature, good eyesight and hearing (I know, Bob might argue with the hearing part), a beating heart and happy lungs. Health. I am very grateful for it. And, I guess the saying "take pride in your appearance" really means take care of the body you have been given. Be a good steward of it. That makes more sense. More healthy sense. Not pride, but gratitude.  I am grateful for my parents, who raised me to believe that life is a beautiful adventure. I am proud of my parents' accomplishments, too. They worked hard and gave my brother and I an idyllic  childhood.

Proud to be an American? Well, I am proud of America when we as a nation act like civilized people who care about something other than our own pocketbook and power (synonymous, I think). I can't really be proud of something that isn't an accomplishment. I can be grateful to be an American.

America is a great place to live. Is it morally superior to other countries? Sometimes. Not always. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been born here. But that was not my doing. Only my good fortune. I even have trouble saying I was blessed to be born here, as if people born in other places are not blessed. As if God favors me, favors America. That is a kind of weird theology, or maybe theosophy, I can't buy. The America I would be most proud of would be one that valued people as children of God no matter who their parents were. The country that takes pride in justice. The place where freedom means no one is oppressed. That would be an accomplishment. One that has not been made by any country throughout history. We could be the first. That would make me very proud of America, indeed.

I love my children with the heart-exploding love that makes me remember their childhoods with teary eyes. I love them as adults. I am truly proud of their accomplishments. Their choices to be good people are my greatest source of pride. But I did not choose who they would be. Just as they didn't choose to be born to me and Bob. I am grateful, grateful, grateful to be their mother. I can't really say I'm proud to be their mother, though I am proud of them.

Some of the mistakes I've made in life have turned out to be my greatest teacher. I truly am not proud of those choices. I try to be grateful for the lessons learned. I even have trouble with that sometimes. When I get to thinking I can control anything beyond my own behavior, things go awry. Sometimes pride itself is a stumbling block to living the good life, the one I believe God longs for me to live. That is why I am blogging away about the notion. Typing away to sound out the intricate differences between pride and gratitude in my own mind. Thanks for the lesson, Christopher Reeve. I admire you greatly. I'm very proud of you for the way you conducted your life.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Little Feathers: How Much is Enough, and When Do We Know

Little Feathers: How Much is Enough, and When Do We Know: Of course most of us want to be successful. Of course we do. We want to see our books in the stores, our songs on the radio, our paintings i...

How Much is Enough, and When Do We Know

Of course most of us want to be successful. Of course we do. We want to see our books in the stores, our songs on the radio, our paintings in galleries, our businesses grow. Don't we want to feel like we are good enough at our job/avocation that others will notice? If not, what is up with all the "reach for the stars", "set your goals high", "dare to dream", "use your God-given talents", and so forth?

A really brilliant writer, Anne Lamott, writes a blog that hits me where I live nearly all the time. In her last one, about turning 61 (my same age), she observes that success can be our downfall. That some writers on the best seller list have been derailed by acclaim. We don't have to look far in Hollywood to see that same affect on many of newly famous. We all know cutthroat business people. Yet, as a writer, Anne spends her time with the most important writers tool, "butt in the chair" as she calls it. She is driven to write. It is her catharsis. She is a terribly successful blogger, by my standards. Over 50,000 shares of the birthday blog. That is happening, in my opinion, because she forges strong bonds with her readers. She writes with such a strong voice, we can hear her as if she were in the room with us. No self-promotion could ever work as well as her own writer's voice.

Every time I go to the children's writer conference (if you want to write for kids, please be sure to check out your local SCBWI) I hear some presenter say, "If you need money, get a job. If you love to write, have to write, can't keep from writing, write." I also remember my husband telling insurance agents, "Don't go into an interview with dollar signs in your eyes" - in other words, keep the well being of your client above your own need for income. If our top priority is lining our own pockets, we'll forget ourselves. We'll lose our way. We'll become the greedy humans that lie just beneath our best intentions.

Like works and grace, it is a tricky balancing act, this effort to create something worthwhile. Marketing our own books has fallen to the writer more and more as the publishing world has changed and morphed. If we don't promote them, no one will, for the most part. And, promoting something you believe in, whether a product or ourselves and our abilities, is not a bad thing.

