Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Assist

Thanksgiving.  Thanks giving.  This singular, secular, holiday contains a unique invitation to change our outlook and our destiny.  Because there is something magical in the act of giving thanks.

In high-school I had a basketball coach named Mr. Snodgrass.  Mr. Snodgrass had one hard and fast rule.  On the court if you made a basket, you immediately turned toward the girl who passed you the ball, pointed at her and yelled, "Good pass, Mary!"  [In basketball, the person passing the ball to the scorer has given her an "assist." ]  This acknowledgment  had to be immediate and loud enough to be heard and if we did not do it, we were benched.  There was a practical reason for this act; it allowed the person tracking the stats to accurately record the assist. But it had a didactic purpose as well:   it helped us realize that we were -- in fact -- a team and that it is important to thank the people that help us succeed.

I regularly makes lists of the things and people I am thankful for.  The simple, clean act of writing it on paper somehow increases my gratitude.  It brings before me the clear memory, the bright face, the soft touch, the warm words that at some point were just what I needed to hear, see or feel.  I have a good many people on my gratitude list this week and some life circumstances too.  In the rush of getting ready for the official holiday of Thanksgiving, I am blessed to take time with a cup of coffee and a clean sheet of paper and do some thanks giving.  Over the next few weeks of Advent I will be taking my it a step further as I write notes or phone people from my list to thank them for the "assist." 

Mr. Snodgrass, wherever you are, I hope you realize the lasting impact of that lesson you taught me 35+ years ago!  You planted in me the seeds of a thankful life and taught me to regularly stop to thank my teammates!  Thank YOU, Mr. Snodgrass.  Good pass!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bring in the Clowns

Years ago I collected clowns.  Back then, I thought they appealed to me to because they were wacky, light and friendly. It seems patently obvious to me now that there was something else.

I once blithely told a friend that you could bring 20 of my closest friends and family members together in a room and they still would not have the complete and true story of my life.  Heartbreaking.

Clowns are the ultimate artifice.  No matter what she is feeling, it is disguised by her -- literally -- painted-on-smile and entertaining antics.  That pretty much summed up my life prior to 1992.  I painted on a smile and acted happy.  I thought doing so would in fact make me happy.  "Fake it 'til you make it."  But it didn't work. 

In June of 1992, I found myself standing in front of 90 strangers and telling them that what I hoped to gain from my More to Life weekend was joy.  I was shocked to hear the words come out of my mouth.  Wasn't I happy?  I was not.  I was looking for the magic lens -- the little thing that would somehow bring my apparently wonderful life into focus so that I could see it as others did.

There was no magic lens.  Instead it was like a long awakening -- a slowly dawning sunrise -- that bit by bit revealed the truth about me, my mind, and my ability to choose.  Choice.  That was an entirely new word in my vocabulary.  In fact, much like St. Therese of Lisieux, I found my salvation not in the big choices but in the small ones.  I found my way forward by choosing not to get self-righteously angry at my noisy neighbors but instead to look at how loud shouting was a trigger to a cascading avalanche of emotions from my childhood.  I discovered I could choose to love others by reading between the lines of the alternate reality being written by my brain.  Perhaps just as importantly I learned that I could choose to love myself and to trust others with the whole truth of me.

A person of faith, I finally found a way to live out that faith that did not consist only of "trying harder" or "toughing it out."  For most of my life, I had been nodding my head in church saying, "Yes.  I agree. Amen.  But how?  How do I trust?  How do I love?  How do I forgive? "

As St. Therese said so eloquently, I began to see that  "Each small task of everyday is part of the total harmony of the universe."  I started living my life in the here and now.  I chose to forgive even when people around me could not agree that I "should."  I started literally slowing down to "smell the roses."  I learned that a day spent crying is as valuable as a day of fun.  And folding sheets can be as noble a purpose as any other.  A few years back I heard, "Holy as a Day is Spent."  a song that sums it up eloquently.  Carrie Newcomer sings, "Holy is the place I stand; to do whatever small good I can.  The empty page, the open book -- redemption everywhere I look. . . "

Today I dusted off one the two clowns I have left of  that collection. I held him briefly in my hand and considered putting him in the "give away" box.  He is a remnant of a collection and -- I daresay -- a remnant of a way of life. But I did not do it.  I chose again keep him close at hand to help me remember who I really am.