Thursday
Nov012012

Which came first...the Question or the Answer? 

Answers.  We all look for them.  A sample  yesterday from my twelve year old son...   "What should I eat?" My response was a listing of options from our cupboard and refrigerator. "No Mom, I know what we have to eat.  I want you to tell me what I should eat."  My response was simple "An Apple."  More frustrated now than ever he restates "No Mom! I know what is healthy! I want you tell me what I should eat!" My answer now was another question "Are you actually asking me to tell you what you want to eat?"  "Never mind! Your no help at all!!"

 or from my three year old grand daughter...

"What's that cow thinking about Grandma?"

"Does that cow have friends?"

 and then there are those of my own making...

"Where's the money for these bills going to come from?"

"Is there any way to fit more hours into the day?"

"Where is the 'Peace' I am supposed to be actively pursuing?!"

"Can I post on my Pursuing Peace website - "Not having a great day - How 'bout you?"

Now I know alot about finding answers - I am almost 50 after all.  That's a few years of answer gathering.  By now I can actually find answers quite easily most of the time.  Others - the ones I know will take diligent study to find are often simply set aside on the  "I will work on that on that one later" shelf - unanswered but available.  Still others I know are perhaps not meant to answered at all - at least not directly.   These are actually the most important questions (and non answers).  We all ask this particular type of question  hundreds of times each day. Phrased silently to ourselves and to those around us.  I am not the first to ponder upon this fact.  Consider the following quote by American Playwright Tennessee Williams.

"Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question."

I was discussing my question and answer dilemma with my husband a few nights ago.  (My usual pre post check in) He shared that when he was in law school one of his professor's told them to keep rephrasing their questions until it could only be answered with a "Yes" or a "No" answer.  In this way the truth would surely rise to the top.

Truth.

Seeking Truth?

Can Peace be found there? Amid the unanswered questions? Are these questions actually the left and right turn signals along life's path? Perhaps the question is there simply to move me towards an answer I already have... The Peace I am coming to know seems to follow a course that never allows me to see too far into the distance. I find myself putting my foot on the brake simply because I'm not sure where the next bend in the road will take me. And then there I sit - in the middle of road, people honking at me, with life folliage growing around my wheels binding me down. It is the fear of facing various "Truths" in our lives that keeps Peace at a distance. The truth is as we take our foot off of the brake we begin the process of navigating lifes many turns. 

Hmmm....

"Where's the money for these bills going to come from?" (I'm not sure.  But sitting here looking at them isn't going to make a deposit in my bank account.)

"Is there any way to fit more hours into the day?"  (Nope.  But tomorrow I will be given a new day ready to fill.)

"Where is the 'Peace' I am supposed to be actively pursuing?" (Just around the bend waiting patiently for me to catch up.)

"Can I post on my Pursuing Peace website - "Not having a great day - how 'bout you?" (Absolutely. But a better post would be "Celebrating Life's Good Things" and then receiving over 50 photo's and captions to remind me of a different question that needs asked ...)

The question is not what you look at but what you see.

--Henry David Thoreau

Thursday
Aug022012

Unwrapping shit...

She reached over and squeezed my hand. I returned the gentle squeeze and held her hand as we silently continued down the highway. We had been following my brother pulling the U-Haul trailer for several hours now. Heading North on I-15 away from the beautiful red rocks of Southern Utah.

 The year before my Dad died they had purchased a small retirement place there. A place my mother had come to call home over the past 15 years. It wasn't home - not really- but she had built a good life there since my father died all those years ago. She had many times reflected back to that day and said that Dad must have known he was leaving her soon because he had asked her "Is this the place you will be happy Mom?"

It had only been about eight weeks earlier that she had called me. "It's time for me to come home Brenda Lee..." A few simple words. One sentence. I knew it marked the beginning of a road we would travel together now.  The road lay long and straight ahead of us. The sun was beginning to sink to our left. We both could feel the peaceful assurance that we were headed in the right direction. Home. Our home. None of this was going to be easy - and those few miles we road together in silence feeling that assurance continues to be my strength on our most difficult days together. The veil of forgetfulness that comes with age brings an undeniable fear of the unknown to her eyes on those days. Other days we laugh together - perhaps over how good dinner was... "I can't remember a thing I ate but it must have been delicious and I ate every bite because I'm so full now I need a nap." That evening we all laughed together and quite accurately my daughter described the moment as reminiscent of Pooh Bear innocence.

For years now I am certain she knew that it was coming. I believe that early on she heard the whisperings of the Spirit tell her that memory would slip from her grasp. She spoke of it often - always with fear of it's imminent approach. I would tell her that she was being ridiculous and to let it go. But she could not - she knew what I did not -- she knew.

