A new kind of caring

I was reading a blog earlier today by Jeff Goins.  He told how his daughter started making a fort at the playground, which inspired others to join her. At first, it was a single fort, but then the children branched out and made their own versions of what they thought one should look like. There was a little tussling, but they all got along well. 

“… I can’t help but wonder if what our world needs more of right now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”

Jeff Goins

There was no date on his blog, but I suspect it was before social distancing began and the fear of COVID-19 invaded all we do. To say that 2020 has ushered in an era of separation would be an understatement. How long will we have to ‘self-isolate’ before we can return to some semblance of ‘normalcy?’  I feel privileged to have known the world differently than today’s children and young people, and that I lived through the years before computers and television and travel to the moon.

I believe that play is not something that we are born knowing how to do; others need to show us how to free up our imaginations and prime the pump of creativity. Give a child a lump of clay and he or she will roll endless worms and round shapes, but show them what can be done, and they will spend a whole day happily creating animals and things that were always in their mind’s eye waiting to be rediscovered. 

Jeff’s blog made me remember the first day of school vacation some time in the 1950s. I don’t know the exact year, but I was probably nine or ten. The long, hot summer stretched out in front of us, and we were excited to be allowed to stay out until dark. 

We already knew how to play hopscotch, tag and jump rope, but that night, my Dad became the Pied Piper of 41st Street by teaching us ‘city kids how to play.’ Dad grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s, when many ‘stoop games’ were invented and improvised upon. There were no fishing holes to swim in, no squirrels to shoot, no trees to climb. Counting cars on street corners was the most exciting thing to do!

He showed us Statues/Red-Light-Green-Light, Box Ball, Red-Rover (Let me come over), (I declare) War, and a game similar to Twister, but played on the large squares marked off on concrete sidewalks. Every few evenings, he taught us a new card game and things to do with bottle caps, popsicle sticks, Yo-Yo’s and handballs. I looked forward to his homecoming, and so did the other children in our little corner of the world. He was my hero. 

Few people had air conditioning in the 1950s, at least not in our neighborhood of Sunnyside, New York. Adults would bring kitchen or folding chairs outside to escape heat trapped apartments and to sit in the small slices of shade created by tall buildings. 

My mother was a champion paddleball player.  We would have competitions to see who could hit the ball the longest, and she usually won. (She also excelled at Jacks and Pickup Sticks, board games like Checkers and my favorite, Fox & Hounds.) Tables were set up and young and old would play together.

Neighbors took turns bringing ice water to share. One might treat us to a plate of homemade cookies or a bottle of soda pop. Another might bring the day’s newspaper and section it out, or put a radio near an open window. 

I don’t remember anyone smoking cigarettes or drinking beer or wine or even coffee, but that is not to say they didn’t. No one swore, but I recall sometimes hearing a woman say, “not in front of the children!”  Decorum was strict. 

It was a local, American version of a practice that has taken place in small towns and large city squares for hundreds of years when people of many generations come together for companionship and sociability. In warmer climates, walking after supper, sitting in parks, on the steps of buildings and around fountains was an everyday occurrence, and an extension of the Living Room. 

The point was that the little babies, school children, young and old married couples, the singles, and the elderly formed a community of caring

Of course, there was always the corner pub where a man could have a pint and talk about the old days with his friends. Women might sit together and catch up on local happenings while watching the children at play in the park. Church events required people to work together on planning, organizing, decorating and cooking. People with similar interests could usually find others to spend time with enjoying hobbies ranging from stamp collecting to armchair travel and bird watching. These things could be done alone, but it was much more fun in the company of others.

It seems to me that we have been practicing seclusion for a very long time — even before our lock downs began. Our singular lives have deprived us of a rich heritage which has nothing to do with being in a family or a circle of friends. We sit in front of screens, talk to them, play with them, write letters and exchange pictures with them, give virtual hugs and emoticon kisses. 

So now, before the curve is flattened, while the numbers climb and our freedom is curtailed, we should consider how we’d like things to be when we emerge from our ‘caves.’  We’ve been discovering since March what’s really important to us, and learned new skills that we might not have tried if we didn’t face long stretches of time. 

Some of the last children conceived before COVID-19 are being born now. What kind of world will they find? The Great Generation is thinning out and although Boomers are still here, our memories of how the world was before technology will fade and one day be lost, too. 

Jeff Goins said in his blog that he “can’t help but wonder if what our world needs now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”

We all need to think more creatively and come up with fresh, novel ways to ‘build our fort.’



This is the first blog of a series entitled, Growing Up in the 1950s.
I welcome your comments and memories as I try to weave the past and the present to come up with ideas for a future we can all be proud of!

The title of this book made me cry.

I first heard of an Australian by the name of Nick Vujicic at a Tony Robbins Seminar in 2003. Although I was impressed, all the other astounding things I learned that weekend somewhat diluted Nick’s message.

But I saw his photo this morning and vaguely remembered. Being the ‘retired researcher’ that I am, I went down the rabbit hole – or rabbit ‘warren’ as my friend pointed out. Little did I know the many tunnels and passages my investigation would uncover.

As I listened to Nick’s story on YouTube, I couldn’t help but compare his saga to every other person, myself included, who had ever complained about anything. I thought about my own struggles throughout life of inadequacy and esteem, and my fights with procrastination, self doubt and fear.

After learning about this amazing person, I am greatly humbled.

