Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Horse With No Name

Every man is divinity in disguise.
It is God playing the fool.
“I See You” by MHopkins © 2014
Now I’ve been up close and personal with some animals—dogs, cats, monkeys, raccoons, bears, even some endangered species like the lynx and bobcat that visit my land—but never a the middle of the road...on a dark and snowy night.
I suppose stranger things have happened.
‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and I was on my way home from a holiday musical extravaganza sponsored by the Unity Church of Boulder.
With a new moon rising and snow clouds hanging low in the sky, visibility was limited as I wound my way up the familiar stretch of Boulder Canyon toward my home. Sticking close to the canyon wall, I drove through the snow, all the while contemplating the meaning of “Unity.” What does it really mean—this concept of oneness?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I came upon a horse running wildly back-and-forth across the narrow, two-lane road, sliding as she maneuvered uphill in the snow. The unexpected sight of her scared me half to death; she was scared, too. So I stopped and turned on my hazard lights, not sure what to do next, but this much I knew: Boulder Canyon is no place for a horse, especially at night when it’s snowing.
For a brief moment I watched her and, she, looking over her shoulder, watched me. And then I did the only thing I could think of to do: I rolled down my window and talked to her.
“Don’t be scared . . . I’m not going to hurt you,” I said softly. “Please, you have to get out of the road before you cause an accident.”
She stopped running, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Please, come here . . . you have to get out of the road,” I pleaded.
Slowly, she turned and walked toward me.
“Come here, girl, I’m not going to hurt you. I want to help you,” I continued, coaxing her with promises of safety while holding out my hand to her through the open window.
She approached my car, towering high above it, and lowered her head to meet me at eye level. As I reached out to touch the side of her face I saw something in her eyes that moved me. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of her spirit and I understood with acute awareness what I had only intellectualized until then—that the same life force that moved through her flowed through me. The same vital energy that animated her form, gave life to mine, albeit in different packages.
It was as if time stood still for me and that horse on the canyon. I whispered, “I see you.”
Just then a car came barreling around the corner and slammed on the brakes. My new friend freaked out and started running around my car. She had no bridle or halter to grab, so there was little I could do but work out a plan with the man in the car behind me to get the horse out of the road. We agreed—he would stay with the horse and warn oncoming cars with flashing lights, and I would drive the remaining three miles up the canyon and get the local police to help us.
The rest of the story played out like a scene from The Andy Griffith Show. I ran into the police station and exclaimed with excitement: “There’s a horse in the middle of the canyon.” To which the officer replied, “Yeah, what does the horse look like?”  
Four legs a tail and a gorgeous mane?  So I described the horse and told them of the man I had left behind on the canyon waiting for help, and I discovered that the officers knew the horse—or at least they knew the horse’s guardian—and they followed me out to remedy the situation. The horse was rescued. Crisis averted. It was surreal.
Later, as I pulled into my driveway, I could not shake the intensity of my experience with that horse—the moment of connection with her living spirit. What a precious gift to see and truly understand the essence of this spiritual principle, which reminds us that we are all unique expressions of the same Creative Source, interconnected with everyone and everything else. Call that Source whatever you like—God, Allah, Great Spirit, Creator, the “Big C”—it matters not, because there is only One from which all things flow.
You are at once a beating heart
and a single heartbeat in the body called humanity.
~Dr. Wayne Dyer
Oneness is a concept emphasized by many, and has been, perhaps, one of the toughest ideas for me to wrap my mind around. It is simple enough in theory to say that we’re all one, but when I see my neighbor in his yard shoveling snow and I’m standing across the street in my own yard—physically separate from him—it’s hard to make the connection. It is especially challenging for me to find the common thread when I look at the most vile criminal offenders—rapists, murderers and child molesters—for it is here that I am most keen to distinguish myself in every conceivable way. It’s even more difficult to conceptualize my oneness with the creek flowing through my back yard or the horse in the middle of the canyon, particularly when I consider the differences in our physical constitutions.
To grasp this concept requires that we open our minds and see beyond our physical limitations. Analogies help. For instance, if I pour wine from a bottle into your glass, what do you have? A glass of wine—the same wine that’s still in the bottle, only now a portion of it has been transferred to another container. The same is true of me, the horse and the vital energy that flows through us, bringing our “containers” to life. True, our containers are quite different and come with unique bells and whistles—in that way, we’re definitely not the same—but we come from One, which makes us all related in a wonderfully abstract way.
Spiritual teachers and mystics across time have urged us to consider that what we do to one we do to all; that we cannot hurt another without also, in some way, hurting ourselves. And while many of us may find it easy to extend that thought pattern and courtesy to a handful of people we're close to (our immediate family and loved ones) how often do we reach out to help strangers or animals or the environment in the spirit of unity and oneness?
And so this was my Gift of the Magi—wisdom and recognition shared between a girl and a horse on a dark canyon road, and now I pass it on to you.
As we begin a new year, may you connect with the peace that comes with understanding your connection to the One.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Season of Enchantment

