Joy in Action

img_7244

I could try to describe the feelings I experienced as images of the recent women’s march poured in from all over the world. I could try, but I don’t really see the point. The feeling was so much better than words.

I was perhaps most impacted by the radiant joy I saw on the faces of so many of those pictured. Yes, joy. It was clear: the act of coming together for something so passionately believed in uplifted those involved at a moment when it would be very easy, and understandable, to sink into a deep depression.

Joy. It’s elusive. One moment we feel it, coursing through us, making us want to dance, to shriek, to hug, to leap. The next moment, it’s gone. But for the moment of it’s visit, we felt so extraordinarily awake, so vividly alive.

img_0935

That’s what joy is to me. It’s a moment of pure aliveness combined with feeling 100% that I am exactly where I want to be, doing just what I want to do. I don’t feel this unless my action is aligned with my values.

Isn’t it remarkable, how easy it is to act in a way that doesn’t reflect our values? Why do we do this so much of the time? Assuredly, the need to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to clothe our children and be able to bring them to the doctor – these needs mean, for many, that we must labor without love.

But where and when we have the choice, why don’t take the path that leads towards joy? Is it perhaps because when we pursue that which we truly value or in which we truly believe, we are putting more of our hearts on the line? The risk is greater. Sometimes, it is a lot easier not to care, to exist at a sub-par level.

If I could put one hope out there right now and have it answered, it just might be the hope that we could all start choosing actions that align with our beliefs. Look at the faces of those people marching. Just look at them. They are so beautiful. It’s not because of their clothing or their makeup or hairstyle, or anything as superficial as all of that. It’s because they are doing something they believe in so strongly they cannot do otherwise. May we all be graced with that beauty in many more moments this year and in the years ahead. May we radiate with the joy that comes from putting our bodies, our minds and our creative beings to use in a way that aligns with a great sense of purpose. If we are brave enough to take the risk involved – (and I’m willing to bet a whole lot on this) – we will all reap the benefits.

I’m going to try it myself – inspired by those faces in the sea of marchers this past weekend. When I reach a fork where I have a choice and one direction is easy but maybe not quite aligned with what I believe is important and the other direction is a bit more challenging but so clearly in line with all I hold dear, I’m going to walk down that path towards joy.

img_6504

Considered Days

January 2016

img_8106

My childhood days were made rich not by what we possessed but by the attitude of those around me. From my mother, we learned to marvel at each detail in nature. My father’s laugh echoes through my memories as does his contagious sense of humor. I watched my maternal grandparents model generous work in the community as a way to celebrate your blessings. My paternal grandparents taught me to look for magic in every-day moments.

We did not live in a fairytale bubble, sheltered from the harsh realities also contained in the world. Instead, the people who loved and raised me somehow managed to convey that the world is beautiful in spite of the great horrors that also exist, and that celebrating the beautiful is often the best way to combat the terrible. We learned to feel both responsibility and gratitude for each other and the world around us.

In 2016, I gave birth to my first child. She enters a world that often scares me. Climate change, institutionalized inequality, bigotry – these forces weave through our communities and through the world. And then, in the fall, I watched as an appalling political reality rose in our country.

img_1076

I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to parent, heck, how best to live in today’s world. How do I call the joy and celebration with which I was raised into the need to roll up my sleeves and work daily, in ways big and small, to honor the rights of all beings and this planet? And how do I pass onto my daughter a sense of delight in the world combined with respect for the realities with which we are faced?

I believe the answer lies in my childhood. What better inspiration exists than love for the world? Why would we want to work for a world that we don’t first think is beautiful?

img_0021

What is the best way to live in today’s world? As I face a new year (and our country’s new political reality), I want to share my exploration of this question. This blog will be my journal of discovery. It will be messy. It will likely run quite a range – from reflections on childhood memories, to experiences of new parenthood, to pondering about recent news. Some days, an image might say more than words. Many days, I won’t publish anything (that new parenthood thing). But with what I do make permanent here, I’ll record a year of inquiry.

I’m setting down the commitment to take some aspects of my internal dialogue public because we are all in this inquiry together. It’s not just about celebrating what is still beautiful about life and it’s not just about mindfully and messily exploring how best to live in today’s world. It’s about exploring together. I believe community is more important than ever – offline, online, in the streets, in our homes and everywhere else. As a chronically shy individual, community isn’t something that’s ever been easy for me. But I think it’s really important that we share our stories, our struggles and our joys as we face this crazy thing called life and the crazier thing that is our world today. So, here goes.

