The Magpie Manifesto.

Dear friends,

breathenoticelove

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s a sign of the times, but some days I am tempted to jump headlong into the pit of existential despair and allow myself to be swallowed by irrevocable disheartenment.

I know. Not exactly the maxim of the Gratitude Girl.

This week I was grievously buffeted by the news around me. One corporate leader is going to jail for 28 years for knowingly selling tainted peanuts that sickened and killed people; one corporate leader admitted his auto company created an emissions system meant to defraud consumers and evade environmental regulations; one corporate leader defended his “market based” rationale for buying a life-saving drug then increasing the price 5000%. Meanwhile, many of our presidential candidates are appealing to the basest human instincts, including an exclusionary, belittling, deceitful and winner-takes-all doctrine. And if that wasn’t enough to discourage us, millions of human lives are at stake as Middle East conflicts continue to escalate and those seeking refuge are literally washing ashore.

Really, how does a tender and seeking soul find its way in the midst of all this?

The other night, Mr. Mom and I discussed at length the Syrian crisis. Mr. Mom said he’d be willing to “adopt” a refugee family, where adoption means bringing them into our home and sponsoring them financially. He asked if I would be willing and I said yes, but our conversation went nowhere because how does one do that, anyway? I even spent some time researching the topic, seeking out online information and resources about the United State’s program to accept (in my opinion, far too few) refugees. I found no path for taking concrete action beyond contributing to various charitable organizations, which seems like my reflexive action far too often when I am moved by the need around me. I work in philanthropy so I will never disparage the role it plays in improving our world, but so often I’m yearning to do more than write a check or endorse a cause but am somehow stopped short of translating my passion and my compassion into something that feels more like direct action.

Yesterday I heard a newscaster say one of the Pope’s messages during his US visit will be to encourage others to “serve people instead of ideas.” This hit in me the gut in a way only a moral authority can provoke. I’m not Catholic and I’ve never looked to the Pontiff for guidance, but I’ve found Pope Francis to be the kind of leader our world desperately needs. His words made me ask myself how many times have I served ideas instead of people? (Maybe just as importantly, how many times have I reduced people into mere ideas, especially people I think represent ideas I find distasteful?) How have I actually, tangibly served people beyond my family, friends and colleagues? Honest answers elude me, as does the conviction that I am one person who can make a difference in the midst of so much human suffering.

In times like these, I look inward. I examine the roughest clods of my intentions, determined to unearth bits of beauty and grace that only the divine can inspire. I seek solace in what I know to be the kindness and love that live within all of us. I face myself and the universe with a tenderness that is both terrifying and necessary to take another step, to wake tomorrow, to confront the world and my place in it with hope as my shield against the outrage and cynicism that dog us all.

Many times I reiterate – sometimes to myself, sometimes to others – my values. Doing so sometimes makes me chuckle as I think I sound a little like Aibileen Clark in “The Help.” “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” I mentally shout to myself and to the unseen broken hearts around me. Inevitably, I end up meditating on the two pieces of wisdom I find most centering: the Buddha’s “Do no harm” and Jesus’ “Do unto others.” I wonder if earnestness counts in the face of human frailty as conspicuous as my own as I seek a path lit by altruism and look for even a single hand I can hold along the way.

I don’t pretend to have answers, dear friends. Some days I ache with the knowledge that my time is short, my focus too self-serving, and my reach barely beyond my nose. I struggle to find substance in the paucity of my effort. Some days I even shake my fist at my God-given sentience, an existential ingrate prone to irritation by the spiritual chafing of an examined, some might say privileged, life.

And then, just when the despair threatens to swamp me, I somehow quiet. I remind myself to trust in all that is larger than me. I let go of the corporal and rest in the discarnate, in the mystical psalm that connects you and I to each other and sings the praise of a love that is universal and unending, even as I struggle to understand it. I offer three words of encouragement, to myself first, then to whoever is closest.

Breathe. Notice. Love.

Breathe. Why do I forget this simple instruction, which is the easiest way to reboot, to extend myself a kindness?

Notice. I will not sleepwalk through this day. I will take note. I will acknowledge. I will honor that from which some turn away. I will praise and affirm those who inspire it; I will grieve for and hold those who need it. If nothing else, I will bear witness.