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.  That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen
The orderly wheeled the boy into the playroom on the 7th floor, just as he always did after dinner but before the nurse came to give him his medicine; this was his favorite time of the day.
“Well, hello there handsome. Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you . . .” She smiled, standing by the art table with her hands on her hips. “What’s new with you?”
He blushed, bright red. At 16, he was showing signs of his manhood—small patches of hair growing on either side of his chin—and his voice seemed to get a little deeper each time she saw him.
“Hello Miss V… Doc says I get to go home tomorrow, just in time for Christmas—“
“Oh Jack, that’s wonderful!” She clapped her hands in delight, and then suddenly frowned. “I’m sure gonna’ miss you when you’re gone . . .”
“Don’t be sad Miss V, you know I can’t stay away for long. . .” he said with a seriousness that broke her heart. Forty-two days, that’s how long he had been there this time—his sixth hospitalization this year—at first for a spinal fusion, and then for pneumonia like so many times before. But it was the cerebral palsy that kept him confined to his chair, unable to use his arms and legs.
She pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the drool forming in the corners of his mouth. “Hey, we’ve got some great new art projects tonight,” she said. “We can make a snowman . . . or a reindeer . . . oh, look . . . we could paint one of these ceramic angels or a Santa to hang on your tree . . . What do you feel like doing?”
“Ummm . . .” he contemplated his choices while scanning the room with his eyes. “Can we paint an angel for my mom? ‘Cause she’s an angel to me . . .”
“Of course we can, Jack . . . and then we can wrap it up and tie a ribbon around it, like this—” she said, holding up a cellophane bag with snowflakes on it, and a dark red ribbon for decoration.
“Yeah, let’s do that!” He smiled, eager to get started. Together they collected all of the supplies from the art cabinet that they would need to create his angelic vision—paint, brushes, a cup of water to rinse things off, a hand-towel and a bunch of newspapers to cover the table with. And as she prepared their workspace, she listened to him talking with the other children.
“Hi Lauren, how are you feeling today?” He asked, listening intently to her reply. And then to Kevin, “Did you beat your dad at foosball last night? I knew you would!” He laughed. And as Jenny’s mom prepared to wheel her back to her room for bed, Jack called after her, “That sure was a brave thing you did yesterday—donating your bone marrow like that. You’re a hero! Get some sleep tonight.”
Miss V felt a lump forming in the back of her throat as she fought back tears. She did that a lot lately, swell up with emotion and cry. It had been a tough year for her in so many ways, and she knew that her problems paled in comparison to the limitations of Jack’s life. Still, something about his tenderness and concern for the others hit her hard. She felt a little guilty for bemoaning her fate, and she swore to herself that she wouldn’t cry in front of the children. She just couldn’t. She was supposed to be there to help them—that’s what volunteers do—not melt into a puddle of tears in the middle of the playroom.
“Miss V—are you ready?” Jack interrupted her thoughts, now that he was settled in at the table.
“You betcha!” She smiled, blinking back her tears. “What color shall we paint with first?”
“Purple for the angel’s robe . . . and then maybe some blue,” he said, exercising his artistic freedom.
For the next half-hour they sat together, talking and laughing quietly, as she painted the ceramic angel and he directed her hand. Occasionally she would lift the angel into the air for his inspection, since he couldn’t move his head, and he didn’t hesitate to tell her when she had painted out of the lines or missed a spot.
“Sorry, sorry . . . I do that sometimes . . .” she said, laughing at his sudden bossiness.
“You have a beautiful smile, Miss V. You should smile all the time—“
Now it was her turn to blush. She had always been so good at looking after others, complimenting them, making them feel special, but his simple acknowledgement caught her off guard.
“Thank you, Jack. Nobody ever said a nicer thing—“
“Well I like you, Miss V. You talk to me like normal—when we’re sitting here like this—and I almost forget about my . . . condition. I swear it's the greatest gift ever!”
“You’re a good guy, Jack—wise beyond your years— and I like talking with you, too. . .” she said, clearing her throat as she blinked back more tears. “Speaking of gifts—what’s Santa going to bring you for Christmas this year?”
“Miss V,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper so the littlest ones wouldn't hear. “Don’t you think I’m too old for Santa?”
“Well of course not, Jack!” She teased. “Santa’s all about granting wishes . . . Surely there’s something you want special this year?”
Jack got real quiet like he does when he’s thinking hard about something. Then after a time he said, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Nothing?” She asked, shaking her head in disbelief because she had never heard of a kid who didn’t want something for Christmas.
He sat quietly before he spoke. “Well, sure, there are things I want but I know I’ll never get them, so I just try not to think about it—what I don’t have.”
“What kind of things, Jack?”
“Like walking.  I would love to get up out of this chair and walk—run—as far and fast as I can. I would love to paint that angel myself. Every time I see my dog I want to throw the ball to him and rub his head—he really likes it when my brother does that. And I want to hug my mom because she always does such nice things for me. I want to shake my dad’s hand like a man . . . and play video games with my little brother.  I want to hold a book and turn the pages, one by one, as I read them. I want to go to the bathroom by myself without that guy having to help me—“ he whispered, rolling his eyes toward the orderly sitting in the corner chair. “And . . .”
“And what Jack?”
“I can’t tell you.” He whispered, a mischievous grin forming on his lips.
“Sure you can—“
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I promise,” she said, making a cross in the air above her heart.
“I want to kiss a girl—“ he whispered.
“That’s not funny at all, Jack. In fact, it’s one of the most natural desires in the world—“
“And I want to fall in love with her . . . and I want her to love me back.”
Overwhelmed with irony, she didn’t even try to hold back her tears for she understood his greatest loss—she felt it—the loss of freedom and choice. As for love, well, she wanted the same thing and she told him so. Sure, she had had some great boyfriends and some success in her life, but the one thing she wanted most of all—the one thing that money could not buy—was true love. She thought her heart might explode into a thousand little pieces with the longing he expressed. She knew it well. And she put down her paint brush and hugged him tight in his chair.
“We’re not so different, Jack—you and me—the heart wants what it wants.  But love is alive and well in both of us and we must never give up.”
“What do you mean, Miss V?”
“Well, you know how you talk with the other children and ask them how they’re doing—how they’re feeling?”
“. . . and the way that you smile and laugh even though there are things about your life that you might want to be different?”
“. . . and the way that you feel about your mom and dad and your little brother?”
“Well, that is love in its purest form. It’s a bright light, Jack, and it shines in you—”
“And it shines in you too, Miss V—like the way you help the children here at the hospital. . .”
“Exactly,” she said, and they smiled at each other. “We must never let our lights go out. We must never stop loving, even if others don't love us back.”
By then, the ceramic angel was finished—nearly dry—and she pulled some ribbon through the hole at the top so that he could hang it on the tree. She held it in the air for one final inspection. They agreed—it was good.
The orderly stood and moved toward the table. “We should probably get going Jack. It’s time for your meds.”
“Wait . . .” Miss V said, pointing to the bright light coming from the window across the room. “Before you go, let’s make a wish on the Christmas star . . . what do you say, Jack?”
His eyes danced with possibility.  “Do you think wishes really can come true, Miss V?”
“Yes, Jack, I do. Maybe not exactly as we wish them, or in the timeframe that we would like for them to come true . . . and I think sometimes we may get something that we didn’t wish for but that ends up being better for us in the long run . . . but, yes—I do believe that wishes can come true . . . especially when they come from your heart . . . especially at Christmastime. After all, it's the season of magic and miracles,” she winked, and she kissed him on the cheek before bending down to unlock the brakes on his wheelchair.
Then together they moved toward the light.

