Thursday, December 20, 2012

From Where I've Been

To journey without being changed
is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying
is to be a chameleon.
To journey and to be transformed by the journey
is to be a pilgrim.
~Mark Nepo

Photo courtesy of Lori Kennedy © 2012.

I read this story once about a woman who called herself “Peace Pilgrim.”  In 1952 she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season.  Shortly after that she began her walk for peace, vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”  For almost three decades she walked back and forth across the United States, with no money and only the clothes on her back, walking more than 25,000 miles before her death.  She was always fascinated that her needs were met.  “Aren’t people good,” she would say.[1]

She spoke to anyone who would listen about the big peace picture:  peace among nations, peace among groups, and that all too elusive inner peace because she believed that was where peace began.  In the course of her pilgrimage she touched the lives of thousands of people with her message, and many of them inspired her as well. 

I love the story she told about a small, remote village she visited where she found a group of people with a unique way of dealing with conflict.  When a person in the village violated the natural laws or had intense conflict with another, the locals would gather in the town center, form a circle around the offender, and one by one they would recount every good deed, act of kindness and contribution to the community made by that person.  There was no punishment or finger pointing or harsh judgment, only kindness.  And as a result, their community thrived without the need for jails or local police.  Generally, they had very little conflict among them.  

Innovative conflict resolution aside, when I think about the devotion that allowed Peace Pilgrim to live this mission I am overwhelmed by the truth that I have never been so dedicated to any one thing in my life.  Sure, I’ve been interested in things and fascinated by people and places.  I’ve championed a few causes.  I’ve dabbled in this creative endeavor and that; I’ve explored this career path, then that; but never have I devoted myself to any one person or purpose to the exclusion of all others.   In a way, I’ve had one foot out the door; one eye cocked in search of the next great thing, certain that I would miss “it” if I settled on just one.

A curious realization as I prepare to join my beloved at our ceremonial alter this New Year’s Eve and make the single-most significant declaration of love and commitment so far in my lifetime. As I contemplate the vows we will be taking—the vows I will be making on our wedding night—among the most important, I think, will be my vow of happiness, not just for that day or in the weeks and years that follow when the fire of romance burns hot and bright, but everyday no matter the weather.  In so doing, I also choose myself. 

Not that I have been unhappy by nature; to the contrary. Yet I, as you, sometimes feel isolated and unsure even when surrounded by love and beauty, waiting for things to be just so.  But in waiting, I find, my attention to happiness slips and my experience of life and connections with people become obscured.

So as I move from where I’ve been, walking towards a new year, a new chapter, and a whole new life with my sweetheart by my side, I begin this pilgrimage of happiness.  I will not wait for some future moment for all to be right in the world—for countries to quit fighting, for financial markets to stabilize, for the environment to be protected, for everyone to act right and do right and play nice--or for the pieces of my puzzle to fit perfectly in place. From this moment forward I am a pilgrim for the cause, and I will choose those life-affirming friendships and experiences that support my journey to move beyond the pettiness that breeds discontent and that tendency that we all share to change or hide the truth of our hearts so that we may please others or avoid pain.  

In this I honor that sacred place: the deep well of happiness within, always present and waiting to be rediscovered.  

Isn’t that why we’re here?

As we inch closer to 2013, I wish you all safe journeys and a very HAPPY New Year!

[1]  Peace Pilgrim:  Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, © 1992; published by Ocean Tree Books. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tapestry of the Heart

Any human life situation
is like the momentary position of a kaleidoscope;
and the group of souls within that situation
are like the bits of brightly colored glass
which form an interesting pattern of relationship.
Then the kaleidoscope is shaken . . .
and with this flick of the wrist there comes into being
a new design, a new combination of elements.
And so on, again and again, time after time,
always different . . . always it is significant, and always
there is a dynamic and purposeful intention. ”
~Gina Cerminara, PhD, Many Lives, Many Loves

Tapestry of the Heart
New York, New York
I met Connor on a plane from New York City.  At the time, I was dating an aspiring young photographer whom I had met on the beach in Florida months before.  He had flown to New York to surprise me for Valentine’s Day.  I was surprised alright; especially when I learned over dinner that he hated children so much that he had taken medically necessary steps to make sure he didn’t father any. 

There I was, at yet another relationship crossroads trying to sort out the truth of my desires.  Did I even want to have children?  Did I see myself as a mother?  What was motivating my decision?

