Thursday, December 26, 2013

Defining Success

On Christmas, my wife and I visited one of our young men in prison.  Of all my friends, he’s the one who enjoys Christmas the most, especially the anticipation, the expectation, and the promise of a happy time, a brighter tomorrow.

After five and a half years in prison, his spirit is brighter now that it’s ever been. He’s grown in so many ways, and achieved many of his goals.  In prison, he’s actually had goals and found ways to achieve them.  Before that, life was just survival, slogging through chaos and drugs, of being treated indifferently, without love, and not knowing who he was or where he was headed.

Now, he’s found purpose and meaning.  He’s making peace with the demons in his life, and has found the strength and courage to look deep inside of himself, and to finally love himself, and all the possibilities he has in his life.

He wanted socks for Christmas, making sure everyone knew it, too.  Now, he’s a wealthy man, Mr. Big in the world of socks.  He’s the happy recipient of forty pairs of socks, socks of nearly every size and color.  He has socks everywhere now, new socks to try on every day for over a month.  

Yes, he had a successful Christmas, all the socks he could ever want.  In the telling of his story, his laugh and his big smile light up his face; he knows now that he is loved and respected by so many people.  He’s figured out the magic of Christmas, the reason for the season.

He’s successful in so many other ways this year.  He’s taken charge of his life, looking deep inside of himself, and taking charge of who he is, and where he is going.  He’s embraced his new maturity.  He’s taken on his self confidence and is moving ahead.  He’s found his courage and is nourishing and loving his soul.

He’s the person Robert Louis Stevenson was writing about when he said,
“That man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.”  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

This year, many people I know have taken stock of their lives, summoned their courage, and moved ahead.  Their accomplishments are many, and I’ve been applauding their journeys, and marveling at their determination and sacred intentions in their lives.  It has been a year of transformation and a year of dramatic and momentous growth.  Old demons have been called out of the basement, new directions has been set, and the tough, sweaty and hard work has been done.  And, in that work, our communities are stronger, more vibrant, richer in so many ways. 

Some people look to Washington politicians to make the big changes they want to see in the world and in their lives.  Yet, the real change and the real work is done right here, inside my friends and neighbors, the farmer, the waitress, the young man in prison.  The real change makers are right here, and the work is getting done. People are becoming transformed, people making a real difference.
Like my young friend in prison, people are taking inventory of who they are inside, and grasping the power they have to change.  And, then, they are stepping out, and doing the hard, gut level work, and moving ahead.  

They see the richness in their lives, not by the number of socks they got for Christmas, but in the way they love and are loved.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dealing With Suicide and the Loss of A Friend

I don’t know what to say, or even think.  A friend of mine has gone, at a time and place and manner of his own choosing.  He left, not saying good bye, not asking for help with his pain, his choices.  But, then again, maybe he did, and we did not listen, or did not respond to what he asked.  At least, I did not hear him asking for a hand, or my ear, or even considering other choices.  Or, maybe I did.  And now, I do not know.  I am, at the least, confused and lost, and stumbling around in my grief, my impotence.  
Now, there is an emptiness, and a great unknowing.  The “what ifs” keep multiplying, and I am left with wonder, with sadness, and guilt.  “What if?”  “What if?”  
And, in the silence that follows my asking, there are no answers, only more questions.  
Friends of mine, closer to him that I was, are left empty, unknowing, wandering in the wilderness of uncertainty, of deeper questions which have no answers today.  My pain today is enough; I cannot imagine theirs.  
I search for answers that are not there.  I search for so much, for reasons, for explanations, for understandings, knowing that there is now only a cold wind blowing around my heart.  
Raw craziness, that is what is running amuck in my life now.  No answers, just more questions.  Not much solace, yet knowing that my friend was, at least for a second, at peace with himself and what he was doing.  
I was not on his road of life, and I did not know his journey.  In his departing, there is even more uncertainty in my mind as to what I might have known, might have done, might have loved him deeper, had he shared his pain, his questions, his journey.  But, he did not, and somehow I must accept that.  Yet, in that, I find myself angry, and unknowing, and uncertain.  I am confused, and enraged, yet what has been done was beyond what I could have done, and beyond what I am, and what I could have been to him.  
Old pains, and other suicides, and those still unanswered questions come back now, again reminding me of old wounds, unresolved enigmas, old doubts and tears.  I do not know.  I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know.  Old stuff, reopened, bleeding again, making new tears.  
Part of me wants answers, but I know that answers won’t ever come.  I move on, in life, yet I am left with wonderment, and enigma, and cold winds, ice in my heart that comes at unforeseen, strange times, dragging me back to old ghosts and old, unresolved times.  
The poet writes of what I feel, and points me towards forgiveness.  Yet, that word seems foreign to where I sit now, empty and alone, not knowing, not finding sanity in all of this.  The poet’s wisdom circles about me, aflame, trying to warm my cold, lonely heart.  
Perhaps, I should reach out, and accept that warmth, on this cold winter’s night.  

