Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Gift of the Middle Years: Thoughts from Anne Morrow Lindbergh

There is a gentle and enduring wisdom in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's thought that speaks to me.  Now that I'm in my 40s, I was particularly struck by this bit and wanted to pass it on (Taken from her Gift from the Sea, pages 81-82)

For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? It is true that society in general does not help one accept his interpretation of the second half of life. And therefore this period of expanding is often tragically misunderstood. Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs: one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space—that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.
But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life-signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away, one escapes—into depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, love affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything, anything rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be angels of annunciation.
Angels of annunciation of what? Of a new stage of living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, the worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances of active life, one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart, and talent, free at last for spiritual growth…!xlMedium.jpg

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Discovery of Hot Water: Enter the Dark Playground, Sherlock.

My first year teaching high school was tough. Very tough, actually, since I’m ridiculously sensitive, not naturally organized or strict, and not exactly physically intimidating. It got to the point where I was crying most days…occasionally during class. One day, a well-meaning friend and colleague took me aside, and said, “You know, Rebecca, you’ve really got to stop crying in class.” I looked at him incredulously and said, “C, do you really think I find myself standing in front of 38 unruly fourteen-year-old boys and think, ‘Hey, this would be a great moment to cry?!?’ I cry because I can’t help it.” (In my defense, these boys were pretty tough Brooklyn kids even if it was a Catholic school, and class size was big—but yeah, I know it wasn’t good).  

Italians have a term for when someone discovers something obvious. They call it “la scoperta dell’acqua calda”—the discovery of hot water.  Hot water is awesome—but it’s not exactly news.  The more vulgar neighborhood I grew up in might have called it the “No s*%#, Sherlock” category. But it’s funny how  easy it would be to fix other people’s problems. No biggie:  they should just stop doing what they’re doing. Change. Quit. Be different. Their difficulties are easily resolved. Our own problems, on the other hand, aren’t so easy. If you suffer from any kind of emotional or psychological challenge, you know it’s not so easy to change.  If you get angry easily, other people may tell you to just count to ten or to try other simple strategies that work for people who don’t have major anger problems.  Likewise, if you procrastinate, people will tell you to start your work early. Gee, thanks. It’s not that easy, Sherlock.
All this is to say that I really loved this post on procrastination.  Because it helps you get inside the procrastinator’s brain, and really understand what’s going on. Which is actually kind of fun, even if you’re a procrastinator and looking into your own brain makes you feel a little sick.  And if you’re not, well, welcome!

And lest I get tempted to linger too long in the dark playground it describes so well, there is a follow up:

There is hope, after all!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Everyday Wisdom from MLK: The Door You Pass Through.

Reading a book (Sacred Influence) by Gary Thomas, I recently came across this anecdote, originally told by Henry Belafonte to Bono (extracted from Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas).  Thought this was an appropriate day for sharing it…

When Bobby Kennedy became the US Attorney General, the leaders of the civil rights movement despaired. Bobby was Irish, and, according to one leader at the time, "famously not interested in the civil rights movement. We knew we were in deep trouble: we were crestfallen and in despair talking to Martin [Luther King Junior], moaning and groaning about the turn of events when Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the [complaining]. “Enough of this,” he said. “Is there nobody here who's got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?” We said “Martin, that's what we're telling ya! There is no one. There is nothing good to say about him. The guy's an Irish Catholic conservative [expletive], he's bad news.” Martin Luther King Jr. understood this... He looked at his fellow leaders and said, “Well then, let's call this meeting to a close. We will re-adjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that, my friends, is the door through which our movement will pass.”

King then ended the meeting insisting that there wouldn't be anything more to do until somebody came up with something good to say about Bobby Kennedy. In his view there was no way they could move this man toward their position until they found one redeeming thing to say about him.  That one thing would be the door of redemption the door of influence the door of change.

King’s plan worked. They discovered that Bobby Kennedy was close to his bishop and they worked through this bishop so effectively that, according to the same leader who once could not find a single positive thing to say about Kennedy, "There was no greater friend to the civil rights movement [than Bobby Kennedy],there was no one we owed more of our progress to than that man." As Thomas puts it, “Their greatest nightmare turned into their greatest dream.”

This speaks volumes about the roots of Martin Luther King’s: what faith in his own cause—and in humanity! He was certain that his friends were wrong and that something redeeming could be found in Bobby Kennedy, so much so that the dilemma itself seems laughable to us looking back. In dark moments, it’s helpful to remember: there is always a door.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Informally Resolved: Start with Gratitude and Inspiration

In case it wasn’t patently obvious, I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. Mostly I just can’t be bothered: formalizing something in a resolution requires so much effort…and then it’s so guilt-inducing.  I do appreciate all the people around me making them though, because a) it gives me lots of ideas for what to give up for Lent and b) it makes the gym cheaper.There are a lot of regular gym-goers out there who really hate the beginning of January because all these “new people” show up at the gym and the gym gets really crowded for a bit. Some regulars even get huffy about it. They resent the crowded locker rooms, the lines for classes, and the wait for their favorite step-master.  I say, bring ‘em on. I like to point out to my fellow regulars that we can afford to go to the gym because of all those people. The gym pricing is absolutely predicated on the fact that many, many people will sign up who can’t go. If they all really did come, then we’d have to have a much, much bigger gym. Meaning bigger fees for everyone.  So “they” are actually doing us a favor.
Which brings me to what I am starting my year with: gratitude and inspiration. I am not a positive outlook person by nature: I am a New Yorker. And positive people annoy me (far too) easily. But I like happy people and I want to be one, too. So when I think about optimism and pessimism and the whole “glass half full or half empty,” I prefer to sidestep the whole thing altogether. Because (typical of our American empiricist bias), the half-full/ hall-empty question ignores a much bigger issue. Namely:  how did the glass get there? If I didn’t put the glass there, much less fill it with anything, it is simply absurd for me to feel anything but gratitude for the glass’s existence. And if, by miraculous serendipity, I also happen to be thirsty and there is water in this mysterious glass, that is even better.  Far too easily, we forget that the very existence of things, and people, is something to be deeply grateful for.  That is something I want to start my year with.
As for inspiration, that has to come from someplace else. Inspired by Jen Fulwiler’s Conversion Diary blog, I decided to choose at random, and see what I came up with.
a) a Saint for the Year (with the random saint generator Jen devised:  –I got Saint Patrick.  Patron, among other things, of excluded people…
b) a Song for the year: I turned on the radio on New Year’s Day and the first song I got was  Mumford and Sons  cover of “The Boxer.” Eerily appropriate.
c) a Bible passage for the year: again, chosen at random, I opened to a passage of Revelation. (Did I mention that Revelation scares me? Fortunately, the passage itself (Rev 19: 6-9) doesn’t). Still haven’t figured it out. But I figure I have the rest of 2014 to understand it…