You see, in 1982, Nick Vujicic was born with a rare syndrome that resulted in him having – or rather NOT having – any arms or legs. Doctors couldn’t explain it. He had normal siblings, but all he was given were two little toes on something he calls his ‘chicken foot.’

That description may remind some of the 1989 movie,”My Left Foot,” about Christy Brown (b.1932-d.1981) starring Daniel Day Lewis. Both men had parents who supported their physical independence, however that is where the similarity ends. The cause of their infirmity and how they lived lives differ greatly from one another.

Christy became an artist, author, and abusive recluse.

On the other hand, Nick Vujicic has helped millions of people suffering not only with disabilities of the body but also handicaps of the mind and soul.

His family loved him and challenged him to keep trying. “Stop complaining. Figure it out!” his father would say. Because of their support and insistence on treating him like a normal boy, he became the only child in Australia to attend regular school in a wheelchair. That was just the beginning.

We all know how mean children can sometimes be, but I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to go to class every day and to withstand the teasing and laughing and to watch with longing the other children with two arms and legs at play. The fears he must have had about never getting a job, having a family, being a burden to his family, and being alone for the rest of his life are not hard to imagine.

He tried to do his best, but understandably, he suffered despair and depression and often wished he was dead. At the age of only ten, he attempted to drown himself in the bathtub. What stopped him was the thought of the grief his act would have on his family.

His parents loved him without reserve and told him that God had a special purpose for his life. Nick wanted to believe them, but it was hard to accept what he learned in Sunday School: that he just had to pray. Praying would not grow arms and legs, and if God was a loving Father, how could he have allowed this to happen?

He would look into the mirror and say to himself, “There’s got to be at least one thing that’s good about me!” He wished people could see who he was on the inside.

Nick didn’t know it at that point, but his character was being annealed in the fire of his adversity.

His relationship with God grew, and he cried out that he needed God to help him heal his broken pieces. He began to understand that he was enough, just the way he was.

The person who faced him toward his purpose was a 61-year-old janitor who was cleaning his high school bathroom. “You’re going to be a speaker,” the older man told him.

It didn’t happen overnight. The old man egged him on and he resisted again and again. But Nick finally promised that he would speak in front of just six people. He did, and his transformation began. He learned that if God doesn’t give you a miracle, he can use you to be a miracle.

A harder lesson for him was that in addition to diligence and persistence, he needed to be patient and ‘wait upon the Lord.’ He discovered that, “You don’t know what beautiful things can come from your broken pieces until you give your broken pieces to the Lord.”

That became his mission: To show what God has done in his life, and to give hope where there is no hope.

I found happiness when I realized that as imperfect as I may be, I am the perfect Nick Vujicic. I am God’s creation, designed according to His plan for me. 

Nick not only finished high school but earned a college degree in Commerce and a double major in accountancy and financial planning. After graduating, he became a motivational speaker and developed a charming and unusual form of humor that can make even the hardest-hearted men laugh and cry. He is engaging, and his story is so filled with positivity and hope that he has brought his message to over 3500 audiences in 70 countries, and spoken to kings and presidents and the poor and heartsick alike.

He’s published six books and is worth an estimated half-million dollars. He funds worthy projects. He is joyous, eloquent, accomplished and energetic. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and doesn’t think his pain is more painful than yours. As he says, “Brokenness is brokenness! Fear is the biggest disability of all and it will paralyze you more than being in a wheelchair!”

I watched several videos of him before beginning to write this blog. One was a speech given in Dubai, another when he was inspiring prisoners in a jail, and a third was as a guest speaker at Rock Church in San Diego. He tailors his expressions and metaphors to his audiences, but the bones of the message are the same.

What would I have done with my life if I had possessed just one tenth of that man’s focus and faith? What would I have accomplished, completed, overcome? What would I have done differently? His limbs were his limits, and he pushed through them. What are mine? Even now?

One video about him lists his hobbies as ‘unknown,’ as if only a person with hands and legs can have a hobby. But Nick spends his time swimming, fishing, surfing, boating, golfing, writing, painting, canoodling with his wife (love that word) and cuddling with his children. Because, yes, he married a beautiful woman and has two sons and a set of twin daughters. When he met his future wife, he realized he “didn’t need to hold her hand, [he] just needed to hold her heart.”

The title was, “Life Without Limits.

Stop complaining. Figure it out.
And be patient.

A little syrup on your olive branch?

My son made me pancakes for dinner tonight.

I was feeling a little under the weather (it was really just an excuse for being lazy), and so my eldest son made me bacon and pancakes and brought them to me on a tray to eat in bed.

Frankly, I was surprised as all get-out! There are days when the Covid restrictions get to us all, and he and I have recently been like ships passing in the night. There’s just too much ‘togetherness.’ The offer itself seemed to be an olive branch—not exactly the white flag I was looking for, but it would do.

Now, I’m not a lover of pancakes or bread, and since trying to avoid most gluten, that generally includes anything made with flour. But just like the mother of a child who makes overcooked eggs and burned toast, I was prepared to eat them. And like it.

He’s really a good cook, even though he is highly picky about cutting off fat and making sure nothing is pink inside of any meat. He lowers the temperature on cooking instructions and bakes things maddeningly slow. But if he’s eating, he’s entitled to do it any way he likes.

So I picked up the fork and took a bite. Honestly, they tasted just like every other pancake I’ve had in my life—I always think of them as cooked library paste. But I took a second bite and then a bit of bacon. It was delicious, and as I chewed, I noticed… and remembered.

