I made my bed today when I got up. I make it every day. Apparently not everyone does…I guess I didn’t realize that. It’s surprisingly important to me, and I’m fully aware of why, especially now: when there is so much in my life that I can’t control, I can control the chaos in the physical space around me.
So while events that I’m an unwilling participant in swirl tornado-like, throwing me like a rag doll, and while I concentrate intensely to quiet the storm inside my head, I mechanically go about the countless small tasks of daily living. I start laundry and find peace in folding it. I dust away the cobwebs in the corners of my house and in my mind. Today I will touch up paint in some spots that have been bothering me. And tomorrow I will get up and make my bed, and in doing so, I will take a small but crucial step toward wresting control of my life back.
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” –Buddha
The daffodils are blooming. These little spot of sunshine along the country drive on my way to work are a sure sign spring is here. But it’s not just when daffodils bloom that makes them special, it’s where.
Daffodils bloom from bulbs and are not as easily spread as seed wildflowers. They’re not spread by the wind or wild animals; they generally require human transplanting. That makes their seemingly random placement along the road, where there is no other apparent evidence of human habitation, not a mystery but a historical marker. When I see an unexpected clump of yellow by the side of the road, I know to look closer. I can then often see what I’d have otherwise missed: a long unused driveway; a pile of rocks, perhaps from an old chimney; or just a telltale cluster of trees, planted to provide shade and hope.
As the daffodils’ sunshine warms my heart, I wonder about the hands that planted them and the family she loved. Was their life happy or hard? Was this a place of love or tragedy? Or, as is generally the case with humans, a bit of both? I can’t ever know these answers, but I can be grateful for her endowment to those of us who followed her. Her investment of time and energy has left us with a small bit of the beauty and hope that were, I believe, the reasons that drove her to plant them in the first place. It is her legacy.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” –Greek Proverb
Something’s changing in our country, and I’m dismayed. Over the last year or so, we’re losing the expectation that we will demonstrate basic respect for each other in public discourse. No group is completely clean on this, and there’s a reason that politics has long been called “dirty”. But we’re seeing a steep slide that needs arrested. A friend once told me that “words matter”…he was right.
If you don’t believe words matter, ask a child who’s just been bullied. If you don’t think words matter, ask someone who’s fighting depression. If you’re unsure if words matter, study Nazi history and see how a nation was manipulated to ignore (and even commit) atrocities against their fellow citizens.
America has always been a beacon of hope and optimism for the world, Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”. But we are rapidly turning into a mean and nasty place, where insults take the place of meaningful debate on how to make our great country even better, for all of its people. We, the people, must halt this decline. We must demand better from our public figures. We can do better…we deserve better…we are better than this.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
The older I get, the more weary I get. I don’t know how to fully explain it, and I don’t mean that I’m more tired (though that’s true, too). I mean weary, like not just in my bones but in my soul, too. It’s not a good feeling, yet somehow it’s not totally bad, either. It’s almost familiar, even though it’s new, like somehow it was inevitable. I’m at the stage now where I’m working to decide what it means, and more importantly, what to do with it.
While I think that a small part of it has to do with the realization that I’m now unquestionably in the back half of my life, this isn’t a mid-life crisis. I have a precious family that means the world to me and a meaningful job I love. I’m healthy and active, and I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life spiritually. No, it’s more than that. It feels the most like more of a vague realization that life is just flat out a struggle, and there’s too much suffering in the world. This loony election season hasn’t helped any, but this is way bigger than any political outcome. I just get weary.
I get weary of the polarization and seemingly unreconcilable divide in our country. I get weary of the need to hand money and a blessing out of my car window to the homeless. I get weary of seeing the photos and hearing the stories of especially children fighting horrific diseases for their very lives. I get weary of politicians acting in what is clearly their own best interest over those who elected them to serve them. I get weary of layoffs and domestic abuse and addiction and racism. It becomes overwhelming.
