Photo credit: frenchdave on Visualhunt

In Consolations*,  David Whyte takes the reader on an exploration of words. The book is subtitled “The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.”  The dedication reads:

Dedicated to


and their 

I don’t think I could find a more beautiful and expressive way to explain why I so love having a word of the year. My word for 2022 is “Trust.”

The uncertainties surrounding this word indeed beckon me! The more I explored the topic early in the year, the more confused I became. I drafted this post back in early February. Since then my family suffered an upset that has required a new and unfolding relationship with trust, but I’ll talk about that another time. But on to my original exploration of the word!

Trust can mean so many things:

It can mean allowing myself to let go of fear to bodily do something even though it scares me.

I remember the trusting game where someone leads you around, blindfolded, with a gently guiding arm or directions in your ear. You have to trust that they won’t let you do something dangerous. And another where you stand in the middle of a tight circle, place  your hands across your chest, stiffen your body, and allow (force) yourself to fall into the arms of those surrounding you, trusting them to catch you.

As a sophomore in college, I was in a children’s play called “Humpty Dumpty.” I was the narcoleptic Horse, dependent on my very strong and trustworthy Man to catch me before I crashed to the ground.

When I was younger, I found it easier to trust. I was less afraid of getting hurt! Because, let’s be honest, I didn’t have much experience with hurt.

On a deeper level, trust involves the safely of my mind, the values I hold, and the conclusions I draw from information I am given. In other words, my trust is a belief in the integrity of another.

I need to trust my news channel to have done the proper research and give me an unbiased rendition of the truth. I admit I don’t.  I don’t trust anyone (let alone the media) to give an unbiased view of anything. With rare exceptions I expect to be manipulated by politicians or, really, anyone in power. A person or news source may tell me the truth, but do they tell me the whole truth or do they hide from me what they don’t want me to know? Because perhaps they are afraid that if I know the whole truth, I won’t respect them any more or like them, or I will blow the information out of proportion and put it in an incorrect context, and their whole power source will blow up into smithereens. They don’t, in other words, trust me to be smart, rational, and forgiving.

Is trust the same thing as optimism? “I trust all will be well.”

Is it the same thing as faith?

Does trust even have to be positive? Does distrusting something mean that you can’t depend on its happening or, more negatively, that you expect an outcome that is downright unpleasant? Or can you trust that someone will be a jerk?

As a wordsmith, this is driving me a little zooey.

I haven’t really gotten much closer to figuring out how I feel about the word. Except it’s loaded with emotional baggage for me. So I remain intrigued.

Earning trust. Someone recently told me that my trust issues are what creates drama in an organization I’m involved in. She told me she knows that people have to earn my trust. “No!” I said. It felt like an accusation. “I trust people until they break my trust–but then I admit it’s hard to win it back.”

[As an aside, David Whyte (remember the poet I quote at the beginning of this post?) claims “Denial” is invaluable to humans, because often we need time to take in the stressors of reality, and denial is how we give ourselves that distance. When you’re ready to accept reality, you will.]

Anyway, with distance and a bit of time, I’m ready to acknowledge that I don’t leap into trusting people, and I think that is just as normal as can be. I think most of us have devised subconscious little tests for people we engage with to see what kind of trust they rate. That’s what profiling is all about, be it racist or agist or economic or about the political signs they have plastered on their property. We assume that because someone is one thing, then they are likely to be another (and another and another and another) and therefore we’re more or less willing to trust them.

Trusting others is a skill. It takes practice. It takes a willing suspension of distrust.  I, like so many in our world, have allowed my trust muscle to get flabby. And trust is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

But why does it matter? Surely it’s safer not to trust others, safer not to trust that chair or the rule of law or what a news source is telling you.

Maybe you start wearing a t-shirt to remind you not to trust.

The older we get, the more experience we have with people and things and our bodies failing us. With experience comes fear. I know the cost of misplaced trust, which can devastate me: physically, I can break if you let me fall; psychically, emotionally, it’s my heart that breaks.  Distrust builds.

And yet as I age and grow more vulnerable, the more I must trust others. It’s a great irony. If I give up on trust, I’m giving up on getting anything done. I’m giving up on having adventures and meaningful relationships. I’m giving up on life.

And these days, even if you give up on life, you have to trust someone else to stand up for your wishes voiced in your advanced directive!


Conclusion: trust is an important skill to cultivate and strengthen. But it’s complicated! And that, my friends, is what makes it a good word for the year.

*Whyte, David. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.  Many Rivers Press, 2015.

