365 Grateful: for little birds in the winter

365 - 01-29-2016

Walking into work the other morning, just as the sun paints the sky, twittering stops me. Sparrows are tucked in among the dense branches of a small tree along the entry, protected as much as a bare tree can protect against an icy cold January night. They sing. In the midst of harshness, they sing. Co-workers stride past me, intent on the beckoning warmth of the building, bundled against the weather, their ears stoppered to the cheery twittering on this glorious morning. I am grateful for these tiny birds, who, in the midst of cold, dark winter, remind me to carry summer in my heart.

365 Grateful: the power of kindness

365 - 01-24-2016

On Friday, we went to bed watching the snow fall as Winter Storm Jonas arrived for a 24-hour visit. He took his leave on Saturday afternoon, after adding nearly a foot of extra insulation for Mother Earth’s wintry sojourn.

Later that afternoon as I cooked lasagna, Charlie shoveled two tire tracks down the gravel drive. Not so much because we were stir crazy but because he knew it would help speed up the work of Sunday’s predicted sunshine (and we could then drive off the hill, of course).

Hard work, that. So imagine my surprise when I glanced out the window to see not only Charlie but a young man — a neighbor from the next street — shoveling together. Michael had seen Charlie shoveling and came up to help. In fact, he’d been helping other neighbors at the corner shovel out when he noticed Charlie laboring on our hill.

Kindness is such a marvelous thing, and I am grateful for this young man, who moved here about the same time we did. He bent his back to help a stranger — cheerfully, purposefully, and for no other reason than because he was happy to do so. Oh, there is kindness in this place; I know it. I saw it in his face, and I recognized it in his actions.

365 Grateful: Make peace


Chicago O’Hare Airport is busy. I’m waiting patiently for my flight, happily absorbed in my book and relaxing after three interactive days studying resiliency. It will prove fortuitous.

I glance up as a group of weary travelers begins to trickle into the gate area, obviously at the far, far end of an awfully long day. I glean from snippets of conversation that they are returning from an extended visit in The Netherlands. Chicago appears to be the last leg of their trip to wherever home may be, and I suspect home’s looking like an awesome place to be right about now.

Three members land in seats across from me – an older woman, quiet and reserved, with a doughy, fairly effeminate man whose manner and tone come across as demanding, loud, and petulant. A younger woman with him is crabby, complaining to the world about being searched. Twice.

About five minutes later, two younger family members roll up in their custom-made wheelchairs, followed a scant minute later by a rangy woman with long, blonde hair, two huge duffle bags slung over her shoulders and exhaustion painted across her face. She scans the area for a seat and slams one bag down on the floor next to me. The other joins it with a unceremonious thud. She looks up as a quiet but tightly coiled man with shaggy steel gray hair arrives, pushing a wheelchair bearing an older gentleman with cane and tremor.

Her companions safely there, the blonde has obviously had enough. She strides over to the doughy man in a way that sets my fight or flight response tingling. I can only imagine what her target feels.

“Why didn’t you wait for us,” she says sharply … and loudly. Very loudly. “We’ve been lugging these bags and shepherding three people through everything! Why didn’t you stay to help?”

Her equally rangy companion, having carefully seated his elderly charge, turns to the younger, crabby woman. “You bitch! You are so self-centered, thinking only of yourself.” She doesn’t look up, but the doughy man slings his own arrow, “Don’t you call her a bitch!”

The seating area electrifies and stills, yet no one dares acknowledge the exchange. The airline attendant’s paperwork obviously demands his rapt attention, and I’m not sure he’s even breathing as he pretends to work. I cringe, waiting for fists. But the tempest isn’t destined to strengthen today, apparently. For seconds that seem like hours, the couple war within themselves, then turn back to the forgotten duffles.

There are always multiple sides to a story, and it’s especially hard to figure it out when you’re sitting there looking in through a window. But I’m struck by how much pain now hangs in the air. Oh, the pain we cause others when we aren’t mindful!

From my window perch, it appears that the doughy man and his companion were obviously not mindful when they left their father and the other sibling to take care of everything, caught up in their own drama. And the rangy couple was certainly not mindful when they arrived in a maelstrom of anger, unable to stop their darts. The older family members and their wheelchair-bound grandchildren (or children) were surely not mindful when they chose to stay silent, and I wonder if they feel responsible for the storm. As a result, they all suffer – as do those of us sharing this space; we can’t help but sustain some collateral damage.

For the moment, my book lies forgotten on my lap. I muse about this burgeoning awareness. We so often inflict anger, frustration, and pent-up emotions not only on others but on ourselves, although that’s merely a choice we make; we don’t have to do that.

My heart aches for this entire family. It must be a monumental task, shepherding three people who require immense help through check-in, through security, through customs, from one plane to another, to the gate, and finally, hopefully, home. Frustration has quite obviously dogged this family’s journey.

