“You’ve Got to Stand for Something or You’ll Fall for Anything.”

121 columns later and this is my final piece to appear in the now-closed Warroad Pioneer, a small-town newspaper that had survived for over a century. If read chronologically, they tell the winding story of loss and heartbreak, growth and hope.

I stood a good ways back watching the huge balm of gilead before she fell. Up here, where they grow like dandelions, it’s easy to dismiss these trees as junk wood or “trash trees” as I’ve heard them called. But this peaceful old dame has healing ointment in her veins, salves for human wounds if it’s processed right. And she’s surely seen twice as many summers as I. Perhaps Iris, the graduating kindergartener, and I will count the rings later to verify. Continue reading ““You’ve Got to Stand for Something or You’ll Fall for Anything.””

Warroad Pioneer Assignment EOY Wrap-up for 2015

Column 17.5 Published in the Decebmer 22/29 double issue of the Warroad Pioneer

When I chose the title of this column early in 2015, or rather when it revealed itself to me, I understood very little about the concept of grace. As the events of the year unfolded and as I endured the growing pains of yet another emotional upheaval on life’s journey, grace became much more than just a concept.

Slowly at first, I started noticing all of the angels waiting in the wings for us to accept their aid. They and the aid came in many different forms, a compliment, encouragement, extra work, a shoulder, a smile or hug or phone call right when it was needed, a 2-year old’s reminder that her papa loved me too even if he wasn’t around anymore.

Angels are neighbors, family members, a purring kitten, a well-timed song, the kind owner of a grocery store, extra volunteers for Angle Days, and a hundred more and varied examples. When I paused for a moment during the pell mell rush of daily life, I saw that they were around me in abundance, and the benevolence of the universe rode on their wings like a warm swath of moonlight on the darkest night of the soul.

I’ve always believed that the universe, or God if you prefer, doesn’t give you more than you can handle. And in fact, you get exactly what you need to keep chugging along productively on your chosen path. Living in grace seems to be operating with an abiding faith that life is working For you not Against you, that God is on your side, that this is indeed a friendly universe, despite all news reports to the contrary.

Grace is not the real estate of the religious. You don’t have to live in righteous piety, though it doesn’t hurt, to experience divine flow. Grace belongs to all of us when we choose to remember. Moving to The Angle and all of the pendulum swings that have come with that choice has been yet another toll of the bells awakening me from my slumber. And with each little bit of awakening, I can see more clearly how deeply asleep we all are.

Looking back over the year in review, I realized I was always working on this or that. Here are five practices that have helped me awaken bit by tiny bit during this tumultuous year.

G-Gratitude

It’s easy to practice gratitude when things are going well, but what about finding grace in the suffering, seeing goodness in the hardships, saying Thank You for the harsh words. If I find myself complaining or if I say or hear someone else say the word “hate”, my practice is to find appreciation for that which I am judging. Instead of hating chapped lips, for example, I was able to feel gratitude for the reminder to drink more water and refill the humidifier. I’m still working on feeling grateful for Fox News, that’s been a tough one for me.

R-Reality

I don’t get a vote in what is. It happens the way it happens and I can either accept it and hopefully learn to love it, or I can suffer. That doesn’t mean I’m a doormat. It means that reality rules. Reality is king. Reality is God. My practice is to simply be aware of my feelings to the extent that they tell me when I am fighting reality. My suffering comes about when I fight what is.

A-Attachment

For a time, even the most benign interaction with my ex would leave my insides writhing in angry knots. All of the rage and self-pity at the way this part of my story turned out would then unfurl itself in an impatient mudslide of words torrential.

I had gotten attached to my plan. For many years, I truly believed that he was supposed to be a certain way and our relationship was supposed to be a certain way. But we all know what happens when we tell God our plans. I imagine she smiles, pats us on the head and amusedly says, “back to sleep now, little one.” When I experience stress, I understand I’ve gotten attached to something untrue.  This practice rolls in with nicely with the previous one. Pay attention to my stress to learn where I’m attached to something that isn’t reality.

C-Certainty

The older I get, the less certain I am about everything. Not knowing is a wonderful place to be. All possibilities are open to you. Magic is everywhere. There was definitely a time in my life when I thought I knew it all, and I’m humbled that people put up with me. Now, I can see that every time I think I’m certain about something, I’m not seeing its beautiful truth. It helps having an inquisitive toddler at my side. My practice is to try to see beyond the labels that we put on everything and everyone around us. “We call it an eagle, my love, but it is more than just its name, as is everything. It is a powerful bird of prey that fishes the quiet coves of our meandering lake or cleans the carcass of a road-killed deer. Look at its snowy white head and its wide wings. Many see it as a symbol of freedom and strength.  It would eat our new kitten for breakfast given the chance.”