PS – I’ve included some posts from a former blog life that give a sense of what I might share here over the next year.

img_8467

A father’s gift

June 2015

My father taught me to identify trees by their bark. We’d wander the woods, me sitting on his shoulders or skipping alongside, and he’d point out the different markings, colors and textures. My father has an intense, sometimes restless energy, not unlike my own, but out in the trees he seemed to relax. I fell in love with nature at my father’s side.

11013340_861409301832_6475311290996265905_n

These days, as I wander the woods around our home in Maine, breathing in the scent of freshly sunned pine needles, watching new leaves bud, it strikes me that my relationship to the living world, while filled with gratitude and love, is also nearly constantly tinged with grief. Climate change whispers its way through my conscience and a deep concern pricks at me, even as I delight in identifying birds by their song and, yes, trees by their bark. I know that nature is suffering and I know humans directly caused that suffering.

That grief has not always existed as an underlying texture in my daily experiences in nature. While I now know that Svante Arrhenius first proposed the possibility of global warming due to fossil fuel combustion in 1896, the concept entered my awareness sometime in my teen years. As a child, I raced through woods and fields full of joy, blissfully unaware that the world I loved so dearly already buckled under the increasing weight of decades of greenhouse gas emissions.

My children will never know a world untouched by the threat of climate change. Yes, I will not welcome my future offspring into the world with a cut of the umbilical cord and an introductory course on the science of carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. But discussions of climate change vibrate with increasing frequency. And they should. My desire for my children to know the truth trumps my desire to shelter them from sadness. When the time is right, they will learn about climate change. My hope is that any grief or fear they may experience will be outweighed by their delight in the sound of wind sweeping through tall grass, fireflies lighting the night sky and the feel of water against their skin as they swim through the beam of light on the water’s edge.

542796_612316166472_556345652_n

As I contemplate the finesse required to teach such a balance of joy and sadness, I think about my father. I have already inherited so much from that man. As I brew my coffee strongly in the morning, delight in physical labor, dash to the dance floor, struggle to sit still, and passionately raise my voice for anything that moves me, I feel echoes of the man who raised me. That legacy will always be a part of who I am. I am proud to be my father’s daughter, and these days some of my greatest pride springs from the way I see my father grappling with climate change.

My parents are by no means wealthy, but my father has invested in an installation of solar panels and an electric car. He still works full-time, but sets aside time and energy to work with groups in his town dedicated to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to renewable energy. He consistently acts as a reality-check in such groups. Are they just talking or are they acting? Are they duplicating efforts done by other groups, and, if so, why aren’t they collaborating? Are they alienating anyone with a differing opinion, or are they truly listening and trying to work with others? My father brings this same sharp investigation to voraciously reading everything he can get his hands on about climate change and really thinking about what needs to happen in this extraordinary point in history. Marching side-by-side with Dad in Washington, D.C. and then in New York City in days of climate action are memories I cherish.

img_7253

So, as I feel sadness when walking the woods or contemplating my children’s future, I turn to my father for hope. He teaches me so much about climate change and parenting. I may not be able to fix the world for my children. I certainly will not be able to single-handedly ensure that climate change is creatively, intelligently and quickly dealt with, giving my children and their children the bright, healthy future that should be their birthright. What I can do is act, every day, in a way that means I can truthfully tell them that I did the very best I could to preserve the world I hope they grow to love just as much as their mother and their grandfather love it today.

Teaching my children about climate change while simultaneously encouraging them to love the world is one of the greatest challenges I’ll face. However, that love is the best inspiration for action around climate change I’ve yet to witness. Recognizing trees like old friends has not only meant that I’ve never felt alone. That world I fell in love with at my father’s side may be suffering and it may grieve me deeply to see that suffering. But I sure as hell don’t love that world any less. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let greed, ignorance or irresponsibility hurt one of the most consistent loves in my life.

11231743_861409306822_444329516221571806_n

Nous sommes le monde.

January 2015

Okay, let me begin by being clear. The recent attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris was despicable and deserves the world’s attention. We should be shocked when the right to free speech is so violently targeted. We should raise our voices and collective conscience in response.