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Being Brave (Baby Elephant)


What a proud word that is! It tastes great.

I grew up with a delicious picture book that is sadly now out of print: Brave Baby Elephant.* The story with its wonderful illustrations quickly became iconic in my family. Baby Elephant’s big adventure celebrates whimsy and dressing up and food and love and supporting the reality of the world others live in. For Baby Elephant, this is a huge, huge day. His family bends over backwards to acknowledge how special it is, how special he is. He is AFFIRMED. And spoiled. And thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. The quintessential feel-good book of my childhood, it shaped me.

To celebrate the Big Adventure, Mother Elephant makes a special Baby Elephant Dessert that, however, does not look at all like him.

Spoiler alert: Baby Elephant’s big adventure is getting ready for bed for the first time all by himself. It’s laughable, right? But it also represents a great truth: challenges that may appear tiny to others are actually huge to the person taking them on.

For some reason, late last spring at age 62 plus, it became critical for me to have my own All By Myself adventure. I decided to drive from where I live on the coast of Washington State to my family’s summer home in Chautauqua, NY. It’s over 2500 miles. I wanted to take my beloved 18-month dog to show off to people and to keep me company. I wanted to camp and be brave and show I was strong enough to do things on my own without my marvelous husband around to hold my hand.

I knew it was no big deal. I have female friends who take their campers for months at a time. They are fine on their own. I didn’t have a camper, but we own a couple tents. Decades ago we traveled with the kids to distant family during the summer and we camped on the way. How hard could it be?

In the Baby Elephant book preparing for the adventure is exulted into the joy it is!

I too had my lantern and my  sword (read, bear spray. In case.) Beforehand,  and with my husband along, we got out our old tents (one was broken). I set up camp and took it down under his eagle eye. I reminded myself how to work the stove (you bet I thought about food!). I planned my route, called friends, assessed how long my dog Honey and I could reasonably travel each day.  Planning and prepping filled me up. It’s basically all I thought about, dreamt about, and probably talked about for weeks. Family and friends gave me advice, cans of mace,  spare gas canisters for the stove (which I couldn’t find to buy anywhere).

I’m not alone in my love of preparing. Recently my great niece, similar to Baby Elephant, readied herself for an expedition:

“Today she got ready for a trip. She put on 2 birthday crowns and a unicorn headband. She carried two large bags and put Gerald into the wagon. She was humming softly to herself as she put on shoes (her father’s) in the front hall.”–note from my sister, her grandmother

Preparing can, alas, be a personality disorder. I have to be careful not to get so neurotic that the planning takes over my life. Because, no matter how much a person plans, the real adventure begins with the unexpected, those things you simply cannot prepare for. The unexpected is what I remember from my trip:

The maybe grizzly, maybe brown bear on the old lumber road just beyond my first mountain pass (about 3 hours into my trip) who luckily ran the other way when it saw me and Honey. I did not have my bear spray on me because the warnings on the label were enough to scare me off from carrying it.

The gale winds that came up at the Lewis and Clark campground on the banks of the Missouri River and almost blew my tent away.

I was very grateful for that tree when I was trying to break camp that next morning.

The heat wave that had me accepting a couch in an air conditioned cabin instead of setting up a stiflingly hot, buggy tent for myself that night in Minnesota.

How kind my friends were to include Honey and me in their comfortable getaway!

The delight in having my dog along, appreciating her joy in grass





and how she made me stop for walks along the way.




Discovering hidden treasures across our wide and wonderful country.

On the other side of a creek or river in Montana, an artistic car graveyard

My time of independence didn’t last long. Honestly? Just three nights and four days of solitary travel. But oh, it sank into me as an achievement! My own very Big Deal. I got infused with feeling capable and strong and brave. Like Baby Elephant.

“Well,” he said. “here I go, by myself. All alone.” And holding his lantern up and his sword out, Baby Elephant walked bravely down the long hall. He turned bravely into his bedroom and jumped bravely into his bed, pulling the covers well over his head.

“I have done it!” Baby Elephant said. “I have certainly done it. All alone and by myself.”

He’s not quite done. He has to let everyone know he’s okay. And, let’s face it, trumpet his success.

We all need to trumpet our successes sometimes, or at least I do. Hence this post!

Let’s hear about your bravery. It’s your turn to trumpet!


*Brave Baby Elephant by Sesyle Joslin, Illust. by Leonard Weisgard: Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1960.

