Forced Off The Path

It’s happened to all of us. 

We’re walking along, oblivious, perhaps whistling, thinking that tomorrow will be relatively the same as yesterday, and suddenly, inexplicably, there’s this huge rock blocking our path.

We have choices, of course.  We can stand and look at it, curse it, wish it away, refuse to believe it’s there, even go back the way we came -– but ultimately, if we want to find the path again, we have only two choices.  We either climb over it or go around it.

I’ve realized that in life, I’m a “go around it” kind of person.  I know plenty of “climb over it” people -– “high-energy, love-a-challenge, bring-it-on” sorts of people, but that’s not really me. 

First I stand open-mouthed in some na├»ve disbelief, then I sit down and have a long think.  Sometimes it requires a good cry, some bruised fists, yelling, or even a fitful sleep right there in the road.  But sooner or later, I know I have to move.

Your rocks might look like mine –- broken heart, dear one’s death, paralyzing disappointment, lost job, failed test, missed opportunity, disappeared friend, hasty word -– rocks take so many forms, but they all behave the same. They stop you in your tracks for a time.

But I’ve realized there’s a whole undiscovered world in that soft earth to the left and the right of the hard-packed, well-worn thoroughfare.  In fact, some people spend their whole lives out there. They got pushed off the path, and liked it so much that they never went back.  Imagine!

When I was in high school, I was on the drill team.  I spent my first years moving up the ranks and fully expected to take my Captain’s test, pass it, and wear that extremely cute uniform at football games and pep rallies for my senior year.

During my test, we were given the command to turn right, and I turned left instead. 

It was a boneheaded mistake, brought on by unexpected nervousness and the size of the gallery watching –- but the result was that I had committed to the move and had to finish it.  So the group of girls I was testing with all went one way in the huge gym, and I went the other, alone.

HUGE rock.

Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen as one of the Captains.  I spent the first part of my senior year watching the girls who knew left from right, marching in their cute uniforms and feeling my life was essentially never going to be really good again.  (Admittedly, I was a bit of a dramatic teenager.)

But a strange thing happened.  Once I reconciled myself to the fact that what was done was done, I began to encounter that world that lay outside my expectations.  I spent Saturdays driving up the coast to Malibu with friends instead of sweating through marching practice in the hot sun.  Football games could now be enjoyed full-view from the stands instead of from the flat expanse of the field.  With more time at my disposal, I joined Girl’s League and discovered a life-long love of volunteering.

I’ll try not to get carried away with the metaphor (though I fear I already may have) and say that the spongy, sweet-smelling ground off the path has unique and fragrantly colorful flowers -- but I will say that in my life since then, every rock, no matter how terrible it initally seemed, has come with gifts.

I wonder sometimes –- if I had I turned right that day, would I be different now?  Probably. Would my life be better? Worse?  Who knows?  I only know that I don’t regret that missed turn anymore.  I was stepping off into who I am today.

So I try to bless the rocks and put on my hiking shoes a little faster than I used to.  And I try to remember that sometimes the way off the path is the path itself.



TED Talk: Sculpting Waves

Reuben Margolin is a kinetic sculptor, and his works evoke nature and the feel of meditation.

This video will only take nine minutes to watch, but you'll be amazed at how calming it is.  I wish I could stand under one of these sculptures and watch for much longer.  I can almost hear the soft movement of water and air and leaves.




The Golden Times

When I was in college, a group of close friends and I spent a weekend at a cabin in the mountains.  Before you ask -- yes, alcohol was involved, but not an inordinate amount.  There was an old jeep in the shed, and we all piled in and took a slow drive down a long country road canopied with trees.  I can still remember leaning back with the sun dappling my face through the leaves, a soft warm wind blowing, looking up at the blue sky, listening to stories being told and the answering laughter of friends.

That was one of what I like to call the “Golden Times.”   Those moments -- or if we’re lucky, longer – that somehow attain a sort of perfection.   I knew it was special, but I had no idea that over thirty years later, I would still remember exactly how it felt. 

Sometimes they’re happy accidents.  For our wedding day, barefoot on the beach, Robert and I hoped to be in some privacy with our small group of family and friends at the water’s edge at sunset.  But at the last minute our pastor said it would be too difficult for some elderly relatives to make it down the long stretch of sand. 

Robert turned to me and smiled, and said he would marry me anywhere.  So we stood on Venice Beach (not in Italy, sadly, but it’s lovely in Los Angeles, too) in full view of all the balconies of a busy hotel, and within earshot of the many people enjoying the last of the spring sunshine by biking, rollerblading, jogging or strolling on the walkway. 

What we hadn’t counted on was the respectful silence of the crowd drawn to the ceremony – and after being in our own world until we kissed and turned around, we’d had no idea that the hotel balconies had gradually filled, and the walkway was nearly choked with people who had stopped to watch.  They now raised glasses, waved, smiled broadly, and gave us a smattering of applause.