I believe we all are given that "knowing" of things that we may not want to face. With the knowing comes the ability to prepare for the terrain ahead that will be laden with difficulties. It is a Peace Offering. In Augusten Burrough's book This is How he describes some of life's offerings this way - "Sometimes life hands us gift-wrapped shit. And we're like 'This isn't a gift; it's shit. Screw you." I love his brutal honesty about many of the experiences we would toss aside as worthless when in fact our life gardens cannot grow without them. My favorite way to deal with these packages is to look at them with disgust and toss them to the side. I'm not picking that up. And yet...I know. I recognize the wrapping paper.

I know.

I can recognize Peace even from a distance watching me - waiting patiently for me accept the offering. Really?? You can't give me something I would actually enjoy experiencing? No response. (Of course) Just a nod to pick up the gift, open it and move forward.  Somehow the package contents are always just what I need most - I just didn't know it until the life foliage around me began to bloom.    

It was my mother who joined me on the journey this past month. She is eighty six and beautiful inside and out. As her short term memory fades her recall of the past is illuminated. It is with joy she recounts her life. (A gift.) As she becomes more child like my children love to "play" with her. They spend hours together. One day driving 25 miles simply to enjoy a slice of cheesecake. It was after all national cheesecake day. (Another gift) I came home from work and my kitchen was spotless with every dish clean and put away. Who could be so thoughtful? Only a mom. (Wow...what a gift)

She was and still is afraid of the darkness that is front of her but she does not let that fear keep her from moving forward. Neither will I. I am sure we will find more packages to open along our way. I hope I recognize them for what they really are.

Fertilizer.

Thursday
Apr192012

Dancing to life's rhythm...

Spring in the Northwest... the emerging of life in color from the veil of grey which winter holds here.

My son took this picture a couple of weeks ago.  It is one of my favorite streets to drive in town during the Spring bloom just as it is his.  He sent it to my phone.  Simple enough - a quick connection - and with it a reminder that I could glimpse Peace simply by driving home the long way that day.  This next photo was actually sent to me while I was creating this post.  (...hmm, imagine that...)  My younger son snapped this one while up at our cabin in the Cascade Mountains and with the magic that is Iphone I received his text moments later.  A chipmunk peaking out from his winter hideaway to take at look at what Spring has to offer him. They both thought they were simply sharing a moment of their lives with me.  They were... and I loved it.  What they were unaware of was that it was more than that - their photos reminded me that I too needed to awake from Winter's dormancy. 

My husband and I have often joked through the years that Spring- the season of all things Baseball and Softball in our home- pulls us out of our winter "sleep".  Perhaps (one could reason)  it is the fact that in Washington we play ball in the rain that we are so wide awake.  My daughter told me she actually experienced a "brain freeze" during a game in freezing sleet a couple of weeks ago.  We laughed together and shrugged it off.  Oh well - of course we sit in the bleachers with umbrellas, warm boots, long-johns, blankets, and portable heaters, to watch rain drip off the nose of our kids in ready position, slides never done better in two inches of mud, and the ball disappear into the farm land fog for a double. It's Spring.

Throughout our lives we cycle through periods of varying degrees of connection.  Reaching inward and outward in an ebb and flow similar to the tides.  My husband describes this as the rhythm of life.  At the time we weren't discussing Peace at all, rather the political/economic cycles we recognize and have witnessed over time.  As you become aware of this rhythm your view of the events around you become much more stable (...do I dare say "peaceful"?) even in the midst of great change.  As you fine tune your ability to  recognize the various cycles (rhythms) in your own life you will see them not just seasonally throughout the year but weekly -  even daily.  It is through this process that you can find balance and peace.  Life really isn't so random.  However, I do love that it appears so.

My nephew told me today that Spring is the time for answering the question "Who will I be this year?"  The picture of the chipmunk my son sent me seems to ask that very question as well.  A stretch, a look around, and a decision to explore. 

I believe many make the mistake of thinking that Peace = Solitude.  Although there are definately times when a need for solitude and self-reflection is necessary and beneficial for all of us, the vast majority of the time Peace is found by and through our connections with others and the world surrounding us.  Our ability to master the "dance steps" of life as we practice empathy, laughter, service, listening, playing, problem solving, and pondering (just to mention a few) is greatly increased with each personal connection we make.

Will there be six more weeks (days, months, years...) of "Winter" in your life? That is a question we each must answer for ourselves.  Perhaps, like Spring Sports at our house, there is something that gives you a much needed nudge back out into the elements of life this time of year.  Or, maybe all you need is a whisper - like the trees in bloom on my son's drive home.  As the world around us awakens, so can we. 

