I Hear You. I See You.

Here’s what I learned from the Women’s March:

1. Everyone has a story to tell.

2. We should listen.

I went to the women’s march in little ol’ Topeka, KS, last Saturday, along with over 3,000 men, women and children. We were a small portion of the total Women’s March attendees worldwide, but we were there. As I scanned the signs in the crowd I got a sense of each person’s motivation for attending. Some people were clearly angry. Some were more sad. Some were there to support a specific cause or people group. And surely some were all three. I was conflicted about going, not because I was against the march, but because I didn’t think this type of event fit me. I am hyper conscious about keeping my word – letting my yes be yes and my no be no. In the things I promise and the things I merely say. And a lot is said by one’s actions. By showing up, or not.

In going to the march, was I supporting everything this crowd was supporting? I knew I wasn’t, so was going a lie? Was it a falsehood to be a body in that place on that day? Those were questions I asked myself before I decided to hitch a ride with my friend, her daughter, and her mother. I had no sign. I had no specific agenda. I went as an observer, a witness, a supporter of equal rights in general.

I’m going to show my hand here: I am pro-life in that I wish abortion wasn’t a thing at all. I am pro-choice in that I think the answer to the problem is much more complicated than making laws. I am conflicted about legislating morality, on either side of the aisle. Because both sides are doing it. Because we all have a set of values from which we move in the world. From which our political stances arise. The Republicans are not the only ones with a moral standard. The Democrats are not the only ones with compassion for the marginalized. Trying to make our society work for both types of people (and for those who don’t fit in either camp) is a complicated task, necessitating compromise. I sit in between the parties as an independent, and marches don’t always speak for those of us on the fence. “Yes, but…” was my most common internal response to the speeches I heard. Or “Yes, and…”

The very best sign I have seen from any march was made by a friend of mine. She was at the same event as me, though I didn’t see here there – only caught a photo of her sign on social media that evening.

It said simply:

I Hear You.

I See You.

I asked her later about the meaning of her sign, and she said it was up for interpretation. My takeaway was that it perfectly summed up why I went to the march – what it was all about it my view – and the attitude which if everyone adopted, no matter his or her political views, would solve so many of our problems. I hear you. I see you.

When my husband and I have an argument, what it almost always comes down to is one or both of us feeling we haven’t been heard. That one or both of our points of view has been passed over as unimportant or wrong. And the best way to diffuse a disagreement is for us to communicate that we’ve taken in the other’s words and considered them. That what was said wasn’t worthless or silly. Eye contact is key. Body language that communicates empathy instead of disgust.

For me, going to the march was saying with my presence, “I hear and see you” to all the people who feel left out. I, myself, don’t feel that way. I have had it pretty easy as a white, straight, middle class girl/woman in America. I am not particularly angry for me. But as another sign said “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.” That’s where listening comes in.

The whole idea of a march is to be heard. To be a squeaky wheel for a people or a cause. The problem right now is that so many groups of people were belittled during the campaign that the squeaky wheels are all over the road. The list of speakers at Saturday’s event was long, because numerous groups were being represented. So many people felt blatantly attacked by the man who is now the President that the anger and fear is widespread. And to just say “hush” to all those people is both unkind and foolish. Just as preaching to the choir does little to help further a cause, shushing the other side does a lot to embolden it.

This goes both ways. The conservatives need to hear what the liberals are saying/the liberals need to hear what the conservatives are saying. And both sides should say things in a positive way – not just because it’s kind, but because it’s smart. I doubt a single conservative was moved to a new understanding by the sign “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Translation = Bitches Be Crazy!” Nor would a left-leaning person be swayed by the Facebook post on the Women’s March page that read “You guys are a joke.”

As soon as one side won’t listen it feels foolish to listen in return. It’s hard to answer disrespect, condescension, and outright hate with respect and love. Our nature cries “Hey now! Get off my back!” But it is possible. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t move from a place of hate. He moved from anger and frustration, but not from a desire to see harm done to anyone else. He moved from an understanding that God made everyone, and therefore everyone had value.

Even if someone doesn’t believe that basic tenet of human decency, we should ask why. And then we should listen to the answer. Even if the answer makes our skin crawl. Because until we know why, we can’t address the core issue; we can only address the symptoms. Assumptions are no good here. They are the enemy. Not the other political party. Not those who marched or those who didn’t.

