Earlier this week I witnessed two new parents on the train with their baby. They gingerly settled into their seats, being sure there was no extra jostling. When the train squeaked around a curve they made sure to buffer the impact, rocking and shushing to their little one. When the child looked up at them and smiled, the parents’ faces were full of such pure joy that it made everyone around them smile too. Even better, when the baby started to fuss, the joy stayed completely intact. It was not the joy of a random happy moment, but something deeper and more essential.
Friends, sometime this week a gremlin will appear. If we are fortunate, the gremlin will be tiny: an oaf who cuts us off on the Mass Pike, or a cup of coffee gone cold, or a meeting that is running way too late. It could be bigger gremlins, too: old wounds opened up by a chance remark, deep disappointments that leave tears prickling in our eyes, meanness from those who we should be able to trust.
Might it be possible to meet these circumstances with something other than irritation, or anger, or distance? This week, when we are tempted to add a layer of armor, when we feel the gremlins start to stir, let’s muster up some whisper of those parents on the T.
Let’s see if we can view the fussing of the world, in big ways and small, for what it is – the cry of a most beloved child.
Let’s try to smooth the bumpy ride.
Let’s try to shush the noise.
Let’s try to reflect back the deeper love and joy that we all deserve – even when (especially when) the ride is not so smooth.
One of my favorite little meditations is a spiral of thankfulness. Pick an object near you – a coffee cup, say, or a book. First, give thanks for the object itself, how it provides utility and improves your day.
Now take one spiral out. Think of how that object came to be before you right now. The person who bought it, the store that sold it, the driver who carried it, the group who created it…
Now spiral a bit further… the clay that was dug, the minerals for the glazing… just a few layers of exploration, and we are already realizing the cup is not an “it,” it’s part of the living earth.
And if we’re thankful for the earth, we are thankful for the stars, for the galactic explosions that formed our planet. That boring coffee cup, brought to me through a giant web of human cooperation, is a pile of stardust.
With just one or two spirals it is easy to be overwhelmed by good fortune, by the beauty and power of the universe.
It’s no coincidence that we have a holiday for thankfulness as the days are getting darker. The gratitude, along with the harvest, can fill us up for the long winter ahead.
In the dark and in the cold, we are surrounded by stars.
When I walked the Camino de Santiago, I met some wonderful people, but I also spent quite a few days in silence, speaking only to ask for water, or for a spot in a dormitory. I was walking during the scorching Spanish summer, so I liked to start before dawn, setting off in the blue light that comes before the sun. One morning I came round a bend in the road and was nearly blinded by a huge flash of light. A streetlight? Headlights? A lantern?
No! It was the moon, lighting up the whole valley. You know that feeling when you see a dear friend in an unexpected place? That’s how I felt seeing the moon that morning. Alone in the quiet, in the middle of a new and uncomfortable journey, I felt a little comfort, a little joy. The sun rose soon after, but knowing the moon was still up there helped to ensure that my solitary journey was not lonely.
Earlier this week I was on a home bound plane, having started off that same day in another predawn blue. As the plane ascended, I noticed a red glowing semicircle off to the right, next to Orion, one of the very few constellations I can name. Eventually the red spot turned a bright clear white and I realized it was not a light on the wing at all, but my old friend the moon!
Maybe it was because I felt the same tiredness as I had on the Camino. Maybe it was because I’d had a day full of talking to brand new people, which is oddly similar to a day of silence. Maybe it was because I was way up in the air, where more creative thoughts can emerge. Whatever the reason, I recognized my old friend, with that same sense of comfort and joy.
Dear ones, we are often lucky to be surrounded by human bonds, by friends and family and even strangers who share connection and warmth and love. And beyond these ties, we have even more durable links. The moon was there before I was born. The moon has witnessed my entire life, and the lives of everyone I have ever known. The moon will be there long after I am gone.
And for a little while, she will shine down on me, lighting the way.
– This is the literal translation of “mo sheasamh ort lá no choise tinne,” the Irish phrase for trust, as noted by Pádraig Ó Tuama.
The concept of duration has been following me around all week – from investment discussions at work to a conversation at the gym to a glorious gathering this weekend with dear friends.
I’m not sure about the yield curve or ultramarathons, but I do know that friendships that go the distance are truly precious. To witness someone’s life unfold, to see how it cris-crosses with your own, to know a person – and to be known – across time and space and circumstance… what a terrific gift.
Some friends are steady like mountains, quiet presences that endure. Some are like rocks thrown in a pond, splashy at times, yet with ripples that extend ever outward. Some are the very ground beneath us, the places we stand on the days when our feet are sore.
Dear ones, wherever we find ourselves today, let’s take a moment to appreciate the people in our lives with staying power – rare, and vital, and essential. True gold.
– Brownie Girl Scout song, taught to me by my mom. Best sung in a round, by a chorus of very cute kids wearing beanies.
This weekend I heard a lovely metaphor, an image from economist David Colander that was conveyed by Brian Arthur, pioneer in complexity economics and longtime faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute. Colander compares the development of economics to the climbing of a mountain:
With two mountains enshrouded in clouds, the econo-group chooses to climb mountain number one, the mountain of order. It’s a handy choice, since the terrain is well-suited to the tools at hand, and the group makes steady progress. By the time they reach the top, we have some beautiful models that help to explain part of the world in an elegant and organized way.
However, from this first peak, above the clouds, lo and behold a second mountain looms beyond, far larger than the first. This is the mountain of organism, not order, where the routes to the summit are unproven and the tools for the climb have not yet been gathered. It would be an arduous and uncharted climb, but from this summit we might see an infinitely more complete view.
We all have situations where we’ve climbed mountain number one, only to find that there’s a bigger landscape out there than expected. It would be easy to categorize that first climb as a waste of time, to feel that we took the wrong job, committed to the wrong person, bought the wrong house, made the wrong investment. It would be easy to turn away from the other mountains and refuse to consider them at all. It would be easy to claim that those higher peaks didn’t look all that great anyway, that ours was the best in every possible regard.
Dear friends, our options are not limited to despair over an incomplete journey, or bitterness over roads untaken. From the tops of our little peaks, we could pack up and head to the other mountains despite all of the challenges, true explorers. We could help to create new equipment that would help others to explore different terrain. We could tell the stories of what we can see from our peak – and what we can’t – so that the beginnings of new maps can be sketched.
We can build the capacity for exploration, regardless of the journeys we choose to take ourselves. We can rejoice in what we’ve learned on our climbs, and be grateful that they have revealed mountains beyond mountains. We can enjoy the view, knowing that it has helped us prepare for adventures yet to come.