In her delightful book Life is a Verb, Patti Digh writes about a visit to Washington D.C. She has traveled to meet her husband David. Her flight arrives in the afternoon, so they decide to grab a cup of tea before dinner, choosing a restaurant near Dupont Circle. It is a little after 3 p.m. and there are only four tables occupied.
They order drinks. When the waiter returns he asks, “What can I get you?”
“What I’d really love,” Patti tells him, “is a piece of toast and this side of avocado slices.” She points to the menu.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” the waiter says, beginning a statement (writes Digh) that would mark The End of Civilization As We Know It; “I’m sorry, but it’s past toast time.”
“Past toast time?”
“Yes, ma’am, it’s past toast time.”
“Wow. And here I never actually knew there was an official toast time.”
The waiter’s demeanor, impervious.
She thought about asking whether they had a toaster… and bread… and electricity… but decided against it.
Talk about the light-bulb-of-enlightenment. There are moments that define our days. And it’s reassuring to know that in certain reputable establishments, we have Official Toast Time.
I did laugh out loud when I read her story, but truth be told, her story is not that uncommon. We all live, or experience parts of life with some kind of wacky blinders. It probably has something to do with our appetite for comfort or security or likely, control.
It reminds me of Robert Capon’s insight that we live like ill-taught piano students. So concerned about playing the right notes, we never hear the music.
Let’s be clear: hearing the music is not about sacrificing moral clarity or engagement or ambition. Hearing the music is about nurturing personal grounding, which gives our engagement a soul, and gives our soul a voice. An invitation to live fully into this moment, cultivating authenticity, integrity and transparency. A calling to be our best selves through silence and song, community and ritual, listening and compassionate presence. Because the music, wakes us up (as our Buddhist friends would remind us).
Let’s just say that Official Toast Time distracts us, and we too easily settle into numb.
In church, in our prayer of confession (still using words Thomas Cranmer wrote in 1549), we say, “We have done those things we ought not to have done. And we have left undone those things which we ought to have done.” They still resonate.
In other words, there are choices. Every day. I’m grateful for Krista Tippett’s take (in Becoming Wise) on this. I make ordinary everyday bungles that impoverish me on the inside.
So I confess to…
A failure to take in beauty and let it put things in their place.
A failure to be grateful, as a habit.
A failure to take the time to attend to the hurting stranger.
A failure to be my best self with those I share life and work with.
A failure to forgive others for not being their best selves with me.
Digh’s story is an invitation to me.
Because here’s the deal: when we are focused only on the notes (fear of what people think, need to impress or get ahead or alienate, have our life fit in the right box, or suffer apprehension when coloring outside the lines), we live self-consciously (always looking over our shoulder).
And I don’t want to do that. And I don’t believe you do either.
Because when we do, we have been known to squeeze the joy out of just about anything. Or worse, we rob ourselves of the very joy that has been gifted to our heart and spirit.
Or maybe, it is our self that gets squeezed out. This description from DH Lawrence, “He was always charming, courteous, perfectly gracious, in that hushed, musical voice of his. But absent. When all came to all, he just wasn’t there.”
Official Toast Time (fixating on right notes) happens in ways big and small:
In the middle ages, people were discouraged from exploration (or maybe from just being different), because no one knew what was beyond the maps; “there be dragons there.”
And as a child I remember running down the aisle in church, playing tag with a friend and laughing (it was empty on a Sunday afternoon, the laughter bouncing from stained glass to stained glass, until I was upbraided quite sternly by the pastor, who told me in no uncertain terms, “there is no laughing in church.”) (Now as an adult, when I visit some churches, I see that he is right, for there hasn’t been laughter there in years.)
This week someone wrote me to ask, “How, exactly, does one find sanctuary in the middle of what feels like nationalized craziness?” Good question. But the last thing we need is someone adding more to our plates with an equivalent of Official Toast Time. I’m in favor of finding sanctuary, especially in craziness. If we let craziness (noise) grip us, it gets dizzying, and we lose track of the music. But sanctuary is sustained by hearing the music, regardless of our circumstances. Why? Because the music is still there. Buried maybe, but still there.
It’s tempting to give instructions. And suggestions are okay, as long as they don’t become constraints. That being said… if instructions would be helpful for you, start with these five:
Rule #1 – Be gentle with yourself. Give voice to your soul
Rule #2 – Pay attention. Even if only for five minutes. What do you see, hear, taste, smell and touch? Be here.
Rule #3 – Take a deep breath. Let it out and say “thank you.” Literally.
Rule #4 – Don’t be afraid to let your heart out.
Rule #5 – Try it again tomorrow.
Andre Dubus wrote stories about regular people like bartenders, mechanics, waitresses and the like. In 1986, after publishing several books of short stories, Dubus stopped to help a woman and a man stranded on the side of the highway, and he was hit by a passing car. He saved the woman’s life by throwing her out of the way, but he lost one of his legs and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He said, “Some of my characters now feel more grateful about simple things — breathing, buying groceries, sunlight — because I do.” He also said, “We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got.” Yes. And the light spills from ordinary lives, in ordinary moments, one touch at a time. One moment of wonder at a time. One moment of being fully alive, fully awake, fully present, at a time.
I believe that we all want to make a difference. Or make the world a better place. But living by Official Toast Time muddies the water. So spill your light this week. And remember, that care of any kind can only begin with self-care.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those suffering under Hurricane Harvey’s onslaught.
The solar eclipse lived up to the hype. Did you see it? I tell people it was worth it if only for the fact that it motivated several million young people to spend time outdoors. Just sayin’.
At home here in the garden, there are cucumbers, tomatoes, leeks, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans and beets. And, blackberries.
A barred owl visited, parked on a fir branch near the back patio the other day, and bequeathed a bit of wisdom. My favorite, “It wouldn’t hurt you to pay attention,” he whispered.
Quote for your week…
My Lord told me a joke.
And seeing Him laugh has done more for me
than any scripture I will
Meister Eckart (1260-1328)
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Whatever happens to me in life,
I must believe that somewhere,
In the mess or madness of it all
There is a sacred potential–
A possibility for wondrous redemption
In the embracing of all that is.
Edwina Gateley, A Mystical Heart
Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
In the morning light, O God,
may I glimpse again your image deep within me
the threads of eternal glory
woven into the fabric of every man and woman.
fashioned in your likeness
deeper than knowing
more enduring than time.
and in glimpsing these threads of light
amidst the weakness
and distortions of my life
let me be recalled
to the strength and beauty deep in my soul.
Let me be recalled
to the strength and beauty of your image in every living soul.
Celtic Benediction. J Philip Newell