Illumination I

At 80, I live in a senior residence, heavily practicing a policy of no visitors, receiving meals in our rooms , physical distancing at the movies with only 8 allowed in the room, and exercise classes transferred to Zoom or YouTube.  How fast things change!  

Over two weeks ago, when I last posted on March 14th,  none of this was on my radar.  Fifty people had died and 3000 had been diagnosed. The President was saying it would be over soon.  And I was reflecting on kindness and helpfulness needed in tough times, and how acts of service tend to rebound as gifts to the giver.   Rereading my previous post on Kindness, I notice the calm naiveté of my temporary ignorance.

Since then, we’ve definitely seen kindness and helpfulness of health care workers in amounts we couldn’t have imagined, exhausting these givers.  Our death toll now approaches 5000 and our diagnosed 185,000. At this moment the apex, our high tide, has not even been reached. 

What about the rest of us staying home?  We’re coping with change and loss, overwhelm, anxiety and this new lifestyle,  in our own idiosyncratic ways.  Where has our “normal” gone?  

And what will we do now and next?

“Aging can be understood, affirmed, and experienced as a process of growth when the mystery of life is slowly revealed to us.”  —Henri Nouwen

My word of the day has become ILLUMINATION.  The rapid spread of the pandemic has catapulted us/me into “mystery”. In these uncertainties, what awarenesses are we/am I  growing into? 

Some  of my friends are learning how much they need connection, finding themselves calling friends they haven’t talked to for a long time, and asking themselves, “Why on earth did I let this go?”

Another discovered that when her “busyness and connection” was removed by the stay-at-home order, a simpler life, the kind of life she realized that she had always wanted, emerged.  That recognition was both surprising and satisfying and got her thinking about how she wanted to structure her life today and in the future.

Another, whose retirement travel plans were dashed, didn’t know what to do with herself.  Confused and anxious, she realized she was missing the important routines that had previously grounded her satisfying work life. Thus, she returned to her morning schedule of decades:  Exercise, meditation, shower, coffee, and off to whatever is next.  An important acknowledgment for what her life must include.

For another,  the “go home and stay there” direction removed a lifestyle made satisfying by in-person connections.  Neither online nor phone dates were really doing it for her. When loneliness moved through reflection to  awareness, the sadness of her present days, newly faced, offered her a new question to contemplate:

How can I honor my needs and desires?   How can I reach out and create a more conscious life around ‘who I am’  and ‘what I want’, both DURING the current challenges, AND, when they pass?

“Time in the desert soulscape will reveal  to us who we are and what we really want.  In one sense we might even say that the desert—a place far removed from community and the busyness of everyday life—is the region where all heroic journeys begin.” 

                          —Mary Reynolds Thompson, Reclaiming the Wild Soul                                                                                


Kindness matters

My goodness!  Such a long time since I’ve posted my thoughts.  It’s been a rough several months.  Actually lately, I’ve been surrounded  by models of kindness.  I’ll only mention two that have played a part in inspiring these words.

The recent film based on the life of Fred Rogers, A Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood, brought tears to my eyes, reminding me that in the neighborhood there are always people trying to help.  Notice them. Appreciate them.  They, and we, are all special. And, it’s a gift to them to allow them be kind to us.

I consider this reflection more important now with the world wide corona virus pandemic. We are supposed to maintain “social distance”.  I’ve even heard the doctors asking that we be “kind” to each other during times that are likely to get more scary.   Little gestures matter. And many of these little gestures will be heroic. 

As a very independent person, I have been one who has lived many of my 80 years rarely asking or allowing others to help me. I have also generally discounted the appreciations I receive for how I show up in the world.  After all, I am just enjoying being and doing “me.” I’ve never focused my attention on how I’ve mattered to others, nor to the gifts of pleasure that I have received from having been useful.  

However, over the last several years, another point of view is emerging exemplified by Mr. Rogers.  He demonstrates by his very different approach to life that he himself is special, and now legendary.  He saw every one he met as “special.” 

You are special. I am special.  He is so right about that. Actually on the giving-receiving continuum, being kind to another person is a feel-good moment that so often translates into a special kindness to yourself.

In addition to the reminder from Mr. Rogers, last week a stranger gifted me with a gut level epiphany.  To get around my community, I have a hand driven car, and use a walker. I’m very comfortable extracting that walker out of my trunk and getting it back in, having been performing that routine for 8 years.  Walking back to my car, ready to pack myself up, a woman sitting in a nearby car noticed me.  She immediately exited her vehicle, ran over, and offered to help.  Although I’m used to saying “I’ve got it,” there was something in this stranger’s insistence that I decided to respect.

I allowed her to lift my walker and slide it gracefully into the car and thanked her. 

She replied:  “Thank you for letting me help you.  I try to help someone at least once a day and it makes me feel so good.”  

Duhhh..Since I’m becoming very aware how good I feel when I help someone in ways that are unique to me, why do I continue to deprive others of that feel-good moment?  How can I encourage more of those moments for others by being willing to ask for help not only for me, but for tasks that are needed in our community?

Neither the stranger, nor the now deceased Mr. Rogers, will ever know the impact of their being/teaching moments of kindness on me.

Offering people an opportunity to “help” as a way to promote health and wellbeing is perhaps something we have overlooked.  

The tears are flowing…KINDNESS MATTERS…both the giving and the receiving of it.

A thought for the New Year

A good life is an intentional life.

I will not define myself as a reaction to who others want me to be. Nor be ruled by meaningless distraction or maniacal busyness without purpose. I am here to live, not surrender. To embrace meaning. To love unconditionally. To give without expectation. To settle into solitude. To make meaning. To participate not watch. To create not copy. To be unapologetically me. To rise up and help others rise .

I believe that this moment seeds every moment. Vulnerability is a virtue. Life is growth, stagnation is death. Presence beats presents. Compassion is a gateway to connection. Life is a co-creative process . With rare exception, everything is better when it is shared.

These things I know. These things on my best days, I aspire to live. And yes, I am now and always will be a work in progress. It’s called being human. A good life is not a place at which I arrive, it is a lens through which I see and create my world. It is lived this moment. And the next. And the next.

This “intention” was unearthed by author, thought leader, and serial entrepreneur Jonathon Fields when he was “cleaning out” the several year old files of his own notes to himself . He shared it with his readers and I share it with mine.