Sometimes I feel a little edgy, with time passing quickly and my age creeping up. I have so many books I want to write. But I don't just want to write them. I want them to be read. Ambition is a wonderful thing when it serves us. It is a negative thing when we serve it. Will I still be okay if not another book is sold? Will I feel like I did my best if the two books that are "out there" go no further? How much is enough?

What is success? What is the good life, and how do you live it? We define it for ourselves. Am I there yet? Yes. Because there is no there. Just here. And since I am here, in this amazing place, in a life filled with blessings all around me, it is enough. That doesn't mean I don't feel compelled to write. Or have a desire to promote my books. It just means that I can't wait for another day to feel successful. I just have to remind myself. Gratitude again. The one pure, true note that sounds above the din of commerce. Hear it? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Little Feathers: Speeding Toward the Light

Little Feathers: Speeding Toward the Light: My sister in spirit, Nicki Black, recently brought up the mystery of why time seems to go faster and faster as we age. Much has been written...

Speeding Toward the Light

My sister in spirit, Nicki Black, recently brought up the mystery of why time seems to go faster and faster as we age. Much has been written about it. Here's some more:

I was watching the water drain out of my kitchen sink this morning. The last couple of inches drained out much faster than the first couple, I swear. Now, any scientist worth their salt would argue that the human eye is no real judge of that sort of thing. Besides, it would seem to make more sense that the weight of the whole body of water would make the first few inches drain faster, not slower. Don't quote me, I haven't googled this yet.

And, who can deny that the last pages of a good book, or moments of a good movie, go by much faster than the beginning? Then, again,there is the river that builds and builds and builds as tributaries join in on the way to the sea. Just listen to Smetana's Moldau. It is the symphonic painting of one of Bohemia's great rivers. At first sprightly and young, then lively and playful, then tortured with rapids and conflicts. Finally, in the closing passages, it is majestic and full of compelling story. The end is soaringly rich with yearning. I am actually tearing up just thinking about it. The life of a river that races toward the sea. The life of a human, born on a journey, of which the ending is both unknown and unknowable.

We think we have so much time, when we are young. We think that when we are old, time will slow down as we do, that more retrospection will give us wisdom and preparation for our final days. Maybe we do spend more time looking back, but nothing prepares us for our approach to the sea, (more river analogy, really do have to listen to the Moldau). Nothing prepares us for the gathering velocity of our days. There may be some who are more sanguine about death, but I think most of us feel the mystery in our bones. Not necessarily dread or fear, but honest wonder about the great beyond. About our own ending.

We are reminded daily of the fragile nature of life. We are bombarded with stories of lives ending. As we age, more and more of the ones we hear about are in our generation, not our parents'. Maybe that constant reminder that we are very temporary inhabitants of this life is part of the reason it seems all the more fleeting.

Of course, the only balm for the thing is the same fix for every other human ailment. Gratitude. We know it. We say it. We write it. We think it. This is the only day we are given. Live this day with thanksgiving. It may not slow our speeding toward the light. But it makes the trip a better one. And, seriously--Smetana's Moldau. You'll never look at a river the same again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Little Feathers: Ten Lessons From the Campground

Little Feathers: Ten Lessons From the Campground: 1. Sleeping outside in nice weather is therapeutic. Even if it is only a nap on a blanket in the shade. 2. Sleeping outside in a thundersto...

Ten Lessons From the Campground

1. Sleeping outside in nice weather is therapeutic. Even if it is only a nap on a blanket in the shade.
2. Sleeping outside in a thunderstorm doesn't happen.
3. Cooking over a campfire requires fortitude and a sense of humor. And, if the hotdogs take a dive into the ashes, it requires quite a bit of water and a diligent washer to make them edible.
4. Food cooked over a campfire tastes better. It just does. One of life's mysteries.
5. Camping is not for sissies. Sissies (like me) can rent an RV to mitigate the hardships. But even so, camping requires much more effort than other vacations.
6. It is entirely possible to over-pack for a camping trip. Measuring cups and a microplane should stay at home.  
7. Surround yourself with fun people.  And, since everyone has their own definition of fun, maybe it is better to say, surround yourself with people who have a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.
8. Give thanks for your washer and dryer when you get home. Campfire = stinky clothes.
9. You can take lots of pictures, but you still have to burn into your memory the looks on the faces around the campfire. They are priceless.
10. You can plan, but you can't control. Nature is full of wild cards. Which is the very definition of adventure, right?