Everything Changes

I know change is inevitable and yet, I still resist and deny it when it arrives. I’m not sure why I insist on giving change such a bad rap because, in truth, change has been my life long friend.

Change helped me find the courage to leave an abusive man with no real home and two small children.  Change insisted I exit a toxic workplace, even when I didn’t have another job.  Change has alternately encouraged, discouraged, pushed and pounded me.  But what caused me the greatest pain wasn’t change, but the resisting of it.

Change’s constant presence still reminds me there is an opportunity in every letting go.

 

I’ve spent most of my adult life helping people- specifically in the area of health. My goal is threefold:  first, to help people desire to be healthy; second, to accept that it’s within their ability to do so; and third, and most importantly, believe that they’re worth the effort required.

Convincing someone to consider one of these tenants can be a stretch, getting them to embrace all three is just a plain, hard sell.  Why?  Because it involves change.

We’re so focused on what we think we’re giving up, we overlook the possibilities and opportunity within the same change.

 

 

Next month we will move Pilates 1901 to a new location. I am excited about this next chapter but also admittedly sad about leaving the home we’ve shared for eleven years. The new studio is just 28 blocks away, a beautiful new space that is as light and fun and as welcoming as always.

We’ll be providing the same great service with the same love and integrity that has always defined Pilates 1901. It really is silly to get my panties in a wad, but I do and I will, and I expect some others may, too.

It’s part of the deal. I get it.

 

I’ll still be teaching and preaching Pilates, health, empowerment, and faith to anyone who will listen.

But as I turn sixty, I feel also change demanding more of my attention and more of my grace.  I’m looking forward to less distraction and more presence; less thinking and more being; more teaching, and healing and learning.

One morning, many years ago, I was greeted with a note from my youngest son.  He’d left it for me on the desk where I spent the bulk of my time when I was at home.  It was a picture of Joan of Arc; beneath it, he’d neatly printed these words:  “For general peace and well-being, please resign from being General Manager of the Universe.”   Leave it to Spirit to deliver such a powerful message via a ten-year-old.  I’m sorry, Sean that it took me so long to hear.

The Buddah said, “the only thing constant in life is change.”  I am learning that is true. 

I’m just going to let go, trust and ride this new incredible wave.  I hope to see you at the shore.

 

 

21 Days in New Zealand

I’m lucky. I know it.  The word is literally tattooed on my body.  As someone who never traveled until she was in her mid-forties, I’ve been making up for lost time, especially in the past few years since I met my husband.  The rate of that travel has accelerated recently  because last year life acutely reminded us of our limited time here.  The Universe, in its wisdom, said, “you’d better go if you’re going” so we prioritized our bucket list and went… to New Zealand. 

I remember when I was telling people about the trip, those who had been there immediately lit up with joy, “Oh my God!  You’re going to love it!  You won’t come back!”  Even in the San Francisco airport, as we perused our New Zealand travel book and guides, a young man walking by said, “You’re going to New Zealand? I’m so jealous! You’re going to love it!  It’s so beautiful!”

And it was. Perhaps indescribably so.

 

 

Herb and I rented a camper van for our three-week adventure, a first for both of us.  We’d been told this was the best way to experience the landscape of the country and afford us the greatest freedom.   As it turned out, this was true.  Three weeks together in a camper is an adventure all its own, but that’s another blog.

The seasons are flipped in New Zealand, so it was early Spring when we arrived.  The weather, cool, rainy and unpredictable, proved to be a factor in the trajectory of our trip. It rained that first evening, navigating the “wrong side” of the narrow two-lane highway, our lumbering camper struggled to maintain contact with the road.

We found our way to the first of many “holiday parks,” quickly establishing a ritual of campground set up and nesting.  This was at Waihi beach; a couple hours’ drive south of Auckland in the north island. It was so rainy we couldn’t even see what was around us, but Mike the friendly Kiwi Park host put us in a “primo spot” near the beach and gave us a hiking guide in good faith.  

