Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Leonardo Da Vinci: Tuesday's Post

The subject of a recent book club discussion was a massive 
biography, Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, who, you may recall, has written biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Einstein. Major Men! 

Frankly, I wasn't looking forward to tackling this book. For one thing it is heavy, physically heavy, and not easy to prop up for bedtime reading. But it just looked like a textbook, and I had a stockpile of books I would rather read. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and found the book accessible and interesting and well-written. Da Vinci and the times he lived in are fascinating. 

When I read a biography or memoir what I look for beyond the facts is what the person can teach me about myself and the way I live. Da Vinci's life has lots to offer. 

At the end of the book Isaacson lists a wealth of lessons from Da Vinci's approach to life. For example,

*   Be curious, relentlessly curious. 
*   Seek knowledge for its own sake.
*   Retain a childlike sense of wonder.
*   Observe. This was Leonardo's greatest skill and fed his curiosity.
*   Go down rabbit holes.
*   Get distracted.
*   Respect facts.
*   Procrastinate.  Leonardo felt "creativity requires time for ideas to marinate and ideas to gel."
*   Let your reach exceed your grasp.
*   Indulge fantasy.
*   Collaborate.
*   Make lists.  My personal favorite!!!! At least I have one thing in common with him. His lists were not just everyday lists, however. Go to the market. Buy tomatoes and bread. Or complete The Lord's Supper by Monday. No, he listed in his notebooks odd things, interesting things he observed and wanted to know more about. 
*   Be open to mystery. "Not everything needs sharp lines."

What a list! What these items primarily have in common, it seems to me, is a sense of play and a desire to stay awake and engaged. What would happen if we encouraged our children, our grandchildren to live this way? What would happen if we chose to cultivate that approach to life ourselves?

In the spirit of play, I ordered a cake for our book group meeting and the cake was decorated with a picture of the Mona Lisa. Fun and tasty, and I think Leonardo would have approved. 

An Invitation
Which of the items on the list will you adopt? I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Creating a Collage: Thursday's Reflection

What doesn't seem to fit? I often ask myself this question when I have completed creating a collage. 

This is my most recent collage, which I put together recently on my 70th birthday, (You can read the post here.) and I am quite pleased with both the individual images selected, as well as the overall tone of the collage. When I look at the collage I see contentment and optimism about this entry into my 70's. 

The wrapped package reminds me of the many gifts of time and friendship and opportunity I have received over the years, but also a symbol of this time of life as a gift. I see open doors--more thresholds to cross and opportunities to experience. I see a pile of books, and you, dear reader, know how important books and reading is in my life, but the books also inspire me to keep working on the book I am writing. It seems significant that the labyrinth, an important spiritual practice in my life and the ongoing metaphor in my memoir, is located at the center of the right page.

I don't ignore the fact that I am entering a new stage of life, a new and older decade, but the woman pictured in my collage looks confident and happy and eager, and I do feel that way. And I love the scattered autumn leaves, gathered into a handful, a basket full of memories, experiences, even wisdom.

All good. I congratulate myself for being so open, so accepting, so satisfied with this time in my life, and then I notice in the top right hand corner a little pot containing a prickly succulent plant. 

"What's that doing here?" I ask myself. "It doesn't seem to fit the mood of the other pictures."

When doing a collage, the main instruction is to select images that appeal or speak to you in some way and to not have a pre-conceived notion about why or how it will fit into the whole picture. Only after completing the collage and allowing its messages to find a resting place within me, did I think about that plant with its sharp, biting leaves.  The picture of that plant is there to remind me that this time more than likely will not be only smooth or comfortable. 

Prickly, painful times may be on the path, too. And I need to prepare.

My path of preparation includes grounding myself in my spiritual practices, continuing to grow in my faith, giving myself in ways that nurture others, and living with an open heart.

That's what I see when I look at my collage.

An Invitation
What are you invited to see in the collage of your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I am 70: Tuesday's Reflection

Entrance into my 70's roared like a lion. A lion in the shape of a blizzard. My 70th birthday was Saturday, and it snowed the entire weekend. I have experienced Blizzard Birthdays before and perhaps will again, but at this age, I am not willing to predict. 

Never mind. I turned 70 no matter the weather. Besides, we were safe and warm. I had a fresh pile of books to devour and food to eat, including a yummy lemon bundt cake Bruce had picked up from one of the local bakeries. Our loved ones were where they were suppose to be, and we wanted for nothing.

Here's what I think about being 70.

I am grateful to be here, to be healthy, to have meaningful pursuits in my life, to love and to be loved abundantly. 

70 is not the new 40. Or 50. Or even 60. Whatever the current saying is. 70 is 70, but 70 looks and feels different for each person. As sweet as it is when someone says, "You don't look 70," I think, "So what does 70 look like? "Well, folks, this is what 70 looks like on me. This is who I am at 70. 