There was something really tasty in it that had nothing to do with flavor. In my mind’s eye, I heard my mother’s voice talking to me: You cooked this with love, didn’t you? I can tell.

Mom had a sixth sense. I don’t know about the eyes in the back of her head, but she sure could tell when something was done out of obligation, anger or love. She was like a radar detector and picked up vibrations in the air. She was able to walk into an empty room and ‘feel’ what had taken place there before her arrival.

I realized what I was savoring was the love he poured into making that meal. It surprised me more than a little, and when he returned to retrieve the tray, I said to him what my Mum had said to me.

He can often be gruff and usually shakes off any kind of compliment, but he did a double-take when he looked at me.

Was it my imagination? Or did he smile?

Love, the magic seasoning. Use liberally. You can’t use too much.

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes

I still can’t get used to writing the year, let alone adjusting to the the time change, and 2020 is almost over.

Remember how we’d say, “Only six months until the election”? Now we have to wait until almost Thanksgiving, and who knows maybe until Christmas to find out the results. The goalposts are always being moved.

Before I dreamed of becoming a writer, I wanted to be a ballerina; it seemed more attainable at the time.

We’re always waiting. When we were little it was our birthdays and Christmases that were always elusive, but then we had to wait until we graduated, or turned 21 or got the new job or until the wedding day. Before I dreamed of becoming a writer, I wanted to be a ballerina; it seemed more attainable at the time.

But that’s not the happily-ever-after we dreamed of because first, we needed to buy a house, or wait until the children were in school full-time, and on and on it went, and before you knew it, you’ve waited for the divorce (or two), you’ve retired, and your next birthday has another zero in it.

Photos are startling reminders of those touchstones, but in between are those days and events that are never recorded except in the recesses of our minds. I used to wonder what my mother was thinking about during those last years as she stared out the window for hours on end, but now I know.

woman holding teal pillow
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I did a fair amount of staring when I was a child in school, and was often reprimanded by my teachers to stop daydreaming. I suppose there are people who look through windows and see only what is really out there, but my mind was light years in the future and a million miles away.

Today, people are more inclined to accept the possibility that girls have ADHD as often as boys, but it takes on a different persona in them. They may be chaotic and curious, overly-sensitive and often overwhelmed, sometimes irrational and impulsive, but always interesting!

I once had a supervisor who worked in the entertainment industry with Michael Jackson, and he proudly exclaimed that his ADHD was the best thing that ever happened to him! He was a master at thinking out of the box and coming up with creative and lucrative solutions to seemingly impossible situations. He was also a bit of a maverick, but all the other accountants secretly admired him for his je ne sais quoi.

People with ADHD have no problem finding things to do and delight. Their dance card is filled with dozens of possibilities from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. I could spend an entire afternoon exploring the etymology of sayings such as the one by Thomas Paine to which I just alluded. My mother often reminded us that there is no excuse for boredom. She would sometimes quote Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958), “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” (I actually can’t recall her using the word, ‘suckers;’ that wasn’t her style.)

Photo by Free Creative Stuff on Pexels.com

How would most people entertain themselves during this current pandemic if they didn’t have Netflix and YouTube and all the offers of seminars on how to make money creating videos? Market predictions report that e-Learning will grow to $325 billion by 2025! Working at home in your pajamas at the kitchen table was a dream to commuters a decade or two before the Internet, and now it’s here.

Perhaps we ADDers do take too many detours and too many chances which don’t always work out right. But the alternative is to have lived an ordinary life, which to us is tantamount to having your teeth pulled out by a barber. Some of the most memorable events in my life were the ones that ‘fell out of the sky and into my lap.’ I can’t express them any other way.

There was the time my sister called to say she was driving her MG Midget across the country to be shipped overseas and would I want to come with her. Yes, ma’am! What a blast we had! Similarly, when my mother called from Germany to ask me to, “Come on over!” I got on a plane a few days later. If I hadn’t, I may never have visited all those wonderful European cities.

I might say that flying by the seat of my pants has been a hallmark of some of the largest and most important decisions of my life, but to say that would negate the hours and hours of contemplation, daydreaming, researching and thought behind those decisions. It is easier to lambaste a woman for ‘irrational’ behavior than to call her decisions quick and decisive, as would be said of those in leadership. The concept ‘Know-Think-Do’ is not a binary skill only available to a certain subset of the population.

Falling down an Internet Vortex may seem like a waste of time, but to a retired researcher (which is what I now call myself), it is an exciting exploration of the human experience. If I am no longer able to travel across the ocean, I can dream, and perhaps, one day, I will find myself on the train from London, through Barcelona and on to Marrakesh…

Is that Crosby, Stills & Nash I hear?

Under His Wings

This morning, I learned that the 7-year-old son of someone in our group fell 13-feet into a manhole. Miraculously, he escaped with just a few cuts and scrapes.

I am reminded of a similar story that happened to the grandson of a neighbor many years ago. I’ll call him Bob. Bob had been on the town First Aid Squad when a call came in saying that a young boy had fallen from a third floor balcony – twenty or more feet. As Bob was driving, his partner jotted down the address.

“What was that address again?” His partner repeated it, and all the blood drained from his face when he realized that he was headed toward his daughter’s apartment building. “That’s my grandson,” he managed to say even as he left the car and ran to the child who was on the pavement surrounded by neighbors.

“Hey Bud, don’t move. I’m here, we’ll take care of you. Don’t worry.” He fought back the concern that might have shown on his face.

red blue and green bird feather

“Oh Granddad,” the tyke said. “I’m not worried. They already told me I was OK.”

