365 Grateful: a visit from a walkingstick

365-08-30-2015A walkingstick comes wandering to my garage today, all slender-like and tentative, his woodsiness sorely out of place on the white vinyl doorjamb. The pincers at the bottom of his abdomen give him away — only males have those.

I think it odd to see a four-legged species — an anomaly for sure, given that his kind sports six twiggy appendages, but as I gaze at him, he takes a few lumbering steps. Ah, there they are! Two legs splayed directly above his head like thick, stick-like antennae, obscuring the more delicate feelers below.

I marvel at my visitor, for it’s been years since I’ve seen one in nature and not pinned in pseudo-lifelike poses beneath glass at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, with taxonomy neatly scribed beside it. He’s a Diapheromera femorata, I think, of the Northern Walkingsticks clan.

I shut my door, reluctantly leaving him on the doorjamb to go about an afternoon of errands, but when I return, I slip over again, curious to see if he’s had enough of vinyl and hot sun. Gone! But then I look up. He hangs above my head, clinging to the lintel, still in stark contrast to the white vinyl. I’m ridiculously glad he’s still visiting, but I can’t help but think he’s vulnerable on my vinyl since he normally prefers the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs in the woods, where he blends in and camouflages well with nature. I’ve yet to see vinyl thriving and growing in the woods, and luckily those woods are mere yards from my door. Better yet, I’ve a red maple tree a few steps away.

I glance around and spy several leftover spokes of straw from our spring grass seeding, and I thrust a few up toward him. His legs wave in alarm but then grasp at something organic, something that must jog his memory, perhaps. He climbs aboard for the short flight to my tree.

I don’t know if that journey seems miraculous to him or is just another moment in his life that simply spans a few walking stick football fields. I hold his transportation up at the intersection of a small leafy branch, and he daintily — but quickly — steps off that straw vessel and onto what I think must feel like home.

Within seconds, he clambers underneath a small leafy umbrella, lifting one leg as if saluting some benevolent spirit for carrying him to safety … or perhaps simply searching for the next step. With a pang, I watch him blend in, knowing I’ll not find him again in his own habitat. While I may be a little bereft of his uniqueness, I’m infinitely more wealthy for having spent time in his company. And I’m grateful that he chose to grace my vinyl sided doorjamb today.

365 Grateful: All my life’s a circle …

365 - 08-20-2015
Once upon a time …
There was a West Virginia native who lived two clicks over into Ohio across a deep river. On the day of separation from an awesome Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island, Washington, where cell service was slivered, she reached the big city of Seattle, where she curled up in her hotel to await the next day’s dawn flight. She begrudgingly decided to check email (she had 300+) and found tucked in among the spam and junk a tiny inquiry from a local educational institution back home: “Wondering if you would be interested in teaching English Composition this semester. I need an instructor.”
“English comp?!? How uninspiring,” was her first thought, as she thought only of the her end-of-year schedule.
 “Although it would be cool to start with a Story Council,” was her second.
 “Wonder if it’s possible to change the whole ‘boring’ classroom experience by conducting it using circle way concepts,” was her third.
So, on her 12-hour trip toward West Virginia Ohio, she let those thoughts roll around in her head. The next day, which she had presciently taken off from work, she struck out in her trusty Prius only to discover a nail – with a circular head – stuck in her circular, though somewhat misshapen, tire. The AAA repairman removed the lug nuts (arranged in a circular way around the rim) to install a cute little donut tire, leading to the subsequent transformation of the misshapen tire back into a fully inflated circle. Voila! Whole again, just in time to visit her sister who, in addition to taking pity on a jetlagged sibling by cooking breakfast, showed off her newly installed circular firepit, perfect for a Story Council Circle.
And she began thinking about how the closing of one circle is truly a difficult, sometimes painful, process, yet absolutely natural. And how that closure makes way for the creation and repair of new and continuing circles in life. It’s uncanny how the universe just hands you what you need and want, if you simply take the time to see, and notice, and listen deeply.
So she’s agreed to teach that English Comp class and committed to trying to find circle applications in the doing of it. Her ongoing circle meets in a week and is interested to hear about her experience, so she’s hosting that with renewed circle principles, a little like that reconstituted tire. At work, new opportunities to work with circle practices are emerging.
Grateful for the opportunity to study the Circle Way with the founders and with 19 other amazing participants in a most sacred space in a Pacific Northwest alder marsh. “All my life’s a circle, sunrise to sundown…” *
*Harry Chapin, All My Life’s a Circle


365 Grateful: we are infinitely more than we seem

365 - 08-02-2015

We visited the Butterfly House at Thomson’s Landscaping in Marietta, Ohio, this weekend. While there were a few Monarch butterflies in various stages of life — from still-wet wings to voracious flower hunters — there were far more striking caterpillars inching their way along the leaves, leaving behind them strangely denuded stems.

As I watched them cling, and eat, and eat, and inch, and dangle, and eat … they seemed so far removed from their future selves. If I hadn’t learned about the life cycle of a butterfly in science class so long ago, I would never think that one begets the other.

Maybe we’re like those caterpillars. We travel in our ruts, doing what we’ve always done, looking for what we’ve always seen, hearing what we’ve always heard. Until one day we pause in our journey and wonder what else is out there and what more we might become. Purpose takes hold, and we know — we just KNOW — that there’s something else out there for us.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it individuation — the process of the self emerging from an undifferentiated unconscious. It’s then that innate elements of our personalities (our immature psyche) integrate with our life experiences and we become a more complete, well-functioning whole. It takes a lifetime, and we never become fully, totally complete. We can always evolve.

