As I sat at a coffee shop, I could see a couple across the plaza. The young woman went into a clothing store and left her partner sitting on an outside bench. He kept watching as she brought garments to the window. Usually he laughed at her choice and she joined in his response. Then she brought a glittery dress and he nodded a “yes.” She jumped up and down, holding the dress to her chest. When she came out of the store, she hugged him. They leaned into one another and talked and laughed. Their enthusiasm and delight in one another was infectious.
When was the last time I jumped up and down at a suggestion of my partner of friend? Love is animated, responsive and fun. How might this couple’s energy inform my interactions this day?
Paul, my brother-in-law, fixes old clocks. On his last visit, we brought out a coo-coo clock for him to examine. My husband held a flash light as Paul squinted to find the problem. After hours of working with tiny parts and long chains, he put the clock on the wall for a test. He asked me to lean in and listen and tell him if the tick-tock sound was an even beat on both sides. I listened and reported that the sound was a quick tick and a long tock. He patted one side of the clock roof until the adjustment put the clock ticking in balance. He said that the lack of this basic “test” ruined many a coo-coo clock.
Our lives are a lot like this clock. We need frequent attunements. When we rush around and lose balance we become out-of-sync and end up “run down.” Listening to our lives for a steady rhythm and making adjustments allows us to remain steady and at peace.
We had a phone call from another nonprofit. They asked if we knew of any “deserving” young girl who might like to go to the Justin Bieber concert the following night. I said “yes” we know of several fine middle school girls and arranged to get the tickets. Then I started to get concerned about a fair process as I knew I would see at least 12 young girls later in the afternoon—all formerly homeless and coming for tutoring.
I thought of having a quiz on Bieber—and the girl who knew the most would get to go. I spent some time getting some facts on this young man for this strategy. What is his middle name? What is his favorite number? But then I kept thinking about the unbelievable chaos and ongoing disappointment in the lives of these girls. I did not want to contribute to any more of this kind of trauma.
I asked the director of the housing unit if she thought Brooklyn’s mother might take her to the concert. “No,” came the answer, “she works at night.” I did not even know if Brooklyn liked Justin Bieber—even though most 13 year old girls do.
As we were waiting for the children to come to tutoring and I was still fussing about what we might do with these two golden tickets (worth over $150.!) one of our college volunteers came through the door. I asked if she was finished with her finals. She said “yes, this morning.” So I asked her if she might be available to take a teenager to a concert the next day. She said “yes.” Then Brooklyn walked in and not knowing if her mother would let her go, I simply asked her if she liked Justin Bieber. Her eyes got wide and I knew that meant “yes.” So I called her mother and she said “yes.”
So this young person—a beautiful and smart girl who has been homeless much of her young life—got to be with Justin Drew Bieber—whose favorite number is 6. And joy was felt by all of us! Sometimes we go with what seems “right in our hearts” and not necessarily with what might be seen as “fair” as we glide through this grace-filled life.
I went to a store in order to purchase thirty gift cards for families at Partnership Village. A young woman at the store helped me find the card with the amount we wanted and led me to her cash register.
I noticed that the heavy floor mat that usually provided comfort for the cashiers was not on her side but on my side of the counter. I asked her about this and she smiled and said: “I have a lot of elderly customers and they need it more than I do.” Then she asked me who I was purchasing the cards for and I told her about the transitional housing just a few miles away and described our tutoring program. Her face lit up and she asked about the tutoring. She said maybe she could adjust her hours and bring over her teenage daughter and they could both tutor.
As I wrote my name and phone number on a card, she said she is only able to support her family because “someone once helped me.”
This woman taught me how living is giving, when we live out of the compassion of our hearts.
I was enthusiastically telling someone about an event that several of us are planning for the weekend. It involves a performance, a panel discussion, a reception with local food and wine and some background music. Everyone has put a lot of energy into this event. After my description and invitation for her to come her response was: “It is supposed to snow this Saturday.” I mumbled: “Oh, I had not heard.” We parted and I started to think of what I would do to cancel—the possibilities soared through my brain. My enthusiasm for the event turned to worry with those seven words. As I walked toward my office I decided to pretend she had offered another seven-word response like: “Wow! That sounds like a great event!”
Sometimes, in our attempt to be helpful, we make dire predictions. Naturally, as the recipient, we can ignore, take heed or pretend. Perhaps we can pause before we communicate a warning and consider the helpfulness of the words.
An interview with a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jonathan Franzen, struck me. When asked about his creative process, he said he wakes up in the morning and attempts to keep that stillness alive through breakfast. He does not read a newspaper or turn on the radio on the drive to work. He said he enters “a cold dark room” and sits in this sparseness until he can access the story deep inside him. He went on to say that we all could be so much more creative if we slowed down, eliminated the external noise and rested in our own hearts.
What might I subtract from the outside in order to add to my life inside?
Last night I had a funny and poignant dream. An artist friend of mine gave me a makeover. She dressed me in a red turtleneck shirt and a long jeans jumper. She cut my hair and dyed it blonde. Then she draped a two inch black ribbon around my neck and around my body and hands. I told her my hands felt awkward. She said “just hold them lightly over the pockets. It will be okay.”
When I woke up I considered how much of my life I wanted a makeover (with thinner thighs and straighter hair) and how often I convinced myself that “my hands were tied” in certain situations. Yet no matter what I may look like (on the outside) and no matter how challenging the circumstance I can, with compassion, communicate.
What might life look like if we let go of what we cannot control and focused instead on the intelligence of our hearts? And then spoke.