Gifts of Hope

Last Saturday gifted me with surprises. I wasn’t searching for hope, yet it still slapped me silly with its glorious presence.

After my husband left for his weekly golf game, I blinked my eyes open and realized there was no coffee in the house. I must have coffee, so I pulled on my clothes, grabbed my journal and phone, and walked the three blocks to our neighborhood coffeehouse. I brought my steaming cup to one of the outside tables, and then settled in to watch customers and write a little. I soon noticed a group of women and their dogs gathering at a nearby table. I caught bits on conversation pertaining to the proliferation of gun violence, and yes, I found myself eavesdropping. I turned around to comment, and then, surprisingly, I was invited to join their circle. I spent the next hour listening to these wise women discuss subjects close to my heart. One, an immigrant from a small South American country, gave me insight to the crises in both of our countries. As I rose to leave, one said, “We’re here every Saturday morning. You are welcome to join us.” I had accidentally stumbled upon hope, at a crooked, black rod iron patio table just blocks from my house.

After I walked home, caffeinated and rejuvenated, I decided to hop on my bike and ride down to the historic part of town. My first stop was the small Saturday farmer’s market that is located in a parking lot close to the river. I wandered the different booths, admiring fresh produce and baked goods. One of the last vendors had rocks, crystals, and sun catchers. I admired her work and we chatted about how she collected most of her beads from old jewelry and the prisms from dumpster diving expeditions. I wanted to purchase two of her sun catchers, but she informed me she didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have any cash. Stupid move on my part when visiting a farmer’s market, by the way. The artist then said, “Take ‘em. You can owe me.” At first I shook my head. “Oh no. That doesn’t seem right.” She replied, “I do it all the time. Most people pay me back, and those who don’t, oh well. They still have my art.” After some hesitation, I picked out my two favorites. She wrapped them up, and then wrote her name and phone number on a small piece of paper. I told her, “Oh, don’t worry. I will be back next week.” She said, “You seem like an honest person. I can usually see it in people’s faces.” I smiled. I will return next Saturday with what I owe her, and will purchase more of her work. This quirky, open-hearted, trusting soul handed me hope at the farmer’s market.

I stuffed my new treasures in my wicker basket and rode down to my favorite outside restaurant, The Bike Stop Cafe, one part restaurant-one part bike rental/repair shop. I left my bike alongside others at the rack, and went inside to order my usual lunch: a veggie sandwich with an iced tea. A breeze was blowing in off the river, and bikers and young families were scattered throughout the patio. Halfway through my sandwich, a man behind me stood up and said, “A man knocked over two bikes. He did pick them up, but then took off. You might want to check if yours is okay.”

I glanced over at the rack, and my first panicked thought was my bicycle was gone. “I think my bike has been stolen,” I gulped. My ten-year old tan Schwinn from Target. The one with the wicker basket and clanking gears. My grandma bike that takes me to bookclub, the neighborhood grocery, and the mail room. I adore that bike. I flew to the rack, but quickly realized that whoever had knocked over the bikes had just moved them. My basket must have become dislodged in the fall because it was now hanging from one of the handlebars. But here’s the amazing part. Just before this discovery, many of the diners were ready to go after the alleged perpetrator. “I think he rode up to Main Street,” they said. “We may be able to catch him.” All these strangers, without even blinking, were willing to run after my nonexistent thief. After checking to make sure everything was working and returning the basket to its rightful place, I waved at the crowd and said with an embarrassed smile, “Thank you. I’m good. You can go back to talking among yourselves.” 

I headed back down the trail, pondering the morning. All I wanted when I woke up was coffee, yet I also found a table of intelligent, social justice-minded women, a generous and trusting artist, and strangers looking out for me. In a world swirling in the language of hate and conspiracy theories, hope just danced with this girl on a sunny Saturday morning. It is easy to become mired in the mud of despair, but often hope tiptoes into our lives, presenting us with the possibility of hot coffee, true human connections, and smiles.

“I dwell in possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson

When I first turned on the trail, I spied this guy slowly making his way across the gravel toward the river. I stopped my bike to snap a photo. He froze, but didn’t retreat into his shell. I said to him, “You’ve got this, buddy. Keep going.” On my way home, there was no sign of him. I’m confident he made it safely to his destination, this little guy with his determined hard-shell self.
Hope.

Acknowledge Fear, Breathe Courage

Breathe

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventures or to be limited by the fear of it.” – Judy Blume

I have a few true fears that make my heart race and my blood pressure soar. I try not put myself in situations where I may begin to feel the claustrophobic effects of a small, enclosed space or the stomach-dropping terror that comes when I am dangling from a ferris wheel. These fears are visceral. I have no control over the physical symptoms, so I choose to avoid certain circumstances that might accelerate the panic. 

