I’ve recently been going through a period of more intense discernment about life issues, big and small. As I took a therapeutic walk today, I was reminded of writer Anne Lamott’s fairly recent TED Talk about “12 Truths I learned from Life and Writing.” After a milestone birthday, she came up with a dozen things that were deep in her marrow. Her topics ranged from the existential and inspiring, “God is not Scary,” “All Truth is a Paradox,” and “Grace is a Powerful Thing,” to more humorous ideas including “Almost Everything Will Work Again if you Unplug it for a Few Minutes.”
She is a brilliant wordsmith, but here are the ideas that were swirling around my head today. I jotted these thoughts down along Central Park, as I made my way to the Upper East Side. It was about an hour’s moving meditation. I couldn’t come up with 12 things I know for sure, but managed to outline 6 topics on my mind.
- The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants, but the Soul Needs What the Soul Needs. During the carnage of the Civil War, in 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care.” More than two centuries later, Woody Allen uttered a similar statement during those controversial days when it was first revealed he was having a sexual affair with his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, 35 years his junior. Today, I was considering the needs of the soul, rather the heart. Specifically, I was thinking about the astonishing story of the Amanda Eller, the Hawaiian physical therapist and yoga instructor who was found after 17 days lost in a forest. She entered the forest alone, without a cell phone, only to become disoriented and injured. A three-mile hike became a two-week fight for her life. In the bits of interviews that have already emerged, she has an unusually spiritual approach to the harrowing experience. She reminded herself, “This is not punishment being meted out to you…this is your soul’s journey.” She found meaning and purpose in the literal “Hero’s Journey,” and rejected being a victim. Simply stated, she “Chose Life,” with every step, until her rescue. If we could all embrace our challenges in life as the opportunity for our soul’s full flowering, how wonderful would that be?
- Some Things Really Are Out of Our Control. As always, I think of my birthplace in Oklahoma. While any Oklahoman will tell you that May is high tornado season, who really things about flooding there? Oklahoma is the home of the Dust Bowl, after all. In addition to a record-setting number of tornadoes this year (only two months into tornado season, the National Weather Service counted 34 tornadoes in Oklahoma), all of Oklahoma is under a state of emergency as rain of Biblical proportions threatens so very many places, like my little home town of Ponca City. The rivers and reservoirs swell. They wait…and pray.
- It Doesn’t Take Long for Someone to Imprint on Your Heart. My life circumstances of late have been a bit on the Gypsy side. (I do realize Gypsy is no longer a politically acceptable term.) I’ve had the opportunity to share space with some exceptional young people, including Miss L who returned to her home in Scandinavia this evening. I’ve not known her long, but I miss her already. Wise beyond her years, she is a perfect combination of practicality and spontaneity. She has a good mind and works hard, and I know she will be a success. I was particularly impressed with her curiosity about ‘American politics and culture. She had an international orientation, and asked many thought-provoking questions. I did my best to give her a crash course in American politics, openly admitting my liberal tendencies. Although I worried about her consumption of “Keeping up with the Kardashians” episodes, I know she is becoming a great future business leader and wonderful human being, be it in America or Europe.
- Being Kind to Your Younger You. Like many, I go through waves of regret and self-criticism. There is always plenty of evidence we can muster to confirm our worst fears about our lives, I think. The other day, a “Facebook Memory” popped up. It was a fuzzy photo of me, age about 3, on a tri-cycle at our St. Louis home. I think I was an innocent and mostly content toddler, but shortly thereafter our family went through serious traumas around divorce, disease, and death. I looked at that little girl and felt wave of kindness, care, and generosity toward her. How should I care for my inner child? With mercy.
- How do we Balance Acceptance and Activism? (Okay, this is more a concern than an insight.) Last night, an old buddy got me hooked on Oliver Stone’s 2012-13 Netflix series, “The Untold History of the United States.” I’ve only dipped my toe in, but it is a 12 episode program that takes unconventional—often dark and critical—views of major geopolitical events, starting with World War II—the birth of the American Empire, as Stone explains. I don’t want to be a Pollyanna and simply accept the sanitized views of American politics and history—goodness knows truth-telling and measured states are in short-supply, in Washington, lately. On the other hand, I don’t wish to become a jaded cynic and conspiracy theorist about all things political. I find such folks less compelling than dyspeptic. I grew up in an era when Carl Albert issued Bismarck’s phrase, “Politics is the Art of the Possible” My plan after graduate school was to go back to Oklahoma and run for office…until it wasn’t.
- An Unexpected Kind Word Means A Lot. Over the last few days, I’ve received some unusually gracious praise from some past wedding clients. Celebrancy work is obviously meaningful—and fun, too! But when you share a special rite of passage with individuals, a couple or family, and then hear months—even years—later what it meant to them, it is inspiring and gratifying. On top of that, last night, I received an unexpected phone call from an old high school friend. We actually were more acquaintances than friends, as he was the cool class clown, and I was a painfully shy nerd. Our connection, now years later, was sweet—exchanging stories of the highs and lows of life. It meant a lot to me, and I want to extend that hand to others, too. Thanks for the inspiration, TK.