A dear friend, who turned 70 a few months ago, in her birthday note to me wrote, "I have owned my age. Strange as it seems to some, being able to start a new decade has a feeling of starting fresh. A new perspective, hope mixed with reality." That feels so right, so wise to me. 

I don't deny all the decades behind me. I value them, even the difficult days, months, and even years. I view them as my teacher, the proving ground in a way of whom I am now and the core of what I will need as I move forward in this stage of life. If I pretend to be younger than I am or yearn to be younger, I deny what I have learned in the past, what I have experienced, and what has had meaning for me. 

On the other hand I don't deny what is ahead. I don't know the specifics of my path, but I know where it leads. You've heard the saying, repeated often by people my age and older, "Old age is not for sissies." I like the writer Ursula LeGuin's response, "Old age is for anybody who gets there." She adds,
               I'd like a poster showing two old people with
               stooped backs and arthritic hands and time-worn
               faces sitting talking, deep, deep in conversation.
               And the slogan would be 'Old Age Is Not for the

And so I celebrate this new decade. Each decade has had its unknowns. That is nothing new, but I can bring new wisdom and calm and presence to this decade. That is my prayer anyway.

As part of honoring myself, by the way, I created a collage for entering the 70's. I post it here and may write about it at some point. For now I am sitting with the images and allowing them to whisper to me. Unlike the lion roaring outside the window, my inner voice is quiet and calm. 

An Invitation
What are your thoughts about getting older? I would love to know. 

NOTES: The wintry birthday images were sent to me by two dear nieces.
The quotes by LeGuin are found in a recent book of her essays, No Time to Spare, Thinking About What Matters, published in 2017. LeGuin died recently at age 88. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

An Afternoon in the Snug: Thursday's Reflection

I spent an entire afternoon reading in the snug. 

And I am not embarrassed to admit that. Proclaim it even. 

Tuesday morning I had a routine colonoscopy, one of those grown-up necessities. I was home earlier than anticipated and in spite of being hungry and somewhat weary, I felt fine. I could have returned to my garret desk, but I didn't.

Instead, I grabbed the book I was currently reading and settled into the snug. Feet up on the ottoman, I nestled under a blanket, and I read the entire afternoon.

At first I felt self-indulgent, but I decided I deserved this recovery time, even though I felt no side effects from the procedure or its preparation. I think of myself as a productive person, the one who works steadily through "to do" lists, and wasn't it time to move into meat of the week? But I didn't. I could have taken a brief nap and then gone up the garret stairs to begin working on the next chapter of my memoir, but I didn't.

I relaxed and read page after page after page until with a satisfied sigh, read the last page. Oh, how good that felt.

Not self-indulgent.
Not selfish or wimpy or self-centered.

I did feel privileged, however. I could make this choice. This is a time of life when I can decide how to use my time. How to live my days. I am grateful I can choose from so many meaningful activities and interactions. I can even choose to take a time out. 

The next morning meditating and then writing in my journal, I anticipated the day opening before me. The day would be one of tasks, of attention to call, as well as self-care. Tasks would include changing the bed, cleaning the bathroom, and ironing. I would write my next reflection for this blog and also begin to sketch out thoughts for the next chapter in my memoir --both are examples of what I feel called to do in this time of my life. And I would care for myself by going to a dental appointment, even walking there, and later fixing a healthy evening meal, plus spending time with our grandson after school.


Somedays are more one thing than another. Some days are all three.  My afternoon in the snug was all about care. 

I love my life. 

An Invitation
What are the tasks in your life? In what ways are you responding to a call in your life? How are you caring for yourself. I would love to know. 

NOTE: The book I devoured in the snug wasThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. Loved it! I have also really enjoyed other books by Wolitzer, including The Interestings and The Wife. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trips on Memory Lane: Tuesday's Reflection

Several times in recent days I have said, "Remember when...."

My husband and I recently returned from a road trip with our daughter and 10 year old grandson. Earlier in the school year Peter  studied the Cahokia Mounds, the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico, and we decided to make that our spring break destination and combine it with a couple days in nearby St Louis.

A National Historic Site and also a World Heritage Site, the mounds are well worth a visit, but we also really enjoyed the St Louis Zoo and St Louis Art Museum, and the City Museum is a "don't miss" attraction for kids. And, of course, there is the Arch, but be prepared to stand in line a LONG time. Good bookstores and restaurants, and the bonus of good comic book stores for Peter. We were all happy travelers. 

This was also a trip down memory lane time for Papa and GrandNan. We lived in St Louis for the first years of our married life while Bruce was in medical school at St Louis University, and we had not returned to the city for many, many years. Of course, much has changed, but we recognized street names and places once part of our loop of life, including our first apartment, and it was good to think about people and events not remembered for a long time.

