On Sunday as I was pulling out of the Trader Joe’s parking lot, the power steering in my new car gave way.
At that moment, I became profoundly aware that I had a car. A car that is transporting me to school every day. A car that allows me to take Max to hockey and to carry a trunk full of groceries home in the heat. My chest, neck and shoulders all began to tighten as I contemplated what the next few days would be like without the use of this precious car. That tightness could have been a springboard to a whole downward spiral of panic.
Instead I used it as a bell. A call to make a different decision. Instead of contemplating its loss–what if I celebrated its presence? This was something I am learning in school. It was a chance to practice. The truth is dwelling on the problem would only have given rise to panic and my panic would not have served me. It would have not helped me solve my problem and was about to cause me a whole world of suffering. So I decided to chose a new practice of gratitude.
I started from where I was. I was able to turn the car using a bit of muscle. I could take it the two miles home. The frozen chicken in the trunk would not melt. I was grateful for that one small detail. I was grateful the whole way home, at every stop light, I noticed how far it had carried me. Whenever panic began to rise in my throat I told myself. “I have a car–a car that serves me well. It is taking me home.” Those words changed the whole way I held my body.
Surprisingly, I was feeling calm when I got home, not in the funk I might take on when my carefully orchestrated reality starts to unravel. I made a phone call to a friend and found myself blessed once again. For I had a friend who would loan me her car for a day or two while my broken one to the shop. I had a way to school and it only required one phone call. How easy!
The next morning, I made a call to the magic auto repair garage in my neighborhood. Milo the Magnificent made a quick decision that the car wasn’t safe and even though they were booked (and it required me to rush out of the house at that minute) they would take my car if I could get it there quickly. He didn’t promise me an answer anytime soon but he wanted to be sure it was off the road and safe at their place until they could take a peak. I may have felt panicked about what the visit to the garage might do to my carefully planned morning schedule but I decided to make a different choice. As I walked into the garage that morning, I declared myself joyful. It was a beautiful morning. I had mechanics who care and my car had given me an excuse for an early morning walk through the neighborhood.
When they called just a few hours later to tell me about the expensive repairs that were looming, I did not despair. Instead I chose to focus on how pleasantly surprised I was that they had looked at it so quickly and grateful that I had cash in the bank. I had a car. I had the cash. I am lucky. Lucky. Lucky.
When I went that afternoon to pick up my car, I didn’t feel tense, sick or even the slightest bit resentful, even though I was handing over hundreds that I hadn’t planned to spend. Instead I felt nothing but gratitude–for the car, the mechanics, the cash.
When my power steering hose (and another belt or two) gave way, I never imagined it would be a gift. It woke me up to a present moment both abundant and blessed.
I have a car.
I have a generous friend.
I have an efficient and fair mechanic.
I have sufficient cash.
The world is beginning to show up new. Full. Rich. I am lucky indeed. I am so grateful for the leaking power steering hose that reminded me of this. Life has showing up as abundance and it took a broken down car to point me to it. I am so glad I can finally see.
There comes a time when it is abundantly clear that compassion not ambition is what is needed. There are moments when we gather in small and big numbers to pledge that nurture trumps success and kindness trumps victory. When we realize that giving up and giving in or simply giving, with loving arms open, is the only way forward.
These moments go best with coffee, good coffee, although they are also perfectly paired with tea, or wine or chocolate chip cookies or for that matter water too. Anything that can be shared, given freely, an offering of sorts to seal the deal we make, the promise to be a healing presence in the world. In this space we ask (perhaps for the thousandth time), “What would shift if I adopted love (not defensiveness, or pride or jealousy or fear) as my mantle?” We ask, “How would it be if we recognized the sameness in our humanity? How would everything change? What would it mean?
When we are awake to these moments, when we are conscious about what they mean for the world, if we keep our eyes open, we are often rewarded by a little sign, a sweet treat that tells us that the Universe conspires with us. An inside joke or perhaps a burning bush, a reminder that yes…Love is the only way forward.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Every Wednesday night, more or less, for the past few years have been guitar night–when Jeff comes over and when we pour wine and laugh and talk hockey and politics and and play our guitars. We often start with a lesson and then we play some together just for kicks–the songs I love to sing. And then as the night grows old (and I grow sleepy) my friend plays for me as I curl up on the couch and delight in homemade music. Sometimes I sing, and every now and then I dance, but mostly I just listen.
Witnessing a song being born can make my breath catch and cracks me open. “Play me something new” I always insist. When we first met, Jeff played me old standards, but I quickly demanded to hear his originals–the ones he rarely played out. Now, if I am lucky I will hear a song that he wrote just that morning. Tender or wistful songs that offer me a glimpse into a part of my friend’s heart I hadn’t yet known.
When I got my camera, I knew that I wanted to take pictures of my favorite people’s hands, going the things I love to see them do. Yet, I was shy taking out my camera to capture his hands as he played for me that night. I who write or do my art in the safety of solitude, I was confronted with the rawness and vulnerability of creating in front of someone else. Suddenly, in the simple act of raising the camera to my eye, I understood the level of courage it takes to share a new song and in that moment almost drowned in gratitude for what happens in my living room each Wednesday night.
Luscious and succulent and dripping with juice. These peaches were tremendous. We ate our fill in the fields and then made a peach and blackberry crumble for dessert that night. All week we ate peaches, sweet and dripping as well as plums of all sizes and colors.
