A different way to measure


Kathleen Norris writes about her niece (in her book Acedia and Me). When her niece was three, Kathleen’s brother would drive her to day care in the morning, and her mother, who worked as a stock-broker and financial planner, would pick her up in the afternoon. She always brought an orange, peeled so that her daughter could eat it on the way home. One day the child was busying herself by playing “Mommy’s office” on the front porch of her aunt’s house, and Kathleen asked her what her mother did at work. Without hesitation, and with a conviction to relish, she looked up and said, “She makes oranges.” 

In a world where what you do (achievement, celebrity, notoriety), makes you “somebody,” “making oranges” doesn’t compute.

Well. Maybe we need a different way to measure. 

I travel for work. People ask me, “Did you have a successful trip?”
“I’m certain I did,” I tell them. Although truth be told, I don’t always know. There is some kind of pegboard in our heads where we hang our worth or value. And it’s too easy to get worked up about finding the right peg.

Here’s the deal: Maybe success is about making oranges.
–Showing up.
–Being present.

It’s been a slow week in Manasota Key, Florida. Just what the doctor ordered. It is my birthday vacation excursion each year, with a list that doesn’t change much from year to year. “Do you have any big plans,” I will be asked.
Well, yes I do… I will walk the beach, look for shark’s teeth, savor conch fritters, count pelicans (and watch them glide just above the Gulf, their spacing to the water does not deviate, as if the bird and the water are repelling magnets), I will nap, I will stand knee deep in the water, and I will cheer the sunset each night.

With friends Ed and Kathleen, on the boat coming back up the intercostal from Stump Pass, the metal connecting engine to the rudders breaks loose, leaving us with a steering conundrum. We set the speed at mosey, and debate our options, until Kathleen finds the wisdom we need, “We don’t need to go home any faster than this.”

Sometimes we need a different way to measure. 

It brings to mind my mentor, Lew Smedes’ reminder, “Gratitude dances though the open windows of our hearts. We cannot force it. We cannot create it. And we can certainly close our windows to keep it out. But we can also keep them open and be ready for the joy when it comes.”
Living one open window at a time.

I once did a workshop where I asked the participants to describe life. One woman said, “Life is so… life is so… life is so… daily.”
Yes. She’s right. That is the secret.
The miracle is that there need not be a miracle–just a slow drip of experience. Being mindful of small things. If there are truly no unsacred moments, then the sacred is infused into this moment. This conversation. This person. Even the smallest or most banal thing deserves our undivided attention.

Or, in the words of William Kittredge, “Moments when nothing happened. What sweet nothing.”
In other words, we don’t run from the moment.
We don’t suffocate the moment with stuff.
We don’t sanitize the moment with platitudes.
We sit. We listen. We look. We taste. We smell. We see.
We look for the light of God in the most ordinary, and even the most dull, of contexts.

(I know that I preordain, when I hope or try to orchestrate, rather than just experience. I also know that whether it is experience or relationship or liturgy or prayer or meditation, if you don’t bring it with you, you’re not going to find it there.)

Sometimes we need a different way to measure. 

When we take this to heart, the story doesn’t just end there. It emanates. Gratitude always spills. It becomes a gift.

When a young girl in an African village heard that her visiting teacher would be leaving their village, she wanted to give her a special gift.  The girl didn’t have any money to buy a present for her teacher, but finally determined what she would do.
She was gone for two days. When she returned, she was carrying the most exquisite shell anyone in her village had ever seen. “Where did you find such a beautiful shell?” her teacher asked amazed. The child told her that such shells were found only on a certain faraway beach.
The teacher was deeply touched, because she knew that the girl had walked many miles to find the shell. “Why, it’s wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me.”
Her eyes brightening, the girl smiled and answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
Sometimes we need a different way to measure. 

I’ll be back in my garden tomorrow. It is winter now. There is a little snow left on the ground, and save for the dogwood stragglers, the leaves are gone. But I remember back to autumn when the changes in my garden were striking, and I spent time walking the pathways savoring the tapestry. One day, the leaves on our trees were still shades of green. Six days later, the garden is in full metamorphosis. And I am in third grade, thinking about crayons.

In the third grade, I had a Crayola Box of 12. I did not consider our family poor. But I knew that there were two classmates in my grade from “rich families.” One had the Crayola Box of 48. Another showed off her deluxe box of 64, with the built-in sharpener. We stood around her desk and marveled (our equivalent–in 1962–of a new iPhone). Do you remember the box of 64? Mercy. Did it get any better than that?

The picture in my mind is vivid, standing in K-Mart, on our family excursion to buy school supplies, late August, holding that box (knowing it was out of our family budget) and coveting. I never did own a box of 64–with the exotic shades of Mulberry, Goldenrod and Raw Sienna–and I made due with my 12, always making sure to color inside the lines. After all, I wanted to be somebody; and I knew the rules.

Thankfully, my garden has changed me. Now each autumn when I walk the pathways, I have my own box of 64. Our Vine maples look like a jellybean jar, leaves vary from milk chocolate to mustard to Marilyn-Monroe-lipstick. Nearby, the Katsura tree poses with an elegant posture, its leaves like miniature post-it notes and the color of peach-yellow. It stands out against the blood red leaves of Ninebark. And the licorice red leaves on the Sweetgum, and the scarlet Sumac. It’s an outrageous palate that calls for giddiness. Thankfully, nature does not worry about coloring outside the lines.

Quote for the week…

Lynne Twist talks about visiting a potter in Mexico. She admired the pottery, and commented on its beauty. She noticed that the potter had many pots and asked, “How many pots have you made?” The potter was surprised by the question. “Here,” he answered, “we don’t count such things.” The Soul of Money


How Did The Rose?
did the rose
ever open its heart
and give to this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
otherwise we all remain too

May Light always surround you;
Hope kindle and rebound you.
May your Hurts turn to Healing;
Your Heart embrace Feeling.
May Wounds become Wisdom;
Every Kindness a Prism.
May Laughter infect you;
Your Passion resurrect you.
May Goodness inspire
your Deepest Desires.
Through all that you Reach For,
May your arms Never Tire.
D. Simone

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  1. Every Fall…I make sure each student in my Sacrament Class has a new box of 12 crayons…all I can afford…because I know the feeling too.