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.
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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.

Drunk on the Idea That Love Can Heal Our Brokenness

 pixabay.com
pixabay.com

“O brawling love! O loving hate!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

This love feel I, that feel no love in this.” -Romeo, William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo’s despair has been swirling in my head this Valentine’s Day. How can we celebrate love with so much hate seeping into our existence? I gaze out at the gloom and my heart aches, so I close the drapes, turn off the internet, and stumble around in the dark.

But then…but then I remember the words. Those exquisite, brilliant words writers and artists and peacemakers have given us throughout the centuries. Words celebrating the heart, the soul, the complicated and the simple pieces that make us human. They ponder love and all its miraculous adaptations. 

Words will save me. Words will save us all, because we cannot let love die. We must fight against the harsh winds to gather love up and hold it close, because love is our only hope.

You’ve got to love life to have life, and you’ve got to have life to love life.
― Thornton WilderOur Town

You can have other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. – Mary Oliver

Where there is great love, there are always wishes. -Willa Cather

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. -Zelda Fitzgerald

Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live. – Tom Wolfe

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love. -Marc Chagall

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. -Neil Gaiman

He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even with looking. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. – Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up. – James Baldwin

The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. – Auguste Rodin

There is no remedy for love but to love more. – Henry David Thoreau

Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. – H.L. Mencken

Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears. 

“After all this time?”

“Always,” said Snape. 

-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 society6.com
society6.com

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

(Revised and updated from February 14, 2017)

How About Love?

 Green Gables Cottage
Green Gables Cottage

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?
In daylights?
In sunsets?
In midnights?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in a life?

— “Seasons of Love” Rent, Jonathan Larson

How do you measure a year? 

On May 12, 2017, we traveled, with cats in tow, from our old hometown to this new place, this new town. We signed stacks of papers and eagerly entered a different phase of our lives. We downsized. We minimalized. We put together furniture, arranged throw pillows, and planted flowers. We hung a white swing on the porch, and quickly settled into our little house with the green gables. This cottage would help tell our next chapter.

A year and a few days have passed since that warm Friday in May. We have acclimated to living in a bigger city, discovering cozy breakfast joints and maneuvering chaotic expressways. I’m not clenching the steering wheel as hard as I did last summer, but traffic still accelerates my heart rate. And no one, except maybe my husband, needs to be subjected the language that spouts from my mouth when I encounter a distracted driver swerving from lane to lane as he texts at 70 miles per hour. Nope. It could make a burly truck driver swoon.

We love all the choices: of restaurants, of grocery stores, of places to walk or hike. There are wineries that snake down 94 we will explore this summer. Seat Geek will get us into Cardinal games. Our weekend galavants will include the Missouri Botanical Gardens, a new museum at the Gateway Arch, bike trips on the Katy Trail, and even a road trip up to Mark Twain’s Hannibal. 

As I rejoice in our not so new abode, I do miss certain things about our hometown. It holds our stories, our families, our histories. I miss running into friends at the store. I miss having the grandchildren over for Sunday night dinners and hosting big holiday meals. I miss long walks at Rock Springs with my sister. I really miss the timed stoplights that run the length of the downtown center.

This past winter I went through a few blue months. At first I attributed it to the cold, dreary weather, but I soon discovered I was grieving, truly grieving for what I missed. My yoga tribe. Our favorite Mexican restaurant. Weekly lunch dates with my mom. The grief was real and palpable.

That grief has lifted with the coming of spring. I sat with my winter sadness of what we left behind, but after a year, I welcome what we now possess: a community, a cozy place to land, a home filled with laughter and music and wine and pie. My friends here are no longer new. My husband and I have another favorite Mexican restaurant. My brother’s family and our new grandchild live close. Our gatherings are more intimate. We welcome visitors. We are surrounded in love. 

This is how we measure a year in the life.

 Our New town
Our New town

 Finn kicking back in the kitchen
Finn kicking back in the kitchen

  cozy office/home yoga space
 cozy office/home yoga space

 tribe
tribe

 family
family

 holiday pies
holiday pies

 birthday sunset
birthday sunset

 morning coffee with zozo. i sure do miss her highness.
morning coffee with zozo. i sure do miss her highness.

 This is us: crazy, complicated, weird, drunk on love
This is us: crazy, complicated, weird, drunk on love

Stand in Love

Love presents itself in a multitude of forms. I truly believe there is no cap on love. With everyone or everything that touches our hearts, we grow and learn. Love prepares us to give, to be brave and strong and fierce. It also guides us toward forgiveness, of others and ourselves. Love is scary, but it is the greatest of all teachers.

But before exploring the different types of love, what about the science of it all? What makes our hearts beat faster, our eyes widen, and our palms sweat? After a short Google dip, I found hormones and neurotransmitters play a big part in this process. Testosterone and estrogen fuel the beginning stages in both men and women. These are the hormones that guide us to one another. Soon adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin fire up the transmitters in our brains. Our blood circulates as our breathing rate increases. We feel a strong sense of euphoria. We can think of nothing else. We lose our minds as we fall “madly in love.” One article I read stated that parts of our brain literally shut down during this stage. Later we attach with the help of oxytocin and vasopressin. We cuddle. We bond. We nest.