When we went to get in our car after the reception, two women stopped us enthusiastically. “You’re the bride and groom! We watched you get married!!” 

Strangers being touched by strangers.  A Golden Time.

At a Rick Springfield concert a few years ago, the man himself walked down the middle of the seats in the audience and ended up standing on my chair to finish the song, giving Robert the opportunity to play air guitar only inches away from him, and as for me… well, what would you do if you were that close and had listened to “Jessie’s Girl” about a million times? 


Other times sparkle in my memory.  Holding Thomas as a baby.  Watching the first snow fall on Thanksgiving Day.  Reaching out to take Robert’s hand in a peaceful silence on a long drive from Idaho to Los Angeles.  Kicking chunks of ice at twilight on a frozen lake with friends, watching the irridescence skitter along as the moon rose.  Listening to Andrea Bocelli sing arias from “La Boheme” with my mother, tears glistening in her eyes and mine.

By definition, a Golden Time has an end.  It can’t be sustained.  Otherwise it becomes day-to-day life, which can be very, very good, but simply isn’t that diamond that stands out among the lesser stones.

How do we know when it’s over?  I’m afraid the answer is that most of the time, we don’t.  When is the last hug, the last kiss, the last time of making love, the last goodbye when we hang up the phone, never to hear that person’s voice again?

After 9/11, there were so many stories about husbands and wives pecking each other on the cheek in the morning, casually saying, “See you tonight,” or “Pick up some milk on your way home,” or similar banalities.  If they’d only known.

I never say goodbye to Robert without telling him I love him.  I try to leave places and people without “if onlys”…”if only I’d hugged him”, ”if only I’d told her how pretty she looked”, ”if only I’d said what he means to me…”

And now, why is this all on my mind today?

Two and a half years ago, I started on Twitter in a unique way, centered around creativity and play with a group of people that came together organically and naturally, acting out characters from a television show.  We made ourselves and lots of other people laugh, and created relationships across oceans and time zones that could never have happened otherwise.  There were misunderstandings and dramas, fallings out and comings together, and some friendships forged that I hope will never end.

My world opened up in wonderful ways, and remains open.  I still love Twitter, but I’m myself now, a writer reading other writers, enjoying the postings of artists, a few celebrities, and plenty of quirky individualists.

So today, I say goodbye, mindfully, and acknowledge that it was, indeed, a Golden Time, but it’s over.  It was one of the diamonds that stands out among the stones. 


TED Talk: Half a Million Secrets

Frank Warren, the creator of PostSecret.com got the idea to have people send him something they'd never told anyone on a postcard.  Half a million secrets later, he looks at some of the lessons that can be learned from the things people wanted to share. 

This entertaining and fascinating talk is funny, emotional, and a couple of times, left me wide-mouthed with wonder.

Hope you enjoy...



To Everything, There is a Season...

I woke up this morning with this song in my head:  "Turn, Turn, Turn".  
The Byrds, a 1960s California folk rock band, made the most well-known version of Pete Seeger's adaptation from The Book of Ecclesiastes.  It was taken almost word-for-word from the Bible, except for the last line:  "A time for peace, I swear it's not too late." 
I had the record in what we used to call "single" form, just two songs on either side of a small disc, which is selling today on eBay for $39.99.  When I bought it, it put me back all of 49¢.  
It's worth noting, although not really germane, that the song was released on my birthday, October 1, 1965, the day I turned twelve.
What has struck me this morning is how those lyrics have followed me since I was twelve – especially these, taken somewhat out of order:
To everything there is a season…
A time to be born, a time to die…
A time to build up, a time to break down…
A time to dance, a time to mourn….
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.
When I first heard it, the song was about world peace, as it was intended.  In my twenties and thirties it was truly about dancing and gathering experience, people, travels and money, and then casting some away and gathering more.  In my forties, I had a fair bit of mourning, of building up and breaking down. 
Hoping this won’t sound morbid or depressing (as it is most definitely NOT depressing to me), I can see that now, as I near sixty years old, my eye strays to “a time to be born, a time to die…”
I was raised in a generally non-religious way, for which I’m grateful – but I was given a very solid foundation by my grandmother and my mother of what comes after this life.  I won’t spell it out in full here, but to my mind, the best description appeared in Richard Bach’s “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.”  
Put simply, Bach says that life is like a movie.  We buy the ticket, go inside the theater, and suspend our disbelief for a while.  We become a part of the action, and get caught up.  We laugh, we cry, and hopefully, we learn something about ourselves and others.  Then the lights come on, we stand up, and we walk back out to our “real” life.
Many people think of this as our real life, and of what comes after as a sort of amorphous, cloudy, sometimes scary, sometimes comforting place.  I think of it as going home, and the peace in that is indescribable.
That’s not to say that I’m expecting to go there anytime soon, although when the times get hard, I think of it with just a smidge of longing.  But I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a movie, no matter how bad it was.  I’m certainly not starting now, especially as I’ve managed to sit through this much of it, and there’s so much still to look forward to.
But I talked yesterday, as I do every Saturday, with my mother, who will be 91 in August.  She’s very aware that her movie is nearing the end, and if I may stretch the metaphor, she’s gathering up her things, and preparing to stand and leave the theater.  I suppose you could say that the credits are rolling.
She has so much to be proud of -- a life well-lived and well-loved, and happiness given to so many people.  But the vast majority of her contemporaries have packed up and gone home, and she’s buried two husbands and a son.  She’s tired, and wondering what use she is to anyone.  She spends more time remembering than she does looking forward, and the people she longs to talk to are no longer here.
So yesterday, without tears, and hopefully without selfishness, I began to wish her well on her journey.  I quoted, or possibly misquoted, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, where Rinpoche says: “Die a little every day, and it won’t be such a shock.” (If I’m wrong about that quote, please don’t tell me, because I love it.)  Mom laughed at that, and said, “Honey, I’ve got that one covered…”
To everything, there is a season.  My movie is just a little longer than hers, but I’ll pack up and go home too, and she’ll be waiting there for me.  Probably with a pot roast simmering in the oven. 
Now that’s something to look forward to.