We spent our first night negotiating the camper “bed,” probably the biggest challenge of our three week trip. Neither of us is a generous sleeper and we sorely missed our king-sized bed.  After meeting a German couple, Bodo and Claudia, both in their late 70’s and happily traveling in a camper smaller than ours, we felt less inclined to complain.  The bed didn’t get better- we did.

That first morning, we woke up before the sun, still adjusting to the 19-hour time change.  Having coffee, we ventured out to the beach to watch the sun rise.  The rain was gone, and the beauty of the morning was astounding.  Absolutely stunning.  It was the beginning of what I can only describe as an intense and total immersion into nature’s art.

As we drove through the magical landscape, ever changing and miraculous, an explosion for the eyes and senses, we both agreed that New Zealand immediately had us by the balls.  It reaches out to grab you without permission or apology- a supernatural assault of spiritual beauty.  

As we traversed lush jungles, rainforests, and mountains, driving though vast valleys, lakes and streams, pastures dotted with sheep, we’d gasp in surprise at the ocean as we drove around the corner. There was nothing predictable or staid in this landscape; just an abundance of energy, animate and pulsing alive in every moment.

 

 

The landscape in New Zealand was formed by the Pacific and Australian plates (huge, slow-moving blocks of the earth’s crust) colliding and pushing up mountains.  Erosion caused by rainfall and ocean waves carved out lakes and streams, and volcanic eruptions and glaciers formed deep valleys and fiords. The result is truly jaw dropping.

Herb and I began trying to think of new words besides “Wow” as we drove through the scenery.  Some of these words were: Surreal, Extraordinary, Phenomenal, Spectacular, Amazing, Wondrous, Awe-Inspiring, … you get the picture.

 

 

Unyielding in its beauty, New Zealand demanded our full attention and presence. The sheer force of nature was a summons to simply BE- Breathe, Live, and Enjoy.  

The magnificent order and unpredictability of life combined in a way I can only describe as sacred.  

Perhaps it’s that proximity of nature that makes the people in New Zealand so unhurried, polite and happy.  For as many tourists as they host each year, they are remarkably generous and caring.

They care about food, (the food was so wholesome and natural I swear it was the reason I didn’t gain an ounce while eating and drinking with abandon); they care about each other (the murder rate in the United States 333 times that of NZ); and they care about the environment (despite heavy traffic, New Zealand’s national parks look amazingly untouched.)  Perhaps that’s because they realize we are not separate from nature- but merely part of it.  They live respectfully.

I could provide more details of our day to day traverse from Auckland on the North Island to Milford Sound on the south, (and if you have a trip planned to NZ, I am happy to share our trip notes), but I thought it better to simply show you some of the best moments of our trip in pictures.   Don’t worry, unlike your Uncle Harry, this slide show isn’t two hours long.  Enjoy. And if you don’t have a trip planned to NZ, please, plan one.

Nature is a teacher and a healer. This trip allowed me the time to immerse myself in her beauty and peace.

I made a conscious decision to follow her example and let myself “be” and simply enjoy.  Coming home has been different because that feeling has taken hold in my cells.  My mind and body are literally different- there’s so much more space for joy when you realize that life isn’t as complicated we like to make it.

Last night, a dear friend reminded me of the poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.  I hadn’t thought of it in a while, but it perfectly captures my experience…

Here’s an excerpt…

“I don’t know what a prayer is.

I don’t know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, all too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Why Donald Trump is my Spiritual Teacher

At this stage of my life, I’m looking inward more.  When I was younger, I was focused on raising a family, building a business, managing relationships.  Now I am less interested in the busy-ness of the life and more focused on quieting the noise and distractions. Mostly I just want to be peaceful.

It’s not easy in this political climate.

My co-worker Cara, a young Mother of two sons, is an activist. Concerned about the alarming number of homicides in our city, Cara ran 40 miles on her 40th birthday to support Mothers In Charge, a victims advocacy group.  Obviously, a strong woman who lives her convictions through positive action and even Cara gets frayed by the continuing chaos.