Bob assumed that the neighbors had calmed the child down. His partner arrived with the stretcher and gear. As they lifted him together, his grandson said, “When I was falling, they put their hands under my bottom and said, ‘We’ve got you.’ They were all sparkly.”

Bob looked at his partner to see his reaction, which was a non-committal shrug. Had the child hit his head? There was no blood. What was he talking about? With little Bobby safely in the ambulance, they headed for the emergency room.

Less than an hour later, a doctor came out and spoke to the distraught mother and grandfather. “He’s fine. Barely a scratch. How far did you say he fell?”

“At least twenty feet,” Bob’s daughter told him. “He was playing on the balcony, and must have climbed over the railing to try and get to the neighbor, and suddenly, he was gone!”

“Well, they say God protects fools and children. He’s a very lucky boy!” The doctor patted Bob on the shoulder and turned to walk away.

“Doctor? May I ask you something? My grandson said that when he was falling, he felt someone ‘put their hands under him’ and tell him they had him. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

The kindly young man smiled. “If you believe in miracles, I think this could be considered one.” When Bob didn’t say anything in response, he continued. “My father was a surgeon. When I was a boy, he would sometimes come home and tell us about things he couldn’t explain. I’ve heard stories directly from close friends, too. We have no answers, so we just accept the possibility that we don’t know everything.”

That little boy could never be convinced that he hadn’t seen angels. Years later, the memory was as vivid as it was on the day of the accident. I imagine that once a person escapes suffering or death, they never again doubt that there is something that intervenes on our behalf in moments of danger.

Back in the 1970s, my best man’s son fell into the frozen lake in his backyard. By the time he was finally pulled out he had been in the frigid water for many minutes and had no pulse. They resuscitated him, but the doctors said he would most likely wind up brain dead. Amazingly, he suffered no damage and went on to be a perfectly normal little boy. Doctors credited hypothermia and the young age of the victim.

Is it luck or is there some rational explanation that prevents a catastrophe from happening in life or minimizes its effects? A classic case is the person who suddenly decides not to get on a flight, or to take another route and later finds he’s avoided a disaster.

Both of my sons have had brushes with death, although I personally have not. In many cases, people say they are changed. My mother told me of her experience as a young woman and it forever changed my viewpoint and set me on a fifty-year search for answers.

When we hear of these occurrences or benefit ourselves and are unable to explain them, we can simply go on as we were and live out our time unmindful of the gift we have been given, or we can be grateful for another chance to complete our life’s work.

We can be protected not only from danger, but from bad decisions or even unscrupulous salesmen. Each morning I do what I call ‘protective work,’ just as I was taught to do as a child. I envision myself and my loved ones surrounded by love, in a kind of bubble of white light. Any time I get into a car, I mentally do the same, not just for myself, but for all I encounter on the road.

At the very heart of these incidents – and surrounding us all – is a force that we cannot see or touch. Some call it the Universe, with a capital “U.” Its presence in our life is not dependent upon following any religion, or even in the belief of a God of any name.

When we recognize that the Intelligence that created the world is all around us, guiding, sustaining and protecting, these little miracles can be a powerful reminder that we are always ‘in the palm of His hand.’

Don’t ever say, “I can’t.”

Our writer’s group recently had a discussion about the lament, “I can’t.”

We’ve all said it, but if it’s truly something we want, we usually do find a way to make it happen. Many people have been inspired to act boldly after being told something is impossible, or they aren’t capable, or no one has ever done it before. The best biographies and stories I have ever read are about people who have overcome limitations and proved their critics wrong.

gauntlet

Having someone throw down a gauntlet is often exactly what we need to spur us into motion. Long ago I read about a man with an incredible memory. As a small boy, he overheard his primary school teacher tell his mother he was hopeless, and would never amount to anything. “Your boy can’t read, can’t remember his lessons, and can’t even write his own name properly.”

That fired something up inside him and he vowed to show everyone how wrong that teacher had been. Years later, he became known as Germany’s Memory Man and astounded audiences with his ability to remember every person’s name in the theatre. He was able to quote Tolstoy’s War and Peace in its entirety! Why? Because he told himself over and over that he could.

I’m sure that when my sister reads this, she will recall our mother saying to us, “Don’t say I can’t, say I won’t!

“But that’s not it!” I would argue. “I really just can’t.”

I won't do it

“But why can’t you do it? Is it too hard? Or, don’t you have time?” She paused for effect. “Or don’t you want to do it badly enough?”

I honestly think that my mother was put on earth to be the Tenth Man in my life. In military strategy, when a group of men agree on a plan of action, a Tenth Man is called in to play the part of the ‘Devil’s Advocate. ‘ The contrariness of this person challenges the other nine and incites them to come up with new and even more successful ideas.

Mom waited for me to answer. “You really can do anything, you know,” she said more softly. “It may take more time or money than you’re willing to spend. You may have to find the tools or the energy, but if you want something badly enough, you CAN make it happen.”

I recall thinking at the time that having her challenge me could be a good thing. “So the question is not can I, but will I or won’t I?”

She smiled. “And once you decide, you’ll be surprised how much easier it can be to accomplish your goal than you thought it would be – as long as you don’t get in your own way.”

We often say things about ourselves, our capabilities or our methods that may have been true at one time, but that we don’t want to be true anymore. Almost as if there is a tape recorder running in our minds (I am showing my age), we repeat statements that are no more than habits. Say you’re tired, and you will be. Say you have no energy, and you’ll stay on the couch. Say you can’t do something, and you will not be able to muster up the wherewithal to do it.