And…

As I watched social media absolutely ignite in the days following the attack in Paris, I had to wonder. And I was not alone. In the midst of the very vocal protest occurring across the Internet and beyond, a few feeble voices started to echo my wondering. What about the horrific attacks on freedom that occur around the world every day? Every. Single. Day.

img_7269

Yes, it was horrifying to see artists so violently targeted due to an act of expression. Yes, it was horrifying to see those attacks happen in broad daylight on the streets and in the buildings of Paris. Yes, it shakes us to the core to see nonviolence met with violence, to see a community stricken by such unjustifiable, unfathomable loss.

And…

On January 10, three days after the attack in Paris, 20 people were killed in a market in Nigeria when explosives strapped to a young girl (believed to be 10 years-old) went off. This was just the latest in a string of attacks that began January 3, carried out by the militant group, Boko Haram, that have reportedly claimed around 2,000 lives. Yes, these events received news coverage, but it has been massively eclipsed by the events in Paris.

Even the recent Taliban attack on a school in Pakistan that left 150 dead, mostly children, received neither the extent of coverage nor the extent of international response seen in the days following January 7.

Why? Yes, these attacks occurred in countries with far-less stable governments than France and in areas less accessible to journalists. But if we stop our exploration of the disparity in attention there, I think we fall short.

100_0456_2-copy

We fall short in what it means to be a part of the global community. We are Charlie Hebdo, yes, but we are much, much more. We are the world. Attacks on free speech, attacks on the right to education, the strapping of bombs to innocent, young girls, we cannot choose which to see, which to bond with, where to unite. We are united in it all. We are the artists, the students, the ten year-old girl. We are the people living in the island nations that are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. If we kid ourselves, even for a second, that we are isolated from these hardships, we are forgetting just how global the world is today.

The odd, bizarrely paradoxical aspect of these horrific occurrences is often the voices of hope beautifully and bravely raised in response. Who wasn’t touched, and deeply so, to see so many join together to march the street of Paris? It is incredible, isn’t it, to see how despair can be met with such resounding hope, such vocal visions of the possibility, always present, of the best, most humanitarian world possible.

So, yes, let’s raise our voices to protest what happened on January 7 in Paris. Let’s be shocked. But can we, please, be equally shocked by the widespread acts of terrorism that continue in Nigeria, and in so many other parts of the world. I get it, it is overwhelming. There is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world. But I believe that it is our responsibility, those of us who are incredibly fortunate to live in safety, security, even luxury, to see that suffering and to do everything we can to stand alongside it and help. Let’s not stand over it all and select what to see, where to care. We are wildly compassionate beings. And we are the world. Let’s stand in the midst of it all and raise that collective voice of hope.

img_2768_2-copy

A New Year’s Wish

January 2015

A threshold encompasses the space between, a space in which what has been fades away and what is to come has not yet evolved into being. A space of simultaneous letting go and leaning into possibility. A time of celebrating both what has been and what is to come.

I have been thinking about thresholds as this year dies and the next approaches. As a child, my family celebrated New Year’s Eve in style because it was my grandfather’s birthday, and everything to do with Grandad was done with style. This was, after all, a man who wore wool knickers, high stockings, a wool cape, and a cap and carried an ornate walking stick when taking the dog out on the dirt roads of New Hampshire.

img_0036-copy

Uncles, aunts and cousins gathered, decked in our finest, and one of the big old farmhouses was likewise bedazzled. We’d start the evening with a most delicious meal. Eventually rising from the table, we’d head outside, building a bonfire under the sparkling New Hampshire winter sky and grabbing sleds to fly down a steep hill where my father and uncles had, earlier in the day, built a huge luge run strung with twinkle lights. Eventually, cold and exhausted from laughter and being flung from soaring sleds, we’d traipse inside for games and dancing.

Over all this celebrating presided Grandad, a constant sparkle in his eyes, ever onstage, ever the performer – of stories, of impressions, of opera, of hilarity. Grandad possessed a profound appreciation for the hilarious. As an actor, as a minister and as a historian, he delighted in the ridiculous and the joy of free expression.

When Grandad slipped into Alzheimer’s, suspended in the space of a different sort of threshold, New Year’s Eve echoed with ghosts from the past. Perhaps those ghosts turned me sour. Perhaps the gap left by a particularly theatrical grandfather was too large to be filled. For whatever reason, the turning of the year has recently not been an event to which I’ve given much thought or energy.