*This story was inspired by my little friends at Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado.  To find out how you can make cash or in-kind donations of toys or art supplies, please visit their web site at   Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Today is the Day!

He said, 
“There are only two days in the year 
that nothing can be done. 
One is called yesterday 
and the other is called tomorrow, 
so today is the right day 
to love, believe, do and mostly live.
~Dalai Lama

He saw me before I noticed him.  By then it was too late.  Shocking red and blue lights swirled in the dark of night as I steered my car to the side of the road.

The officer approached. “Good evening, ma’am.  Do you know the speed limit here in this part the canyon?” He quizzed.

“45?” I said.

“Yes.  And do you know how fast you were going?”  He asked.

“45?” I said.  

[Officer laughs.]  “Well, now I wouldn’t be standing here if you were going the speed limit, would I? Let me help you out. When I first saw you, you were doing 57… and then you sped up! [More laughter.]  Where are you off to in such a hurry?"  

I think I was more surprised than he; still, I had no real excuse.  I was tired.  It was late.  I had worked all day and was coming home from a board meeting at Children’s Hospital.  My husband and wonderful canine companion waited for me at home. But what was the hurry? What was so important that I would go 20 miles over the speed limit without any awareness of how fast I was driving?  For that matter, I didn’t even remember the last 7 miles or so. Apparently I had navigated the familiar curves of the dark canyon just fine, but I couldn’t will myself to remember. Had I been in a trance?  I pondered this while the officer checked my license, registration and insurance.

He lectured me on the dangers of going too fast in the canyon—wildlife and fatal accidents and such—and he made me promise to “slow it down,” which I did. Then he let me go with a warning.  

The rest of the way home I minded the limit, conscious of my surroundings and the beautiful starry-night sky.  I turned off the radio.  I thought about the way we tend to rush from one thing to the next, never truly enjoying the present moment, the silence and beauty, because we’re focused on some future event, like what we’re going to do when we get home, or we’re thinking about something that already happened, a phone call or conversation.  We're zoned out, missing the strange and wonderful once-in-a-lifetime moments before us;  moments that could be filled with awe and gratitude but which, once spent, we can never get back. 

I’m reminded of this as we move into the holiday season, where the tendency is to spend our time in a planning state: checking things off our to-do list and watching the days on the calendar bring us closer to “the day.”  When you find yourself in this state, STOP!  And remember:  TODAY IS THE DAY… To make it happen… To give up who you’ve been for who you can become… To make your dreams come true. . . to LIVE!  

Today is the day.  Be glad and rejoice!