Next Thing I Know…

I have never lived for any great length of time without wondering what would happen the next year, the next day, or the next hour in my life. It’s a deeply inherent part of my existence, and I suspect, of most other people’s as well. But I’m experienced and grown-up enough by now to recognize that I should jolly well limit my mulling over that mystery enough to spend the majority of my energies on getting the most out of the present—and putting the most that I can into it.

Call it whatever you please, devotion to making myself better in the here and now seems to me far more useful, meaningful, and simply enjoyable than mooning and swooning over what might be, may be, could be, or should be. I try, and I hope to try better. I mean to try better.

But really—what is coming? I can’t quite let that alone, either. Too tantalizing….

Meanwhile, in the here and now, I am tremendously grateful for many wonderful things. I am rich with love and friendship, with food and shelter and opportunity. And I have one of the greatest treasures of all, the knowledge and experience of peace. It may be a slightly rare commodity in the unknown, unplanned chaos of everyday life, never mind in the wider world’s daily struggles. But I have known peace and am gifted with times of deep and comforting peace through those riches I have just enumerated for you. And through no deserts of mine—I am glad beyond imagining that whatever lies ahead, I expect to keep looking for, and finding, Peace.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I wish all of you the opportunities to experience peace, and to share it with all of those whose life paths your own intersects. Peace among us all.Photo: Thankful for Peace

Cowboy Comforts

Time for another dose of Texas-inspired meditation. Because  I live in Texas. And I got to meditatin’. And I have been known to think—as American Thanksgiving Day approached, for example, but pretty much whenever it comes to me too—that one of the things I am perpetually impressed by and immensely grateful for is the soulful dedication of those people who do all of the difficult and endless and mainly unsung tasks, at often invisible jobs, to make life bearable and beautiful for the rest of us.Photo + text: Cowboy Poetry

Photo + text: Enough

It would be an exaggeration to claim that My Heroes have Always been Cowboys, but I do indeed respect the role they play in this pantheon of working-class wonders whose gifts are so much-needed and so often unheralded by the rest of us. I thank you sincerely, all of you independent gas station owners, ditch diggers, restaurant servers, car wash detailers, dry cleaning operators, factory workers, day laborers, and all of your committed fellow-men and women who carry us all on your backs.

To My Mother on Her Birthday

Photo: Under the Willow Tree 1Under the Willow Tree

Under the willow tree, her shade my calm,

I see so bent by storms her trunk, how far

The winds have twisted every limb, each scar

Where lightning struck; yet there’s a quiet psalm

Of gratitude that whispers in her leaves

Each time another rainfall comes to spend

Its quenching kindness on her and to send

New hope down deep—for anyone who grieves

Or wonders how to pass through life’s travail

Finds shelter in her shadow—knows the limbs

That seem to weep are only singing hymns,

Embracing in their gentle sway the frail.

                    So one fine sapling, tended with such care,

                    Becomes the home for all who shelter there.

And now her roots are deep, her branches wide

Enough to draw more birds to them to nest,

Assured, secure and loved, and full at rest,

No matter what the world is like outside—

Just as I am, beneath the willow’s arm

Of graceful comfort, grateful for her wise,

Kind lesson to look upward to the skies

For blessed rain, and sun to keep us warm,

For sweet reminders of the Gardener

Who made the willow grow, and gave her strength

To nurture others in her shade, at length,

Upon the graces planted there in her:

                    So one fine sapling, tended with such care,

                    Becomes the home for all who shelter there.

Photo: Under the Willow Tree 2Thank you, Mom, for the nurturing, the love, and the will to live as an example of bending but not breaking in the storms. Happy 80th Birthday!

Dirty Jobs, but Never Done Dirt Cheap

The world is truly full of overlooked and underpaid laborers.
Photo: Housekeeping Cart

This is a story as old as human community, and yet it’s notable how little it’s changed. The ugliest, dirtiest, the most physically demanding and unpleasant tasks, the ones that no one in his or her right mind would usually choose to do, let alone without any recognition or reasonable pay, these jobs don’t cease to exist because nobody likes them. They simply get done by people who have no other choice. And do we thank them for it? Do we give them public honor and paychecks commensurate with the knowledge and patience and back-breaking effort and yes, specialized skills that are required of them?

You know the answer. In this country, we spend more time and energy on vilifying the working poor as nuisances and a weight around the necks of their higher-taxpaying richer neighbors, at best. At worst, we accuse them of criminality, many of coming into the country illegally—which they may well have done—to snatch bread from the very lips of our own better educated and better protected children through their stealing jobs from the local citizenry. Which, of course, they rarely do, considering that neither we nor said children are willing and able to do without the jobs that the working poor do for us, let alone perform those tasks ourselves. Never mind that those we abhor for daring to come across the nation’s borders unseen are doing precisely what the vast majority of our own ancestors did, and out of the same desperation for survival, but now with the additional barrier of laws designed more out of fear and hatred than out of specific plans to better the safety and welfare of any of the parties involved.

If immigrants could remotely afford the risky business of taking a national day of “working poor flu,” the way that unionized workers go on strike or recognized organizations march in protest, just imagine what that day would look like across the United States. I don’t begin to think that there’s an easy solution to the problems of regulating this country, protecting individuals and the nation from the very real danger of criminal activity and the bane of individualism gone rogue. The latter being, in my opinion, a far larger risk to the rest of us from among native-born citizens who take their American privileges as the right to do as they please, even by force and against US governmental “interference” with their personal sovereignty. But I can’t believe that the draconian and targeted proposals many suggest these days are the right solution, either.

