When you get a group of kids together, and ask them their favorite color, there is always that one kid who picks rainbow. I admire this kid.
I was never this kid.
I’ve always played by the rules, even if it caused me tons of angst trying to somehow weigh my fondness for the blue of a cloudless summer day, or the lavender of a jacaranda tree, or buttercup yellow, or soft blush pink. How do people pick these kind of things? Favorites?
But the rainbow kid stretches his arms wide and says, ‘I’ll pick them all, all the colors of the rainbow.’ This kid embraces color, life, variety, and has little concern with limits and rules. Gusto. Zest. Vibrancy. These are the attributes of this kid.
I hope, but cannot confirm, that I wasn’t the kid who told him to pick just one. Who told him rainbow wasn’t a color, and that picking rainbow was like picking infinite wishes from a genie. Against the rules. Or that kind of teacher for that matter. Because sometimes we are meant to throw our arms wide and say, ‘All of it. I love all of it. Color itself. How wonderful we live in a world of color.’
(I’ve settled in on answering periwinkle because I adore that color, it was my grandmother’s favorite color, and I adored her, and it has a wonderful sounding name that tickles me.)
Some of my friends and I are noticing our interests shift these days. This tweet sums up the phenomenon perfectly.
And it’s not just birds, but the weather, the garden, the laugh of a child. The little moments bear a new luster. And of course it makes sense. As our lives are rushing by in our younger years, the little things can get lost. We always will have the time to stop and look, to smell the roses, we reason, so we put it off. But as we feel our time here becoming more finite, our attention hones. We pause. We marvel. We are constantly astonished.
As it turns out, this experience isn’t so much a reflection of our age as it is our perception of time. When we feel time vast, spreading out before us, our focal point is on the future, but when we feel a possible end to our time here, our attention draws close and we appreciate the little things. So even someone young facing death will have this urge to stop and soak in the little things.
In his book, Being Mortal; Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande summarizes research on this experience:
“…how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have. When you are young and healthy, you believe you will live forever. You do not worry about losing any of your capabilities. People tell you “the world is your oyster,” “the sky is the limit,” and so on. And you are willing to delay gratification—to invest years, for example, in gaining skills and resources for a brighter future, you seek to plug into bigger streams of knowledge and information. You widen your networks of friends and connections, instead of hanging out with your mother. When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all that stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid- achievement, creativity, and other attributes of ‘self-actualization,” but as your horizons contract—when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain—your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you.”
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
But our ‘knowledge’ of the time we have is far from certain. Sometimes our belief we will always have another day keeps us from appreciating the days we have. Practices like mindfulness and meditation, reading poetry, help ground us in the present so we can capture those moments, but it’s difficult to keep our own mortality enough in our consciousness to really grasp the preciousness of each moment.
In the play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, the lead character Emily, a young woman who loses her life early in childbirth, is given the opportunity to revisit one day in her life, and she sees it all with new eyes:
Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…I can’t. I can’t go on.It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute? Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some. Emily: I’m ready to go back.”
Our Town, by Thornton Wilder
Today is that day, a day for us to realize life while we’re living it, every, every minute as much and as best as we can.
There are as many ways to pray as there are people praying. But what is it, exactly? Maybe it’s easier to answer what it isn’t: a flamboyant show, a chance to pose and preen publicly, a subterfuge, a droning recitation of memorized but not considered words.
What prayer actually is, though, is more complicated: a bridge between ourselves and the mysterious, a chance to become small, and yet fully individual, in a vastness, an experience of awe. Mary Oliver’s definition above in her poem Praying is lovely: a doorway into thanks. Consider the whole poem:
It doesn’t have to be
The blue iris, it could be
Weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
Small stones; just
Pay attention, then patch
A few words together and don’t try
To make them elaborate,
This isn’t a contest but the doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in
Which another voice may speak.
Pay attention; see the beauty around you; give thanks. Rinse and repeat.
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:
The finches discovering their feeder.
The cat keeping you company while you work.
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.
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.
Everything is a bit of a mix, isn’t it? Even a perfect moment is inseparable from its transience. Glennon Doyle coined the term ‘brutiful’ for this, a mix of brutal and beautiful.
In his Book of Delights, Ross Gay embarks on a quest to document the delights of each day for a year. Everything from bindweed to community to the joys of gardening. That act of paying attention, looking for the delights in each day, is, in itself, a delight, an opening to the promise and possibility of each moment.
Just the act of searching for those delights and holding them up, maybe even writing them down, serves to make each moment more meaningful and appreciated. As we train and condition ourselves to notice the things that delight us, even those we would never normally consider delights, we grow in gratitude and awe. Our worlds take on more depth and value. And we are better able to see the roses amidst the thorns.
Today, in the United States, we vote. We celebrate a country that allows its citizens input into this remarkable experiment of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
We honor this country and its principles of equality, freedom, and justice for all. Our understanding of those concepts has evolved over time, and taken some steps back, but today let us be grateful for how far we’ve come and consider the steps that we each might take today and every day to make this country move closer to the ideals for which it stands. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to vote.
Loneliness is an epidemic. That heart to heart connection with others, our world, our communities is lost as we race from one To Do to the next. Superficial greetings take the place of deep conversation, and we substitute more for better.
When was the last time you felt truly heard by another person–not heard so they could diagnose you or give you instructions for how to do better–but heard as though someone paused to notice the real you, the deep down you?
When was the last time you paused to consider another person, not as a means to an end on your own journey, but as a person with their own dreams and heart desires, their own wants and needs, their own untold story hoping to be heard?
When was the last time you paused to consider the world around you, from the beauty of nature to the miracle of your own next breath?
Perhaps our loneliness epidemic would be eased if we all were to slow down and notice each other, pause to realize we are here for each other, and be vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to see and be seen.
Mary Oliver’s poems open us in so many ways– to nature, to each other, to our own hidden places. Perhaps this one on loneliness will speak to you today:
When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider the orderliness of the world. Notice something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.
Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain, shaking the water-sparks from its wings.
Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not. Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also, like the diligent leaves.
A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world and the responsibilities of your life.
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away. Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.
In the glare of your mind, be modest. And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
Live with the beetle, and the wind.
~ Mary Oliver ~
From Shari: what have you noticed today that helps you feel connected?
Mr. Rogers inspired generations to recognize the beauty of their neighborhoods, to search for the helpers for inspiration in any crisis, and to recognize that each individual has value and inherent worth. His words continue to echo through both good and bad times. He reminded us that it wasn’t our exteriors he liked or admired, but our interior selves, our character and trustworthiness. Today consider his reminder to remember all those people who believed in you and made you who you are– someone capable of making the good choices to make this world a better place.
I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.
It’s easy to be grateful for the good things. But … everything? What about the fear, anxiety, separation, loneliness? What about the loss and persecution? What about the things that challenge our life and morality and soul? What of these?
Yes. All. Even these things that most pain us or make us worry. It is in these times we draw on something deeper than ourselves and grow. These are the times that cause us to reach out to others and embrace community. These are the depths we can survive and use that survival to offer hope to others.
Gratitude forces a perspective shift. From despair to hope. From loss to possibility. From chaos to peace.