Recently I met another young woman, a therapist, who shared that she was hosting a workshop specifically to address the stress being caused by the daily news and politics.  Apparently, we now need support groups for this!

It’s hard not to react.  

When Donald Trump recently lectured his critics and the media for inciting violence and dissension, I posted this on my FB page.

 

It seemed ironic given Mr. Trump’s political rhetoric, but also not surprising given his apparent inability to think before he speaks or accept responsibility for the power of his words and actions.  

An ensuing commentary escalated between people on my page.  I watched in amazement as people I knew well, and others I did not, wage war over our President’s leadership, political party, citing issues and evidence to prove their point.

It got nasty.  

So nasty in fact that one of the people private messaged me and asked me to block one of the commenters because he was so rude.  I’ll admit, that had occurred to me, but I thought better of it.  If anything, that angry, divisive, partisan response showed me just how much we need to listen to each other, even when we don’t agree.  

The division in our country has been likened to a civil war (more like an “uncivil” war), because of the way it’s dividing families, co-workers, and communities.   It’s not just about Republicans vs Democrats, our division rages over sexism (Acess Hollywood, Stormy Danials, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh) gun rights, (There have been 287 mass shootings in this country so far in 2018) and immigration (“President Trump is doubling down on his closing hard-line immigration pitch to voters,  sending up to 15,000 troops to the border — twice the number the Pentagon has already activated. “Nobody’s coming in. We’re not allowing people to come in.’ “).

It truly IS crazy making. 

That’s why I’ve decided to take a larger view of Mr. Trump and the outcome of his leadership.  He is our President.  He won the election, so bottom line- he is country’s choice for leadership.   That’s the hard part, but it’s also the message. 

Perhaps Donald Trump is our Spiritual Teacher.  A spiritual teacher’s role is unique in that the goal is not to transmit knowledge or understanding as much as it is to somehow bring about a recognition in the student of the student’s own pre-existing nature. Can Donald Trump truly be what we value in a leader? Or is this a wake-up call to re-examine our values, how we got to this place and how to move forward?

Life and humans are pretty simple.  We react on a gut level to things like fear, and anger, manipulation and ego. 

That’s Mr. Trump’s genius.  He plays to our lower emotions and the result is the reality we have now. 

I read an article in the paper this morning about a St. Louis daycare center being sued because the teachers were caught on camera encouraging pre-schoolers to fight and hit another.  One teacher could “be seen excitedly jumping up and down” as the toddler fight club ensued.  It appears the only one who tried to break up the fight was one of the kids.  What in the world?

Surely it’s time to raise our vibration, as a country, and as individuals. When we remember at the core we’re all alike; that we all really want the same things, (to be safe, loved, and valued, for example), our similarities and not our differences are revealed.  Compassion, love, respect, and learning to work together is something most of us learned as children.  What has caused us to forget? Stress, fear, distraction, apathy?

This cannot be our world; we must have hope.

Cara mentioned an event that gave her hope. She and more than 1,500 mourners gathered last Monday in Overland Park, Ks to honor the Pittsburgh Jewish community in the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting that left 11 dead. That interfaith vigil, held at Kehilath Israel Synagogue, attracted a standing-room-only crowd of worshippers, clergy, city leaders, and politicians from a variety of backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities.  

“Tonight, we are all Jews,” Akhtar Chaudry of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council told the gathering, “We are united in grief but strengthened in our resolve to fight hatred.” 

That says it all.  “We stand united in grief but strengthened in our resolve to fight hatred.”

The mid-term elections are predicted to have the highest voter turn out in decades. I hope this is because we’re more awake to the fact that our right to vote is not only a privilege but our duty.

Vote. Take a stand and make your voice heard.

Whatever your party, please vote for unity.  Please vote for love.  It sounds trite but is also true: together we really can accomplish so much more.  Just look at what we’re creating in disparity.