What’s left? The patriarch and matriarch, whose voices still and whose gaze goes anywhere but at another human. The doughy man’s companion, who stalks two rows away and sulks. The blonde daughter – I’ve decided she’s a daughter – and her partner who sink down to the floor with so much held inside. The young man and woman bound to wheelchairs stare out the window in silence. What a sad way to end a trip.

Here I sit, fresh from a session on resiliency, and I wonder what might help them weather this moment, to cultivate self-awareness and mindfulness.

Here I sit, ready to go off on another jaunt in a few short weeks to learn about calling the circle and returning to the wisdom and mindfulness of indigenous people; to learn how to shepherd a different way, by reaching out and engaging, encouraging deep listening, facilitating conversation and strengthening relationship.

Here I sit, hoping to discover the fine art of fostering listening without judgment and rancor, without anger – or maybe with anger but not without compassion to temper it.

Here I sit, wishing I could help them speak, and listen, and find common ground and make collaborative choices with heart and depth and meaning.

I watch as the group sits alone in its pain: most poignant to me is the couple sitting on the floor, apparently preferring its hardness to the hardness of relationship in this moment.

I let a few minutes pass, then lean over to the blonde woman and offer her my chair.

“No,” she says. “I just need the distance. I need to chill.”

I nod. “I get that,” I say. Glancing up, I notice the attendant watching. We share a smile, and I return to my book on Circles.

Later, as I am walking off the plane, I pass them and catch the blonde woman’s eye. She smiles slightly and nods. I’d like to think that time, and the opportunity to decompress, and perhaps, just perhaps, a gesture of kindness and understanding from a stranger, might have helped that family circle begin to repair itself. And I am grateful for that possibility.

365 Grateful: lighting the way back


caks 2I bought some really cool shoelaces yesterday. Actually, I bought four pairs – three neon sets for the younger members of my family and one fairly sedate, if Mardis Gras can be considered sedate, for myself.

These laces are very special. They’re made to honor the life of Charles Austin Kreinik, a young man from my hometown who took his life this past year at age 28. As the packaging for C.A.K.S. (Charles Austin Kreinik Shoelaces) says:

“In the end, Charles was affected by physical pain, alcoholism, and depression, but in brighter days he was a gifted person of quirky humor and generous spirit.”

I did not know Charles, but I do know his parents, Doug and Myla Kreinik. Doug graduated from high school with my sister; I met Myla serving on the Artsbridge Board. My heart aches for them as it would for any parent, child, sibling, spouse or friend who suffers such a loss. In a perfect world, no one should feel as if suicide is the answer, and no one should have to deal with suicide, for it is a long road back through grief, and it’s a different path for everyone.

But ours is not a perfect world, nor is that what this blog is really about. It’s about what Doug and Myla have done with their grief, fresh as it is. When I stopped by to get my laces, Doug told me how this project developed.

I. Love. This. Story.

In the face of everything, it’s about hope and the future, living, and lighting the way. I’d like to share that story with you.

Doug operates Kreinik Manufacturing, a small business known worldwide for its exquisite metallic thread. If you are a needle worker, you’ve run across at least one pattern (more likely hundreds), calling for one shade or another.

Many long mornings after his son’s death, Doug awoke with a lingering dream in his mind and on his heart. In this dream his son had said to him, “Shoelaces, Dad.” Not too long after that wisp in his subconscious, a friend was helping gather and straighten up some of Charles’ things. Out slipped some shoelaces.

Ah, once is curious, but twice is quantum flirt territory. It made Doug think of a dusty shoelace-making machine at his factory, one that had waited patiently for 30 years to be of use. As Doug says, he didn’t know how to use it and hadn’t taken the time to really learn it. But then here was his son saying, “Shoelaces, Dad,” followed shortly by shoelaces dropping serendipitously out of his son’s belongings.

Some things simply won’t be ignored. So with the glimmer of an idea, Myla and Doug went to work, figuring out the intricacies of making shoelaces with their glorious metallic thread. Today, they’ve produced Designer Shoelaces for a Cause – from multi-colored to neon-bright to customized colorways. The Kreiniks are launching this project because, while suicide may have dimmed their son’s light, they want others to keep their lights shining brightly.

Profits from C.A.K.S. (Charles Austin Kreinik Shoelaces) will fund suicide prevention, addiction counseling, and grief support programs. As the Kreiniks say,

“Lace up your shoes, put one foot in front of the other, and keep on going—or dancing! Your purchase helps others, supports grieving families, and makes the world a little brighter.”

I am grateful, today, not so much for my new sparkly laces, but because I walked away humbled and yet so uplifted by how these two parents are slowly, surely transforming their grief into purposeful action. I have no doubt those glittery, glowing laces will keep Charles Austin’s light shining in the world as a ray of hope for others who may also be struggling. What a tribute.