Patricia NealIn the 1960s, my father attended a number of business conferences based on a growing movement called Positive Mental Attitude. PMA, as it was known, promoted the idea that attitude is nine-tenths of the battle. Classics such as ‘Think and Grow Rich,” and “The Power of Positive Thinking,” were often quoted in our home.  I’ve read them each several times.

61MRwKNHNRL._SY438_BO1,204,203,200_One of the most beloved Golden Books of all time was about a little train that showed the advantages of optimism and hard work.  The mantra, “I think I can, I think I can…” is a a phrase many of us will remember from our childhood.  We would do well to ‘take a page out of that book’ and live it! 

“Paris is always a good idea.”

– Quote from Audrey Hepburn

In an earlier blog, I wrote about how important it is to be really specific about the things we want in life. I reiterated how I had always wanted to see Paris with someone I loved, and wound up going with my sister Andrea, which meant I DID get what I asked for. Exactly.

About twenty years later, I found myself planning a trip to France–this time with John. When I met him several years earlier, he was new to the idea of visualization, the Law of Attraction, and manifesting. On the other hand, I had been brought up in a religion that was primarily metaphysical, and all the contemporary New Age gurus such as Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Rhonda Byrnes of The Secret fame, were essentially restating what ancient writers had written and what I had been taught since childhood.

At first, John looked at me with the same disbelief I received throughout my youth: “That’s weird. What are you, a witch or something?” But when I began to read passages to him from a newly published book at that time, “Ask and It is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks, he began to embrace the idea of taking control of his life by directing his thoughts.

“I’ll SEE it when I BELIEVE it,” was the first hurdle he approached. As he began to discern the difference between repeating  Coué-like phrases and making declarations, he was rewarded with some successes. He was incredulous as little things like parking spaces appeared within seconds of driving to a store entrance; or when a thought occurred to look in an unlikely place for an item he thought was lost, or when answers just ‘showed up’ when he needed it.

“Beginner’s luck,” I teased, but I was also pleased that he was growing away from the purely material way of looking at the world. An oft-quoted phrase by Mary Baker Eddy in our household when I was a child was, “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionately to their occupancy of your thoughts.” As I get older, I realize how true her euphemisms were, even if couched in 19th century prose.

Now, just because I knew about these ideas didn’t mean I practiced them all the time; if I did, I’d probably have everything my heart desires. It seems that after long use of something we often get lazy, and like a relationship gone stale, I began to take metaphysics for granted.

I found myself in that state of mind in Paris.

AudreyJohn and I had a wonderful week driving through the French countryside. We visited Versailles, Amboise, Blois, and the Loire Valley with all its beautiful castles and grounds. Little surprises seemed to be around every corner that delighted the eye and the palate. We met locals and shop owners and families who were so authentic and happy, it made us wish we could stay forever. But of course, that’s what vacations are for–to learn things about other cultures and try to incorporate them into life at home.

As we made our way towards Paris (John, for the first time), we saw a sign for Orleans. John had seen a photo of the quaint little town in a brochure and wanted to visit, but never said anything because he didn’t think we’d have time. But a sign said the Fêtes Johanniques, the festival for Joan of Arc, was taking place that day, and we veered off the A10 toward the celebration. “See John, you put it into your consciousness, and here we are!” I told him, mirroring what my parents had always told me.

That little town turned out to be a big city, and true to form, John found the last available parking space, the one that was closest to the parade route. We marveled at this recurring talent of his and joined in the revelry just as Joan was riding past our spot in the crowd. We followed her and the Mayor in all his pageantry to the beautiful cathedral where the Mayor gave us a private tour.

“This is just like the picture!” he whispered. My eyes found his and we were locked together in that private language that couples in harmony have. It works! he said without speaking. Are you surprised? I silently answered.

We were falling in love with small-town France and wanted to delay leaving it. Paris would be exciting and romantic, but a quick, relaxing dinner (anything less than two hours in France is quick) would nicely finish off our rural escapade. We reviewed all the things we had seen and done, shared a decadent dessert, and were finally ready to head back toward the City of Lights.

colzaThe sun was fading over the fields of colza (rape seed), lavender and tall, slim windmills, and we realized with a dismay that we would never make it to the car rental location before it closed. “No matter,” John said confidently. “We’ll stop somewhere for a map and return the car in the morning.”

Drawing upon my own memories, I envisioned the nightmare of driving in Paris: tight, medieval lanes, one-way streets, cars jammed into spots like sardines and the possibility of getting lost. I got out the little flashlight I had in my bag and searched for our itinerary. “Rick Steves says that some hotels have parking garages, but you have to reserve well in advance.” I realized with dismay that I wouldn’t know how to use the phones, even if we found one.

Eyeing my worried look, John turned his eyes back to the road and answered by quoting a principle he was becoming comfortable with. “What do you always tell me? Don’t bring that negative energy into this.”

I’ll admit, that got my dander up a bit. Who was HE to tell ME about staying positive? He had never heard about the ‘Law of Attraction’ until he met me. He had never been to Paris. I took a deep breath. It was getting late, we were tired, and it had started to rain.

We found a petrol stop with a convenience store where I struggled to make myself understood. In my experience, few people in France speak English outside of the big cities, or perhaps they are just reluctant to do so with Americans. If you at least try to speak their language, they will be very nice.