If someone is pro-choice, we should ask why. I have friends whose bodies were assaulted in the past, so attempts to legislate their bodies feels violating. I have relatives who likely don’t know a single Muslim person, so they fear what they don’t understand, as we all tend to do. I have friends who came to America, illegally, from Mexico (and Guatemala, and El Salvador) because they or their parents wanted to give their children a chance to escape poverty, or worse. I have friends who are rich, friends who are poor, some who have been both in one lifetime. And I care what each of them has to say. Empathy does not have to mean agreement. It merely says…

I hear you. I see you.

 

May They Dream Big

Today feels heavy. Like this scarf I’m wearing is full of bricks. But I refuse to let that feeling win.

I say today is a day for dreamers. As our new President is inaugurated, I am choosing hope over fear. Because I must. I want to scream, and maybe I will for a bit, inside my house, as a lamentation of what we have become. But then I will take several deep breaths, let my blood pressure drop a notch, and remember, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Today is a wrenching disappointment for many, but it is not the end.

I say bring on the dreamers.

We had a family double feature last weekend consisting of La La Land and Selma. Two disparate films, but with one important commonality. One is a bittersweet tale of chasing dreams, of fantastical and lovely head-in-the-clouds romanticism. And the other is a hard-to-take portrayal of a different kind of dream, and a struggle that seems so apropos in our current reality. Both are relevant. Both point to the way to handle Right Now.

After the increasingly combative election, and it’s aftermath which we all had hoped would settle the tension but instead ratcheted it up twelve notches, La La Land was like breathing again. The opening scene of joy-despite-obstacles (both literal (an L.A. traffic jam) and metaphorical (breaking into Hollywood)) made me smile so big my face hurt. It was needed, cinematic medicine. It was an escape from reality. But it also touched on deeper questions of dream-chasing. What is sacrificed in the effort? What about when the dream seems to have died?

And when they let you down
You get up off the ground
And it’s another day of sun

 

Selma is about dream-chasing too, though King’s dream was a loftier, more altruistic vision of the future by far. Clearly. The movie dives down into the grit of those days in Selma, Alabama without a hint of romanticism. King wasn’t a perfect person, and the film doesn’t pretend so. But it shows both his moral and strategic motivations for non-violent protesting. It gives life to that movement that is still so relevant today. Especially today. It was a lot for my younger ones to handle. But it seemed important. It seemed essential, as learning about history always is.

Many of my friends are headed to Washington D.C. this week to participate in the Women’s March. I thought of going but in the end decided against it. For many reasons, none of which is disagreement. Their tangible effort to express a belief in the rights of all those marginalized in our society echoes those of decades earlier. And it echoes my own heart. People are people, we have the same hurts and fears, we all bleed and love our friends and get sad when someone says we don’t count. These truths have been instilled in me since I was a child and I hold on to them today.

I go back and forth in my mind about how to handle our current reality in America. About what exactly I can and should do. Where my energies will be best spent. How I can be one of the helpers rather than merely a critic of everything I don’t like. How to be for things instead of against them, as a rule. I spend time thinking of this because it matters. Because I want to use my life well. On behalf of others, not just myself. But how to do that is the sometimes overwhelming question. Especially in the face of big obstacles.

I also believe in picking my battles. Because if everything is a fight with me, eventually nothing I do or say will be taken seriously. If I yell at my kids all the time, the yelling becomes normal and completely ineffective. If I only yell when something really awful is going on, my kids take notice. They feel the importance of the moment, of what I’m yelling about. The same goes for life in general. The squeaky wheel only gets the grease when the squeaking is out of the ordinary. What, then, do I squeak, or yell, about?

One battle I am determined to fight: teaching my children about empathy. It’s a battle of daily decision. Of impressing upon them our equality with everyone else and imagining what it must be like to be that other person. After watching half of Selma the girls were getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth and arguing about who touched whom with lotion on her hands. One felt offended at the other’s (moisturizing) assault. It was the perfect teaching moment.

“Can you imagine what it must have felt like for the people marching for their right to vote? They didn’t even have the power to choose their leaders. And then they were hit and kicked and yelled at. It must have felt awful. And they didn’t fight back; they were peaceful. That must have been so hard.”

