Passports

When the phone rang, I was attempting to get three things done at once. I sighed with exasperation at yet another interruption before picking up. A friendly voice on the other end of the line greeted me, then said, “I was calling to see if you’d be interested in an all-expenses paid trip to Italy.”

Without boring you with the details, I’ll just say that this was a legitimate offer to participate in a group experience with colleagues. Someone in the original travel group had dropped out, opening a spot – which was offered to me. “Of course,” my friendly benefactor added, “you’ll need to have a current passport.”

Flash back to January, when news reports cited anticipated lag times for passport renewals. Flash back to conversations with my parents, New Mexico residents, whose state-issued IDs did not meet federal standards – making passports mandatory for air travel. Flash back to the many, many times I said to myself and others, “I should get my passport renewed. You never know when you might need it!”

Flash back to all the times I hadn’t followed through on that thought.

Those of you inclined to forgive my lack of forethought on this one, may ask in my defense, “How often does someone need a passport without advance warning, really?” I appreciate the kindness motivating your words, but just judging by the stories I’ve personally heard from friends and family of their frantic efforts to get passports or have theirs renewed, it actually happens not infrequently. I could, logically, have seen something like this coming.

Let’s broaden the lens a bit, though. Suddenly, it becomes possible to see many situations that have blown up and opportunities that have been squandered due to a lack of application. I’m great at the forethought part – I often think about the things I should or could do to be prepared for possibilities or eventualities. Not often enough, though, does the thinking translate into doing.

As a Girl Scout, I memorized the three-finger pledge (On my honor, I will try to do my duty to love God and my country…) but don’t recall ever hearing that the Girl Scout motto, like the Boy Scouts’, is: Be Prepared. Still, I can hardly blame my scout leaders for not ingraining in me the impetus to be ready for what life might bring my way. My mother, Shirley, was always a believer in getting up and at the day’s chores early, just in case something fun came along (and chores must always precede fun). Plus, American culture is chock full of aphorisms (“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”) and inspirational examples and quotes I should have learned from:

“It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Embarrassingly, my own life history is littered with torn up tickets to adventure I’ve received and been unable to use due to my own lack of readiness. In virtually every one of these situations, I had thought in the previous days, weeks, or months that I ought to do the very thing that would have allowed me to say “Yes!” when Opportunity came knocking. Somewhere along the line, you’d think I’d have learned the value in listening to these thoughts – clearly my intuition providing wise counsel.

Recently, I went to dinner with a friend who had received good news after a health scare. She insisted that each of us raise our glass and solemnly swear to live every day to its fullest, with abandon and joy. As we clinked glasses, she beamed at us and declared, “Mischief managed,” with a satisfied nod. I wish it was as simple as a declaration pledged with margarita glasses (or, in my case, a giant glass of water). It may not be that easy, but it doesn’t need to be as difficult as I sometimes make it.

So, while I won’t be heading to Italy this month, I will be heading to the passport office to expedite my passport renewal. Contrary to popular sentiment, lightening does sometimes strike the same place twice. And I don’t plan to look that particular gift horse in the mouth a second time. Truthfully, at this point in my life, I don’t want to tear up any more golden tickets due to my own inaction – I’m going to try to listen when my intuition suggests I get up and complete my chores!

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Lessons from The Valentine’s Day Box.

Heart-shaped stone, found at Peace Garden
Heart-shaped stone, found at Peace Garden

Remember when you were a kid and required to give valentines to everyone in your class, even kids you didn’t like? That was never particularly hard for me because I always felt sorry for kids I didn’t like. If I didn’t like them, no one did, right? They deserved my pity, obviously. Besides, the first person I remember seriously disliking was in sixth grade, the last year we handed out valentines in the classroom. I disliked her because she was mean to me and publicly named me a loser. But I survived placing a valentine in the decorated box on her desk just fine.

I also didn’t mind that the pile of valentines I brought home each year were given to me under duress. I was pretty sure that, left to consult their own feelings, most of my classmates would choose to bestow their valentines elsewhere. On the whole, I thought it was better to feel included – even if it was a sham.

All these years later, I am thinking about the lessons inherent in those classroom valentines. I know there are people who likely disagree with such practices, thinking children shouldn’t be taught to expect a world in which everything is fair and everyone gets the same number of valentines as everyone else: all grownups know this to be patently untrue. Better that we don’t set children up for later disillusionment.

However, that perspective only takes into account what it means to be on the receiving end. The greater lessons reside within the giving part of the transaction. And they are lessons, I believe, it would be good for us to regularly revisit as adults.

1. Kindness, generosity, empathy, and compassion are easy to bestow upon people we already love. Stretching ourselves to share these qualities beyond our own small circle is much harder – yet it is what best allows us to express these qualities. It is also what allows us to expand our capacity to bring them to a wider world so very much in need of them. It is important for each of us to pay attention to the things that activate these impulses in our hearts: things we see in our neighborhoods, hear on the news, observe in the lives around us. Then take some action, big or small . In The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope writes, “Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely. And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.” The point is to act, to respond from your generosity or compassion – not to wait until you figure out an action that is guaranteed to change the world. That you bring light into someone else’s darkness is enough.