Thank you, President Trump, for showing us the way.  Your example is one to heed if not respect.  Your teachings are profound.

 

The Price of Fear

 

Preparing this blog in honor of the full moon reminded me of another retreat, in Belize. We didn’t have a full moon that week, in fact, there was just a sliver, so the stars showed bright and clear. After dinner, I often walked down the beach to explore nearby docks and enjoy looking up.

There were a few docks available, but the one I was drawn to was narrow, old and rickety. In the darkness, you couldn’t see the end of the dock, so it looked like you were simply walking out into the vast, endless ocean. It was scary.

One night, my friend Tricia and I walked that dock together clasping hands. We were both facing demons that trip, demons that were safe nowhere else, and so we walked into the abyss together and marveled our fear and also the magic of the stars.

The closer we got to what looked like the end of the dock, the point at which we would simply glide into the deep, we slowed to a stop, struck silent by the beauty and terror of the illusion before us.

We both knew it was no accident we were there together in that moment. We knew the fear and pain in each other’s hearts. We both worried about how we’d each move on, around or over our current challenges. Who better to hold hands with and face the unknown darkness. We stood there a long time treasuring a moment that lasts a lifetime.

Like that long walk down the dock, we’ve traversed some treacherous terrain since that night; some of it together and much of it alone. We’ve had time to face ourselves unmasked, afraid, and it was hard.

What is the price of fear? What is it your fear and what is it costing you?

Change, even when it’s necessary; even when it’s time, is rarely welcome and almost never alone. Fear is inevitably part of the package. But like any bully, fear can’t stand up to scrutiny. Confront your fear and fear backs down. Fear is co-dependent; it ’s only power is the power you grant it.

I’ve lived with fear for a very long time, but age has made me realize it’s time for it to go.   I’m just too damn tired to give fear my finite energy. Instead, I’m investing in another F-word- FAITH.

Some folks might think that’s naive or make-believe.  “Hope is not a strategy,” is what they would say.  But I don’t agree. If choosing faith over fear is choosing one illusion over another, I choose faith.

In Praise of the Learner

Perhaps the better title would be “in praise of the teacher” because who is the student without our teachers?

We can all name people that have impacted our lives in a profound and lasting way; people who’ve shown up in our lives, expected and unexpected to change the way we think about ourselves, our capabilities and our purpose.

I think about Stella Jacobi, my 6th grade teacher, a diminutive force of nature who inspired me to achieve more than I’d previously conceived; Laraine Sheehan Gordon, my high school English teacher whose exacting eye and commitment to excellence pushed me to understand the immense power of words; and Elaine Fischer, an 89-pound black haired whirl of energy who believed I could lead exercise classes despite the fact I totally bombed my audition.

I was terrified of Elaine, but her belief in me changed the course of my life.

There were other teachers, too- the ones we don’t immediately thank for their instruction- bad boyfriends and bosses and backstabbing acquaintances.  Perhaps their lessons are the most important because they wound the most. In retrospect, I’m the most grateful to the difficult people in my life because they challenged me to summon strength, resilience and compassion I didn’t know I possessed.

Having your heart broken also allows you to be more open; for healing and taking personal responsibility and being able to love again.

Being broken doesn’t mean being crippled- it does mean being vulnerable and it’s taken me a long time to see the courage in that.

If we are aware and open, our opportunities for learning abound daily.

A chance meeting at a networking event, the impetus to write a favorite author, accepting a random invitation to lunch, agreeing to hang upside down in a piece of fabric; life-changing opportunities are literally available in every moment of every day- if we are open to them. That’s where we must celebrate the learner.

Learning requires presence, curiosity, listening, and enthusiasm.  Apathy, indifference, and arrogance are the enemy of learning because we already know it all.

The best teacher I ever had was my Dad, Ehret Oscar Ramey. He was a gentleman, a doctor, a husband, and a man of Faith.