If you are interested in supporting their causes – and I hope you are – or even just interested in really cool shoelaces, I encourage you to check them out. For just $10, they will be available at http://www.kreinik.com/. You can also find the company on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kreinik.Manufacturing.Company. Expect to see packages of C.A.K.S. in select local stores (Parkersburg, WV) very soon.

Of course, if you just can’t wait (they will make nice gifts for your holiday of choice), here’s Kreinik’s contact information:

Kreinik Mfg. Co.
P.O. Box 1966,
Parkersburg, WV 26102

365 Grateful: a cookie is a berry is a truffle is a blade of grass

365 - 11-14-2015So, a friend on Facebook recently posted an observation that caught my eye:

When my husband brings me milk with breakfast I drink it because it is so kind of him and because research says it is good for us, but have you ever considered that humans are the only animal in the kingdom that continues to drink milk into adulthood?

A friend of hers replied:

Yes but as I read somewhere, we are the only ones that have cookies!

I laugh. It makes me wonder if humans invented the cookie just as a way to justify drinking milk. I love that thought because, well, cookies.

But who’s to say that other creatures don’t have cookies, too? It seems to me that something another species considers a delicacy or a treat is just another way of translating cookie. To a cedar waxwing bird, the ripe, luscious berries from my Mulberry tree surely translate as “cookies” in its brain. A pig, unearthing a truffle in the forest, surely feels as though it’s finally broken into the cookie jar for a delectable treat. For my dog, I suspect cookies are none other than fragrant, fresh, delicate green grass, among other interesting things.

We humans don’t actually get that, with the possible exception of the truffles, but then we’re probably not supposed to. For many of us, our cookies have chocolate chips or icing and taste sweet and yummy. They go well dipped into a tall glass of cold milk.  (Of course, there are those among us who eschew the sugary cookies for fresh fruit or other healthful alternatives. I think they probably qualify as cookies, too.)

For all the species that share our planet, cookies may carry the same meaning but differ vastly according to each perspective. A snake’s cookie (which may look like an egg to us) is no less a cookie than a freshly baked sugar cookie (with icing) is to us.

So I’m grateful for this fun exchange in the early morning. It broadens my awareness to how we humans bring the world into compliance with our awfully narrow perspectives – how we think and operate and exist. The truth is, we’re just one of many species that live here, and we each have our own viewpoints and definitions of such things as cookies. Sadly, as humans, we even subdivide our own species – by race, by religion, by nationality – and a cookie to one is not necessarily a cookie to another.

Thanks for this early morning Facebook reminder to co-exist with other species – animal, mineral, vegetable (and cookie) – on this green and white ball that’s hurtling through space. And in light of the recent events in Paris, Syria, and countless other places across the globe, may we learn to extend that co-existence to our fellow humans, too.

365 Grateful: of moonlight and clouds


365 - 11-01-2015Right now I’m slipping through three times zones on a flight from Ohio to Seattle. It’s still pitch black out there – my flight ascended at 6 a.m. I swear time’s standing still because it’s still 6, and I’ve already come a long way.

I stare out the window and think that it’s much too early for serious cognitive activity following a restless night spent waiting for the chirp of a phone alarm. My sleep-deprived eyes prove it; they’re slow to recognize the vivid tundra of puffy white clouds out there. Not much wonder, though. This morning I’m gazing down at them, which is nothing like my everyday earth-bound view.

Eventually my brain fires. Ah, these clouds are otherworldly lit, with texture and shadow, light and dark, all glowing and ethereal. I crane my neck and there it is: the Full Hunter’s Moon silvering out the clouds all around us. Ironic, too, for this moon is also the Travel Moon and I, of course, am traveling.

Oh, I wish I could capture that view with all the nuances my eyes see, but plane windows and cameras are not so compatible. Still, I can’t help but think that this moment cups the promise of a different perspective on life.

From our ground-level tunnel-vision perspective, clouds just block the sky, don’t they? They hide the sun. They bring rain – necessary, yet at all the wrong times, it seems. They depress spirits and spoil best-laid plans. When we say something clouds our vision or our judgment, we really mean our thinking’s skewed, occluded: We can’t see clearly.

But here, awash in the soft light of the full October moon so high above the ground, a different perspective emerges – one where silver linings are real, not imagined, and clouds seen from above offer the hope of new insight. Earthbound, we catch glimpses of it in the clouds, but only when the light of the sun or a brilliant moon illuminates.

Grateful for the reminder at this eternal 6 a.m. moment that clouds in any form — in the sky or in our lives — may at times obscure but, if we expand our vision and really look, also hold perspectives to help us uncover an Aha or two. And that’s something worth exploring.