Monthly Archives: November 2015

Who’s at fault?

Nearly every Sunday I jot down a few words from the sermon — words I need to think about in the moments of silence, words I need to hold onto and carry around. This week’s gem was, “Humanity is responsible for its own history.”  The words belong to Rene Girard, a French historian and philosopher who died earlier this month.

Though I’ve not read his work, his words caught my attention.  I imagine he was talking about humanity as a whole.  However, it’s difficult to think about this on such a large scale.  I have to reduce things to something more manageable: my city, my neighborhood, my family, my self.

If it’s true that humanity is responsible for its own history, then it must be true for me as an individual.  What I do, what I think, and how I act contribute to all of humanity, even though my scale is one, not millions.  There are no millions, no humanity, without individuals like you and me.

So, how am I responsible for my own history?  I can hear your protests:  Things happen that I didn’t choose, things that are not my fault, things I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  What about wars and cancer and death and abuse and violence?  I didn’t cause that stuff.  It’s not my fault!

I agree:  stuff happens, stuff that is beyond our control, stuff that marks our personal history.

We cannot change our personal historic events that have shaped us.  However, we can choose how we respond to them.

I’m suggesting that you can choose to be a victim of your circumstances or you can choose to grow in spite of or because of your circumstances.

  • You can remain angry or bitter about words spoken or deeds done for hours or weeks or years or decades or a lifetime  — or you can examine your own feelings and attitudes and do the necessary work required for reconciliation.
  • You can strive to get even, to demand the pound of flesh, to wield power unjustly —  or you can work to create a personal constructive response to such affronts.
  • You can be mired down by the losses, the abuses, the hurts, the unfairness of life in general, — or you can mourn the tragedy of it all and work to move on, reducing the power of these events to control you for a lifetime.

When we were kids we believed that life is supposed to fair. This playground rule set us up for a lifetime of misplaced expectations.  The truth is:  Life is not fair. It’s never been fair despite our wishful thinking.

However, our response to the unfairness, the tragedy, the losses, and the disappointments can change the course of history for ourselves, for our children, for our extended families, for our friends, perhaps some others in the greater humanity.

Show up. Do your work. Claim your life. Create your history.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Saving Cranberries

Every year I load my freezer with fresh cranberries during the holiday season.  I want to make sure I have enough to last until next year.

Guess what?

Last year’s cranberries are still in my freezer and it’s Thanksgiving time already. Again.

I was saving them for special occasions — for company.  They were destined for cranberry sauce with roast chicken or pork, for cranberry breakfast muffins, for cranberry orange pecan bread, for fresh cranberry relish, for apple pie dotted with cranberries, for . . . just because . . .

But alas, no occasion seemed special enough to use my sacred stash of cranberries.

I daresay I am not the only one who saves things for special occasions, but somehow never gets around to using them. Some of my specialty food items have spoiled because I saved them too long. Leather bound journals are still blank inside because my words aren’t good enough for such lovely volumes.  Mother’s wedding crystal was still perfect after more than fifty years because she only used it once or twice in my lifetime.  The fragile goblets and plates were packed away for decades.

Someone once said we should all live like the second wife.  First wives save things for special times; second wives live with abandon.  They use the good stuff — whatever it is.

What are you saving?  What are you holding back?  What’s your excuse for not using the special things in your life?

You are worth the best that you have.

I am worth a fresh baked cranberry muffin. So are you. I’ll give you a call on a summer morning.  “Come for cranberry muffins,” I’ll say, “because they’re my favorite.”  Then I’ll serve them to you on my Mother’s square crystal plates with real butter. And we’ll have tea in china cups I bought with my childhood allowance. We’ll sit on the patio in our shorts and t-shirts  and bare feet and savor like we’re in the finest tea room.

Don’t save joy for another day, for some mythical future when life will be more special. Now is the time to celebrate with abandon.  Just because . . .

Cranberries in June are a nice surprise — and a very good thing.

Until next Tuesday . . .




The Restart

I do four things regularly: read, swim, write, practice piano. Of course I do lots of other things every day, but my four things are my daily place holders. Other activities and chores fill the leftover spaces.

