Being the heroes of our own story

We each decide if we are to be the hero of the story our lives are writing. We each will hear calls to adventure and must decide whether we will rise to the occasion. We each struggle with challenges and learn, or not, from the experience. What will your story be? How will you meet the challenges you encounter?

In this short film, Matthew Winkler outlines Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey, a path we all must take.

How will we fare?

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

Being a Good Samaritan

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. In short, a man lies helpless and injured in the road. Religious leaders rush past offering no assistance, while a Samaritan stops and offers the wounded man succor and solace.

What makes one person stop to help while others rush by? Is it the belief that helping is the right way to show up in the world? A religious mandate even? Or is there more to it?

In a famous study at Princeton, researchers evaluated a group of seminarians, specifically discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and then sending them to a task, indeed to lecture on the very parable, where they would necessarily walk right past someone needing help. Even with the parable fresh on their minds, the future pastors for the most part walked right by. Presumably these were nice people who intended to spend a lifetime in service. And yet, they walked right by. They acted in a way incongruent with their professed beliefs.

A surprising result to say the least. But the conclusion from the experiment was that the biggest influencer in whether they stopped to help was not their religious beliefs or their innate kindness, but their perception of time. The more of a hurry they were in, the less likely they were to help.

So how does this inform our choices?

A general kind intent to help is not enough. We are all the Princeton Divinity Students rushing to our next important task and potentially neglecting the plight of others right in our path. We must slow down the clock and really see the people around us. And we need to be ok with the idea that our plans and schedules might be disrupted. Surely stopping to help someone in need will change your day, will inconvenience you, and cause you to spend time and perhaps money in an unplanned way.

But the help you might be able to offer someone in need could be invaluable.

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.

How long?

It has been 54 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. As long as between the date of his death and 1914. A long, long time. Yet here we are still fighting for the world he envisioned, a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

We must press on.

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Martin Luther King, Jr., told an overflowing crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 April 1968, where the city’s sanitation workers were striking. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Less than 24 hours after these prophetic words, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/ive-been-mountaintop

Today, take a moment with his favorite hymn, the hymn he requested shortly before his death, “Take Me Home, Precious Lord’ and gather strength to continue his fight, all of our fight, toward the promised land:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYUwO6_lysw

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.

Love is…

While I’m on my nostalgia streak, I’m remembering this comic strip from the 70’s by Kim Casali. I loved these although they perhaps don’t all stand the test of time, the ‘she’ of the partnership always doing the household chores, and picking up after the ‘he’.

Although, to be honest, I do do chores out of love for my family, picking recipes I think they will enjoy, trying to keep a peaceful organized home, cleaning up the little hand smudges on the walls knowing these moments will not last. These acts of service are one of the love languages identified by Gary Chapman in his book, The 5 Love Languages, the others being words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, and quality time.

Chapman argues that sometimes people in relationship, any relationship not only romantic, get in trouble if they are speaking in a love language their loved one doesn’t hear. For me, my expressions of love are weighted heavily toward acts of service, but knowing that everyone is not on the same wave length in how they receive expressions of love reminds me to use them all, and to listen for them all from the people I love.

Perhaps, as with the ‘Happiness is… ‘ thought exercise from yesterday, today it would be wonderful to stop and consider how you are showing love to the people you care about, and how they are showing it to you, even if it’s not one of the love languages you are good at hearing.

For inspiration and a chuckle, consider this cat mom’s birthday gift for her kitty:

Now that’s love.