As I unfolded the map on the front hood to take advantage of the store’s interior light, John walked around the car trying to figure out why everyone had been beeping at us as they passed. “Tell me if the brake lights work.” They did. And so did all the directional signals. “Are you sure?” He pressed.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said, a little more forcefully than necessary, then added, “They’re a little different from an American car, but they work.” We continued on our way, straining to read the signs through the pouring rain.

We missed our exit off the ring road and had to approach the city center from the North. We found ourselves on a wide boulevard, passing gated shops. Cars were beeping at us and we were clueless as to why. Finally, a driver leaned over at a stop light and shouted that we had our rear high beams on. We had been blinding everyone. John fumbled and found the knob to turn it off. “Merci,” he called to the driver in that sing-song way that the French speak. With the mystery solved, cars stopped honking, and thankfully the rain stopped as well.

Our moment of relief was short-lived. As I drew an imaginary line on the map between where we were and where we wanted to be, I realized we were heading straight toward the Seine and the center of Paris. I had hoped to avoid heavy traffic.

city art paris building

We’ll drive past that big church,” he said nonchalantly.

I eyed him with disbelief. “Notre Dame? You’ll just drive past Notre Dame, in the center of the city, with all the tourists walking around?”

“What’s the big deal?” I kept my mouth closed as we drove over the Rue de la Cite with its beautiful cathedral lit up like a jewel. The sight of it at night took my breath away.

“We’re almost there,” he said triumphantly. “There’s the Opera. We’ll be in our room opening that bottle of wine we bought in Chenonceau within the hour.” Was that just male bravado speaking? I wondered. But he said it with such conviction that I started to believe him. Was I creating the problems with my negative thoughts?

I looked at the clock. It said 8:35. We pre-paid for several nights at the hotel and were assured for late arrival, but as we drew closer to our destination, the streets narrowed and became incredibly confusing. We hadn’t passed a single open parking spot. “Don’t worry,” John said, “I’ll just drop you off at the hotel with the bags, park the car, and then I’ll come back.”

Suddenly, I was recalling the time Andrea and I got lost in Montparnasse after all the buses had stopped for the night. I shudder to think what would have happened if not for a young man who walked us to the street where our hotel was located.

“You don’t understand,” I said with real anxiety in my voice. “If you drop me off, I’ll never see you again! You don’t even speak the language!”

John didn’t answer. He has a calming effect on me when I get wound up and realizes that sometimes it’s best to say nothing. But after driving in circles and coming to the same corner three times in a row, even he was getting frustrated. Suddenly, without warning, he pulled into a residential driveway and shut the car off. I thought he was angry. “I don’t know what to do,” he admitted.

I realized I was caught up in a fear or anxiety ‘loop’–and I was pulling him there with me. A thought occurred to me, ‘Stop Everything and Listen!’ We sat there in silence and waited.

It could have been minutes or only a few seconds later when we were startled by a knock on the window. “Puis-je vous aider?” an older woman dressed all in black asked John.

He rolled down the window. “Oh oui, merci,” I said to the kind lady. Her husband stood nearby. “Notre destination est Hotel Mogador at…ummm… cinquante-et-un Rue de la Victoire.” I had been practicing for just such an encounter.

Ah! L’hotel Mogadar.” And then she rattled off in French a lot of droits and gauches, meaning lefts and rights.

John interrupted. “Do you speak English?” The husband, who had been standing nearby, shook his head and smiled. “Celeste, you’re giving them walking directions!” He proceeded to tell John how to find the hotel.

And then we were on our way. We turned into the correct street and saw the hotel name on the building ahead on the left. “There it is!” I exclaimed. It looked like the city of Oz in the distance.

A moment later, John asked, “Do you see what I see?” I turned my head slightly and watched as a car pulled out of a space right across from the door of the hotel. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. “I’ll run in and ask if it’s OK to park there and how much it will cost.”

John was removing our bags from the trunk. “We’re good,” I told him, “and no charge after eight PM.”

We checked into our lovely room, set the bags down, and he opened that bottle of wine. I realized I had learned a good lesson from our experience–one that was more important than simply getting lost and finding our way.

John had been adamant when he said he would be able to find a parking spot, and it showed up exactly where he expected at exactly the right time. He believed it, and then he saw it, not the other way around. If we had arrived a minute or two earlier or later, it might not have been there.

It would be easy to say that his advantage was that he didn’t have old memories clouding his optimism, but there was more to it than that. I had a personal lesson to learn. I was thinking that he was practicing the visualization I had taught him. So, I had not only doubted him, I had been haughty and egotistical about it.

the-more-i-learn-of-physics-the-more-i-am-drawn-to-metaphysics-quote-1

The ability to manifest is available to everyone. It is a power that when utilized can make a lot of things in our life much easier. If we remember not to get caught up in our own fears and negativity, and if we ask for what we want in a clear, direct way, when the time is right, our ideas will manifest into our experience.

It’s been over a decade since we went to Paris, but I will always keep this story in my memory to remind me not to become jaded about the power of our thinking – both positive and negative.

Oh, the clock on the bedside table said 9:30 as we sipped our wine. One hour had passed, just as John had envisioned.

This is what ‘being in the flow’ looks like…

A writer – or for that matter, any kind of artist – if s/he is lucky, may occasionally find himself in the throes of a creative power that is so enthralling and powerful that the words on paper, the brush on canvas, or the notes that fill the air take on an ethereal quality.

