Needing Mr Rogers

In a week of mass shootings and other discouraging news, we need a dose of Mr. Rogers, a man who believed passionately in the value of children, just as they are, and dedicated his life to teaching them to manage and express their feelings. What a hero he was.

In this clip from 1969, he makes his case. His lessons are as important today as they were then. Take a listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKy7ljRr0AA

Going high

We are bombarded daily with stories of fraud, cheating, self-interest, and dishonesty. People talking over each other, shoving, hostile. Everything is so charged and hot. Sometimes it feels like the people who stoop to these tactics might win the race and that we should do it, too. Otherwise, the ‘bad’ side will triumph. And yet.

Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Truth matters. Fairness and justice matter. On the foundations of these qualities, trust is built.

Explaining her ‘go high’ comment, Michelle Obama says,

My answer is yes. We need to keep trying to go high. Operating with integrity matters. It will matter forever. It is a tool.

At the same time, though, I want to be clear: Going high is something you do rather than merely feel. It’s not some call to be complacent and wait around for change, or to sit on the sidelines as others struggle. It is not about accepting the conditions of oppression or letting cruelty and power go unchallenged. The notion of going high shouldn’t raise any questions about whether we are obligated to fight for more fairness, decency, and justice in this world; rather, it’s about how we fight, how we go about trying to solve the problems we encounter, and how we sustain ourselves long enough to be effective rather than burn out. There are some who see this as an unfair and ineffective compromise, an extension of respectability politics, in which we conform to rather than challenge the rules in order to get by. Why, people rightly wonder, do we need to try to be so reasonable all the time?

I can see how some think that reason leaves no room for rage. I understand the perception that going high means that you somehow remove yourself and remain unbothered by all that might otherwise gall and provoke you.

But it’s not that at all.

When I first said those words…, I was neither removed nor unbothered. In fact, I was pretty agitated….

But where was my actual power? I knew it didn’t reside in my hurt and rage, at least as they existed in raw forms. My power lay in whatever I could manage to do with that hurt and rage, where I could take it. It hinged on whether or not I could elevate those feelings into something that would become harder for others to write off, which was a clear message, a call to action, and a result I was willing to work for.

That’s what going high is for me. It’s about taking an abstract and usually upsetting feeling and working to convert it into some sort of actionable plan, to move through the raw stuff and in the direction of a larger solution.

I want to be clear that this is a process, and not always a quick one. It can take time and patience. It’s okay to sit and stew for a while, to live inside the agitation caused by injustice or fear or grief, or to express your pain. It’s okay to grant yourself the space you need to recover or heal. For me, going high usually involves taking a pause before I react. It is a form of self-control, a line laid between our best and worst impulses. Going high is about resisting the temptation to participate in shallow fury and corrosive contempt and instead figuring out how to respond with a clear voice to whatever is shallow and corrosive around you. It’s what happens when you take a reaction and mature it into a response.

Because here’s the thing: Emotions are not plans. They don’t solve problems or right any wrongs. You can feel them—you will feel them, inevitably—but be careful about letting them guide you. Rage can be a dirty windshield. Hurt is like a broken steering wheel. Disappointment will only ride, sulking and unhelpful, in the back seat. If you don’t do something constructive with them, they’ll take you straight into a ditch.

My power has always hinged on my ability to keep myself out of the ditch.

https://time.com/6233764/michelle-obama-go-high-2022/

Here’s to staying out of the ditch.

Everybody hurts

One good thing to come out of despair is the ability, once you are past it, to help someone in the middle of it realize that things will get better, that this, too, will pass. It’s as if we are all climbing our way out of a pit and reaching up to grab the hand of someone who has already made it out. Being able to reach your hand down to someone still in the pit is a blessing from something awful you may have gone through.

Along these lines, was the It Gets Better movement started several years ago, with prominent people from the LGBTQ community sharing their stories to help others who were struggling and feeling desperate.

Perhaps your last few years have been filled with grief. Certainly for many the pandemic has been a season of loss—of community, of norms, of freedoms, and, for many, of loved ones.

As you go forward, remember that we are each other’s support. We are each other’s comfort and hope. Reach out to each other.