They stopped and thought. I watched the wheels turning. They got it, in whatever nine and five year old ways they could. One more step toward an empathetic world view. And one small thing I could do.

Which brings me back to La La Land. Some will surely be angry at my comparison of a movie about privileged, white kids trying to make art, and one about poor, black people fighting for their rights. And if I were saying they were equally important in the span of history, that would be fair. But they’re both about dreams – not letting them die. One can assist the other.

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles…
Here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

 

Here’s to my friends marching this weekend in D.C.

And here’s to raising up the next generation of dreamers.

May they dream big.

 

Inspiration to help the dreaming…

A portion of Dr. King’s “Where Do We Go From Here” speech

Night Has Passed lyric video, The Brilliance

 

Finally, Hopefully, Eventually

My brother’s dear friend, whom he’s known since he was a child, died this weekend. He was 38 years old.

That sort of thing makes you stop and ask some big questions. It makes you sad and mad and confused and thankful, in waves. Like a spotlight, it reveals all that’s good and bad in glaring, brilliant relief. And for me, it makes Christmas, surrounded by family and pointing to a man who loved in total sacrifice, an even more welcome celebration of hope.

This fall I’ve been reading through the Old Testament in a Bible study. And let me be real here: I’ve been confused. I’ve read the Bible before (yep, the whole thing, more than once), but this year I’m looking at it through a more questioning lens. There are many reasons for this, but one is the simple belief that if my faith can’t stand up to questioning, to a deep, thoughtful wrestling match, it’s not very strong at all. I’m not interested in faith that ignores the mess of life. That puts up a wall against uncomfortable uncertainties. I want to meet those questions head-on.

As I’ve read this telling of the God of the Hebrews and pushed and pulled with my understanding of it, I’ve had to throw some things into the simmering pot of pondering. Stuff that needs more time to reveal it’s true flavor and depth. One fabulous take-away I’ve had is that God is not worried about right-this-second as much as eventually. He is not rushed, he is not restrained by our sense of time. So I’m trusting in the process and in eventually. I’m trusting that I’ll understand those simmering questions when I need to, rather than today. A friend recently said that my writing is like a crock pot – I have to throw ingredients in my brain and let it cook for a long while before the timer goes off and the dish (the essay in my case) is ready. So I suppose this idea of simmering is fine with me, by nature. I like it, in fact.

As the books of the Old Testament have simmered on the stove, they’ve given off an aroma of despair. If you have not read, say, the book of Judges before, it is full to the brim of sadness and scandal and bad choice upon bad choice. There’s a reason you don’t see inspirational verses on Facebook from Judges. It chronicles a pretty terrible stretch of time, and it, along with so many other books of the OT make you long for a reprieve from the violence and misery. And then comes Isaiah, the prophet, like a spark in the deep darkness, promising light. After hundreds of pages of human dysfunction, you actually sigh with relief to read “…for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Finally. Your shoulders drop, your back loosens and you feel the goodness of this news.

The questions remain, but even in the questioning over what exactly is meant by certain passages, even in the confusion about how the God of the Old Testament meshes with the God of the New, I’m left with something I do know with certainty. And that is my experience. These lines from a song by Housefires whittle it down to what I do not question:

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night

And you tell me that you’re pleased

And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

And I’m loved by you

It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

I do not doubt this. No matter if I view the Bible from a Calvinist perspective, or a Wesleyan one, or from the point of view of the mystics, I know what I’ve heard in the dead of night (both metaphorically and in real-time). And this Christmas I celebrate that. It is more than enough.

Krista Tippett, the host of the radio show and podcast On Being, wrote something recently that felt like the crock pot timer going off, with a megaphone attached. An excellent summation of the glory and beauty of what we happen to celebrate on the 25th…

There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other. It’s not provable, but it’s profoundly humanizing and concretely and spiritually exacting.

She does not buy in to the gift-giving and capitalization of Christmas. I, on the other hand, love the gift-giving and all the hubub leading up to the birthday celebration of this God-become-man. So on this we differ. In fact, I’m about to drop everything non-essential to life (Do we need to eat? Yes. Do we need clean clothes? Pretty much. Do I need to blog? Nope.) to prepare for my favorite holiday. But we agree on this: that our celebration is not silly. It is not about Santa. It is not even about bubble bread, though that is a staple of Christmas morning at the Havener house. It is about the creator of the universe (the multi-verse, whatever we discover in time) sending love to the world in human form and all that means for us. It does not erase the sadness over loss of life. It does not answer all my questions in an instant or “fix” all the world’s ills today. But it points to eventually. The hope of eventually, which makes today better.