Peace dances to the rhythm of life.  You cannot partner with Peace for life's dance as a wall flower...you must explore the dance floor.

Thursday
Jan122012

Peace, cowboys and a good stick...

"When you pick up one end of a stick you pick up the other"  I can still hear my dad's voice relaying these words of wisdom to me whenever I was facing the inevitable consequences of my choices.  My dad's education went no further than the sixth grade, he was from a small town in Eastern Wyoming, grew up in a home that started with a dirt floor, he was a veteran of the Korean War, an oil rig worker, long haul truck driver, dump truck driver, land developer, and small business owner.  He was self taught - reading the newspaper front page to last everyday.  If he wasn't sure of a word he'd holler out "Mom...what does this spell?"  or "... what does this mean?"  He'd get the explanation from my mother and then just keep reading.  His language was laced with expletives throughout, not so much in an offensive way but more as a matter of fact.  What my father may have lacked in formal education and worldly polish, he made up for in life experience and common sense.  He was a man of integrity, and as such, whether or not you liked him, you always knew where you stood with him.  The idea that the reward of labor was life itself both my mother and father understood well.  They worked hard everyday and as a result they were able to enjoy life.  Work was an integral piece of who they were - not just simply a means to an end.  If life was to be worthwhile you had to work at it...and if that was the case - you might as well enjoy the working too.

 

So back to the stick..."when you pick up one end of a stick you pick up the other."  I spoke to a group of kids this past week about that very topic.  In fact I went out in search of the stick you see above just to get my point across.  Choices.  Consequences.  Both are inevitable in life each day.  What I found most interesting as I discussed this concept with those kids was that even though they had a clear understanding of the meaning of the word"consequences", it was only understood by most of them as something negative and in their mind resulted only from bad choices.  The idea that consequences could also be positive and result from good choices was foreign to them...  Really?  I couldn't believe it.  

I pondered this a great deal over the next several days.  I have heard many times over the years from those around me and the media that the young people of today simply don't want to face the consequences of their actions, that they want to side step personal responsibility.   In fact, today as a talk radio host discussed the current snow storm Seattle is entrenched in, he reflected upon his own childhood and how he and a friend would go neighbor to neighbor offering to shovel out their driveways for a small monetary reward.  When they had finished going through their neighborhood they would take their money and go rent a video and order a pizza to eat - immediately consuming their hard earned reward.  Nice memory...  It was immediately followed with the comment "You wont see kids today offering to shovel your driveway.  No.  The movie is available "on demand" and their parents have already bought them the pizza."  

If you are not responsible for any of the positive things that happen to you in life - why should you be responsible for any of the negative things? And who wouldn't want to avoid consequences if they were always negative? What if our young people  began to understand again as the generations before us (my parents were born in 1926 and 1932) that the "Reward of labor is life"?  That good choices carry with them good consequences?  And here's a thought - what if that transformation simply required a keen eye for the right sticks?  Could it be as simple as pointing out the shovel in the garage?  

I recall going to pick up my son (now 24) from a sleep over when he was about 14.  There was an elderly neighbor out mowing her lawn a couple houses down from where all the boys were.  She was struggling with the electric mower she was using.  On an impulse I stopped my car and told her to wait just a minute I would be back with some boys to help.  Yep, I did it.  I rousted my son and his cousins and their friends and they all walked down the street for some yard work - free of charge.  I showed them a stick they needed to pick up.  They were sure I had lost my mind.  Yet, I know when they were done the "consequences" of their labor couldn't have been duplicated any other way.  

When one of my daughters was about 7 years old she asked me "Mom, do you have to be happy?"  The question caught me off guard.  I hadn't been asked that ever before and she was asking with more than just a passing curiosity.  I could tell she already understood at a very young age that being happy required some effort.  I told her no - that it is a choice, one she would have to make again and again.  I didn't know at the time if I had made the right decision, sharing that truth with one so young.  Shouldn't she just be happy?

 Perhaps what I should have told her was that happiness is a consequence.  Success is a consequence.  Peace is a consequence too.  They are the other end of sticks we have the option of picking up, or leaving lay, each day.   Far too often we walk right by the very sticks that would bring us exactly what we are looking for.  If only we considered the other end of the sticks that lay along our path each day.  And even though a single stick can be broken and discarded - many accumulated over time and bound together have great strength.  

So there you have it.  My personal challenge for the new year. Examining the sticks I pick up. 

By the way... two young men were going door to door with snow shovels in my neighborhood this week.

Choices.  Consequences.  

I pulled out all these old photos of my dad.  I'm going to share them with my kids this week.  Some cowboy wisdom too.  Most of them really only know the baby in this picture...me.