By Marion Waterston, January 31, 2005

I guess I'll never know
All I want to know
Or understand
What can't be understood
But I believe it's time to forgive

Time to forgive you for leaving me
So abruptly and so painfully
And time to forgive myself
For talks we didn't have
Laughs we didn't share
Songs we didn't sing
Foolishly I thought that time was on our side

Can it be that time now wishes to atone for this betrayal
For tears no longer flow like endless rivers
Anger seems a wasted emotion
And dreams those dreaded night-time visitors
Can come as friends

Once again I smile at the innocence of children
The unabashed warmth of lovers
The enthusiastic affection of dogs
And although I do not see you my precious love
You are with me

So I guess I'll never know
All I want to know
Or understand
What can't be understood
But here in this quiet moment
It's time and I'm ready

To forgive.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Taking Mandela's Life Into My Heart

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

Many words are being written about the life and the death of this great man.  He lived a life of courage, living his convictions, and, in spite of overwhelming pain and suffering and obstacles, he did what was right.  He focused on what was decent, and what was just, and moved others ahead, towards justice and compassion.  

Each one of us can do the same.  We may not be leaders of social movements, and we may not be able to speak to millions of people, become president of a country, or win the Nobel Prize.  Yet, each of us, in our own ways, can lead lives of value, integrity, and advance those values and morals that we each hold dear.  

I can do the right thing.  Each one of us can.  And, it starts with taking a step in that new, unfamiliar, often awkward direction.  
Often, doing the right thing is profound, and astonishing to others.  And, in that action, and in the act of others witnessing the doing of right, and the demonstration of living morally and righteously, changes their lives as well.  

Nelson Mandela was all about change.  And, he did that, one person at a time.  His speeches, his writings, his one on one encounters, profoundly changes others, one person at a time.  

His life was a way of giving all of us permission to encounter hatred and bigotry, and to be consciously active in not living with those values, and to work towards a higher good.  He gave an example for us to follow.  He let us see that we all have choices, and we can decide to live differently.  

Living this is hard work, but also simple.  Change your attitude, change your intention, and move in a different direction.  Embrace love, and not hatred.  Be intentional in what you do.  Live your values.  

The great people in history have done that, people who are able to show us simple truths, and to move the direction of their lives in accordance with those simple truths.  The examples are powerful, and stun us with their sheer simplicity and beauty.  

Yet, we make that choice hard, finding lots of excuses, and resisting moving out of our old habits, our old ways of thinking, and being seduced by the status quo, old ways of thinking, being caught up in the thought patterns of hatred, distrust, and fear.  

I see people all around me being brave and courageous, just as Nelson Mandela lived, people dealing with hatred, prejudice, ignorance; people dealing with addictions, injustice, and fear.  They face their challenges, they speak their values and morals out loud, and they move into action.  They take life head on, and forge ahead, against the headwinds of social pressure and old ways of thinking and living, rejecting hatred and fear. 

In the coming days, we will read and hear many wise words, and hear many stories about Nelson Mandela and his life.  We will see the famous and powerful gather at his funeral and offer heartfelt eulogies.  We will be inspired and we will honor his great contributions and how he helped bring change to his country, and how he provoked the world to follow his lead.  

Yet, if we really want to honor his life, and to give meaning and celebration for the life that he lived, and how he helped to transform a culture of racism, intolerance and fear, into a society taking on bigotry and hatred, then each of us has to take his message and his life into our hearts.  His message is about changing ourselves and our lives from within, to love ourselves and the world unconditionally.  

How am I going to make a difference? How am I going to move forward, embracing and living unconditional love?  How am I going to change myself and my community and move towards a healthy, peace-loving view of life?  How do I respond to the hatred, bigotry and fear that I find inside of myself?  Am I brave enough to move on and move away from what I don’t want to be?  

Nelson Mandela called each of us to action.  He wrote inspiring books, and gave motivating speeches.  He practiced forgiveness and reconciliation.  Yet, his intention was to call upon his readers and his listeners to look deep into their hearts, and to move into action, to live our values and our morals, to live lives filled with love and hope, with compassion and forgiveness.  

Today, I will look deep inside of myself, calling out my morals and my ethics, calling out my true intentions for my life, and for this world.  I will call out my fears and my biases, and put them out on the table for me, and the world, to see, in all that reality, warts and all.   I will dig deep and I will take a wobbly step or two, and move ahead, towards my true intentions and my higher purpose.  

—Neal Lemery, 12/6/2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cold Morning Walk

The essence now in that envelope
between night and dawn, 
the eastern sky silent through pure white spectrum,
everywhere crystalline frost, its task to bejewel 
fallen leaves and winter twigs,
and share itself with 

deep silence,
until my soul opens up and
sees the all that is here
just, and only, now.
I need only

Moving through the silence, only my
white breath moving, only my shoes
beating a faint cadence in this between time,
I become one with this world,
space where everything can be the future
if only I dream it, and move towards it.

—Neal Lemery 12/4/13