Merry Christmas, readers. Here’s to wrestling with questions, simmering pots of uncertainty, finally and hopefully and eventually. May they all bring you joy this holiday.

 

Thanksgiving Do-Over

This Thanksgiving I forgot to be thankful. I spent a lot of time cooking, prepping the table, planning logistics of when to put the rolls in the oven, take them out, and warm rest of the food before the rolls cooled. Hosting family and friends on Thanksgiving day, more than a typical get-together, is a hit-the-ground-running affair. But since I didn’t schedule actually pondering my own, and our communal, thankfulness, it didn’t happen. I forgot, and it made me sad.

Two years ago when we hosted Thanksgiving, I made an effort to recognize what exactly we were celebrating. Of pointing everyone’s attention toward gratitude and of listening to each person’s thankful heart. It was memorable. It was bonding. It was what Thanksgiving should be. This year I failed as the ring-leader of gratitude. I made some rockin’ brussels sprouts (yes, that’s possible) but I didn’t host the bigger idea of the occasion, which I think is even more important.

I’m certainly not saying I was actually in charge of others’ thankfulness or lack thereof. And I’m not saying anyone else at the table failed to spend time reflecting personally on their many blessings. But in my experience Thanksgiving tends to be more about food than about a celebration of bounty itself, and I’d like to change that when we’re celebrating in our home. I want to make it about stopping for a moment and truly considering the depth of goodness that surrounds us. As a group. I want my kids to absorb the overflow of thankful hearts and let it color their view of the world, to combat some of the yuck they face in the same world each day. And it was likely more important to do so this year than any in recent memory. Bummer.

I dropped my kids off with my in-laws the weekend before Thanksgiving, and on my drive home through the darkening Flint Hills I listened to a podcast. Krista Tippett from On Being interviewed Irish poet Michael Longley and focused on his penchant for writing beautifully about normal, regular things. His “quiet insistence on celebrating normalcy.” In one significant part of the interview he pointed to the Holocaust as an example of this type of gratitude. “In that kind of nightmare what kept people sane was thinking of the ordinary things back home. And what made things slightly less nightmarish would be securing a toothbrush…”

In contrast to all I have to be thankful for, no matter what is happening in the greater world, this stark reminder of what thankfulness can be whiddled down to was poignant. It seemed an appropriate train of thought before the holiday arrived. I thought about it then, even including the pleasure of listening to Michael Longley reading his own poetry among the list of small but significant delights in a time of disheartenment. But I forgot to think about it on actual Thanksgiving. Not that there’s some sort of magic in being thankful on a particular, set-aside day. And yes, thanksgiving should be an ongoing attitude of the heart. I just wish I would have brought this up on that day, to have createa more memorable occasion. A ceremony of thankfulness, almost.

We still had a lovely time. We somehow avoided discussion of the current political climate (and the younger set of us gained some welcome perspective about an even more contentious period of our nation’s history – the 1960s). It wasn’t void of warmth and kindness and community. I simply wish I would have marked the occasion more clearly. But wallowing gets me nowhere. I’m going to forgive my slip-up and keep this in mind for our next round of hosting. Often our mistakes are what teach us best, and this has shown me that I want to make that which we celebrate on the holiday more central than the way we celebrate it. I still want to eat yummy molasses and oat dinner rolls, but they shouldn’t be the biggest take-away (though the caloric take away from those rolls is pretty great). Forgiven, but not forgotten. Next time. And for this year, better late than never, a list of simple things I don’t want to take for granted…

my comfy bed

green tea

a warm scone

heat and air conditioning

a car that works

wool socks

birds singing

peanut butter

vitamin D

cilantro

a washer and dryer in my house

the sound of Luke playing the piano

the view from my bedroom window

podcasts and long drives through the Flint Hills

 

Feel free to list of a few small-but-significant things you appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving do-over.

 

The Wounds That Bind

I wanted to write about anything other than the election this week. Maybe my kids. My marriage. A fabulous song I want to share. The change of seasons. Anything but the elephant in the room.