On My Bookshelf: “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”

A simple Google search will quickly bring up multiple reviews of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Franklin, and certainly in more informative and insightful prose than I could offer.  But this book touched me, and because of that, I think I’d rather speak to how it made me feel as an American. 

And yes, that sounds a bit corny, which is, if the internet is to be believed, a word with its origins in America, like me.

Benjamin Franklin has been given the title “The First American,” but in fact, he was born to an American mother and a father whose roots were in Northamptonshire, England.  This duality would follow Franklin throughout his eighty-four years, as he traveled the Atlantic between the two, asking for peace, supporting one and then the other, and finally falling on the side of the Colonies in their desire for independence.

His ability to see all sides of an argument was often called “waffling,” and was cited as a sign that he had no convictions.  In truth, Franklin knew that if you had a room full of men who were unwilling to compromise -- those men would walk out of that room with little or nothing accomplished.  And Franklin was a man who liked to get things done.

Over 230 years later, it’s no secret that Americans aren’t the most popular people on the planet.  The internet has given me a much more international life than many of the neighbors, friends and co-workers in my town of 45,000 in Northern Idaho.  Among some here, there can be an insular nature to patriotism, in the vein of “Love It, Or Leave It.”

With friends in England, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – and the many other countries represented on Twitter by people that I don’t know well but read often – I get a good cross-section of the world’s view of Americans.  Some of the harsher critics see us as arrogant, fat and irresponsible at the same time we have the hubris to call ourselves the leaders of the free world.  I can’t fully disagree with them.

Seeing my own country as I do, from two perspectives -- not only from inside it, but also through the eyes of my international friends – I can also hear, and believe, that we’re an adventurous and pioneering sort of people: innovative and bright, exploring the vast, wide open spaces this country has to offer.

My great-grandmother came across the plains of America in a covered wagon, and I’ve been told all my life that the women in our family are of strong, opinionated, hardy “pioneer stock.”  I’ve been proud of that label, and the philosophy behind it has helped me to steer my own sometimes rickety wagon through the upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s in California; the early 1980s in New York City; the financial downturn that started in the late 1990s and continues still; and the monumental social sea-change that allowed us, finally, miraculously, to elect a black President.

Benjamin Franklin was a man who saw serious issues, and dealt with them with humor.  He was highly intelligent, but wanted to speak and write in a manner that allowed everyone to be able to hear him and understand.  He was very much loved as a “man of the people” of the Colonies, at the same time he was celebrated as one of the higher echelon of the New World, and was present at the signing of every critically important document that shaped the United States of America.

So the theme emerges – duality.  And as a textbook Libra, I can relate.

Like Franklin, I love the spirit of the people of this country.   But as he did, I dislike a lot of its politics.  For him, that was typified by people who so refused to move off of their positions that they essentially threatened to freeze the government.  I worry, in 2012, about the same thing.

I’ve loved the culture, literature and rich history of Britain for as long as I can remember, even back to the age of eleven, reading Jane Eyre in the attic, out loud in what I hoped was Julie Andrews’ voice.

So I suppose in addition to helping me feel an affinity with someone who lived so long ago, Isaacson’s book left me asking questions about my own duality: with my love for foreign lands, people and sensibilities; and my pride and connection to America.

Which is something Benjamin Franklin, I suspect, would appreciate.



TED Talks: Simple Ideas That Changed the World

Another wonderful TED talk, only seven and a half minutes long…

We sometimes discount the unanswered questions that wander around in our thoughts, forgetting that every brilliant idea started that way.  

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” shares three simple ideas that changed the world.