Today, I’m grateful for delightful caterpillars, as beautiful in their many-footed way as their winged selves will be in the not-too-distant future.

Caterpillar2    butterfly    Caterpillar1

365 Grateful: Lessons from a cabbie

I met an amazing man today. We shared a cab from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to downtown, and talked all the way about anything from politics (always dangerous) to education to work ethic to cars (he believes the Toyota Prius is the best car out there, and I pretty much agree).  

He told me about his daughter, his pride palpable. She just graduated from Loyola University with a 4.0 in business and pre-law, and she spoke at her graduation ceremonies. He is so proud that she only has $15,000 worth of debt after four years, courtesy of her smarts and willingness to work hard to achieve her goals of getting a college degree (scholarships being the end result … Loyola is not cheap).  That $15,000 is a car loan, by the way, not tuition debt. 
But that’s only part of the story. This man was my driver, his heavily accented English cluing me in that he hailed from another country. Albania. He, his wife and two kids arrived here with nothing. He took two jobs — by day at a car wash and at night as a dishwasher at a Chicago hotel — just to keep the family going and give his kids a great start in life. 

His pride when he spoke of going to see his daughter graduate and hearing her give the address made my eyes leak.

He asked me, “Do you know what she said?” His eyes met mine in the rear view mirror before he continued. “In front of thousands of people there, she talked about how we had come here with nothing, knowing no one, and how she studied and worked hard to get to where she was that day. She told them that if she could do that with nothing, knowing nobody, they could all do it, too. Every one of them.”

This man drives a cab in Chicago. He works seven days a week. He almost didn’t go to his daughter’s graduation because he needed to work, but she insisted, and he’s very glad he did. He makes money, he says, but he wasn’t able to pay for his daughter’s education, although it worked out because she was smart and got scholarships.

Still, you know what he said? “I’m happy because I was able to support my family so both of my kids could get college degrees and jobs. If I do nothing else, that is enough.”

After I caught my breath, I told him he had done a marvelous thing and had every right to be extremely proud. 

So very very grateful to have gotten this particular cab.   

365 - 07-16 -2015They’re tiny little things, these fungi in my front mulch, clinging somehow to elusive nutrients in sticks and chips of wood, made hospitable by the fact we’ve had rain nearly every day for a month or two.

I woke up to a veritable forest of slender, pale gray toadstools that had poked their leggy selves up overnight. I came home to a wasteland, as if some terrible wind had plucked them from the ground, uprooting what tenuous connections they had to Mother Earth.

Dismayed, I looked closer. Ah, peeking up through those inhospitable chips of wood mulch were new, tiny heads, no bigger than a quarter of an inch. Another forest’s worth of life ready to bust forth tonight while I sleep.

Grateful, then, for tiny toadstools living gloriously fleeting lives in the space of a day in my front garden bed of mulch. They make me realize that we exist in a symbiotic environment. I respect that. It’s a give and take kind of world, even when it seems so many of us prefer taking to giving most of the time. There’s still hope.


365 Grateful: Sage Advice … From 1913

365 - 07-05-2015Today, in the midst of organizing and cleaning the computer room, I pick up a slim volume. It’s destined for either the bookshelf for keeping or the Crystal pile for donating, and I’m in a ruthless mood to purge. I consider its fate, flip a few pages in (there are only 41), and my eyes fall upon this passage:

“I offer ‘a way of life.’ ‘Undress,’ as George Herbert says, ‘your soul at night,’ not by self-examination, but by shedding, as you do your garments, the daily sins whether of omission or of commission, and you will wake a free man, with a new life. To look back, except on rare occasions for stock-taking, is to risk the fate of Lot’s wife. Many a man is handicapped in his course by a cursed combination of retro- and intro-spection, the mistakes of yesterday paralysing the efforts of today, the worries of the past hugged to his destruction, and the warm Regret allowed to canker the very heart of his life.”

A page or two beyond, I spy this:

“Let the limit of your horizon be a twenty-four hour circle. … Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future. Shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of Day-Tight Compartment.”

Oh, it’s a timeless message, spoken so very long ago, extolling the virtue of living in the moment, neither mourning the past nor hurrying the future. Those words were written (spoken, actually), for an address delivered to Yale students in 1913 by William Osler, a Canadian physician and one of the four founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In this slim volume, Osler requested the inclusion of the words of 5th Century Indian Sanskrit poet Kalidasa:

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Grateful for the reminder to look to this day, not to yesterday or to tomorrow, for a life well-lived. My father obviously treasured this book. I can do no less. It will stay on the bookshelf because its wisdom transcends the years.

365 Grateful: Goose Pimple Index (GPI)


My first vocal coach, exuberant, funny, and wildly talented, always said that when a singer really nailed a performance — I mean nailed the technical, emotional, spiritual essence of the music — the hairs on his arms would stand up as the goose bumps rose. He called it the Goose Pimple Index, or GPI, and it was his sure sign that the planets had aligned at that very moment in perfect musicality.

Tonight, I’m reading this passage from don Miguel Ruiz’s The Fifth Agreement, and I’m stunned. Why did I not make this connection before? The GPI for my vocal coach may have registered musical perfection, but for me, the GPI registers pure truth. When I’m in the presence of something so true and real and breathtakingly elemental, I experience the GPI phenomenon, in conjunction with the involuntary prick of tears that always signals the presence of authentic, honest truth.

As don Miguel writes, “I … know when their words come from truth, and I know because I can feel it.” Oh, yeah. I really get that. Grateful for insights that may lie dormant but that eventually bubble their way to the conscious mind.