But my heart still feels a bit raw more than a week after the election. I thought that once the actual voting was finished we would feel a collective, national release of tension, but obviously that was wishful thinking. It seems blaringly clear now that whoever won, it would have been a difficult transition for our country, since half of us feel one way and half feel another. A drastic split down the middle – at least according to those of us who voted. Sadly, we’ll never know what the rest of our countrymen/women wanted. We’re left with the reality of a jagged tear in the fabric of our country. Not a clean cut, even, but a fraying, ragged mess of threads that must somehow be patched together if we want it to be one nation again.

The first step to healing is what is always the first step: empathy. To see the humanity even in our enemies. To actually go so far as to imagine what it feels like to be another person. It takes work. It takes stopping for a moment and considering. Playing pretend – with more significant ramifications than it had in our back yards as kids. It’s crucial to knowing how to respond to others. Even in our anger, even if we believe it’s righteous anger, we must take care in our reactions.

I know some will find fault in this way of thinking. Fight power with power. Don’t back down. We can’t let the bad guys win. And there is certainly a place for self-defense. Super Man and Captain America are heroes for a reason: they fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Against those wanting only to harm. But most people aren’t out to harm everyone, but rather, acting out of what they view as self-defense. If we can understand what they are defending, we can work toward changing their views. It takes longer than striking out, and sometimes there’s not time for time (i.e. the Holocaust).  But I believe that empathy is powerful. It changes hearts – yours and, like a benevolent virus, others’. It’s even logical – if you want to change something for the long haul, you make it attractive. Forcing others to agree never, ever works. Appealing to their interests and, eventually, their humanity does.

A song by the band The Brilliance says it like this…

When I look into the face

Of my enemy

I see my brother

I see my brother

 

Forgiveness is the garment

Of our courage

The power to make the peace

We long to know

Open up our eyes

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind

May our shutter hearts

Greet the dawn of life

With charity and love

Being known for what you are for rather than what you are against will do wonders. On both sides. If you are for small government, get involved with or help support charities that solve the problems you don’t think the government should. Help your church house homeless people, or feed the poor, or support women with unwanted pregnancies. If you are for civil rights, get involved with or help support organizations that work toward them, or peacefully march in favor of something, or write on your blog to promote a way of thinking. We tend to think that little actions don’t matter. But the whole of history is built on small action upon small action – one moment plus one moment.

I’m starting here: writing this post. Then I’m going to write a meager-but-something check to Family Promise of Lawrence, KS. Then I’m calling my state representatives about a few things. Then I’m showing my son the movie Selma.

And most importantly, I’m going to try to remember that empathy rules the day. Each day. Even right now, when everything feels out of control and the us and them mentality is so rampant. Even if I’m not given the same respect and thoughtfulness. It’s a decision to act this way. It’s the harder route. But it can effect actual change-of-heart, which is the end goal. Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, my grandfather have all been examples of this. Love your enemies. Even pray for them. It’s so awfully hard, but so very worth the deep breaths it takes.

May we have this sort of empathy toward those with whom we disagree. Even those who seem the enemies of everything we are for. It’s a challenge – for me and for you. For all of us.

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind.

Amen.

 

 

Now watch this to get the song’s full effect…The Brilliance – Brother

 

A Nobler Task

I voted this morning after dropping my girls off at school, and it felt fabulous to tangibly help this election cycle be over. The long slog of this combative race has worn me out, along with the entire nation. Like the yellowed leaves outside my window today, we have withered. You can see it on the faces of anyone who doesn’t love arguing for the sake of arguing; everyone is ready to move on. We, as a collection of Republicans and Democrats, Green Party members, Libertarians and independents now have to start the harder process of getting along. Ranting about them is easy. Getting along with all the thems is a much harder, and nobler, task.

A giant chunk of our population will be upset tomorrow. And a giant chunk will be happy, or at least relieved. Either way things fall, this is true. And we will all still be living in the same country, with the need to plow ahead. Wounds will need binding. Not gloating poured over them like salt.

A friend just emailed me with an election story. She got a text last night from a friend whose husband just announced he was voting, unexpectedly, for a certain candidate. Both my friend and the wife were appalled, and it caused my friend to question how on earth this could happen. They had discussed politics together and he never let on that he was even thinking this way. In pondering this she came to realize, just today, why he might vote the way he did. And while it didn’t bring agreement, it brought understanding on her part. Some empathy. And that, my friends on both sides of the aisle, is exactly what we need.