He was funny and kind and the worst joke-teller in the world. He taught me how a woman deserved to be treated, and ready to remind me should I temporarily forget.

He held me close when I was weak and loved me when I behaved like an ass.  He never scolded, never acted disappointed, never let me feel sorry for who I was. His love was unconditional- as bright, expansive and as natural as the morning sun.

My Father taught me a simple and important lesson: the power of our belief in another person’s worth and well-being. As humans, there is nothing more we crave and nothing more important we can share.

Thank you, Dad, for believing in me.  Thank you for teaching me to be open to life and ready to learn. I really miss you, but I feel you every day- in every sunrise, every laugh, every soft listening moment, you are with me.

One Soul. One Source.

I’m guilty. Maybe you are, too.

When someone we care about is having trouble, we want to help them, intercede, solve their problem.  This presents itself in many ways- rescuing, enabling, justifying, or appeasing them.  Alternatively, it may be distancing, judging them, and becoming impatient. Either way, we forget one fundamental truth: each of us is fully capable and wholly responsible for defining the course of our own lives.

Instead of viewing this as the very essence of our time on Earth, a remarkable gift and opportunity for learning, we often choose to suffer, resist, eradicate or deny the issue.  This is what causes pain.

I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to help others.

Without hesitation, I offer advice, remedies, strategies, and solutions.  I see pain and I know how to fix it- why wouldn’t I explain how?

On a recent trip, I met a young woman who’d been in a horrible car accident several months before. She’d been near death, but not ready to die, had pleaded with God to return her to life.

Her wish was granted and she woke up to find her pelvis shattered requiring multiple surgeries, inscrutable pain and months of physical therapy. She was returned to life, but it was a much different life than before. 

When I heard her story, it was hard to believe she’d had to learn how to walk again because she looked completely whole.

On a day trip to Tikal, she quietly shared her worries about being able to handle the rigors of the day. She was apprehensive, and at that moment seemed fragile to me.  Aware of this, I worried about her as we hiked, climbed and ascended staircase after staircase to view the ruins. Many times I checked myself, wanting to ask her if she was all right, but I didn’t. I realized my worry was not required- in fact, it would have disrespected her experience that day.

Instead of hovering and reminding her of her challenge, I simply asked, “How’s your butt?”

As it turned out, her butt was just fine and we all had a magical day together in Tikal. As we sat in our circle the next day, telling our classmates about our adventure, my friend, near tears told the group about her surgery and concerns about going to Tikal.

She also told them how wonderful it was to discover she was up to the task, stronger than she believed, marking a significant milestone in her recovery.

As I listened, my eyes welled with tears. Her story not only inspired me but shed a huge light for me as well.  In the guise of helping others, I’d often overstepped my boundaries by either giving unsolicited advice, urging a certain outcome, or secretly judging, withholding compassion, and distancing myself.

It’s natural to want to help others. The issue isn’t the help itself but the intention behind it.  

Now when I hear myself giving advice or providing an agenda, I check in with myself to see if it’s triggering some need within me to fix, control or make the world right.

As a child, I learned early that pleasing was a way to feel loved, safe and accepted.  That meant being hyper-vigilant, always ready to remedy, repair, or make better. This wasn’t all bad as I’ve gone on to create a business centered around service and helping others. But as an adult, I also realize, it’s not my responsibility to fix, cure or change anyone else.

Who am I to think I know better what is best for someone else? The arrogance has been so well disguised I didn’t recognize it. When I give advice, suggest solutions, urge action, whose agenda am I really invested in- theirs or mine?

This isn’t just a boundary issue.  This is a spiritual issue.

And so, when I am triggered, I remember a long night when I was suffering, feeling lost and hopeless, desperately wanting to help someone who would not be helped. Crying, I heard a voice. The voice said calmly, “Stop. This isn’t yours. He’s fully capable. He’s able to choose. It’s not about you. Remember, ‘One Soul. One Source.’ ”

I took that to mean that we are all one Soul connect to one Source.  But each Souls journey to Source is entirely their own.

