Here in the PNW, winter is announced with storms. No, nothing compared to Maria. Or Jose, Irma or Harvey. But there is enough to rearrange your plans, now spending some days clearing downed trees from the driveway, and cutting up firewood.
When the wind blows hard enough that the power goes out, and the leaves that lingered, now litter the lawn, there’s an exclamation point, and a message: you can kiss your hope of an Indian summer Thanksgiving goodbye. This is easier said than done, given the reality that in the PNW we endure on hope, and more often than not, wishful thinking.
But storms are not always weather related, are they?
One thing all storms have in common—be it emotional, personal, political or weather—they require cleanup, and necessitate serious choices in their wake.
Today, I’m in the garden making a mental list of the cleanup still required from last week’s storms. And I remember another time, some years ago, when cleanup was necessary.
Behind our house is a small pond, fed by a meandering stream. I spent a good part of the morning rearranging the rocks—heaped in a pile—that once lined the streambed.
Raccoons visit every night, and practice forms of mayhem and destruction. (I suspect it is required education for all young raccoons.)
There are days when chaos doesn’t rattle my cage, but there are other days when it doesn’t take much to make me feel fragile. And close to a tipping point. You know, when annoying amounts of life’s cares have been amassed.
This is one of those days. So I stand, cursing delinquent rodents, just to hear my voice bounce around in the Fir trees behind my house. (Yes, I know that raccoons are not rodents, but they are next of kin in my book.)
I was fixing the streambed (a true case of futility or hopefulness, given the reality that my work will be undone sometime later tonight), when my son Zach (age 7) asks me what I’m doing.
“Fixing stuff,” I tell him.
Then I add some unpleasant things about our furry visitors, cast aspersions about their species in general, grumble about how little fun I am having, how this wasn’t on my agenda for the day, and how my life has been most assuredly inconvenienced.
“But dad,” Zach tells me, “everybody has raccoons in their life.”
Kids. Go figure.
I laugh and decide to keep rearranging rocks.
I need to start this Sabbath Moment with a confession.
Today’s world unnerves me too often. (Which surprises me, because I tell myself that I’m above all that, surely.) And yet, I find myself often on tilt; exhausted or angry or stupefied, or all of the above.
And it hits me, that life is complicated and catawampus enough without the need to add more pressure by parsing the categories (you know, we should be better than this). Because when we do, we live segmented and disconnected. And, we miss every opportunity to be present for whatever life holds today, especially the parts of life we didn’t sign up for.
So today, I need a different paradigm.
When cleanup is the primary (or only) agenda, I have a quandary…
You know, this is me, living inconvenienced.
Now this is me, really living life.
This is me, stuck in cleanup-life time.
Now this is me, in celebrate-life time.
This is me, in manage pain time.
Now this is me, in healing and moving past pain time.
It is as if we are living two different lives. If only one would end, for the other to begin. Paul Tournier’s reminder that “Many people spend their lives indefinitely preparing to live.”
Our old paradigm is the presupposition that life must be raccoon free. And we live cautious and suspicious and afraid. And the raccoon’s get to say how the story ends.
But what if cleanup isn’t the only task here?
What if, even in the midst, this life can be the source of joy, wonder, curiosity, well-being and grace?
What if, even in the midst, this life can be an invitation to both humility and empathy?
If I give up the need for control, I can admit to being human and to being broken, which is not a bad thing. Because when you are broken, you are open, and everything is a gift. As Jon Katz reminds us, “Humility is a gate, not a door, and when it opens, there is a whole other world to see.”
So this is our new paradigm.
Even in a world with raccoons, we can create places where people are nurtured, restored, affirmed, safe, and encouraged. And if I fail, I choose to be on the side of making amends and repairing what has been undone. This happens when we embrace the sacrament of the present moment, one person at a time.
I can’t improve on a story I heard about Rear Admiral Thornton Miller Chief. He was the Chaplain at Normandy in WWII. Someone asked him, “Up and down the beach, with the shells going everywhere, why did you do that?”
“Because I’m a minister.”
“But didn’t you ask if they were Catholic or Protestant or Jew?”
“If you’re a minister, the only question you ask is, ‘Can I help you?'”
“When I get to heaven,” someone told me about finding freedom from the inconveniences in their life.
“Good luck with that,” I told him. “But I’m pretty sure that if you can’t celebrate life here, you’ll be hard pressed to learn how to boogie and spill generosity and empathy there.”
Or to put it another way; if we can’t see God here, how will we recognize God when we are there?
Ignatian spirituality talks about “seeing God in all things.”
This theory was tested just the other night in my car, driving southwest at sunset time. At one point the road offered a perfect frame for the evening pageant. The sun, as it seems to do every night, pauses just above the horizon, as if a benediction on the day. I have heard people say (about conversations or trips or interactions), “I may not get a chance to do (or see or enjoy) that again.”
Okay, I tell myself, it’s time to pull over on this island road and savor the miracle (just because it’s daily doesn’t make it less of a miracle does it?)
As the sun disappears, it’s as if a detonation of color is released and the western sky is satiated with shades and layers of tangerine.
No, it doesn’t get any better than this. But if I ‘fess up, I was tempted to file it away, treating it like any number of not-to-miss moments. We can’t just take delight and let it be, can we?
Our internal scorekeeper feels compelled to have the final word. And it’s no wonder that so many moments get buried, or worse, chastised for not measuring up. (“That was an okay sunset…”)
When life does turn left or the raccoons plague, we shift into our segmented self (our tribal sides), afraid to embrace the moment unless we deserve it, or will fully utilize it, or not waste it, or do our best to tidy it up and tone down the sadness. I do believe that our scorekeeper could use a week off.
I can’t guess what kind of raccoons you are tussling. But I’m sure that you are. What to do? You can laugh and decide to keep rearranging rocks. Or try this solution offered by a creative islander. (Posted this week on our local version of Craigslist.) Help Needed: Remove raccoons for Dutch Apple PIE!
There is a family of raccoons living in my neighbor’s laurel hedge (tall) bordering my property and they are causing a ruckus all night long very near my house, getting on the roof (I think), etc. If someone can come trap and remove them or find another way to get rid of them, I will bake you an amazing Dutch Apple Pie (or two)!
Hey, we may never pass this way again. That’s worth a bite or two of Dutch Apple Pie.
A Happy Thanksgiving to you all…
Quotes for your week…
The future is no place to place your better days. Dave Matthews
There are no unsacred moments. Terry Hershey
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Why We Dance…
to dance is to pray;
to pray is to heal;
to heal is to give;
to give is to live;
to live is to dance.
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
from To Bless the Space Between Us