Tomorrow, we start over. Bind up some wounds with empathy.

To encourage us as we plow ahead into whatever tomorrow brings, here are some fine words someone else (the band Gungor) wrote that say what I’m saying in a more poetic, more memorable way. Let’s put this into practice in the coming days…

Give and take

Snow or sand it’s all the same from far away

You and me

We’re the stuff of stars

With eyes to see

 

I can’t meet you eye to eye

But I can take your hand in mine

 

We are better together

We are the ocean tide

The freedom and the anchor

When we’re together

 

We are better together

We are the day and night

Together we are stronger

We are stronger

 

We are better together

There is no real divide

The winter and the summer

We are stronger

All together

 

Every black life matters

Every woman matters

Every soldier matters

All the unborn matter

Every gay life matters

Fundamentalists matter

Here’s to life and all it’s branches

 

And here’s where you can hear the song…

(https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-Lkry-SF01&hsimp=yhs-SF01&hspart=Lkry&p=gungor+we+are+stronger#id=1&vid=3af35ac8cb3edb6af5031b49efa3d3f5&action=click)

 

Them Becomes We

 

Seventeen people were shot and killed in Chicago over the weekend, making it the deadliest weekend of the year, in the deadliest year since the 1990s. I was there. But my experience was markedly different. I spent Friday night riding on the El to a concert by one of my favorite singer-songwriters and back again with hundreds of Cubs fans. Besides the mini-dream-come-true of seeing Foy Vance live, the night left me with some significant reminders about humanity, completely contrasting the record-breaking violence.

The World Series happened to be occurring in the same city as did the friends we were visiting.  In the same part of Chicago in which we attended the concert. And we just happened to miss our stop on the train. We got off next to Wrigley Field to wait for the return and saw the light flooding out of the baseball field, the dozens of police in yellow vests on the street below, and heard the crowd roar. That roaring crowd, the hordes of fans dressed in blue and red, the general excitement running through the air, all reminded me how in-this-together we are. It was electric, full of possibility. And I don’t even care about baseball.

During Foy’s set he played what is probably his best known song, Guiding Light (which has been covered many times by Ed Sheeran) and the crowd sang along. It’s a song about his father’s death, but lined with so much hope. It’s unclear what light is guiding Foy – his father was a Christian preacher, but it appears he has wrestled with his beliefs over the years. My faith colors my take on the song, and the experiences of those watching the show on Friday night color theirs. But everyone sang along. Which is fascinating. I looked around the room, people on the floor level and lining the balcony above, and smiled at the scene. Many people closed their eyes as they sang the lyrics…

When I need to get home

You’re my guiding light

You’re my guiding light

Voices raised in a common, human, calling out to something greater than themselves, echoing an innate sense that this isn’t it. That there’s something more beyond the limits of our lives in real time. To me it was a song of hope sung as a sign of hope. It didn’t hurt that I adore Foy’s music – I’m sure that also affected my optimistic mood. But singing with other people, with good lyrics, as the music faded out, and only our voices remained, was lovely and chilling and a glimmer of what’s good. Scientifically, it was simply sound bouncing around the room. But metaphysically, it was more.

We thought we would miss the post-game crowds since the concert ended much later than the Cubs lost, but not so. The first train that came was full-to-bursting with fans. Disappointed fans. It would have been mayhem had the team won, but since they’d be flying the L at the stadium the next day things were calm. When the next train arrived it looked much the same, but we decided to wade into the crowded waters. I was the very last person onboard, with the doors against my shoulder, nothing to hold onto but my friend. It reminded me of Japan during rush hour, but with fewer business suits and more baseball caps.

As we wobbled along with hundreds of others toward South Chicago – where that night two people were killed as they sat in their car outside a gas station – I assessed the scene again. A man with slicked back hair and red loafers to match his jersey jammed privately with his headset. A tiny woman with “Cubs” painted on her cheeks and bow-shaped earrings held onto the pole to my left. A Latino man with a box of pizza hopped on at the next stop. All sorts of people – colors, shapes, sizes – were crammed in together with no option of caring what anyone looked or smelled like. It was a perfect picture of in-this-together. As humans. Cubs fans and not.

