It’s déjà vu all over again. I just came in from watching the sunset. I’m in Englewood Beach (on Florida’s west coast on Manasota Key), where I return every May to spend a few days with some old friends. It’s a ritual. And yes, they are old, as in we’ve been friends a long time–over 30 years. And yes, they are old, as in they (like me) take an odd pleasure in getting their AARP discount at the movie theater.
We spent the days on Ed’s boat, swapping stories, talking about the way life is, and the way life should be if we were in charge. And how life is not easy for some of us–struggles and challenges with kids, or jobs, or health, or marriages, or retirement and making ends meet, or expectations (selective blindness). Or all of the above.
We don’t use our time making a Bucket List (or replay yesteryear’s regrets… well maybe a little), but instead, enjoy the days with its endowment of gifts, taking great delight in the little things.
When the sun dissolves on the horizon, and the water turns the color of spewed lava, my friend Ed blows a conch shell. It is his variation on a Benedictine Compline, a prayer to end the day. We raise our glasses and toast life and these moments of grace.
Invited to guest preach at another parish, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor asked the priest, “What do you want me to talk about?”
“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he told her.
Taylor writes, “I did not have to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.” (From An Altar in the World)
Joseph Campbell says that we must “have a room, or a certain hour (or so) a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. . .if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
With plenty of disquieting news (yo-yoing between must-watch and fixation) this week, we need sacred places more than ever. But if I’m honest, it’s the kind that makes me want to go sit in my garden, ignore the creditors, pull a few weeds, open a bottle of wine, eat dark chocolate and listen to Otis Redding. I avoid all conversations that presuppose the very worst.
Yes, I know that bad stuff happens. But I also know that it’s not about what can go wrong, it’s about where we choose to look, or see, or how we pay attention. And more importantly, recognizing that we get to say how the story ends.
This from Fredrik Backman’s Every day the way home gets longer (a conversation between Noah and his Grandpa).
We have to write essays all the time! The teacher wanted us to write what we thought the meaning of life was once.
What did you write?
Grandpa closes his eyes.
That’s the best answer I’ve heard.
My teacher said I had to write a longer answer.
So what did you do?
I wrote: Company. And ice cream.
Grandpa spends a moment or two thinking that over. Then he asks: what kind of ice cream?
Noah smiles. It’s nice to be understood.
Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” That’s a good one to bank on. So that’s what we did; Allowed ourselves to be enchanted. Giddy at the sightings of soaring manta rays, in awe watching gentle manatees play in the Gulf near our boat, silenced in amazement at a family of osprey (mom and dad with four young), imperial and imposing in their nest above the sign that read “Manatee Zone. Slow speed. Minimum Wake.”
We pointed at dolphins and herons and egrets. And enjoyed sunsets that made us forget everything on our worry list. (Sitting on the beach my friend asked me about my worry list from a year ago. “What was on that list? You know, the things that paralyzed you, made you think you wouldn’t make it another day?” “I can’t remember,” I told him. “I rest my case,” he said.)
One night, on the boat we returned from dinner late, well after dark. This is a dicey affair (I had no idea). We were in the intracoastal-waterway, a stretch along the western coast of Florida from Sarasota to Long Boat Key to Manasota Key and Boca Grande, filled with islands and peninsulas, and vast mango groves, looking prehistoric, or like perfect hideaways for a Carl Hiaasen novel.
In places the water is shallow, only a foot or so above sand bars. So, traveling after dark is not just an adventure. It can be dangerous (on the shoals and all that, not to mention pirates, although retired Floridians in polyester shorts don’t provoke the requisite amount of terror and panic.)
Ed’s tone is clear, “Watch that red blinking light. Pay attention. We need to stay left of that. If we don’t, we’re on a sand bar.” This is a trip that requires watchfulness.
To navigate any difficult water in our lives, we need markers.
“Everyone needs a sacred place,” Joseph Campbell reminds us.
Here’s the deal: This is a non-negotiable.
Where is your sacred place?
We do not go there merely to fulfill an obligation.
We do not go there just to be a good person.
We do not go there to impress people we know.
We go there because if we don’t go, we lose a part of our soul.
It’s been a good vacation for me, which means living with the bittersweet reality that I miss my garden. So I nap, I read, I comb the beach for shark’s teeth.
Tomorrow I begin our eCourse on Sanctuary. If you are joining me, I look forward to our journey together. Yes, there’s still time to sign up. Here’s the link. And yes, you can go at your own pace. If you can’t join us, please tell a friend.
The other night we paid attention to the red light.
And we made it to the harbor safely. Here’s what I learned: One light at a time.
I hope the same for you.
Quotes for your week…
And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Book of Colossians
I embrace emerging experience. I participate in discovery. I am a butterfly. I am not a butterfly collector. I want the experience of the butterfly. William Stafford
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I Kiss My Angel
When No One Is Looking,
I want to kiss my angel,
I thank her for bringing me love,
and an open heart,
and my sweet farm,
and my friends,
And a wonderful dog,
to walk with me,
I thank her for not teaching me to hate,
and live in fear,
or turn my heart to stone.
and for my words,
and for my pictures,
I thank her for cracking open my heart,
I swallow pride and regret,
and chew on hope and connection,
She took some of my selves and
sent them off to walk in the deep woods,
and find their peaceful place.
When no one is looking,
I lift my hand to my heart,
and blow her a kiss,
she showers me with apple blossoms in return.
Jon Katz (from bedlamfarm blog)
Be Still and Know
There lives deep within each human heart
a poet and a maker of music.
And if you are still and listen you can hear
the music of this human life, YOUR life.
For the maker of all life and love bids you,
bids you to come.
Come and play the music, hear the poetry,
be still and know!
(c) Sandy Ozanich