I’ve been fortunate to experience several of those major transcendent episodes over the course of my life. There is nothing more memorable than being so fully in the moment that your entire being is consumed with the energy of creation. Words flow almost effortlessly as if time stops and personal sense fades away. Every detail is synchronously registered in your body, and yet you may not even be aware of tears that stain your face because you are living a precious moment in the sweet spot of life.

I chanced upon this video today, performed by the popular Croatian cellist from 2CELLOS. It literally transported me into the space in time when I first heard those first few melancholic notes. What an incredible ability the mind has to recreate what it has known from the past when imprinted with emotion.

This is what ‘being in the flow’ looks like.

“Adagio for Strings,” composed by Samuel Barber, is one of my very favorite pieces of classical music. Although it is slow and some may call it ‘depressing,’ it pulls at my heartstrings. Hearing it only once imprinted the notes into my brain over fifty years ago. You don’t have to know the composer, or the name of the piece to be drawn into its soaring, magical world.

As I watch Stjepan Hauser’s face, I can see that he is not just playing the cello, he IS the cello and he IS the music. He is so in tune with his instrument that you can see every note play on his face. With eyes closed, he blocks out the material world and enters the sublime.

The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man’s soul.
–Ludwig von Beethoven

We marvel a the great artists and writers who have earned a place in the sun for their work. Many have admitted that their talent was channeled through them, that “David was in the stone,” that “God dictated” and they listened, and we can recognize these gems because they have rightly floated to the top.

For many of us, it’s a long, hard slog. Where do we go for inspiration? After many false starts we realize that the Muse is not something to be found ‘out there.’ It is an imperative that wells up and fills us with the substance found in secret rooms in our heart, some barely covered with dust, others only found after years of excavation.

As an aspiring writer from a very young age, I recognized that I saw the world through the lens of words and literature. Books became both teacher and friend to me, and to this day I cannot part with many I read in my young adulthood. I learned from the successes and failures of Scarlett O’Hara as much as I have from Michael de Montagne and Wayne Dyer. Each applied to me at a point in time that connected me to its writer.

Creative people are often reluctant to show their work to others because they are concerned they will be judged not only for their creations, but the thoughts which ‘inspired’ them. I don’t think any of us truly stops striving for perfection or being fearful of what people will think of our work – and of us!

After winning awards as a young man and enjoying an illustrious career as a composer, Samuel Berber tore up a musical score when critics rejected his opera. He moved to Europe and became deeply depressed. Even the successful are not immune. I wonder whether Michelangelo was upset that one of David’s hands turned out larger than the other.

When we begin to truly love and accept ourselves, the false modesty that plagues all performers falls away, and like the superfluous marble from Michelangelo’s David, reveals the beauty beneath.

As I age and grow more comfortable with the understanding that my life experiences – both good and bad – are rich with tools I need to mine and share, I become more willing to step out and tell my own stories. In this way, I hope to help others succeed and learn from lessons I may have had to learn the hard way.

And when I ‘get myself out of the way’ as the musician above has done, and concentrate on my purpose, the words flow.

“Your gifts lie in the place where your values, passions and strengths meet. Discovering that place is the first step toward sculpting your masterpiece, Your Life.”
— Michelangelo

After the battle, sharpen the sword.

I always assumed the phrase cited above was something from the Bible, as my very wise mother was fond of quoting to stress a point rather than going into long explanations. Yet after an Internet search for its source, I could only find references to a legendary Japanese swordsman and to Steven Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Both links were excellent for their particular situations, but it didn’t really satisfy the meaning Mom wanted to impart.

As it turns out, demonstrating examples and lessons was a talent she learned from her own father, and as time passes I realize that her succinct method of using aphorisms was a smart strategy.

Let’s face it, teenagers hate to be lectured to, and in fact I know of no one who does. Participating in discussions – well, that’s a different matter. Mother could talk a blue-streak on almost any topic under the sun, but she was also a master of what she called, ‘verbal shorthand,’ or to quote another aphorism, ‘One picture is worth a thousand words.’ Because of its impact, I recall the discussion in vivid detail.

“That’s stupid,” my teenage self shot back. “they should do it before the battle.” She just smiled, and I’m certain she realized that I considered everything she did or said to be stupid or embarrassing. “You need a sharp sword to fight, so it should be done beforehand.” I added with the kind of annoyance sixteen-year-old girl seem to possess in abundance.

“Very true,” she agreed. “But how do you know who your enemy is or when they will strike again?”

I couldn’t understand where the conversation was headed because it began in response to chatting on the telephone about winning a writing competition. In the days before cell phones and Ma Bell Princess extensions, most people had only one phone in the middle of the house. Ours was in the kitchen / dining area, a place where I could usually find Mom reading or cooking. It was really hard to have private conversations without hiding in a closet, and besides, there was no closet in our kitchen.

“I wasn’t listening to your conversation, but I couldn’t help but hear you say to your friend that you had won first place.” She asked cagily.

“I didn’t think I was boasting, but maybe it did sound that way,” I replied, hedging my answer. She smiled, and I was afraid she was going to drag out her “Pride goeth before a fall” pitch. But she surprised me.

“Darling,” she began, and I then I knew that I wasn’t in trouble, “sometimes after you do something wonderful, people can become very jealous.” I sat down and joined her at the table as she continued. “They are very happy for you, but at the same time, they wish it was them doing the celebrating.”

I thought for a moment, “She was kind of quiet when I told her, but I was just so happy and I wanted to share the news with my best friend.”