I picked these stone fruits with my dear friend Kaiya and our kids on a farm not far from her house at the height of last summer. The older kids climbed trees to get the best of the crop until they were chased out by the farm workers. The little one handed me the fruit, offering sweetness so naturally. “Abundance is yours” he seemed to say as I began to stagger underneath the weight of all those peaches we picked. Here–yours for the asking.
We had spent the day at the beach–a crazy day with waves so hard they could dislocate your shoulder if they threw you just right. We spent the day on an endless expanse of white flying kites and looking for wild horses. We wanted to go home but we were hungry and the boardwalk was close by. The sparkling arcade lights which started to twinkle as the long day gave in to night captivated this boy and made me hold on far longer than I ever expected to.
When I took these photos I was so fully aware that Max had turned a corner his life. I saw he was no longer the baby I wished him to be. The changes of the last year felt palpable and sudden. On the cusp of turning nine he was fully a big kid now, no longer the little babe I had once rocked. Be-freckled and strong in limb. A little unsure. A bit tentative and awkward. Starting to grapple with the what it means to make the world his own.
This past summer, I was in a bit of a fog. It was so easy to look at my life and see what was missing–or rather, how it didn’t match up against all the expectations and dreams I had built up. Even as I wrote endlessly about being in the present, I felt the future tugging at me and taunting me with visions of how what I had just wasn’t enough, how we hadn’t yet arrived, how everything was supposed to be different at this point in my story.
I have always had a hard time with staying here in this moment. Even as a little girl I spent many hours daydreaming about a better life, the life I would lead some day. In some versions of those dreams, I was rescued. In other versions of those dreams, I stumbled upon luck and fortune. In still more versions I myself had moved mountains to create the change. But the common theme was always a change, something different, something other. Now, in the tough times, when life is hard, it feels so easy to console myself with imagining the future–simpler, brighter. Things will get better I tell myself–and I dream it in technicolor.
But there is a problem with this and we all know what it is. Life rarely goes as we plan it and disappointment is inevitable. And while I sit dreaming of an imaginary life, my real life slips by with little notice.
Which brings me to this summer. I was stumbling along, a prisoner of my own discontent. Surely, I would grumble, it was time that I would be rewarded for doing my soul work, for the pain and suffering I endured through my divorce. Surely life was going to get better than THIS…this mundane, difficult, stressful, day in and out slog. And truth is, I hated myself for thinking that way because I knew that I would one day miss that slog. Because even while I complained I saw out of the corner of my eye that it was full of tender kisses, a boy growing up, dear friends blossoming, kindnesses and sorrows too poignant to miss. But there I sat grumbling. I knew I was missing my life by wishing it away to be replaced by a better “someday” and worse still I would catch myself and beat myself up for my lack of gratitude– suffer over my own suffering. It was exhausting.
It was one day in July when I was lying on the acupuncture table, contemplating this crazy space I occupied. Even as my mind wandered I kept bringing it to my breath, to the play of the light against the crystals hanging from the ceiling above me, desperate for a way to ground myself to the present. And it was then, the wisdom bubbled up–at first a whisper and then more of a roar. “You just need to learn how to see”. And I seemed to know, even then, that what I needed was a creative practice that would force me out of contemplation and rumination and into the act of pure observation.
It was not more than a week later that I bought my camera, my first REAL camera. And I began a practice of looking through my lens for no other reason than to simply see. As a beginner photographer I need to pay complete attention to what I am doing. I cannot go on autopilot–every thing is new and requires attention. And attention, I am learning over and over again is nothing short of love. When I lift that camera to my eye I am immersed in details I never bothered to register before: the light, the contrast, the depth of field, the speed, the way that everything changes in a second–one second boldness in her eyes, the next moment fear. Take too long and you might miss it. Taking photos of things I love has helped me to pay attention to them in ways I never have before and it is grounding me, and breaking me open. It has been a creative and spiritual practice.
For the last several months, I have been struggling with what to do here on this blog. It seems as though all the stories I wanted to tell have told themselves. Other stories I have are still too raw or tender or unformed to tell. I had once upon a time imagined a story arc I would hope would play out here, a narrative that would provide adventure, excitement and lots of rich material for writing. But life plays out differently and those stories are not. I have been wordless, something which has been both a relief and a source of deep pain.
Instead, my creative life has looked like this: Me with my camera, living my life, stopping to breathe and relish. My camera has been a tool, like my sitting practice, helping me to hold all that I love about my life RIGHT NOW in front of my own eyes. At hockey practice, or work, at the Max’s school or in the park, at coffee with a friend or a community dinner I may be taking photos and learning to see my life, not as I hoped it would be but isn’t but exactly as it is–sparkling, hopeful, tender, sad, joyful, messy but beautiful and fleeting and mine.
I feel somewhat tender and shy about sharing my photos more broadly. As a lover of photography, I am aware of all the technical ways my photos fall short. I recently showed some of my favorites to a good friend who is a gifted photographer and a pro. And so like a little girl wobbling along on her first two wheeler I am practicing so many things at once: balance, observation, movement, creativity and most importantly love. She was encouraging and kind. “Keep going” she said. “You are doing it!”
I showed up today, hoping to write but realized that my stories flow from these photos now. I have little to say that is new. Instead, these tender shots are the only story I have to tell now. So we will be doing something different for a few weeks here. Its time to start sharing what I have seen, what I love, what is mine to cherish in this miraculous moment unfolding. And maybe the words will come, but if they don’t we can sit in silence together and marvel at how exquisitely life loves us.