Tuesday
Nov292011

Red Rocks and Reaching Out

 

If October was the month for moving forward then November and December must be the months for sure steps on firm ground.  The desire/need to be "grounded" as we travel through life leaves us naturally conflicted.  Move forward and stay grounded.  Set aside fear and face your challenges head on.  Add the pursuit of peace to your daily to-do list and find time for the effort  amidst your many other worthy pursuits each day. Oh, and considering the season, let's not forget... enjoy a peace filled, joyous holiday season and spend more time with extended family and acquaintances.  Or, how about this one...review my entire year (or as many of us may be tempted - my entire life) and experience a sense of accomplishment.  It's enough to push even the most sure footed of us over the cliff and into the dark abyss of "I can't do this anymore....."  I only wish that somehow this posting could give you the same echoing effect I imagine when I'm in this space.  When I wake from this nightmare I always find myself asking the question.."I can't do what anymore?"  Exactly what is it that is leaving me feeling so utterly incapable and overwhelmed?

I spent several weeks contemplating this very dilemma.  I knew that as a result of my many worthy pursuits this past month I was feeling a bit shaky in the "sure steps on firm ground" department.  I had witnessed others struggling with this same issue.  And, quite frankly, the holiday season which is supposed to be the time for all things peaceful has become more often than not a race to see who can get to January first so we can put this all behind us until next year.  I say to myself, "not me, not this year" but I can not seem to secure my footing as the world around me is in complete conflict with my "higher" aspirations.  Then during a weekend trip to visit my mom in St. George, UT, I found myself in place called The Valley of Fire just outside of Las Vegas, NV. 

Brian and I had flown in to Vegas and rented a car to make the drive East to St. George.  As we were driving along Hwy 15 we saw a small sign that read Valley of Fire next right.  The map showed it as a loop that would take us off the highway a bit and then merge back on.  We took it.  Off across the flat and mostly lifeless desert as it is just outside of Vegas.  We came across two men with scopes spotting mountain goats on the (not so distant now) rocky cliffs and crags.  The road ahead was no longer straight - it curved right and then left many times as we gained elevation and from the beige sand  bright red rocks arose with a peculiar beauty.  Around one final curve and we were there...the Valley of Fire.  It was gorgeous, awe inspiring really, to see the massive red rock formations that had been there for thousands of years.  Solid.  Grounded. 

We stopped.  To my amazement there was actually a campground here in this remote desert location with more than a  few campers there for a visit.  I had to check out such an unusual place and to my surprise when I stepped out of the car it was completely silent there.  I don't know what I expected really, but certainly not silence.  The only sound was the wind creating a musical backdrop as it blew through the various openings within the formations surrounding us.  I breathed deep and let the stability of this place seep in.  It was good.  About a hundred yards away I could see stairs that led to a platform on one of the rock faces.  We were to discover it led to petroglyphs left by other visitors to this place 4,000 years ago.  Perhaps they had spent time in the very same camping area cut out by nature as a refuge from the elements in the barren desert.  I couldn't help but wonder if the person who left their mark upon those ancient rocks had sat there and breathed deep like I had a few minutes earlier.  If maybe, they too were able to gain stability while they rested there and prepared to move forward in their journeys across the desert.

It's back to real life for me now.  Only a few shorts weeks left before Christmas.  I haven't forgotten my stop at the Valley of Fire. I have worked at finding that same stabilizing effect in other more daily places around me.  As with all things "Peaceful" I do have to work at it a bit.  Here is a sampling of what has given me more sure steps as I move forward through this often chaotic season... a moment at the Thanksgiving table with friends sharing the things they were grateful for, the fog lifting over the flats near the Sound in the early morning hours, the warmth inside my car on a very cold day, a live nativity - quiet and simple, my Christmas tree (not even decorated yet) and the promise of a few weeks of twinkling lights in my living room.

The answer to the question  "I can't do what anymore?" I found sitting amongst the Red Rocks in Nevada.  I can't accomplish all of life's demands without something to hold on to for balance.  There are things within our reach to grab hold of for stability and strength when life seems to be spiralling out of control.  Too often as we move forward with all the best intentions we let go of the very things that keep our feet grounded for the journey along what is often a bumpy path.  Some of these things are grand and physically tangible - like my red rocks last month.   More often however, they are simply moments that touch our inner spirit. Those are the ones we often fail to recognize as essential, the ones we more readily set aside, and the ones that in reality are within our reach on a daily basis.   During this grand season of Faith, this season of all things Peaceful...reach out and grab hold.

When you do I'm sure you'll recognize Peace giving your hand a little squeeze.