For a very powerful rendition of R.E.M.’s, Everybody Hurts, listen to this rendition by priest, Father Ray Kelly. I stumbled onto this video several years ago, and it recently popped up again. I need to store it in a safe place to rewatch as needed. For me at least, it touches the soul and gives me solace.

Celebrating others

Sometimes it feels like such a competitive world. And we develop an either him or me kind of mentality. A zero sum game, where an advantage for one person represents a loss to another. Like pie. more for you, less for me.

But what if it’s not? What if something good for one person, elevates the amount of good in the world for us all? What if the very act of celebrating another person’s success benefits us as well and makes a more positive, harmonious world?

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes, but I was taken with this picture of Jamie Lee Curtis celebrating the success of her co-star Michelle Yeoh:

Fiercely supportive, celebratory, in Yeoh’s corner to the Nth degree. It wasn’t an award for Curtis, but it was a time for her to celebrate her friend. This energy inspires us all, doesn’t it?

The reaction to this now viral moment has surprised Curtis:

“I’m still stunned that a moment of natural exuberance and joy became some sort of a symbol for women supporting other women,” Curtis wrote in the [Instagram] post.

Let’s be there for each other, rejoicing in each other’s successes.

Winging it

In this now third year of pandemic, we have learned something important. We must temper our expectations and hopes with the realization that nothing is a sure bet. To expect the unexpected. To prepare for the unforeseeable. And, perhaps most importantly, to find delight wherever and whenever we can. And to store it up.

One of my absolute delights this year has been an early morning bird walk at Descanso Gardens with ‘real’ birders. What a joy it is to see these people in their element, knowing each call, able to spot and identify each bird, speaking with enthusiasm about the birds’ characteristics and habits. These birders are so kind, pointing and explaining, pointing and explaining. So much fascinating detail!

I’m a newbie to this bird watching thing, but I love it. It’s like a giant Where’s Waldo everywhere around you, all at once. I don’t yet have the eye or the ear to be a great spotter, and probably never will, but I have a secret weapon. I discovered Merlin. It’s an app that records the sounds around you, and tells you what birds are there. What a wonder!

I turned it on while we were walking and discovered that there was a Golden Crowned Kinglet nearby. I didn’t see or hear it, at least not to know what I was seeing/hearing, but a leader was soon calling it out and pointing. Magic. (Just look at the cute little guy!)

Just since I’ve been typing this post, I’ve had my iPhone on the window sill while my cat, Marie, looks out over her domain, and Merlin has picked up 7 birds: Anna’s Hummingbird, Common finch, Lesser finch, Song Sparrow, Cassin’s Kingbird, California Scrub-Jay, and the Bushtit! This feels magical, like I’ve opened a doorway into another world and am tiptoeing in.

I hope this new year opens a magical doorway for you, perhaps something unexpected and new, that brings you delight.

Hope such as it is

As you continue to adjust to the realities and promises of the new year, enjoy this poem by W. S. Merwin:

To the New Year

BY W. S. MERWIN

With what stillness at last

you appear in the valley

your first sunlight reaching down

to touch the tips of a few

high leaves that do not stir

as though they had not noticed

and did not know you at all

then the voice of a dove calls

from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you

here and now whether or not

anyone hears it this is

where we have come with our age

our knowledge such as it is

and our hopes such as they are

invisible before us

untouched and still possible

Here we are in 2023, with our age and knowledge, such as they are, and our hopes, such as they are, with everything again before us untouched and still possible.

May this new year bring you peace.

Happiness is…

By Charles Schulz

When I was young, I had the book Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles Schulz. I was remembering it lately with all the charming little moments it caught:

Each page captures a delightful, sweet, innocent, but meaningful, moment in the life of a child. Each attempting to capture that ineffable notion of happiness. I thought it would be fun to start collecting my own when I feel that surge of happiness, that feeling that all is right in the world, and I’m incredibly lucky and content.

Here are a couple of mine:

Happiness is…

The finches discovering their feeder.

Happiness is….

The cat keeping you company while you work.

Happiness is…

Being unable to move because the cat picked your lap.

