I attended an afternoon event held at a venue usually reserved for nighttime activities. As I stood listening to speeches, I looked up at this tall ship on a high shelf, lit by a combination of daylight and interior lighting that would not normally be on when customers were in the establishment.
I was struck by both the beauty and the ew factor. In fact, the beauty is made possible because of the ew factor.
Without the dust on the delicate strands of rope on the foundering ship the effect of the light would be less striking.
Something that needed cleaning up had been hidden and ignored. Light made things clear, and somehow beautiful.
The idea helps me this week. The lesson “sailed to me” when needed, as they so often do. I hope it helps you too.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find peace when nasty surprises upset our lives. Sometimes it’s even a challenge to savour fun events or exciting bonuses.
We waste time evaluating whether something is “good” or “bad.” We forget to head straight to accepting what is.
And appearances can be deceiving. Events that appear catastrophic at first can lead to unforeseen good fortune. Other occurrences that strike us as boundless good luck turn out to be the opposite.
All of us would love to have 100 percent control over what happens in our lives. But we don’t. Unplanned events inevitably derail our plans.
When that happens to me, I try to remember to rise above it and survey everything as an impartial observer. I try to view whatever comes—no matter what it is—as a big, welcome surprise.
“So THAT’s what happens!”
Stuck in the slow line at the grocery store? So THAT’S what happens! A winning goal for your hockey team in overtime? So THAT’S what happens! You’re fired? So THAT’S what happens!”
It’s easier to be at peace with unforeseen twists of fate — illnesses, riches, petty disagreements, journeys, friends, deaths or births — if all of them, no matter what , are viewed as big, welcome surprises.
During the open mic session on Friday night, Jean Kay of Poetry to Inspire told a story that showed how simple gifts can ripple out and multiply in ways we never anticipate.
Every morning as part of a meditation practice, Jean writes a poem. She has published her poems in books, she writes poems for special occasions, and she sells printed copies of special prayers, like this “Prayer of Thanks.”
Recently Jean was selling her work from a booth at a promotional event. A woman picked up a “Prayer of Thanks” card. “I have been saying this prayer every morning for thirty years,” she said.
Startled, Jean took a closer look. The woman—96 years old that day at the booth—was a former co-worker that Jean hadn’t seen since she presented a copy of the poem at her retirement party thirty years ago.
The woman had gone home after the party, stuck the card in the corner of her mirror and recited it every day since. Jean had no idea that her work, her thoughts and her words had been rippling steadily through all those decades.
That retirement story reminded me of another friend’s recent retirement.
My friend, Brian, retired a few weeks ago after being a United Church minister for forty years. At his final service many of the people whose lives he had touched showed up to support him and to let him know how deeply his work, his thought and his words had affected them.
In his final sermon he referenced the story of the loaves and the fishes. He had started in ministry with only simple gifts to offer. Like the loaves and the fishes, they seemed like they’d never be enough. But with time and grace, his simple gifts were enough. They more than enough. He “fed the throngs” and has leftovers besides.
Simple gifts are all any of us have to offer. They might seem like they’re not enough. But a prayer of thanks, support through grief, kind words, belly laughs . . . they ripple out over the decades.
Those simple gifts are more than enough, with leftovers besides.
There are many things to love about this picture—the long dress, the apron (!), the hat that looks like something Charlie Chaplin might have sat upon, the natural grass untouched by any lawn mower, and the corner of a barn that was probably raised on a good old-fashioned barn-raising day.
And, of course, the tree stump she’s wrestling into submission.
The thing I love the most is that she doesn’t look unhappy. There might even be the hint of a smile.
The woman is digging tree stumps in a long skirts and she doesn’t seem to mind.
In some ways her challenges were greater than mine. She probably sewed that dress that she had no choice but to wear. She had to clear the land where they grew the food they ate, she had to bake from scratch every single cookie and loaf of bread she consumed, and she had to can her green beans and tomatoes. She was driven to do those things because otherwise her family would go hungry. She worked hard—physically—from dawn to dusk.
In other ways her life was simple. She had food, faith and family. She never had to suffer the irritation of four-way stops, she never had to receive emails from hackers trying to scam her, and she never had anyone in the next cubicle eating curry for lunch.
The modern “tree stumps” I have to wrestle into submission are quite different, and I don’t have to do it while wearing a long dress. (Although I can if I choose.) My tree stumps challenge my mind, my emotions and my spiritual equilibrium more than my body, but they still challenge me from dawn to dusk.
But, from what I hear, I inherited another thing from my great-grandmother—the calm joy of moment.
No matter what’s happening—no matter what—there’s joy to be found, even if it’s the flip-side of sorrow.