When I travel or vacation my routine goes on hiatus as well.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it causes re-entry issues for me. Everything doesn’t automatically fall into place on the day after I return.  In fact, it takes conscious effort to reestablish my routine.

It’s like unloading the car and bringing everything into the house.  The suitcases have to be unloaded, the luggage put away, the laundry done, and the clean clothes returned to their rightful places.  And then there are the trip gatherings that have to be dealt with. Food must be bought, accumulated mail and newspapers sorted and read.

None of this happens quickly or without effort. Trip fatigue or jet lag prolong the whole process. I need about three days to restore order and get rested before I can even think about getting my “four thing” routine in place.

For me it’s unrealistic to restart everything at once.   My reading happens the morning after I return, because I need a slow start to the day and time to enjoy my coffee. Piano practicing is next, usually because I have a lesson in a few days and I’m behind in my practicing. Writing falls in place third, based on deadlines and pre-vacation work I did. Swimming is delayed until Monday of the next week — it’s my reward for getting everything else restarted.

Restarting has always been, and I suspect will always be, a challenge for me.  It’s easier for all of us to let things slide than get back to our work — whatever it is.

Yes, it’s easier not to do the work.  But then what happens to your words, your creativity, your music, your art, your mind?

My suggestions for restarting after a lapse:

  • Acknowledge that you need to restart.  Believe that your work is worth your effort.  Without you it doesn’t exist.
  • Prioritize your projects, if you have several. Restart only one at a time.
  • Set a time to restart.
  • Restart your project with a tiny doable step:  sit at your desk, open your writing project, arrange your paints and brushes, sit on the piano bench, choose a new book to read, get out your quilting supplies. The next day do a little more. The work will grow itself once you have begun.
  • When you are comfortable, restart the next project.

Restarting is difficult — always.  Shifting from down time vacation living to your usual life requires transition time. Be gracious with yourself and your expectations.

Create a restart plan.  Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t wait for your muse to arrive.

Show up.  Do your work.

Until next Tuesday . . .



The Second Time is Better

Every month I play my piano pieces for my mentor.  She’s a good critic, minces no words, and always offers constructive advice.

I played Mendelssohn’s Agitation for her a few weeks ago.  My performance was satisfactory though it wasn’t my best. She didn’t say much when I finished but I knew she wasn’t pleased.  “Now, play it again and I’m going to listen from the other room,” she said and she settled in the living room.

I began again, this time trying to improve on my previous attempt.  “Much better this time,” she said when I finished. “Much better, but I’ve noticed you always play better the second time.  Why is that?”

She was right:  the second playing is always better though I couldn’t explain why.

For several weeks I’ve been pondering second try versus first try.  If I can play my best the second time, surely it’s possible to do so the first time, but I’ve been unable to accomplish such a feat.  Besides, why does it really matter when I’m just playing for myself or for her or for Dr. B at my lesson? There’s always opportunity for a second chance in such circumstances.

Since our initial discussion, I’ve discovered that doing it right the first time requires focus and centering, which means I have to slow down, allow some moments of silence, feel the tempo, and hear the beginning notes.

I’ve often observed concert pianists, sitting quietly at the keyboard with their hands in their laps for several seconds, perhaps a minute, before they begin — all while the audience waits. I now understand what they’re doing: they’re setting the tone and the tempo of their piece.  They only have one chance to play for us — this moment now — and it has to be right.

Because I’ve never considered myself a performer, I thought it presumptuous to copy their behavior. My own impatience pressured me to begin quickly.

Being ready for what we’re about to do is critical to the outcome.  Thinking through the process, gathering our tools, allowing sufficient time, clearing our mind and our work space of distractions, and working with intention are how we can all begin — no matter our art or craft or project or challenge.

At last Wednesday’s lesson, I did what I’d never done before: I focused before I played. I felt the beat. I heard the first notes.

I played my best the first time. No restarts. No second tries.

I’ve begun changing my lifelong habit of starting before I’m ready.

Until next Tuesday . . .