Love. Because that is the beginning. And that is the end.

With gratitude {for three simple words, the best I can do in these times},

Joan, who got some very good news yesterday and so is reminded the sun will come out tomorrow

Motel Dharma.

Dear Friends,

Neon Motel Sign and Arrow

I met a Buddhist monk last week. The encounter made me laugh, it made me think, it made me feel heart-full.

Like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) in “As Good As It Gets,” I believe the highest praise you can give a person is to say he or she makes you want to be a better person. I left my conversation with the Venerable Pannavati aspiring to do so much more in this world, to radiate her kind of warmth and wisdom on all souls in my orbit.

The part that made me laugh: Pannavati was traveling through my town on her way to a larger city for a meditation retreat she is hosting this weekend. I mentioned to you a while back that I recently joined a local Sangha (a sanskrit word for a Buddhist community) and our leader was kind enough to arrange for several of us to have individual consultations with Pannavati at a local motel. The motel is on a busy thoroughfare and is more than a little “tired.” (I’m being kind. It’s the biggest dive in town.) Anyway, I showed up for my midday meeting, dressed to the nines because of an important work engagement, and ended up having to stand outside one of the rooms for several minutes while the monk finished a previous appointment. I’m pretty sure the heavily tattooed man in the parking lot who complimented my sports car and my clothes wondered why the person I was meeting didn’t immediately let me in the room. I’m also pretty sure a drug deal went down in the parking lot while I stood there. And, I feel quite certain at least a handful of townsfolk drove by the cheap motel, saw me standing outside one of the rooms, and felt sorry for Mr. Mom thinking I have a thing on the side. The whole scene was like something out of a Cohen Brothers movie and was NOT the kind of setting in which I expected to seek enlightenment.

On the other hand, it was probably just the kind of place Jesus would have gone to minister to the needy. In fact, I think he would have consorted with the cast of Motel Dharma so — in the words of my favorite Pope — “Who am I to judge?”

The part that made me think: Our entire conversation. I can’t explain it except it was like reading and absorbing five different holy texts in less than a hour. Actually, it was more like chugging all the wisdom in the world, if all the wisdom in the world could be poured into a beer gong and you could gulp it in a matter of seconds. (Disclaimer: I have never drank from a beer gong but I’ve observed the activity in my younger days and can appreciate the “intensity” of the experience.)

I wish I would have taken notes but I didn’t and so I’m still remembering and reflecting on many parts of our conversation. One thread of our discussion that still has its grip on me has to do with the nature of blame and forgiveness. I’ve spent a good bit of my life contemplating forgiveness (what it means, how to cultivate it, how to make it sincere) and yet it never once occurred to me that blame is a necessary antecedent to forgiveness. No blame, no forgiveness.

That little nugget rocked my world for a minute. (Or several thousand.) As Pannavati put it — and I’m paraphrasing liberally here because she was way more eloquent than me but my mind was too blown to capture it all — in any given situation involving two or more people, we each come to the intersection of our encounter with our “stuff” (where stuff equals our fears, anxieties, anger, desires, aversions, etc.) And we may think our stuff is really the other person’s stuff, but it’s not. It’s ours. We can do with our stuff what we will, but we only control our stuff, not the stuff of others. We may think the other person’s stuff is the root of our problem, and that of course causes us to blame the other person and their stuff, but the root of our problem is our stuff. If you own your stuff, meaning if you acknowledge it and deal with it, there’s no need to cast blame. And if you’re not blaming, who’s to forgive?

During a subsequent meditation on this theme, I thought of it this way. Does the flower forgive the clouds for stealing its sunshine?  Of course not! Therefore, can I approach the next situation where I might be tempted to assign blame and instead conclude that just as I am a flower striving to bloom, the clouds of unfortunate circumstance are merely trying to move along their path?

Yeah, it’s deep. I’ll let you know how I fare.

The part that made me heart-full: By the way, heart-full is my own made-up word because there was no other way to describe how overwhelmingly grateful I was. I am.

I live in a small town in a rural part of a flyover state. (Not so different from the small town in the rural part of the previous flyover state I lived in.) How I came to this moment, in this place, with this Sangha, to this intersection of earnest souls and wisdom and love and openness, Lord only knows.

It’s a gift like no other.