What is Source?  I think it is LOVE.  And Love simply IS.  

It has no need to attach, make right, insinuate or adjust.  Love is not attached to an outcome. Outcomes, agendas, judgment, needing to feel helpful… that’s something else altogether- that’s Ego, the real cause of our separateness and suffering.

Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places

The truth about body obsession, self- loathing, and longing…

As someone who has worked in the health and fitness arena for over thirty years, I’ve seen and experienced my fair share of body obsession and all its incarnations. By body obsession, I mean our endless pursuit of a better body, weight loss, and perfection, based on the misconception that once we lose that last 10 lbs we will somehow be “better” “more acceptable” “more powerful” or “more loveable.”

You might think this is ironic since as a trainer and fitness guru, I’ve spent my entire life talking about self-improvement via weight loss, exercise, and nutrition. 

We say want to “be healthy” to “feel better,” but really, what does that mean? I’ve seen clients lose and then gain hundreds of pounds, not because they were weak, lacked motivation or were unprepared.  Their heads were totally in the game- the part that was missing were their hearts. It’s impossible to take good care of yourself when you’re at war with yourself.  Fear, self-judgement, procrastination, apathy, sarcasm- these are just a few of the ways we sabotage, prolong, or deny ourselves true health, joy and happiness. 

 

At War…

One of the most common expressions of this war is a pre-occupation and dissatisfaction with our bodies. We don’t  like our thighs, our bottoms are too big or too small, the skin on our belly and arms is beginning to sag. 

Tom, a friend of mine, refers to his body as a “Meat sack.”  A deeply spiritual person, Tom encourages others to simply appreciate the miracle of our body and cherish it as our physical home on Earth.  Our bodies and consciousness are deeply connected and yet, we act as if they weren’t.

When we lack respect for the body’s tireless service to us (despite our abuse and misuse), no amount of “application” (ie. dieting, exercising, and wardrobing) will change how peacefully or joyfully we live in them. Accepting and valuing our bodies, imperfections and all, is the first necessary step toward healing that hole in our heart; that pit we feed with our fear, shame and feelings of unworthiness. 

In her book, The Answer is Simple- Love Yourself, Live Your Spirit, Sonia Choquette writes about the body, “To love yourself, you must love your body as well- it comes as a package deal. No matter what kind of body you ended up with, it’s the only one you have, so you must live with it whether you want to or not. Realize how important your physical self to your life’s journey- not for the approval it wins from others, but for the service it provides for your Spirit. It’s your vessel, your carrier, your means of experiencing life. Like a car that gets from point A to point B, it’s your mode of transportation on Earth and will work much better for you if you treat it with a little respect and care.”

 

 

The Struggle is real…

As someone who has struggled for years with my weight, body image and self-acceptance, I was constantly looking for love in wrong places. This has included desperation dieting, over-exercising, obsession with perfection and punishing myself for my repeated “failures.” My only real failure was to deny the fact that I was already loveable, whole and okay. Once I set about doing the inside work, the impetus to care for my body fell right into place. That’s because mindset and motivation, like our body and spirit, are inseparable.. we can’t have one without the other.

 

Letting go to have more…

As I’ve gotten older I am learning more about my body and appreciating it more for the amazing home it is. It’s no longer about losing 5 lbs, or fitting into the size 2 or feeling “acceptable”; it’s about being able to cherish the moments of my life, doing the things that I want to do, with the people I love, in a healthy, strong, 59-year-old body.

It’s respect for the little moments which add up to the big moments which define the quality of this life I have. I don’t want to miss another moment because I’m feeling “fat” or “depressed” or simply “less than.”

That’s a decision- that’s an agreement that I no longer entertain nor accept. Life is short and amazing. I don’t have time to waste making choices that don’t support me, my dreams, my relationships or feeling freaking fantastic.

Come to think of it, none of us do.  So why not choose to celebrate?  It’s so much more fun.