2. Be willing to speak of love, and open your heart to it, even when the situation involves people you don’t care for or don’t really know. Even, as in the case of my 6th grade nemesis, when the situation involves anger and hurt.

Just over a week ago, a young bicyclist named Marcus Nalls was struck and killed by a drunk driver down the street from my house. (The driver has been charged with vehicular homicide). Marcus had just moved to Minneapolis in January, transferring from Atlanta for his job. Very few people in this city knew him. But on Saturday, the cycling community held a memorial ride for him. Over 200 cyclists rode most of the route that Marcus would have ridden heading home from work the night he was killed. We rode in silence on the city streets. We dismounted and walked our bikes past the ghost bike memorial that has been placed at the site of his death. His coworkers wept unabashedly as we filed past, as did many of us. Were we angry? Absolutely. But I believe this memorial ride touched us all so deeply because we agreed to make it about solidarity and community, not about anger. We embraced Marcus as part of us, even though we hadn’t had the chance to know him – and we allowed ourselves to publicly mourn the lost opportunity of that. In the months to come, as the man who killed Marcus is brought to trial, my hope is that we will continue to place community and love at the center of our response, working toward increased safety for all.

3. Just as we were required to give everyone a valentine, regardless of our feelings about them, we must learn to feel gratitude for what life brings us – regardless. You might ask why – as I often do – should we be grateful for the bad or crappy or even the boring and mundane? The easy answer is that to be alive is to experience these things as well as the good, happy, peak moments. Bottom line: being alive is better than the alternative.

There is a certain complexity concealed within that “bottom line”, however. Life is a process of becoming, of refining our gifts and discovering meaning and purpose. A process of becoming the person we were created to be. We know the milestone markers for development in babies, toddlers, children. But in adults, these milestones are unique to the individual because they take place on an interior emotional and psychological level. When we reject or disown aspects of our experience, we disown pieces of the self we are meant to be. Am I happy, for example, to be a 52 year old woman who has never once had a “significant other” on Valentine’s Day? Not really. Is that fact an intrinsic part of the woman I have become? Absolutely. And I refuse to reject that part of myself, even though embracing it means embracing the sadness and loneliness I sometimes feel because of it. Embracing that part of me activates my compassion in many ways – both toward myself and toward others. For that, I am truly, deeply, grateful.

It has been a lot of years since I last decorated a box for my classmates to stuff with their valentines. Valentines Days have come and gone, each one different, each one finding me different. This year I have a plan – get up and live my life keeping in mind the lessons above. And one more lesson, a simple, eloquent one from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:

“Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

Box of milagro-covered hearts, Santa Fe, NM
Box of milagro-covered hearts, Santa Fe, NM

Wish it. Will it. Do it.

“…you will sooner or later experience something almost magical: the moment when your mind, led by your sense of yearning, embraces the next step toward the best life you are capable of living. This is the moment when desire stops being just a story about what might happen and becomes a template of what will happen; the moment when “I wish” becomes “I will.”
          — Martha Beck “The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life”
 

Earlier this week, I read a post over at “-200”, which made me cry. The post, titled “A life for my birthday”, shares Ben’s story of living in the depths of despair before deciding that instead of taking his own life, he would take action in his own life. I was moved by Ben’s honesty and depth of feeling, and by the fact that I recognized  Ben’s story as my own: different in particulars (of course), but very similar in essentials. (Thanks to April Hageman for sharing Ben’s blog with me!)

I can’t point to one moment. But I can point to a series of moments – and some very powerful experiences of intervention and grace – which led me to that magical point where “I wish” became “I will”…

…I will lose weight…

…I will make exercise a habit…

…I will learn how to eat healthy, whole, nourishing food…

…I will LIVE my life, not just wait it out.

The thing I didn’t realize, that I am still striving to learn in a visceral way every day, is that this particular magic will spur a person on to wishes they didn’t dare allow themselves before. And you’ll want to take these new desires and turn them into action too.

Wishful thinking. I know only too well the ways it can be a trap – it kept me sedentary and daydreaming my way through life for decades.

But wishful thinking can also be a catalyst once you’ve learned the trick of turning that desire into intention, and intention into action. Like all tricks worth knowing, you will have to talk yourself through it again and again (because practice is the only thing that perfects the technique). There are three simple steps:

1. Wish it.

2. Will it.

3. Do it.

Simple, I say. But not usually easy.

Joyful, but sometimes also painful.

Magic — as in “unfolding in wonder and awe”, not as in wand-waving incantations and instantaneous transfiguration. Practical, hard-won, life-changing magic. If Ben and I can do it, so can you.

Let your desire become intention.