With gratitude {for what is},

Joan, who will never be venerable so she’s shooting for practiced

 

 

 

The words.

Dear friends,

words

It’s not very often that I am unable to find adequate words to express my feelings. But the last two days have been overwhelming, so let’s just say that the experience of sharing my story on Momastery is beyond words I can string together at this moment.

I’ve been out of town for two days, more than a little sidetracked by a packed schedule of business meetings. Wednesday night when I got to my hotel room after a late dinner and I finally had a moment to read the comments — here on my blog, on Glennon’s blog, and on the Momastery Facebook page — all I could do is cry. I sat in my hotel room and cried and cried, and then I turned out the lights and cried some more. Not for me, because I’ve sat with my story for a good long time.

I cried for all the readers and all their brutiful stories and all the love and wisdom and pain they poured into their comments.

One of the readers asked what happened between my daughter and sister on their lunch date. Another wondered what’s happening now between P and me. The quick answer to both is that I’ll try to tell you as soon as I have the words.

What I do have the words to tell you about today is just this one tiny thing that was so . . . enormous . . . I still can’t quite believe it.

I was sitting in my office on Tuesday when my phone rang. It was “Amy from Momastery” who said she’d been trying to track me down to ask if they could publish my essay. My first thought was “There’s people at Momastery?”

I know. It’s not like I expected Glennon to call me from her cloffice. I never expected anyone to call, ever, so my ears were ringing and my face was turning red and I was a little bit dizzy and I was trying desperately to listen to the woman talking to me.

It was a very quick call. She asked me to email her a bio and my social media links and I said okay. The call was ending and I was trying not to be an idiot but it was hard, you know, because I was talking to “Amy from Momastery” who clearly knows Glennon, so holding the phone while I realized there was only two degrees of separation between me and Glennon at that moment made me — if not an idiot — at least a boob. I think I actually asked Amy if she knows Glennon and without waiting for her to answer said something like “Please tell her I’m delighted she chose my essay.”

And then, right after I said that, I was momentarily blinded when the world exploded into a sparkly, shiny, swirling Disco Ball of Jubilation because Amy said “I liked your essay and gave it to Glennon to read. Forgive me . . . it’s a little crude . . . but Glennon read it and all she said was ‘She writes like a mother-fu%&er.'”

That, my friends, was a sacred moment. It was a gift. One I will never forget.

If you are at all tempted to be put off by the language: don’t even go there.

My closest friends know I love a choice expletive. I watch what I say in polite company and certainly what I put in writing because I’m sensitive to the tastes of others, but in my safe place, I let ‘er rip. It would be totally like me, when talking to a close friend, to say something like “Sure, I like Anne Lamot and Joan Didion and Elizabeth Gilbert but Glennon Melton? Glennon is a mother-fu%&ing writer.”

So in six words, I instantly understood the intention of the message. And I instantly understood Glennon was my kind of gal. And — more importantly — I instantly understood I had been given the gift of being allowed inside the circle. And when women let other women inside their circle, they are doing the Lord’s work, no matter what words they use.

I hung up and immediately sent Amy the requested email with my bio and links. And this PS: “Please tell Glennon that as of today, I will instruct my husband and children to etch on my headstone ‘She writes like a mother-fu%&er.’ I will wear that badge of honor the rest of my life.”

And my husband and children know I am serious. Okay, maybe not on my headstone, because I plan to be cremated. But in my mother-fu%&ing eulogy somebody better say it.

It’s all I ask for.

With gratitude {for words, words, words, profound, profane, glorious, wondrous, plain and simple words that teach us and heal us and bring us into each others circles},

Joan ,who writes, well, you know

 

On balance.

Dear friends,

ballet-dancer1

I saw a Tweet today that said “You can have it all — just not at once.”

It was immediately followed by this blog post from my friend Sizzle, who was reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the purchase of her first home, which prompted my own reminiscing about the four houses Mr. Mom and I have called home. Each of our houses was in a different city; each holds unique and special memories for our family; and each was perfect (despite its particular deficiencies) for the season of our lives in which we dwelled under its roof.