Power Struggle

God and I are in a power struggle. So far God’s up, three to zip.

First, it was Herb’s diagnosis with mold toxicity- a disease that was dormant in his body for years and triggered by a perfect storm of unfortunate misdiagnosis, bad meds and a horrible condo rental in Costa Rica.  His pneumonia in January signaled an abrupt change in our world, providing a new opportunity for education and adjustment that we’d just as soon have avoided.

Then came the systematic dismantling of our home and forced exodus to squatting in a hotel for a month.  

Like two Hobo’s we carried our clothing in sacks, bad food, and longed for the comfort and safety of a place that was our own.

Soon the day came when we could move back home.  The remodeling had not yet begun but the mold tests had come back negative which meant we could move home, even if our house was still torn apart and our furniture, neatly stacked in piles to provide a pathway from kitchen to bathroom, made us feel like hoarders.

It didn’t matter because we were home and we had a kitchen and we had a shower and most of all, we had a bedroom- our last refuge, where, at the end of the day, we could fall into bed, watch tv, rest, and simply be together.

The simple things are magnified when your life is a shit storm.

Three days after we’d moved back, on a sunny Wednesday morning, a swift and fierce gust of wind uprooted our neighbors 120-foot Oak tree, toppling it with all the force of a train, onto our house and through the roof of our bedroom.  I kid you not.  A fucking tree came straight through the roof of our bedroom.

I was in the back of the house when I heard the crash.

I was sure a transformer had blown because there was no storm outside to warrant the thunder.  I went out back to check on my dog Jack and we just looked at each other.  I looked around the backyard.  All good. That was strange, I thought, as I turned to go back inside.

When I glanced towards the front of the house, the front window was completely dark, blocked by branches, of course. Stunned, I opened the front door to discover my home buried beneath this giant tree.  I was also surrounded by curious and concerned neighbors who’d gathered due to the crash.  It was a neighbor, in fact, that pointed to the roof; I’d walked outside before discovering the damage to the bedroom.

Somehow, I’d missed the air thick with dust, the door blown off its hinges, the mangled metal air vent, and the gaping skylight created by the limb which now pierced our roof.

The bed, our last oasis, was destroyed.

I was in shock. I only managed the necessary tasks with the insurance company, etc. because the situation was so surreal.  But by Friday I’d come out of the ether and was in an extremely hateful mood.  I was angry and indignant and begging someone to knock the chip off my shoulder just so I’d have the excuse to clock them.

I cussed and swore at stupid drivers on the road.  I glared at strangers in the grocery store.  I flipped off a bus driver and honked at an old person.  

I was rude to a friend of mine on the phone.  This was entirely too much to handle and God was an asshole.

Later, I got a text from the friend who I’d been rude to.  This is what it said:

” I attended a charity event last night (to support orphaned kids/families in Rwanda, because of the genocide that occurred there several years ago), and heard a story about a Rwandan woman who watched her husband, kids, and entire family murdered. She was raped, had her teeth macheted from her mouth and barely fought back to life and lived. An American dental surgeon came to her village, and when he “restored her smile” with new teeth, she told him she couldn’t wait to go to the village where that savage lived, and smile at him, to show he could take everything that mattered to her, but he couldn’t take her smile.”

This got my attention.  Nothing like a well-timed (and meaning) text put your indulgent insolence into perspective.

A tree fell on my house.  It did not fall on me, my kids, or my husband.  I woke up on a Wednesday morning, a tree fell on my house and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to prevent it.  Random shit happens.  Lack of control and vulnerability is what scared me and made me angry, not the damn tree.

By this time in my life, you’d have thought I’d learned that control is mostly a myth, highly susceptible to abuse and always overrated.

So what do you do when God gives you a swift kick in the pants to remind you? You can tell him to GFH, or you can exhale, let it go, and, yes, even smile.

I’m pretty sure that’s what God was doing when he heard me tell HIM to GFH, anyway.