We had argued when I broke up with him.  The next day, he insisted that I accompany him to Ground Zero.  In an effort to appeal his case, he reminded me that the people who went to work there on September 11th fully expected to return home that night.  “Life is uncertain,” he said.  “How do you even know that you can have children?”  True, he had a point, and we really did have fun together.  But logic notwithstanding, a red flag waived in my mind’s eye.

The Meeting

So it was on my return flight to Florida that Connor introduced himself.  He was my age, single, ruggedly handsome, had never been married but wanted to be, and he adored children.  He couldn’t wait to have a family of his own, information he proudly volunteered over in-flight cocktails.  We talked non-stop, and by the time we arrived at the gate in Atlanta it was as if we were old friends.  He asked if he could call me sometime; he would look me up the next time he came to Florida.  I gave him my number and we parted ways.

Meanwhile, I was in a state of flux.  I knew I needed to call things off (again) with the photographer, but I was swayed by indecision and basically avoiding the inevitable.  Then Connor called.

It had been more than a month since we met.  I had thought of him often, remembering his passion for children and family and finding comfort in that.  So when he called to tell me that he would be in my area at the end of the month, I readily accepted his invitation for dinner and, that night, I ended things with the photographer.

But Connor and I never did have that dinner.  His trip was delayed.  I went to L.A.  We re-scheduled.  His flight was cancelled.  I went back to New York.  We rescheduled.  Through it all we continued to speak by phone almost every day for three months until, finally, we came up with a plan:  A double concert weekend with James Taylor in Atlanta and Elton John in Pensacola.  We planned every detail, excited to see each other again when I returned from New York.    

A Love Connection

Then one night about a week before our date, Connor and I were talking on the phone and the subject turned to love.  Have you ever been in love?” I asked.

Connor laughed, and then told me of his childhood sweetheart Karley.  They had grown up together, both from large Irish-Catholic families.  In the 4th grade, she had given him a homemade Valentine, and he kissed her.  They were inseparable after that, dating throughout high school and college.  The summer after graduate school, she gave him a Celtic friendship ring and proposed marriage.  He accepted.  A year later, Connor called the whole thing off.

“Why?”  I asked.

“She didn’t want to have children.”

“Is that the only reason you broke things off?” I pried.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“What would make her not want to have children?” I furthered.

Well, she had just finished grad school and was about to start a new job . . .”

“How long has it been since you’ve seen her?” I coaxed.

At least four years, but I hear about her from time to time through mutual friends.”

What would you do if she came back to you and said, ‘Connor, I’ve changed my mind; I do want children’?” I posed.
“Honestly? I don’t know.  I’ve never considered that.  When she said ‘no children,’ all bets were off.  What about you?” he asked, changing the subject, “When was your last relationship?"

I told him about my recent break-up with the photographer for similar reasons, and we marveled at the parallel.  But I couldn’t ignore the small voice within warning me that Connor was not mine to love.

Calling All Angels

Two days before our long-anticipated first date Connor called, “I’ve got good news, and bad news,” he said.

“Okay, let me have it; good news first.” 

“Well, Monday, after we spoke, I couldn’t quit thinking about your questions. They stirred up a lot of painful memories for me.  I stayed up all night reading old letters and looking at pictures of Karley . . . of us . . . just thinking about things.  Then, yesterday, I called her.  We talked for six hours and guess what?  She’s sick of Manhattan; bored with the corporate world.  She wants to have children!  She’s ready to begin that part of her life! No joke.  We’re meeting in Hilton Head this weekend, can you believe it?”

“Oh my goodness, that’s . . . wonderful?”  I said, shocked yet fascinated!

“And so the bad news is, well, I’m canceling our date.  Are you mad?”

“Are you kidding?  How could I be mad?  The whole time you were talking about Karley, I knew she was your soul mate.  Just promise that you’ll keep me posted; let me know what happens.”  He promised that he would.

The following Tuesday Connor called with news of his engagement.  “We have you to thank,” he said.  “I told Karley that if it hadn’t been for your questions, I never would have called her.  You’re an angel; really, I think you’re an angel.” 

I was so happy for them, yet I could hardly believe it was true.  I had met this guy once on a plane and hadn’t seen him since.  Now here we were, more than 3 months later, sharing this incredible moment of transformation. I would never view my relationships the same again.

Giving Thanks

Today I am humbled as I reflect on my life, filled with gratitude for the brilliant threads linking past, present and future, and as I step confidently in the direction of my dreams, hand-in-hand with my beloved, I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, comforted by the delicate intertwining of spirits, meaningful and purpose-driven.  