E-Enough

I am enough. Even in all of my shortcomings, my ridiculous flaws, my concerted efforts that amount to not much at all, through grace, I am enough. Through grace, I will always have enough.  My practice is, again, a simple awareness exercise to notice when I am feeling lack or less than. It does take practice. Negative feelings can spiral into much bigger problems, and eventually disease, if left unchecked. I have to pay attention to how I feel throughout the day. Slowing down with some deep breaths or by looking in a mirror seem to help. I’ll use it as a mantra when I walk, repeating until the words sound almost non-sensical, “I am enough. I have enough.” It helps.

***

Thanks for wandering along this winding road with me throughout 2015. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season filled with the music of love and laughter.

 

No Mistakes

Column 7 Published in the July 28, 2015 Warroad Pioneer

We have a house full of visitors this week. The family has converged on the Angle for the wedding of the seventh sibling. I’m the fourth, if you go in order of age, and I’m the eighth, if you go in order of “having gotten married.”

Being single at the Angle isn’t something I’ve done for long, and, like backing up a boat trailer, it seems to gather an audience when you’d like one the least. Inexperience in any form here comes with a sharp learning curve, often costly repair work and either heartfelt empathy or a wizened guffaw depending on your chosen confidant. If, for example, a rookie housekeeper fails to notice a slightly cracked sliding door in the dead of winter on a condo that’s going to be shut down for the next two weeks. Or if a newcomer boats through a weed bed and doesn’t know to reverse and clear the prop. Or a new truck owner delights in the speed of his vehicle and the freedom of the gravel roads at the expense of the boat he’s forgotten he’s towing.

All true stories but only one’s mine, thankfully, or I may very well have tucked tail and headed back to the ease of city-living. Oh, there’s been countless other laughable offenses on my part since moving here, but if you’re a part-time believer in No Mistakes, as I am, these experiences should all be beautiful gifts, chances to grow and live life at a deeper level. I say “part-time” and “should” because life gets busy, ego takes over, and I forget.

I can hear one of our old rough necks saying it now, “there ain’t no room for ego at the Angle.” I think he might be referring to foolish pride and whether or not you’ve got capacity to swallow it when that time inevitably comes. Because it will.

The Angle is forgiving in some ways and utterly harsh and devoid of compassion in others. Make a “mistake” and people step up to help. You learn a lot. Build closer friendships. And then lend a hand in return. It seems the natural way of it.

Ever notice that there are no mistakes in nature? Not even the spotted fawn running in the opposite direction of its mother only to be mowed down by a beast of an RV is a mistake. The most valuable cellular memory a spirit animal can pass on to its kind is the fear of man and all our obnoxious trappings.

If nature could revile us and kick us out, it certainly has cause. We abuse the planet for our egoic gains and nature forgives and grows back slowly, persistently, and in more robust heartiness than before on the very scars we scraped across her back.

No, there is no inexperience in the plant world. They have it figured out. They don’t try to rally remorse when, for example, one of the signature great white pines on the way to the Angle, dying though it was, seemingly gets cut down too soon. There are no mistakes.

Or when small-town gossip teaches a lesson in advance of any probably-painful wrong-doing. There are no mistakes.

Or when motherhood, arguably the most difficult and important institution on this abused planet, becomes infinitely more complex when the label “single” enters the picture. No, there are no mistakes.

Abused planet? Nope. Not even that is a mistake.

We like to think we’re immune to most things here at the Angle. But in fact, we feel it all the more intensely, as is likely true of any microcosm. We have all variants of human kind in our midst, a check in each box on the social census, and at the same time we’re closer to nature and further from societal rules than most.

Does it make for easy living? In ways, yes. In ways, no. Does it ruin us for the outside world? Also, yes and no. It would be a great challenge to leave this place, embedded as I am, but we’re all as adaptable as the plant world, whether we know it or not. Grass will conquer pavement given time.

Does it make my visiting relatives wonder how in the world we can live here, just as I used to wonder? Of course. But then I see them raise an eyebrow at a real estate sign and I watch the wheels turn. Change doesn’t seem so awfully scary when I remember that there are no mistakes. And “mistakes” don’t seem so awful in general when I can view them with grace from a home like the Angle.