What We Learned From What We Lost


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness…

…Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

     —from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

In 2008, the city I live in experienced a catastrophic flood. It surprised us, the waters rising fast and destroying so much of what made our town unique. I’ll always be haunted by the memory of cresting the hill on the south side of town, after the main flood waters had passed, to discover the very heart of the city enveloped in darkness. The sorrow and loss of it.

For eight years, many people labored to not only bring the city back but to make it better, stronger, more distinctive until you could literally feel the energy of creativity and new growth.

And then the unthinkable: another flood threatened the city in the very same way. This time, we had some warning, a little time to prepare. And the people, remembering, rolled up their sleeves and got to work saving our city and each other. It was inspiring, and it was humbling – and it was an example of what we are capable of when we forget our differences in the midst of what we share.

We still have our differences. We still have our critics. We still have our imperfections. (I myself will still complain that there’s not even a decent cup of coffee to be had after 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.) However, what we learned from what we lost is ours now – we own it, and it has changed us for the better.

Triple Word Tuesday

Connect the Dots…


(I know it is triple word Tuesday, but I just have to say a few more words: commencement speeches are wasted on people who are graduating. This speech is worth the time to really listen, and is not boring or too much of a lecture!)

…make hot chocolate

Browsing through a book called, Lean Forward Into Your Life by Mary Anne Radmacher, I came across a story she tells of a minister who was giving a children’s sermon. The minister used the line, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” However, one little boy who didn’t care for lemonade insisted, during the sermon, that the line be changed to “When life hands you lemons, make hot chocolate.”

Radmacher follows the story with this:

“So from the most difficult of circumstances, we can build something of our own choice. Just because a thing is handed to me does not mean it must be grasped by my hand.

This, friends, is a revelation. And it bears thinking about as we run through our overwhelming lives at breakneck speed. We don’t have to accept everything that comes our way, just because it came. And if we do grasp ahold, we still get to shape our response or what we choose to do with it.

Which brings me to my friend, Layne, who has yet another take on the ‘when life hands you lemons’ line. She gave a presentation at a national conference this fall entitled, “When Life Hands You Lemons: Make Souffles, Tarts, and Meringues”. Another great concept: we are allowed to use our creativity. Just because the old saw says to make lemonade doesn’t mean we are required to make only lemonade. Habit, custom, group think be damned!

Choice and creativity. So often I forget that these are in my tool kit when something onerous, unwanted, seemingly unavoidable comes my way in life. I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution this year. I think I may have just found one! (After all, who says you can only make one in January?!)

Where does creativity come from?

I am reading Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet by Matthew Fox.  The book is provocative, as is its author. (Fox, a proponent of Creation Spirituality, was censured by the Vatican, officially “silenced”, and dismissed from the Dominican order)  To illustrate, the title of Chapter 5 asks the question:  “Is original sin the refusal to create, and is redemption the liberation of creativity?” I haven’t gotten as far as Chapter 5 yet, but I am interested to read Fox’s answer.

Back in Chapter 3 (“Where does creativity come from?”) which I read earlier today, the following quote struck me:

“Artists need an inner life just like everyone else.  They also need an outer life, that is to say, a cosmology, an awareness of how we got here and what “here” constitutes in its holy vastness and its unimaginable diversity and creativity.”

As I thought about this concept, two artists whose work has had a significant impact on me came to mind.  The first is Faith Ringgold, whose story quilts offered an entirely new idea of art and the artist’s role to me when I viewed them for the first time in the late 1980s.  The second is my cousin, Stephanie Failmezger.  Stephanie has created a medium she calls “bead mosaic”, which is unique and which she often uses to express her cosmology.  Her latest piece, made up of 24 3-inch beaded quilt squares promises to bring together her influences (such as Mexican art) and the profound spiritual vision underpinning her artistic vision.  While Stephanie and I don’t share the same cosmology, the appeal of her work is that this subtext is expressed so eloquently that her pieces can, literally, be read on many levels.  They speak to the heart even while the mind is grappling with the technique used.

While I don’t have any hard and fast answers to the question asked in the title of this entry, I do believe that it is worth asking not only where creativity comes from, but who is the one doing the creating?  These are questions I am trying to answer for myself.

(I encourage you to check out Stephanie’s work at the following link http://www.facebook.com/pages/SRF-Creative-Studio/113765095304197 )