I want to have hope,
believe in what’s possible
and trust in new life.
I want to have hope,
believe in what’s possible
and trust in new life.
The words of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) have been catching my attention recently. He reminds me to dwell in the present and pay attention to what is going on in my everyday life, because that is where the sacred is waiting to be noticed.
In praying with Scripture using Lectio Divina one of the main ideas is to notice what word or phrase catches my attention—the idea being that that particular word or phrase is what God is speaking to me in that moment—and then repeating that word or phrase. By sticking with one word or phrase, I can allow it to sink in and glean deeper meaning. The Bible is so big, yet Lectio Divina focuses on the smallest part—just one word or phrase.
Ordinary life is like that, I think. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that brings the greatest joy—a kindness, hug, generous gesture.
I attended a memorial service this week for a woman from work who died in the spring. She was also a Zumba instructor at a community center, and her loyal followers wanted to honor her life by planting a tree and placing a bench in the park where she taught. One by one, people stood and paid tribute to this woman who had touched their lives by her upbeat personality, zest for living and generous nature.
Shonece had a beautiful smile and an easy laugh. It was not that her life had been easy or without suffering—she was a three-time cancer survivor, and during the first year of the pandemic, five people in her family died. She faced her loses and still chose to be upbeat and optimistic.
Tear flowed easily at this service—so great was the loss. And through tears, people recalled the simple acts of kindness Shonece had done for them. They talked about how her smile welcomed them when they came to Zumba and her spirit encouraged them. They shared stories of meals she delivered when they had family crises and all the simple acts she did to show her support for them.
I walked away thinking of another quote of Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Perhaps one of the luxuries of not working and having fewer responsibilities is that I have more time, space and energy to notice something and then ponder it. What I am noticing is that the holy dwells in the ordinary, just waiting to be seen and celebrated.
“Don’t buy me any green bananas,” my mother likes to say. We are celebrating her 95th birthday tomorrow, and she jokes that she might not live to see green bananas ripen. On the other hand, she bought a new dishwasher this week.
Her optimism is a constant reminder to me to welcome each day, to embrace what life brings and to look forward to whatever is coming down the road.
For the most part, my mother does what she wants; she is fiercely independent. When I once called her stubborn, she said, “Don’t call me stubborn. I am not stubborn. I just know what I want.”
And when she knows what she wants, she goes for it with gusto, not caring one whit what others think.
In many ways, I am like my mother (my younger brother likes to point to us and say, tree…apple), but I don’t have her self-assurance in going after what I want; I am easily swayed by the desires and opinions of others.
I am at a crossroads in my life. It is a familiar place because I was basically at the same place a year ago. I made a decision then, announced my decision and then did not follow through because I was dissuaded by what someone else wanted. Ugh.
Again this year, I have come to the same decision about my future, and when I told a friend, she said, “You already made that decision,” sounding like she was speaking to a fickle child. Yes, I make and remake the same decisions. I move toward a new direction and then step back; it is tedious.
I feel stuck at the crossroads. This is one of those ways I wish I was more like my mother—decide and then do it, others’ opinions be damned.
I recently found a note I had written at the beginning of last year, asking, What do I need to do, believe in or allow for myself? It was probably a message to bolster my decision, and it is still relevant.
What did we talk about before the pandemic took up residence
and reshaped our lives?
What mattered before fear settled in and narrowed our vision?
Breathe in and expand.
Remember how large life once was and will be again.
Remember the good things.
Remember those we love,
now out of sight.
In the darkness of isolation, I am alone.
Breathe in and expand.
Stand outside and drink in the sunshine.
Watch every tree bud this spring,
celebrate every flower.
Sing, laugh, dance.
Life is still good.
Optimism is possible.
Hope is within reach.
Crowd out the darkness with light.
The afternoon sun warms the air.
Forsythia and daffodils are blooming.
My neighbor works in his yard,
preparing the ground for his garden.
I cut back dead leaves in my flower beds and
pitchfork my compost pile.
It is too early to plant, but we can get ready.
This time of isolation is a pause.
Seeing no one, going nowhere, and yet
the invitation lies open before me—
cut back what is dead, clear out debris, turn the soil over.
Get ready to start again.
Summer will come.
Last week, I got a new bike. My old bike was a twenty-year-old boy’s bike and swinging my leg over the bar had become increasingly more challenging. Last fall, I began researching bikes made specifically with older people in mind.
I found lightweight bikes and bikes with the pedals moved a little forward to accommodate aging hips. And then I found easy boarding bikes, with virtually no bar to climb over—just a platform to step across.
When I ordered my new bike two weeks ago, I told the bike shop owner that I plan to ride this bike for the next twenty years.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized how optimistic they were. We are in the midst of a pandemic that is killing people my age. It has even been nicknamed the boomer remover because of how vulnerable my peers and I are to this virus.
And I am buying a bike I plan to ride for the next twenty years!
How do I reconcile these two realities—my optimism and my vulnerability?
I am an optimist by nature. In the face of reality, no matter how dark or hopeless the current situation might seem, I still see potential to learn and grow. I believe that every curse has a blessing, and the invitation is to find the blessing and to learn something from current circumstances.
In the midst of this pandemic, I feel the anxiety of the not knowing—how long the pandemic will last, how many people will get sick, how many will die, how close to home the virus will come—all the uncertainties of the situation.
There are many mysteries, I often say, things over which I have no power or control. I believe I am invited to accept that I am powerless over them. At the same time, I am invited to continue to live in trust and hope.
And that means not just being alive, but living fully, joyfully and gratefully.
Here are some practices that help me to remain optimistic and hopeful:
What helps you stay hopeful?
My home is filled with gifts, reminders of what has been.
Each room has treasures that speak to me of blessing.
Pay attention to what calls to you.
A family photograph, a candle’s flame, the tree outside your window, a bird soaring overhead,
Whispering your name and inviting you to come back to yourself.
If we are open to it, even a stone can be a door.
Recently, I have spoken about my work at a cancer support center to several Optimist Clubs, and every time I hear the Optimist Creed, this line stands out:
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
One of my Lenten plans was to see the people in front of me. Sometimes I don’t actually see the person standing in front of me, but rather I see a version of that person which is based on my past experiences with him or her, and I know that is not always accurate.
Instead, I want to try to see as God sees—to see the potential in each person, to see the best in each one. I want to be less critical and more hopeful about the people in my life.Usually, though, I form an impression of someone when we meet. If someone is prickly, I tend to think, “This is a prickly person.” I can then find it difficult to change that initial impression, to let go of my expectations that someone will act in a particular way. I can easily devote attention and energy to the faults of others while conveniently overlooking my own. I know, though, that when I get a glimpse of myself as God sees me, it is a better version of me. From God’s perspective, I am capable of being my best self—loving, forgiving, accepting and merciful. When others see the best in me, and let me know that, I am more likely to be that person (or at least be more aware when I am not). The ability of others to see the best in me helps me to grow into the person God created me to be.
God invites me to focus on improving myself, on fixing my own faults before I start looking at others.When I am aware of my own flaws, I am less likely to be critical of others. When I remember that I grow and change, it is easier to believe that others also grow and change—and also easier to see their potential.
Practicing seeing as God sees also makes me more compassionate. Seeing the potential in others and allowing them the space to grow into their potential reminds me we are all on the path to discovering who God created us to be. Hoping that I and others can live up to the vision God has for us shifts my vision from pessimism to optimism; God’s vision is always hopeful and expansive.Every person who stands before me has the potential to become all that God intended. My desire is to accept the people who come into my life without criticism or judgment and to imagine them as their best selves, the selves God created them to be.