The night left me with a distinct feeling of community and the importance of it. It reminded me how good it is for us to cheer with one another, to sing with one another, to be crammed together into small spaces (for a short time). They connect us in ways that being separated into different parts of town, in our own homes, away from the messy and confusing masses of people cannot. Privacy and alone time have their place. But so does being thrown together with humanity.

For a moment, it’s no longer them. It becomes we. And understanding, not violence, rears it’s lovely head.

Layover

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for a flight. On the very edge of this particular terminal, before an entire wall of windows. Looking out into a view of clouds and an expanse of plains. Cars inch along a road in the distance, tiny against the slice of land and the broad swath of sky. Airplanes taxi across runways to my left and right, as if in slow motion. It’s growing dark, the sun easing its way down in the west, the east getting sleepy.

My flight is not for another hour and only a few passengers have made their way to the gate. It is quiet, save the intermittent instructions over the intercom -the quietest experience I’ve had in an airport for years. I’m thankful for this calm descent of day. I’ve had time to sit and think and look out of large windows – one of my favorite past times.

I watched a bunny hop through a construction area and find a home for the night beneath a stack of green fencing. Dozens of workmen labored on the pavement to it’s left, hundreds of passengers, pilots and airport employees walked these terminal halls, and no one saw it but me. This was my experience alone. Insignificant to the world, but significant to myself. The way I love to watch a single cardinal pecking it’s way across my yard. Or a bee visiting each flower in a patch of liriope blooms. Quietly witnessing something so tiny happening at the same time that wars and Wall Street and LA traffic rage on. It’s centering and humbling and enormously pleasant.

I need this. When I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 23 I couldn’t find room to think. Just think. For years. I lost the ability to stop and have some thoughts that weren’t particularly industrious. I didn’t know that was a thing one could need. Thought I was silly to expect such an extravagancy in the bustling, busy world. But I’ve learned that I do, in fact, need quiet reflection for my sanity. And I would argue everyone does. At least it couldn’t hurt. Blame it on my pensive tendencies, or my writer’s heart. Or my humanity. But the bunny and the sky and the yellow plains outside these windows have been like medicine to me this evening. I thought my layover was too long. But it has turned out to be just right.

 

For Every One Of Us

The significance of delight. Our right to make things simply because we are alive. The creativity that lurks, no, waits to explode, within us if we will just let it out.

These are a few of my takeaways from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I often listen to her podcast by the same name and continue to chew on many of the things she dishes out in both. I’ve copied down several quotes that have inspired or challenged me, and I’ve wanted to share them all. But in order to keep my post from being as long as her book I’ve narrowed it down to three heavy hitters.

So here are some of the best bits, in no particular order…

Actually, I lied. This is kind of the very best bit, and it’s a quote from someone else. I’ve adopted it as a personal belief statement. Of how I view the world and the base from which I intend to jump my whole life long:

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”

                                                                                      -Jack Gilbert

Hallelujah that someone said it and said it so well. To claim gladness as a worthwhile, even essential, point of view. Something to hold on to amidst the mess of the world around us. To find the light in the darkness, the glimmer of a gem within the muck, the cool breeze inside the ruthless furnace. If you’ve read my writing before, you might have noticed this jives with just about everything that comes out of my brain and onto the computer screen. I look for the good in the bad innately, because my DNA and experience says I should, but also because I’ve decided I should. Because, as my kindred spirit Jack says, giving all our attention to the injustice and pain and ick is to praise it. No thank you. (Pay attention, nightly news.) I can’t stress enough how much this is a YES to me.

And then…

“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design. Even if you grew up watching cartoons in a sugar stupor from dawn to dusk, creativity still lurks within you. Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you – the same way it hunted down your ancestors.”

My great grandma made quilts, painted, wrote stories, made clothes, planted a garden the size of a football field, and her kitchen counter was covered in jars of spices – easy access for cooking and baking edible works of art. She wasn’t paid to do it; creativity was bursting inside her and had to come out.

My grandmother made quilts and crocheted baby hats for my babies, and baby doll hats for their babies. She entertained with joy and flair, creating experiences for others with her gift of hospitality.

My grandfather crafted sermons, wrote and edited for a magazine, and could fix anything with his able hands.