In the end I've learned it's true:  No matter the outcome, when we’re open and willing to look beyond our immediate needs, our connections with others will bring the most significant opportunities for self-discovery, expand our capacity for human understanding, and leave the greatest space for love.

Monday, October 22, 2012


“Don’t Make Assumptions.
Find the courage to ask questions
and to express what you really want.
Communicate with others as clearly as you can
to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
With just this one agreement, 
you can completely transform your life.
~ Miguel Angel Ruiz

As You Think (c) 2012
They stayed in the city that night instead of retuning home to the mountains, so they seized the opportunity to take a late night stroll through the neighborhood—past the restaurants and yoga studios, churches and schools; past the houses with lights on where people moved about the way they do before turning in for the night.

Thrilled to be out walking past 9 p.m. (something they rarely did in their mountain community), they walked slowly, hand-in-hand, savoring the night, as they moved comfortably between sound bites of their busy week and absolute silence.  Then it happened, one of those “Aha!” moments that brings understanding.  The exchange went something like this:

HE SAID:  You know, if we kept our place in the mountains and bought a house or condo in the city, we could go walking like this every night.

SHE SAID:  That would be fantastic!

HE SAID:  But once our child starts school we couldn’t do that.

SHE SAID:  Why not?  We could just go after dinner.

HE SAID:  No, that won’t work.  Once our kid starts school we won’t be able to do that!

SHE SAID (with growing frustration):  Well, why the heck not?  I mean, once the kid starts school he’ll be old enough to stay up past 7 p.m., so why couldn’t we just have an early dinner and go right after?

HE SAID (also with growing frustration):  What are you talking about?  Once the kid starts school it won’t even be an option!

SHE SAID (eyebrows cocked, hands on hips and evermore frustration):  What am I talking about?  What are YOU talking about?  It’s not like our kid has to go to bed at 5 p.m.—why couldn’t we just go after dinner?

HE SAID (voice raised, chest bowed and that tone he gets when he’s convinced he’s among idiots):  Once school starts we’re not going to be running back and forth like that just to go for a walk in the City!

They stopped in their tracks and looked at each other, their faces colored with a mix of amused irritation and a hint of understanding; something in their communiqué was amuck!

Turns out, she had assumed that if they had a second home in this lovely neighborhood that their child would attend the prestigious Academy, a charter school located right in the middle of the development, so there was no reason why they couldn’t make this walk every night after dinner if they chose to.  But she didn’t say that; not to him anyway; not out loud.

And it turns out that he had assumed that once the kid started school they would be staying at their mountain home during the week because that’s where he would be registered for school, in his home community.  But he didn’t explain any of that; not to her anyway; not out loud.

But the real kicker is that this “child” they spoke of, the one whose schooling would prevent these fabulous evening walks through the city—completely fictitious; an unborn idea between an unmarried couple dreaming out loud about the future.

All the while, she thought he was being uptight about their child’s bedtime and he thought she had gone mad thinking they would be driving up and down the mountain to accommodate a late night city stroll, neither making any sense to the other at all.  But as the hole in their communication cleverly revealed itself, real magic happened.  There, in the gap, they saw the unspoken assumptions that had led them down this path of confusion.  They laughed so hard it hurt!

Thing is, so much of our experience of life takes place in our heads!  Sure, we move about in our day-to-day existence, grounded in the physical.  Yet whole worlds exist up there in the space between, real or imagined—for good or ill—and our perception of the world and the people in it and what’s going on around us all come from that place; including our disappointments about the way things “ought to be,” which points the finger of our personal suffering right back at us!

We make assumptions and then we make assumptions about those assumptions—assuming others are operating with the same understanding—many of which are flawed and which, in oft surprising ways, trigger our emotional experience and inflame our hotspots.  Next thing you know, you find yourself in that heated debate over why you can or can’t take an evening walk in the city after dinner with your unborn child because of where he’ll go to school!

Fascinating and a little bit scary when you consider that on some level we’re all doing this—experiencing the world around us in our heads—which may or may not produce an accurate picture of what’s really going on.  The key, I think, is to ask questions.  

When we make clarity and truth a priority in our lives, it allows us to acknowledge when we don’t understand something, to ask for confirmation, without getting all tangled up in the ego's need to be right.  And as our young couple learned, when we seek to bridge those communication gaps rather than assume another’s intent when we feel confused or offended, real magic awaits.  The only dumb questions are those not asked, so go ahead, give it a go.  You'll be surprised at the outcome and, who knows, you might just have a good laugh!