And yet, this year feels different. I find myself pulled towards celebration. As I pause in this threshold and look back at the past year, I am struck by the timbre of joy that wove through the days. For me, 2014 was a particularly joyful year. I have a theory as to why. This past year was the one in which, more than ever, I kicked my heels up in the face of what I previously believed necessary to live a successful life and started listening instead to where my passion, my desire, and my moments of greatest aliveness reside. I got up from behind the computer and headed out to the field. I slowed down (those around me might raise an eyebrow, but, for me, I really did). I took time to appreciate the way the light fell across the farm, the way our dog jumps straight in the air when he sees a squirrel, the way my niece wiggled when she started to walk. I gave myself permission to be messy, whether externally (I spend the better chunk of the year covered in dirt), or internally (maybe I don’t have all the answers….thank God!).

img_5967

This was a year during which I generally lightened my grip on life. And through those cracks between my fingers came a lot of joy. Grandad would be so proud. In the space previously occupied by a need for perfection has blossomed a celebration of the ridiculous. I used to think “silly” was an insult, a dismissal of something unimportant. Now, I’m questioning that assumption. As I move into 2015, I pray that I may make more time for silliness. May I become so silly with joy, that I fall ever more deeply in love with the daily act of being alive, in all its profound beauty and in its equally profound ridiculousness.

img_1448

Wonder

December, 2014

This evening, my husband and I decorated our Christmas tree, a little fir I thinned from the woods behind our house earlier today. After draping lights and hanging ornaments, we turned off the house lights, sat on the couch, and stared at the tree, carols in the background. A line suddenly stood out to me: “Fall on your knees…”

img_7659

I have always loved Christmas. Yes, what child isn’t drawn, at least in some way, to the opening of gifts? I’m not going to pretend I was above all that as a youngster. But I will say that the holiday was always about much, much more. My family really did Christmas. On December 1st, Mom pulled out the advent calendar, home made, each day a clue to a hidden something – chestnuts, oranges, a Christmas craft we’d do that day, a Christmas decoration we’d get to put up. We sang, played carols on various instruments, visited nursing homes, packed food boxes, made gifts and cookies and decorations, and read Christmas books with beautiful illustrations. I know, it sounds ridiculously idyllic, but it kind of was. The month of December literally glistened with wonder.

And really, I think, that is what Christmas is all about: wonder. With an Episcopalian minister for a grandfather, I was certainly aware, as a child, of the Christmas story. Although, somehow, in my mind it was always Linus telling it, as he does in A Charlie Brown Christmas, standing under a single spotlight, blanket draped over his arm. A story told simply, not needing drama to evoke wonder. A story of hope for a world in need, of the beauty in community, of celebrating the humble. A story of the power of the innocent and the young.

As a child, I remember being particularly drawn to the fact that it was not just a fellow youngster, but a baby that we were celebrating. The whole world paused to respect the potential carried in a child, to honor that child with wonder.

Regardless of religious background, there seems to be an important reminder in that story, in that act of honoring simplicity, the young, and the humble. I know it is so easy for me, these days, to feel completely overwhelmed by the horrific events occurring worldwide and the incredible challenges we face in the years ahead – overpopulation, climate change, terrorism…and on and on. Hope can seem distant, if present at all.

img_7513

And then I go for a walk with our dog and watch an eagle circle the pond, or listen to a beautiful piece of music, or look into my niece’s wide eyes, and I see wonder. And it is in that sense of wonder for the world that I find hope. For what is wonder if not a close cousin to love paired with respect? A recognition of what is important. A celebration of what is truly valuable and what must therefore be preserved.

Christmas is a time for pressing pause and savoring those simple gifts that, truly, keep us going in the world today. Because we must also turn our attention to the challenges. We need to move forward with awareness of the truth of what we face, for it is only by fully acknowledging those challenges that we can hope to succeed in finding solutions. And yet, we must balance those truths with the equally valid beauty all around us. This balancing act is something I feel constantly on the farm. Every day, there is hard work to be done. Some challenges can seem insurmountable. But even as we stand in the field with a never-ending list of to-dos, we are surrounded by beauty. Everywhere, every moment, an opportunity to pause, a call to wonder.

img_3195