The ancient Greeks honored love in many varieties. They believed in the importance of defining and sharing all types of love.

1. Eros – sexual passion

Eros was the Greek god of fertility. Eros, the fiery and irrational form of love, is that loss of control. It is dangerous and often fleeting.

2. Philia – deep friendship

The Greeks valued true friendship above all other forms of love. A good friend is loyal, self-sacrificing, and generous.

3. Storge – family

Storge is the natural affection between parents and children. Most of us feel it at birth, and then it develops through the years. Many of us struggle with storge as we grow and fly away. We begin to question lessons taught us. Some find storge later in a strong circle of friends.

4. Agape – love for everyone

Agape is a selfless love, given to all people, especially strangers and those different from us. Empathy and sympathy come out of our sense of agape. C.S. Lewis called it “gift love,” and believed it is the highest form of Christian love, but other religions embrace some form of agape.

5. Pragma – longstanding love

Pragma is mature love. It is that level of understanding that evolves throughout the years. Compromise, patience, and tolerance are the major tenets of pragma. Longstanding marriages and friendships practice pragma every day.

6. Philautia – love of self

The ancient Greeks believed in order to love others you first have to love yourself. Self-compassion widens our capacity to love. It is important, though, to not think of self-love as narcissism, which is a self-obsessed focus on fame and fortune. Narcissists do not share love with others, they only “love” themselves.

Erich Fromm, the renowned psychoanalyst and psychologist, once stated that we humans need to learn how to “stand in love.” I believe this means instead of focusing on the process of “falling in love,” we should focus on love itself. What does love bring to the table? How can love save us? How do we incorporate all these different types of love into the fabric of our life in order to make it more vibrant, more tactile, more generous?

Standing in love is a practice, not an end goal. We must train ourselves to embrace, not turn away; forgive, not judge; and love, not hate. None of this is an easy path. Love exposes us, makes us susceptible to heart break and agony, yet it is a gift beyond any sane explanation.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 photo: i.pinimg.com
photo: i.pinimg.com

Swimming Away From the Shore: Practicing Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue.” – Maya Angelou

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses what it takes to be courageous. She states everyone wants to be brave, but that most of us believe heroics are only in the superhero stories, individuals with great strength and capes and magical powers who save the day as they zip across the sky, but true everyday courage, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart.” Isn’t that sublime? Our courage lies in our hearts. This reminds me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t think he had courage, but as he defended his new friends against the Wicked Witch, his spirit took charge. All three of Dorothy’s new friends believed they didn’t have brains or heart or courage, but during their trek down the yellow brick road, they discovered their intellect and love and bravery was always there in their hearts. It is in all of us. We just need to dig deep and pay attention.

As I navigate my new town I am practicing courage. No, I haven’t saved any lives or rescued puppies from wells, but I do believe it is a small act of bravery to reach out to strangers, to show vulnerability, to desire connections. Courage does comes from the heart. I am trying not to hide away, but to walk into scary situations and for this introvert, that is indeed an act of bravery.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future, and every day I will be practicing courage as I learn to swim away from the shore.

cold and broken hallelujahs

Easter used to be new dresses and chocolate bunnies and baskets loaded with candy. Patent leather shoes pinched toes. Children searched under bushes for hidden colored eggs. Hymns celebrated an empty tomb. The warm smell of glazed ham and cheesy potatoes wafted throughout the house.

Now children are grown and on their own. No visits from the Easter bunny. No hidden stashes of chocolate. Home is silent except for snores of cats and tumbling clothes in the dryer. 

This quiet gives me pause, and even though years ago I consciously stepped away from sitting in balcony pews on Sunday mornings, I acknowledge Easter as the story of redemption, of forgiveness, of hope.

Our messy, torn lives often invite judgement and accusations. We feel the scorn. We look in the mirror and hate what we see. How did everything get so hard? Where is the joy? Why is my story so wretched and tired and sad?

But then we take small, ragged breaths. We learn from the cracks which shine with gold, guiding us toward grace. Our scars are maps, no matter how fresh. We trace where we have been while knowing we’ll again get lost. New scabs appear. Our failures teach us patience. We slowly begin to forgive ourselves. This is our hallelujah. 

None of this is easy. I hold grudges. I loathe imperfection in others as mine slithers across the road. My finger points. My tongue clucks. I’m damn awful. I’ve hurt others. I’ve betrayed confidences. I’ve stolen trust. I’ve hidden away from the truth. I’m human.

This is who we humans are: defective, troubled, flawed. Full of shit. Full of unfulfilled promises, even as we wash the wounds, slap on a new bandaid, and hope for healing. But we are also glorious in our brokenness and this is our hallelujah. 

So on this Easter Sunday I am making a small vow to let go of at least one old hurt, to work on forgiving my own shitty transgressions, and to hold out a shaky hand to another who needs help up after a fall. This is my hallelujah.

Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

— Leonard Cohen

“Over and over, in spite of our awfulness and having squandered our funds, the ticket-taker at the venue waves us on through. Forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved.” Anne Lamott, Hallelujah, Anyway