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A Year to Work on Balance

Photo by Travis Wheeler

I haven’t blogged since October 2020. I’ve thought about it, felt guilt about it, and then released the guilt because, well, the turmoil of these last 6 months has been both national and deeply personal. I have felt on the edge, out of balance, out of control.

I’m 62. Until the end of November, my children had all four grandparents alive, along with three of their steps. What that means is that we have several elders in our family, beloveds who are in their 80’s and 90’s now. And almost all are shifting noticeably closer to death. The first


, my feisty and funny mother-in-law, died on November 30.

Anne Hotchkiss Wheeler, always curious, unique, beloved. d. 11-30-20

It had nothing to do with COVID. She was 87 with more internal garbage going on than anyone should have. But she’d fought cancer and severe diverticulitis. She had jumped back from death so many times in the past, part of me had stopped thinking she could die! And then she had a fall, which didn’t even seem so bad, but which killed her. Just like that. My husband rushed off to be with his siblings, two of whom had been with her at her death (and I know what a huge blessing that is, especially in this era). It was very important for him to do that; their time together was bonding and healing and my being there would have been an unfortunate addition.

But, left alone in my own grief, I didn’t know what to DO with myself, with those huge emotions. And this is from someone who, because of my volunteering with Threshold Singers,  has made a study of grief, who deals with death and the emotions it reveals on a very regular basis.

Since then I wanted to write about “Balance”–it’s the word I chose for 2021–but I haven’t. I haven’t felt any drive to write at all, let alone add to this poor occasional blog of mine. Instead I have been visiting parents, trying to help out as they struggle to live and maybe struggle to die at the ends of their lives. I want them to have joy in their lives. Sometimes it seems as if they still do. My mother, in a nursing facility with her husband (who is on hospice and now unable to communicate verbally), points out that she gets huge pleasure at looking at flowers.

Thank God for them.

I too take enormous pleasure in the beauty of the natural world. I love the fact that I almost always have a camera with me in the form of my cell phone. I take photos that sometimes knock me sideways, like this one.

Outside of Taos, NM

This January my father had a stroke which, on top of his Parkinson’s, made him face Death in the eye and basically say, “bring it on!” But with excellent care, he’s recovering some independence. I visited to help my stepmom out for a couple of weeks (basically provide some support), and I learned how very important my father’s dignity is to him. He wrote a very specific letter in August saying that he never wanted anyone to feed him. It’s in his health care folder. That was the line he was drawing. He got very close to that place.

Dad perked up with daughters visiting (and great support from his wife and visiting professionals)

And it’s his choice. My stepmom (bless her!) totally honors the fact that my father’s choices are his. With her strength modeling that for me, I hope I can stop myself from my knee-jerk response to voice my own opinion at a time when that is not wanted or asked for.

We adult children think we know so much. And I’m not just adult. My own children remind me quite regularly that I am old! Oh, if only that age came with assured wisdom, but I have so much growing still to do. The world keeps rocking under my feet–pandemics, politics, divisiveness, climate change, worries about just about every aspect of life. How do I stabilize?

At my Threshold rehearsal in January I asked my fellow singers to share what strategies they had to re-ground or find balance. So many mentioned self care: Breathing with Chi Gong, Tai Chi, walks in nature, noticing little details, or focusing on a task as a kind of meditative practice. For me, I’ve been so blessed to have my family of sisters and moms to connect to. I have my rock of a husband. And I have my dog and friends, and a new practice of self forgiveness.

I think of the song by the Byrds, To Everything Turn Turn Turn:

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

There is a balance to everything. Good heavens, I have everything to help me balance! Just got to pay attention.

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Inktober Delight

This is the first year I have tried my hand at Inktober, a month-long sketching challenge created by Jake Parker years ago. Urged to draw by the friend who told me about it, I mainly just share my creations with her, but this is so much fun that you need to know about it too.

As last’s month’s post discussed, I have a need for whimsy. Inktober definitely feeds that need!

The rules are simple:

  1. draw to the daily prompt
  2. anything goes
  3. share it with someone

I guess I would add, for  my own benefit:

4. don’t take it too seriously!

Here are the daily prompts for 2020:

To add to my cheeky thrill, I decided to illustrate potential scenes for a story my daughter and I are creating together. She gifted this collaboration as a birthday present (brilliant, Clara!) with a long first episode that made me positively giddy. To give a hint to the fun this inspires, here’s her first paragraph to this sky pirate adventure:

“The sound of wood creaking, the flap of canvas. People shouting at each other across the deck, stoking the furnaces that feed the balloon, keeping the boat in the air. Far below, the poison sea waits for unlucky vessels whose balloon cannot keep them at a safe height. Things churn in the deep, things with enormous tentacles and too many eyes, and they are always hungry.”

