A businessman walks the airport concourse, on his way to baggage claim. His flight is late in arriving, and his mood is melancholy. This is the end of a long business trip; his energy spent and his emotions raw. If not for the late arrival, he’d head to the local pub for a nightcap.
On the flight, he reads a book about business and realizing success. About how to make your life really matter. He liked its emotional and motivational intensity, and made a mental list of his own life priorities and goals. And all the places he had fallen short. And where and how he needed to improve.
He picked up his suitcase and knew that if he was lucky, and the timing worked with the airport parking shuttle, he’d be home by nine. He would be there in time to say good night to his daughter Leila. He smiled and quickened his steps.
It had been a longstanding ritual; after each of his business trips, he would bring his daughter a gift, some token of his trip, some reminder that he thought of her. Or, more truthfully, some way to make up for the fact that he was gone.
During his layover (in a sprawling Texas airport), he stopped in one of the souvenir shops (designed for forgetful or bored or guilt-ridden travelers), and picked up a t-shirt with a picture of a funny looking armadillo.
”What size is right for a six-year-old girl?” he asked the clerk.
”Is that all you’re buying?” She shrugged and said. “Credit or cash?”
Just a few minutes before nine, the businessman pulled his car into his driveway. He dropped his suitcase at the door, kissed his wife and headed for his daughter’s room.
”Daddy,” she said, “We waited up. Mom said it was okay. We’re so glad to see you. We made a space. Come sit here with T-Bear and me, and let us hug you.”
He leaned over, gave his daughter a kiss, and lifted the gift shop sack onto the bed. “I brought you something.”
”That’s okay Daddy.” She said. “Tonight T-Bear and I don’t need anything. We just want you to sit here with us, and tell us a story. All we want, is one good story.”
He hugged his daughter and kissed T-bear on the head, not altogether sure about the protocol for kissing teddy bears. He was quiet for a good deal of time, enjoying the warmth of his daughter as she leaned against his chest, the reassurance of her cadenced breathing and the sweet fragrance of her hair and shampoo.
He forgot about the book he read on the plane.
He forgot about the list he made to maximize success.
He forgot about the expectations and goals that awaited him on his office desk.
And he knew: this moment alone matters.
This sacred moment.
“I missed you and T-Bear,” he said. And then he began, “Okay. I have just the story. Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a princess. She looked a lot like you.”
”Oh Daddy,” Leila said, “I think this is going to be a good story.”
“I would ask you to remember only this one thing, the stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good storytellers. Never forget these obligations.” (Thank you Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel)
Yes. The stories people tell.
Because here’s the deal: there is power in stories that ground us, that tell us who we are. From that grounded place grows hope and gratitude and courage and resilience and compassion and kindheartedness. Stories that can be too easily battered by the undercurrent of the non-essential.
In Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad story Alone, Frog goes to an island to be alone. This makes Toad very sad, and he sets about to make things right, to fix things, to cheer Frog up. He makes a lunch and hitches a ride with a turtle to Frog’s island.
“Toad slipped off the turtle. With a splash, he fell into the river.
Frog pulled Toad up onto the island. Toad looked into the basket.
The sandwiches were wet. The pitcher of iced tea was empty.
‘Our lunch is spoiled,’ said Toad. ‘I made it for you Frog so that you would be happy.’
‘But Toad,’ said Frog, ‘I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a Frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.'” (Frog and Toad are Friends)
My week began with unrealistic expectations, and better than decent odds for some kind of disappointment.
But I learned from my buddies Frog and Toad. Because the stories that ground us, connect us. We are not on this journey alone.
So, this week I let go of my agenda.
And I rested. I experienced Sabbath. And I felt nourished by gratitude.
And here’s the very best part; I didn’t even try to figure out how it happened.
I don’t have any great tools to give you. Except this one: Meister Eckert’s advice, “If you can only learn one prayer, make it this one: Thank you.”
Not a bad place to start.
Gratitude did not take away any of the difficult decisions or conundrums of my week. But it sure kept me from looking in my rear-view mirror. Gratitude allowed me to live this life, and not the one I always figured that I’ll trade this one in for.
Gratitude allowed me to invest in what I could see, hear, taste, touch and smell in the moment.
Gratitude allowed me to partake in the joys of the everyday, to see the sacred in the very, very ordinary.
Gratitude gave me the story that kept me grounded this week. And I’m richer for it.
Have you said Thank You this week?
Lord knows I’m the last person to be giving assignments, but even though Thanksgiving is past, and leftovers consumed, there is always an invitation for gratitude.
This week I have been working in the sun. And I am grateful for the sunrise over Tampa Bay, watching the clouds change color from oyster to periwinkle to azure, and the way the shadows form swirls of licorice on the water.
I am grateful for the grace and touch and blessed reassurance from a friend.
I am grateful for people who (really) believe in me, even when I am certain I can’t be that lucky.
I am grateful for the rainbow I savored the morning after Thanksgiving, an affirmation and blessing on a world that aches for healing.
I am not at all grateful for the thumping Ohio State gave the University of Michigan. Lord have mercy.
However, this afternoon I am grateful for Wat Mongkolratanaram, Tampa’s Thai Buddhist Temple Sunday market, where the fragrance of papaya and Guiteow mingles seamlessly with the comforting breeze from salt water and the reassuring intentional stillness of people at prayer.
Quote for your week…
Our true home is in the present moment. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. Peace is all around us–in the world and in nature–and within us; in our bodies and our spirits. Thich Nhat Hanh
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.
I am surprised sometimes
by the suddenness of November:
beauty abruptly shed
to a common nakedness–
of people I’ve lost.
It is left to those of us
dressed in the hard
barky skin of experience
to insist on a decorum
that rises to the greatness
of a true Thanksgiving.
This is not a game
against a badly scheduled team,
an uneven match on an uneven pitch.
This is Life.
This is Life.
This is Life.
Not politely mumbled phrases,
murmured with a practiced and meticulous earnestness.
Thanksgiving was born a breech-birth,
a screaming appreciation for being alive–
for not being one of the many
who didn’t make it–
who couldn’t moil through
another hardscrabble year
on tubers and scarce fowl.
Thanksgiving is for being you.
There are no thanks without you.
You are the power of hopeful promise;
you are the balky soil turning upon itself;
you are bursting forth in your experience.
You are not the person next to you–
not an image or an expectation.
You are the infinite and eternal you–
blessed, and loved, and consoled
by the utter commonness
and community of our souls.
We cry and we’re held.
We love and we hold.
We are the harvest of God,
to a new thanksgiving.
God of autumn, the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurities and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.
God of fallen leaves, lying in coloured patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.
God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power filled presence. May we gain strength from this.