Yet when it seems like just one more all-too-human story may knock me down, another story…an offsetting story of hope… shines through. The amazing part is it usually only takes one of the good ones to counter many of the bad ones. That’s the power of good, of love. From those small, shining nuggets of hope, I get the strength to carry on. Even though I am weary.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” –Galatians 6:9
As the days grow shorter, I’ve begun to notice the lights in the homes on my drive home in the dark. There are so many kinds. The pretty Christmas lights this time of year make me smile. Some outdoor lights accent a home just so, making you feel welcome, even if you don’t know the people who live there. But most lights seem ugly and harsh. Many farm lights, high up on telephone poles, have that yellowish tint of a bug light; they may be ugly, but I grew up in the country and know what a godsend those REA lights are, a shield holding back the blackness over a tiny oasis. The light from a TV is depressing when it’s the only light coming from a house. But the worst are the soul-sucking fluorescents, blue and unnatural.
Most of the lights from the homes I drive by are so ugly, I think, because they are so artificial. We were meant to sleep when it’s dark. It seems like the only legitimate ability we should have to stave off the inevitable night is the light of a fire, which in addition to its gifts of light and warmth, also gives our tribe reason to band together.
I recently read an ex-seafarer say that “a single light bulb on a small ship can be seen from miles away at sea.” It’s a powerful image, yet they weren’t talking about lights at sea at all, but about people: we can all be lights in the darkness for each other. If we each choose to be a light, the sea will sparkle.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” –Edith Wharton
I’m not entirely sure why it was important to me to visit this spot where 49 innocent people died. I haven’t been able to read any of the stories of the massacre, especially of the calls made to mothers by loving sons who were about to die. I knew I would cry, and hard. The whole thing is utterly horrific. But still I had to come.
My Mennonite ancestors were persecuted and driven from their homeland more than once. In America, they became champions of social justice, facing danger to march in America’s civil rights movement. Until this last year, I would have said that LGBT rights was the last major civil rights battle left in this country. But the recent upswing in xenophobia and discrimination against entire races and an entire religion…one whose billion plus adherents share a common father with Christianity…proves that the war rages on.
And so I came, to honor 49 souls whose lives were cut violently short. I wept at the rainbow-themed artwork, the teddy bear and lit candles, the photo ID badge, the childrens’ crayon drawings. I came for them, but I also came for me. I came to make a tiny personal stand against hate and discrimination. I came, for my own humanity.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
I remember a retail merchant sharing one of his learnings from a consumer focus group. A young mother shopper told them that paper towels were a luxury she simply couldn’t afford, as she struggled to put food on her family’s table. This was clearly a novel idea to the merchant. For me, it was a memory.
We married (very) young and poor. One of us worked and one of us went to school for the first 7 years of our marriage. Our grocery budget for the first couple of years was $35 for the week, and that also had to cover toiletries and paper goods. Not only were paper towels definitely not affordable, we didn’t buy paper plates, Kleenex, or any “frivolous” food. For our lunches, I cooked extra amounts at dinner and baked desserts. While my husband’s co-workers looked on with envy at his homemade goodies, he complained that I never bought Oreos. I couldn’t: if I spent $40 one week instead of the budgeted $35, we struggled to pay for gas. Money was tight, and it took real planning to make it work.
We’ve since been financially blessed and no longer have to live on the edge like that, but of course many Americans do. There has been such a widening of the gap between rich and poor in our country that too many today have no idea what it’s like to view paper towels as a luxury. I worry that my kids won’t understand how blessed they are…they’ve lived with paper towels and many other luxuries their whole lives. We talk to them about how fortunate we are compared to many Americans and the rest of the world. We tell them that we’re blessed largely as a result of luck, having been born through no action of our own in a time and place of extraordinary circumstances. But there is no way for them to truly understand unless they live it. I want them to understand, yet I guess I really don’t, if it means they have to experience it first hand. I wish my children a lifetime of paper towels.
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” –Henry David Thoreau