We have lived in a big-city, post-War cottage with loads of charm; a plain-Jane, suburban 70’s special; a majestic, turn-of-the-century “mansion” on a brick-paved street in the center of my beloved hometown; and a modern and spacious Ranch situated on a scenic Midwest acreage. We’ve clearly had it all (or most) over the course of 20+ years and I’m reminded that all of life is lived “on balance.”

Not long ago I counseled a young colleague who was fretting about “work-life” issues. I shared with her some of the lessons I’ve learned as a working mother and wife and I advised her not to think she could find equilibrium on any given day. I told her that over time I’ve learned to look for “balance” only when contemplating the entire span of my life because in any given hour, any given month, even in periods as long as a year or more, my life has been decidedly off-kilter.

I think about the many years I spent ungodly hours at the office and commuting long distances. I think about the three-year period I completed a Master’s Degree and did absolutely nothing but go to work and go to class. (I even “cancelled” Thanksgiving the year I wrote my thesis. Mr. Mom was a saint during those years, by the way.) I think about the years I fretted I would never again pursue a personal interest beyond raising my children and I thought “Hobbies? What are hobbies?”  I think about the entire year I selfishly focused all my energy on losing weight and getting fit for my impending marriage. (I did look ravishing in my wedding dress, only to get pregnant and gain 50 pounds six months later.) I think about the weeks I spent lying on the sofa eating buttered crackers in a depressed state because Kate had left for college. I even think about recent weeks when I’ve become a crazed and obsessive quilter, rushing home from the office each evening to pursue my latest project into the wee hours of the morning.

Maybe you’ve got a secret for achieving perfect (or even relative) balance on any given day. If so, please share your wisdom! I suspect, though, that most of us do what we must do in the moment we must do it, and find our search for balance fruitless unless we set our gaze on a very long horizon.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. (Except maybe I would save more and spend less, but good lord, who wouldn’t?) I’ve been blessed with so very much and I suspect so much more is coming my way, including interesting and invigorating new friendships in our (still) new town, new hobbies, new career opportunities, new family members (grandchildren some day?), and certainly new opportunities to grow and learn through the pain and challenge that inevitably beset every soul on earth.

On balance, life’s been good to me (and apparently Joe Walsh) so far. Why crave it all when every single bite is so uniquely flavorful?

With gratitude {for discovering that perfect balance is a rather silly notion except in bike-riding and ballet},

Joan, who invites you to leave a comment about the season of life you’re experiencing right this moment

Time lapse.

Dear friends,

Some days I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I am.

The cheeks, once taut and freckled, are softer. They have yielded to gravity in ways that suggest time has accelerated, like a time-lapse photograph of a person you once knew but is now obscured by the gauze of age.

The belly, once a slight bulge, barely a cushion between two sharp hips, has startled me recently with its surge forward and resemblance to my mother’s.

The arms, once so thin my nickname was Boney, are ample now, stronger now, the limbs of a woman who confidently strides through most of her days but longs for the striking angularity she sees only in her daughter.

The ankles are distant outposts but are at least comfortingly familiar, old friends mostly frozen in time save a few purple veins that now circumnavigate their half globes.

The breasts, they are not mine. Once upright, creamy, small but sufficient, they are victims of a landslide, the effects of which cannot be reversed by any type of artificial lift. They hang around, sullen, refusing to submit to garments that seek to restrain their sprawling desire.

The silhouette, once erect and lithe, a young shoot reaching up, up, up, has compacted, settled, reshaped itself, now all curves, a pear that is a little too ripe, too soft, but still wearing a lovely sheen, a gift that is slow to fade.

This woman who stares back at me is not me. She is an iteration of me – Joan 10.0 in a line of who knows how many versions. I may not recognize the woman in my skin, yet I feel her heart beat every .75 seconds while I tell her stories, nurse her wounds, guard her dreams, live her love.

She is the woman dying, renewing, grasping, letting go, sinking, swelling, evolving ever warily into the new thing, pleasing still if one catches glimpses of the whole rather than the parts.

She knows she is greater than the sum of her parts, stronger than whatever recent frailty has startled her, more beautiful than the fading bloom of youth’s itinerant glow. Wisdom is age’s greatest bargain and so wrap yourself in its comfort, settle in, and be kind to the person you are ever becoming.

With gratitude {for that soft-focus lens known as perspective that is the gift of age},

Joan, who believes more strongly than ever that time is on her side