We had a good life in St Louis. I taught high school English in a nearby suburb, Webster Groves, and received a master's degree from Washington University during those years. I wondered aloud what our life might have been like if we had decided to stay in St Louis once Bruce finished medical school. We returned to Minnesota, however, for his residency in family practice, and we certainly have never regretted that decision. 

Still, I wondered "what if...."

We drove through Lafayette Square, a neighborhood of Victorian homes which were on the brink of restoration when we lived in St Louis. The area intrigued us then. We reminisced about crawling around shells of homes and imagining ourselves living and raising a family there. What would that have been like? Would we have been happy there? What would our life look like now if we had made that decision all those years ago? 

This trip was an intersection of memory and imagination. 

Memories flowed. An abundance of memories, and it was good to revisit those early years of our life together, but the trip was also a reminder about the many choices, directions, paths there have been along the way. Obviously, we can never know what life would have been like if we had decided to turn left, rather than right, but I suspect our life would have had a similar share of riches, as well as  losses, ups as well as downs. We would have encountered challenges, learned lessons, and received gifts along the way.

In other words, we would have lived our lives. 

An Invitation
Do you get nostalgic about roads not taken? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Retirement: Tuesday's Reflection

He opened a practice in family medicine on April Fool's Day, 1977, and on April Fool's Day, 2018, he retired. 

I am referring, of course, to my husband, Bruce, who has had a wonderful career providing care and support for his patients and their families, as well as his colleagues and the organizations where he has worked. Much of his professional life has been as a hospice physician where he has seen the miraculous mixture of death and life. 

How appropriate that his first day of retirement was not only April Fool's Day, but more importantly, Easter Sunday. A day of rejoicing. A day of amazement. Not just new life, but ongoing life. A day to view the tomb, not just as a place of death or endings or emptiness, but a place of openness to whatever is next. To choose living into this time with a whole heart instead of replaying what might have been or what has always been. 

A friend uses the word "preferment" to describe these retirement years. What is it I prefer to do? How is it I prefer to live into my aging? Now granted, we don't get a choice about some of the facts of our life, some of the challenges these years present, but we do get a choice about how we live with those facts. 

These years, too, can be sacred. 

If one has the gift of these years, this can be time to know "the rest of ourselves," as Joan Chittister says. 

How fitting then that John O'Donohue includes a blessing for retirement in the "Beyond Endings" section of his book To Bless the Space Between Us.  I love these lines:
                 You stand on the shore of new invitation
                 To open your life to what is left undone,
                 Let your heart enjoy a different rhythm
                 When drawn to the wonder of other horizons.

So, Dr. B, as you have been known by so many, you deserve this time, and as your partner in life, I am so grateful to share this new horizon with you. Well done, good and faithful servant. 

An Invitation
What does the word "retirement"mean to you? I would love to know.  

NOTE: This will be the only post this week. I will be back on Tuesday, April 10. 


Thursday, March 29, 2018

From Where I Sat: Thursday's Reflection

I settled in at one of the long tables in the shared workspace where I had gone to write. From where I sat I could look out the windows and see the curved entrance to Union Depot. I opened my laptop and easily moved into the day's project, but after a few minutes, needing a moment to think about the next word or phrase, I glanced out the window. 

I saw a man standing in front of a low wall. On the wall looked to be multiple bags, bundles, and items of clothing. I assumed the man is one of the many homeless people in our community. I watched him as he put on another layer of clothing and then took it off. On and off. 

I returned to my work, but I found myself drawn to him, and I stopped my writing frequently to be his silent and unknown observer. People passed by him without interacting. Perhaps he said something to them, but I don't know.

Later in the day I noticed him on a nearby street corner, still visible from my post. He walked back and forth on the sidewalk. Sometimes he seemed to be dancing. Sometimes his motions were like tae kwon do sparring.

My eyes kept returning to him. What is your story?

Then he was gone. After hours of being in the same location, he was gone. Where did he go? Did he go to the Dorothy Day Center for the early evening meal? Did someone pick him up? Did a police officer tell him to move on? 

Throughout the day I said silent prayers for him. Nothing fancy. Just "May you be well." 

And I remembered a friend was praying for me that day. It is her Lenten practice to lift specific names up in prayer each day during Lent. I think because she was praying for me, she was also praying for this anonymous homeless man. Because we are all one.

The next morning during my meditation time I read these words by Thich Nhat Hanh
                   We can sit for those who can't sit, walk for those 
                   who can't walk, and create stillness and peace
                   within us for people who have no stillness or

That is my prayer, my hope, my goal. 

An Invitation
For whom do you sit? For whom do you walk? How do you create stillness and peace? I would love to know.