My mother has writing in her bones and she makes homemade cards for everyone (these little works of art are so special my children keep them in their treasure boxes).

My dad – oh my – he draws, he paints, he makes wood-strip canoes and tree-ship tree houses and 3-D pirate ship puzzles. He has written a fantasy novel about squirrels. Inspiration has found it’s ultimate host in my father.

And this is just one side of my lineage.

I can attest to Elizabeth Gilbert’s claim that all people ever have had creativity welling up in them. If you look back at your forebears I suspect you will find this, too. From the mathematician to the bricklayer to the only-on-weekends pianist. We are all makers. There is no boss deciding who’s allowed to make stuff. We’re alive, so we can.

And finally…

“…you have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

So get on it! This was my pep talk to get the show on the road of writing for real. Pursuing it as more than a three-hour-a-week endeavor. I’m excited and scared and back to excited about saying with my life that I believe this quote is true. And you should too, in whatever way brings you joy. Pick a curiosity (that’s another main point of Gilbert’s book) and follow it. See what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But it won’t be a waste of time. You’ll be using your inborn creative juices for fun, and possibly the benefit of those around you.

And you should probably read Big Magic. It’s for every one of us. If you have a pulse, you can make things. Congratulations and get to work.

 

Yes. And Yes.

Sometimes a particular idea will come at me from all directions. As if it’s supposed to. Even a single word can become a theme for a period of time in my life. Remember, gather, and sit have all been recent centerpieces of my thoughts. But the words for this summer that really hit home were both/and, stuck together just like that. I’ve actually thought about them before – wrote a post by the same title a couple years ago (see here), but this summer it was if every podcast I heard, conversation I had and book I read was related to these words. Surely that’s an exaggeration, but when a thought wants to be considered I think it makes itself known. This summer, both/and came crashing through the ether.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about it in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. After a couple hundred pages of explaining why creativity is both innate in us as human beings and essential to living life to the fullest, and also often taken too seriously by the creators themselves, she summarizes the dichotomy on the last page:

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.

What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.

We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.

We are terrified, and we are brave.

Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.

Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.”

It makes no sense and it makes total sense. This is the both/and. Both things are true at the same time. Just as I love my children and they make me crazy. It’s even a scientific principle.

I’ve written about this particular genius before, but he’s worth another whole post. His view of the world is that impactful. I heard the nobel prize-winning physicist and author of the book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, Frank Wilczek on the podcast OnBeing speak about both/and from a different vantage point. Using a different name. Complementarity was first coined by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. It deals with the concept that two contrasted theories may be able to explain a set of phenomena, although each separately only accounts for some aspects. In simpler language: that two things can be possible at once, even if not seen at once, and that a fuller understanding accounts for both. For example, light is both found in wave form and in particle form, and though not observed as both at once, together they present a fuller description than either of the two taken alone.

This can be applied to just about every part of life. Complementarity, both/and are all around us. It’s just another way of taking a new perspective on things, which always, always helps.

Humans are just a collection of particles and light, and they are also thinking, feeling beings.

Parenting depletes all your energy. Parenting fills you with overflowing love.

Faith is about action. Faith is about sitting still.

My husband and I love and support each other. My husband and I are grumpy and selfish.

My grandmother is 90 years old and full of old-age aches and pains. My grandmother is 90 years old and full of stories and giggles.

These are the best of times. These are the worst of times.

Chocolate is bad for you. Chocolate is good for you.

Republicans don’t know everything. Democrats don’t know everything.

Mosquitos spread disease and misery everywhere they go. Mosquitos (supposedly) serve some purpose in the world.

Life is painful. Life is joyful.

Neils Bohr thought physics described humans’ knowledge of the world. Einstein thought physics described God’s.

Yes. And yes.

None of these is mutually exclusive. All of these are true, though usually not at the same time. See? Both/and.

So how will I apply this today? Maybe the lady who is rude in the line at the grocery store is also a loving mother. When I listen to NPR and hear about death and crime and natural disasters, I’ll wait for the next story about a person who helped feed the homeless. When the political circus erupts all around me, I’ll remember that even Trump and Clinton are human beings with beating hearts just like mine. That one’s tougher, but it’s true. It does me good to remember.

Thank goodness for complementarity. For both/and. I’m fine with the dichotomy.

As Frank Wilczek points out, it’s all part of the beauty.