Let our internal renegades, our legal complainants against immigrants, and all foes of the “lazy” or “problematic” working poor themselves take up the labor and care required to ensure that every one of their fellow Americans has enough food to eat, education to navigate life and progress beyond restrictive ignorance, health care to prevent the spread of diseases and unnecessary pain or early death, and a safe, clean place to sleep without fear of exposure to the elements, destruction of their environment, or unfriendly intruders. Then I might start thinking we can narrow the gates to allow in only primly approved new neighbors able to contribute equally to the cause. Or would anybody out there like to see what happens on that imagined Flu Day, when all of the orderlies, cooks, construction workers, landscape maintenance crews, sanitation workers, child- and elder-caregivers, and all of their fellow underpaid workers lay down their tools and lie down on the job for even 24 hours?

I surely don’t know the solution to any, let alone all, of the problems that roll up into this one massive puzzle we have sitting on our doorstep. But I know that I will try to do better at giving proper respect and thanks, and a hand up when possible, to anyone who does what I can’t or won’t do myself. My life depends upon it.

Nothing Wrong with Stating the Obvious

That which is ubiquitous in my life, the thing that I walk by every single day or experience every time I am in a particular, familiar setting, can become invisible to me. For good or ill, I can forget to notice anymore those things that are so close they could bite me on the nose before I paid proper attention to them. They might be so near I could change them for the better with little effort or they could, if I’m too foolish to do that, turn on me and make my life or someone else’s immeasurably worse for having been left unchanged; good things, conversely, can be so near that I could be uplifted by the mere thought of them if I only gave them a thought in passing.

I must pay better attention. My senses should be enough to remind me of all the woe and wealth that surround me at every turn, and my will should follow my convictions enough to make me respond with a hand of aid, a voice of change, or a heart full of admiration and gratitude. The vast majority of the world hasn’t nearly the kind of wealth and privilege that surrounds me in my life—materially, yes, but also in health, safety, opportunity, hope and happiness—and while there is no reason to reject what I have, it should motivate me to take a closer look around me. I ought to take constant inventory and be willing to counter the wrongs and repair those things that I can, or at the least, call upon those who are able to make positive change. And I should be glad at every sign that states the obvious good in my life. Thankfulness is a small enough part of true mindfulness, but looms large in the world of well-being.Photo: Stating the Obvious

Abundance and Gratitude

graphite drawingAmong the essentials for a happy life, I consider the above named items some of the most meaningful. But I am often, rightly, reminded that these are as much matters of attitude as anything. Much easier, both of them, to qualify than to quantify.

Abundance, as experienced and demonstrated by many people I’ve known and seen who would be considered below a desirable economic level, is seen as having enough to survive, and just a touch to bring a guest to the table as well. That this means the main family’s subsistence is so much the sparser while a guest is on hand means little, except that the gift is commensurately so much the more generous.

For those of us with more considerable resources, I think the same attitude is worth the attempt. I should think through the difference between my actual needs and my wants, live within my means, and delight in the ability to share what I have with others. I’m not always nearly as good at this as I’d like, but think it a practice worth pursuing and improving over a lifetime.

Gratitude needn’t be limited to feeling I’m in the center of abundance, anyway. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be thankful for any and every good thing in my existence, even when the tenor of the times is set in a sparer and more trying mode. This, too, is simply a survival tactic on my part, as giving in to my dark instincts at bad times has no logical outcome but that I’d lie down and die. By choosing to actively and attentively seek out and recognize whatever kernels there are of goodness and light, I take away my focus from what lessens me and give myself a chance of relief. Better, I may see the glint of otherwise forgotten abundance, and that always makes me more grateful.digital illustration

How Quickly We Learn

Even when we’re young we pick up clues pretty swiftly regarding what sort of behavior and attitude is expected of us in our interactions with others. As a child, I learned ever so quickly that I am not the boss of anyone else and practically everyone else is the boss of me, and not much has ever changed in that department. Whether happily or unfortunately, depending entirely on your point of view, I also figured out as speedily as most kids do that as long as I behaved in the expected manner when anyone was watching I could get away with a fair amount of far more self-indulgent–if not subversive–ways. Sure does simplify my life!graphite drawingShow of Proper Respect

The Mistress in her jewelry and finery and furs

Thinks everyone should bow and kiss the ground—that’s also hers—

And genuflect before her grand tiara and her mace,

So that is what we tend to do—at least do to her face.digital illustration from a graphite drawingAll frivolous jocularity on the topic aside, however, getting trained by our elders and betters, in particular our mothers, is both more complicated and more happily meaningful for those of us who are blessed with great moms. Me, I’ve got two. The mother who gave birth to me and raised me from my days as an only mildly subversive little sprout into the silly but exceedingly happy big kid you see before you today is worthy of recognition as one of the great teachers not only for giving me a framework on which to hang my sense of right and wrong and general grasp of manners but also the education and freedom and knowledge of being unconditionally loved that enabled me to choose how to build on those foundations as I grew. My second Mom, brought to me courtesy of (her son) my beloved husband, gets credit for instilling the same curiosity and drive in her children and, in turn, for reinforcing in me through her example what it means to be a lively and lovely person who is good company, an active part of the household and community at every turn, and a tireless learner and adventurer who earns her place in those settings with remarkable grace. Whether I can live up to the standards set by either of my Moms remains to be seen, but they certainly give me the tools that should make it possible if anything can.

If it can’t, I guess I’ll have to fall back on my naturally ridiculous ways and just pretend to be better than I am for as long as I can keep up the front. Those of you who are looking for reliably good, sound company, go see Mom W and Mom S. And also my sisters and my sister-in-law, great mothers to their children, and all of those other mothers, who by birth, adoption, random acquisition and teaching, raise better people, who in turn make the world a better place altogether. All of whom I thank profusely not only on Mother’s Day but every day for being such great examples even for those of us who are a little too childish to be motherly examples ourselves. Go ahead, you can say it right in front of me. I’ve learned that much, at least!