“I know, dear, but sometimes it’s better to have a few successes before you tell people things. Envy can cause people to remarks that wither your joy and stop you from succeeding.” The puzzled look on my face made her continue, “They don’t do it on purpose, of course. But just like with a plant, you have to nurture those tender little sprouts until they’re strong enough to make it on their own.”

That sounded rather ominous to me at the time, but because mother did have eyes in the back of her head, I was sure she had reason to believe what she was saying was true. Still, I had been talking to my best friend. How could she wish me any ill will?

If I initially thought I was going to get away without some Biblical euphemism, I was wrong. “Mary pondered it, and kept it in her heart,” mother explained, “because she needed to protect the Promise.”

I recalled how a neighbor had just announced that she was expecting, but the due date was only five months away. “We wanted to keep it a secret until we were sure everything was O.K.” she had told us, barely masking her excitement.

I was just learning about the birds and the bees, and I didn’t realize that having a baby wasn’t a ‘slam-dunk’ thing. “You mean like Suzanne not saying anything when she first found out about the baby?” I was starting to understand.

It’s been over fifty years since that conversation, but I have come to see the truth in her admonition. It is often best to have a few successes under our belt so that our confidence is firmly anchored or ‘protected.’ Mom was my biggest supporter, but I realize now that in this instance she was speaking from experience. There had been people who had come between her and her own ‘bliss.’ What she didn’t recognize was that people can also project their own fears onto others – even onto people they love.

When we celebrate a victory, we should remember that nothing is a guarantee–not the next touchdown, the next novel or the next business deal. A stray comment may delay our success – even for decades. It may erode our confidence and diminish our purpose.

But as long as we remain prepared for action, weigh the validity of thoughts that may come to us either internally or from others, we will be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

And when the battle finally comes-and it will-we will be ready.

“When the battle drum beats, it is too late to sharpen your sword.”
—Winston Churchill

They would have burned me at the stake


“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be someone.
Now I realize I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin

October 5, 2020

Last week I wrote about how re-reading my old journals brought to light a practice that has probably helped me through my darkest hours. During the 1980s when I was a single mom and worried about so many, many things, I would write down the mixed up, fearful things on my mind. The act of getting my thoughts down on paper was liberating and somehow helped me to navigate the dark waters of my life.

Throughout those pages, I also created bulleted lists of things that I wanted or needed. They weren’t things like trips to Europe or diamond tiaras, but answers to what I should do about an issue, or a request for overtime at my job, or perhaps to find a lost item. I was alone for the first time in my life, and my problems were not the type that one could chat about with coworkers, so my journal became my best friend.

Those were the days I would get up and catch a bus at six in the morning to go to a temporary job in Manhattan. Money was so tight that I could only afford a twenty-five cent banana for breakfast, and I walked thirty-five minutes each way in all kinds of weather to save the fare. Some days it would rain so hard that I called it a ‘two-umbrella day’ because I had to stop at Rockefeller Center to change from one to the other to stay dry. It’s odd the way we can look back on times of adversity and find that they are when our Creator annealed the steel that was to become our character.

As I said in My Own 800 Words, I was startled to see how many of the things I asked for did materialize, and there were a few that happened with such proximity to the request that I learned never to doubt that there is a Listener who always hears our call for help.

One of the first incidences I can recall in detail happened back in 1989, and it has become a touchstone to me. I had been fixing up some little nagging details around the house and noticed that I was missing a wooden door stopper. It was not the kind that you could just go out to the hardware store to buy, but was common in the 1920s when my house was built. I recall saying out loud, “I wish I had a stopper to match.” Nothing earth-shattering. A simple statement, and I let it go.

That night it rained like Noah’s flood, and the next morning the streets were full of flowing rivers of water and huge puddles that I had to step carefully around to get to the bus stop without drowning. As I passed a streetlight, something caught my eye, and I bent down to pick it up. There, in the middle of the road, was a wooden door stopper. I kid you not! It was almost, but not quite, like the others in my house. As I held it in my hand, I had to hold back the tears lest they ruin my eye makeup.

It’s hard to explain the joy which that one little piece of wood brought to me that dark morning and continues to do so till this day. As I sat on the hour-long bus ride, I contemplated how many other times my requests – or prayers- had been answered and I just hadn’t realized it.

Now, of course, I can look back on decades of events that happened so frequently for me that people used to ask if I was a witch. There was the time that I needed a back door – again, a wooden one – and an odd, custom made size that couldn’t be purchased in the store. I called and searched everywhere, but most doors were metal, or without windows, or horribly expensive. I didn’t have the money for a carpenter. Then one day before going to the market, I felt the urge to measure my old door.

Not five minutes later, I drove past a house on the highway that had some construction work going on and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a door. I made a U-turn, parked in the driveway, and asked one of the men if the pile was all trash. It was, and so I pulled out my measuring tape and found it would be the perfect size if cut down two inches. The men helped me put it into the back of my hatchback, and off I went with a kind of thankful daze across my face. “What are the odds,” I asked myself.

Here’s the pièce de résistance: When I got home, my eldest son was with a friend who just ‘happened’ to be a carpenter, and who had his tools with him. Within the hour, I had a brand-new door installed and working properly! His payment was a nice dinner.

What I learned was that I need to be precise about what I ask the Universe for. I once said, “I want to go to Paris with someone I love,” and I wound up going with my sister. We had a fabulous time, and I’m really glad my first trip there was with her, but the lesson was clear: Be specific. Be so minutely exact about your asking that there is no room left for interpretation.

So, what do I want today?