And the list goes on. We each have moments that fill us with happiness and wonder. They slip away quickly because they’re ephemeral. But if we capture them somehow, in a gratitude journal, with a photo album, a list, we can turn to them later and smile. These are our ‘moments’

Schulz recognized that for each of of us, those moments will be unique and personal.

What are some of yours? If you feel comfortable doing so, I would love it if you shared them.

Counting blessings instead of sheep

Are you ever sleepless? Sometimes it’s hard to stop ruminating over things long enough to fall asleep. We replay events of the day, preview possible scenarios for tomorrow, stew over grievances from yesterday. It’s hard to just sink off and get the sleep we need.

In her short story, “The Cure for Sleeplessness“, Maeve Binchy creates a magic cure for sleeplessness:

Molly read the advice slowly. It was a detailed instruction about how the cure would take three weeks and you had to follow every step of it. First you had to buy a big notebook with at least twenty pages in it, and stick a picture on the cover, something connected with flowers. It could be a field of bluebells or a bunch of roses. Then on the night you couldn’t sleep you must get up quietly and dress properly as if you were going out visiting. You had to fix your hair and look your best. Then you made a cup of tea and got out the notebook with the flower on the cover. In your best handwriting you wrote “My Book of Blessings” on it. That first night you chose just one thing that made you happy. No more than one, and choose it carefully. It could be a love, a baby, a house, a sunset, a friend. And you wrote one page, no more, no less, about the happiness that this particular blessing brought you.

Then you spent a whole hour doing something you had meant to do, like polishing silver, or mending torn curtains, or arranging photographs in an album. No matter how tired you felt, you must finish it, then undress carefully and go back to bed….

Every night she wrote about a different blessing.

Things like the night Gerry finally told her he loved her, when his face was white and red alternately, in case she might not love him too.

Like the moment after Billy was born when she held him in her arms.

Like her parents’ silver wedding anniversary, when they had said that they knew their daughters would be as happy as they were and everyone had cried.

Like that time in the advertising agency when the boss said that Molly had saved all their jobs by her quick thinking and they had all raised a glass of Champagne to her for winning the account.

Now most of this advice and all of the examples are pure Binchy, but the gratitude part is backed by science.

A gratitude journal is good for what ails you. As you call to mind your blessings, think about why you are grateful for that particular blessing, the details surrounding it, the sensations associated with it. Write it down somewhere so you can remember. If so inclined, write a thank you note to someone who made a difference in your life. Remember to say thank yous at work, home, and school. If you encounter a problem, try to see if there is an unexpected blessing hidden there somewhere.

And then, tonight, if you should have trouble falling asleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.

Slowing down the clock

As we age, time feels like it is moving faster. This makes sense considering the math, perhaps. One year to a 100 year old is just one percent of their life, but to a two year old, it’s 50% more. But scientists are saying there is another reason having to do with the diversity of experiences.

“Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight.”

And this squares with why we felt that there was more time when we were younger when everything was new, and when our days were filled with varied experiences.

So perhaps there is a way to slow down time: fill it up, stretch your experiences, try new things, explore, savor, forswear the ordinary.

Seize the day.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-time-seem-to-speed-up-with-age/

Hope, and hope again.

What is hope, really, but a persistent insistence that things can be better, that there is more to it, that the final answers are yet to be revealed. Emily Dickinson describes hope as

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.”

And this feels right. Hope sits there perched, singing, warming our souls and keeping us fed. A wordless song because we may not even have the ability to put our emotions into words or know what it is we hope for. And this is a positive, persistent hope, but somewhat passive, waiting.

And yet, we know, too, that hope gets its fingernails dirty because while hope sits on the periphery expectant, it can also be in the fray fighting for a better world. That kind of hope is captured by Matthew @CrowsFault:

“People speak of hope as if it is this delicate ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider’s webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.”

And this, too, seems true. Hope keeps our souls fed but also prompts our entering the arena, helping us to do the hard work to make a better world for all.

Let 2023 be a year of hope, perched and singing to our souls, but also inching us forward to do the hard work, offering our time and talents, to bring about a better today.