Other are not so well-defined. I can’t swerve around sudden change, failure, rejection, or the unknown. These fears come at me like fast-moving projectiles in an 80s video game. I may attempt to dodge or side-step, but they are always there, bombarding me with anxiety.

The world can be a grim, terrifying place. Danger lurks, even in the bright light of day. How do I cope? Do I hide, cowering in the safety of my little house, never venturing out? Unless I want to embrace agoraphobia, that isn’t a realistic choice. 

Fear is a big part of my writing. I enjoy the process, but I fear everything about it. I’m too old. It is drivel. Someone will be offended. It is embarrassing. I’ve run out of ideas. No one wants to read my inane ramblings. These fears often block my creativity. Fear is my personal writer’s block.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book Big Magic about how she lives simultaneously with fear and creativity. She states, “…I don’t try to kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead, I make all that space for it. Heaps of space. Every single day…I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortable. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.” So she invites fear on the journey. Fear is allowed on the trip, yet it doesn’t make decisions and it definitely doesn’t drive. Fear must sit in the back seat as a member of the family, but it does not have a vote.

This is a novel approach. So much of our lives we are told to “conquer our fears.” If we are afraid of the water, we must learn to swim. If we are petrified of flying, buy that ticket. And if we are scared of the deep water, dive right in. Sometimes these approaches work, but often we are just more afraid. 

What if we invited fear in, introduced ourselves and told it to have a seat? We don’t feed fear any snacks, and we never let it touch the thermostat. We acknowledge fear is part of the family, but we sit it at a small card table in the next room, knowing it is there yet not letting it dominate the conversation. 

Acknowledging our fears is acknowledging our vulnerability. Creative work requires vulnerability, putting our voices out there for the world to judge. We are often shamed back into the cave by our harshest critics, which often are the voices in our own heads. I know this personally. Shame and fear run neck and neck in my world. 

I have been working on a novel for over three years about loss and grief and learning to forgive. Every time I enter the world of my characters I become lost in the smells and sounds. I want to live there. Yet. Yet, I have struggled with the ending. A few weeks ago my dear friend Ann came for a visit while my husband was on a business trip. We giggled, ate, drank wine, and shed a few tears over our shared stories. One night I began to tell Ann the plot of my book. After I was done, I looked at her and said, “You know, that is the first time I have shared the details of my story with anyone.” And she replied, “I’m honored.” I then said, “You know, I think I’m afraid to finish the book, because if I complete the story, then what do I do? I’m scared.” Ann replied, “Then you need to do it. Who knows what will happen, but you’ll never know until it is finished.” The day after she returned home I sat at my laptop and banged out the ending. I then printed out the 150 pages. Three plus years of words stared back at me. I read through them, circling errors and making notes. Some of the story was wonky, but other parts were good. Damn good.

My shitty shitty rough draft now requires hours of editing, revising, and reworking, but I have relegated my fear to the back seat. It is buckled safely in its car seat. I will glance at it from time to time, but I will not grant it power over my process. I will not worry about publishing. Now is the time to dive into the details and work on the flow, dialogue, and pacing. It terrifying and exciting and I’m ready for this journey.

Courage is not conquering fear. Courage is recognizing fear, not giving it power over your heart. Brene Brown writes, “Courage is like – it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn to courage by couraging.” Courage is knowing the truth and showing your truth to the world. My courage, my vulnerability, my truth is writing, and I will no longer grant fear the power to silence it.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.” – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead


“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something-anything-down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Featured

live. love. breathe.

live.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

love.

“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

breathe.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

We live. We love. We breathe.

Every moment, of every day. 

We live. We experience pain. We sit with grief. We dance in joy. All is living. Every bite of food gives us sustenance, yet we savor the flavors. Each sip of wine reminds us of the soil where the grapes were nurtured. Family recipes speak languages of communal stories. Our rituals awaken our memories as we gather for weddings, baby showers, and funerals.

We love. Every great writer has attempted a definition, an example, a story of love, but it is often undefinable. No one has the quintessential explanation of love. It is something deep and mysterious that awakens our hearts. Our first crush. That high school relationship. A good friend. Our wedding. Those babies. With love, though, comes a precarious tightrope walk, filled with the fear of losing it. We wrap our arms around it, often with suffocating consequences. This love of ours is scary, but it is also marvelous in its luminosity. Love makes our days sparkle and our nights sigh with delight.

We breathe. The average human takes 12 to 20 breaths per minute. We take our breath for granted until we can’t breathe. We marvel at its wonder. Breath gives us life. It is a direct link to our hearts. When we are calm, our breathing slows. When we are scared, we often can’t catch our breath. Breathing is the hub of the wheel that connects us to everything that is sacred.

Our lives. Our loves. Our breath. All are who we are in this world. We weave ourselves to one another with tenuous filaments of fragile moments. Life is a lovely, breathless dance, one to experience in all its pain and glory and bitterness and joy.

live.

love.

breathe.