Like he doesn’t hear that all the time anyway, right?

Sunday The Right Way

It was a bright Sunday morning, the sun was shining bright in the Winter sky, and best of all, Herb woke up feeling better than he had in weeks. This was reason enough to make a plan for an outing, a field trip! (Back story: on our recent trip to Costa Rica, Herb contracted pneumonia which had the expected detrimental effect.)

We were both excited to enjoy a Sunday together, and, as we’d been recent shut ins, get the hell out of the house.

Cindy Cart, one of my clients, had generously shared tickets to an exhibit at the Nelson Atkins Art Gallery where she works. Another client had just reported that this unusual exhibit was fabulous and a must see, so I was eager to go and Herb, feeling so much better, was easy to coax. So after our morning ritual of coffee together in bed, we jumped in the shower, and, all smiles and unicorns, set out for our Sunday morning adventure.

We’d planned to get to the gallery as it opened at 10. Imagine our surprise when we drove up just minutes after it opened and the line for parking snaked all the way down the west edge of the building. Wow, we thought, it sure is great to see all these people out at the Nelson. So much for our unique idea.

What we hadn’t realized was that it was a special day at the gallery to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Families of all ages crowded the Bloch wing to enjoy a program full of free exhibitions, dancing, tea tasting, and music. The energy and excitement was contagious…. but we did secretly have concerns that we might not get into the exhibit we came to see (or rather, hear): Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff.

When we presented our tickets to get in, we were pleasantly surprised that most people were otherwise engaged in the special events of the day; there were only four or five other people in the exhibit. We were curious about what we’d heard about the installation but still did not know what to expect. All we’d heard was that it was a sound exhibit and wonderful. True, it turns out, on both accounts.

When first entering the exhibit, there is the usual explanation of the artists’ intention and hope for the observer. Janet Cardiff, a Canadian artist has created an interactive space where the visitor literally steps inside a piece of music. Her thought is that people need a way to connect and experience presence, in this case, through music, for emotional fulfillment and release.

Surrounded by forty separate speakers, each one filled by a single voice, we were literally immersed in the astounding beauty of the music. The piece, (Alium Nunquam Habui, written by 16th-century composer Thomas Tallis) is sung in Latin, in a capella; the clarity of the notes both breathtaking and somber.

We had the option to sit in the center of the speakers where we could hear the piece in unison, surrounded by the power of forty magnificent voices joined together in song. Or we could walk slowly around during the piece, pausing in front of a single speaker or group of five speakers, hearing the clear, often awe-inspiring voice of a single tenor, soprano or child singing their individual part.

The effect for us was just what the artist intended; we were impacted emotionally, not only by the beauty of the music itself, but by the metaphor for what is possible when individuals gather with a common theme. The effect was an immediate presence- to the music, the moment, and the miracle of the human voice. The result was not only powerful, but transcendent.

When I looked up the meaning of the word Motet, it read, “a motet is a mainly vocal musical composition, of highly varied form and style, a piece of music in several parts with words, from the late medieval era to the present.”

Further, it was thought at the time that the motet, “was not to be celebrated in the presence of common people, because they do not notice its subtlety, nor are they delighted in hearing it, but in the presence of the educated and of those who are seeking out subtleties in the arts.”

When many of us are feeling agitated, angry or simply depressed by our current political climate, the Forty Part Motet is a potent reminder of our capacity as human beings to come together to create something good, shared, beautiful and profound. Standing in the center of that circle of separate voices, one doesn’t hear disparity or separation: instead, we hear the splendor and glory of co-operation, unity and shared effort.

Aristotle’s statement, “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,” has been debated by mathematicians, psychologists and philosophers; but in the end it is our interpretation that matters most.

The Forty Part Motet asks us to consider our individual gifts and how they can serve the larger score. Now seems to be an excellent time to decide what it is we want as a country and decipher a way to unite to create something we want all want to listen to and more importantly, something that we’re proud to sing.