After her nine pages of real adventure and character study, there was so much glorious potential that I didn’t know how to start. So I dithered–until Inktober came  to my rescue and helped give me some ideas. I didn’t–and won’t– use them all, but they got me “in.”

My first “Ink” was  “Fish”:

A very creepy character Clara created popped into illustration when  I misread the third day’s prompt to be “Bulge” (instead of bulky):

Inking also helped me refine details as I wrote.




How small does that small ornamental box they stole have to be? Ah, now I  know. And I know its gems are very sharp.



Now that I’ve handed it back to Clara for her next installment, the continued illustrations are keeping me  grounded in the story world until it comes back to me.


Maybe the main character has to take care of the rats so they don’t chew the ropes tied to the big balloon keeping the ship afloat.



Regarding the quality, I have to remind myself that this is not any sort of competition! I’m not a creative artist–the best I can ever do is to copy from a photo I find on the internet or one I  have taken myself. But to be honest, I think real artists do that too! So if it’s cheating, it’s a well-established cheat.

Not all of my sketches are illustrations. I don’t always feel inspired. I find I bounce mostly between current life “commentary” and the illustrations.




Self-portrait while traveling



Sometimes the commentary is political–hard to avoid these days!

Sometimes, like today,  it’s personal.

Inktober reminds me that even very short forays into creative output feed my soul. Plus creativity feeds creativity. Don’t you find that? Makes me want to draw a bunch of delightful monsters gorging happily on themselves, growing, amassing into some STORY, but I don’t know how to draw that.

You can do it. 🙂

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Looking for Whimsy

Let’s face it, times are stressful. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed, I get depressed and negative and cranky. All the mean little voices in me pick up their volume and though I can sometimes remember to be kind to others, it’s too easy to forget that I need tender attention also.

One of my friends I used to sing bedside with had a beautiful phrase. At the end of a sing, she would smile gently at the wife or daughter or husband. “Be tender with yourself,” she’d say. “This is such a hard time.”

This is a hard time. I know it. You know it. But do we know how to be sweet to ourselves? Tender? Gentle? Kind? We are humans with so many failings. I feel like it would be a very good habit to say to myself, “Thank you, Mathilda, for getting up this morning. Bravo! Go ahead and have another piece of chocolate.”

My last post talked about needing a reset button in order to find HOPE. Lately I’ve found one that works for me, at least for now. My reset button is whimsy. If you’ve followed many of my posts, especially the early ones, you’ll know that I adore what sparks my imagination and puts a giggle in my heart. To me, whimsy is something that doesn’t quite fit the norm or the expected. Because it’s a surprise, it brings with it an element of delight. So my new strategy is to LOOK FOR IT.

Like this:

Just a decorated sculpture in my neighborhood–but how fun to notice it! And I only noticed because I was looking. I now put “LOOK FOR WHIMSY” on my goals for each day! It’s amazing where I can find it.

A flamingo hides in a friend’s backyard.

A funky green thing inserted into a colorful birthday bouquet. So yes, sometimes whimsy is a gift given.

I’ll tell you something. I have polkadots on my car, because I have always liked the ridiculous. But shortly after COVID shutdown one of the biggest passions of my life (bedside singing), some mystery person put google eyes on the dots.




That small and wonderful act of kindness, that shared whimsy, has cheered me up for months.




Some other kind soul put a painted pebble in my garden. I bet it’s been there a while, but I just noticed it the other day. CALM, it says. Thank you.

And look at the effort that went into creating this elaborate configuration, another neighborhood gem.

Seeing something like that gives me hope for humanity–and hope for my own survival.

What does it for you? Curious folk want to know.


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The need for a reset button

Photo credit: Carbon Arc on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Our world is in trouble. So much unrest and anger can be blamed on the growing towers of  tensions we read about daily. We’re either caught inside these towers or watching them tilt crazily toward us from the ground. Every day we have to decide who to trust, who to believe, how to act, and what it means to be responsible in a world that seems about to crash. Maybe society needs to blow up in order to reset, but I sure wish we had a button to let us do it safely and sanely.

A reset button, in fact. A time out for routine maintenance. A release valve. Something! A chance for relief from this building energy.

My own body tells me I need this: with relief, tension-held muscles relax– ones I didn’t know had locked into position creak into a new freedom. Tears come. Deep sobbing. When my body finally settles into peace, it’s possible to think again, examine reality with fresh eyes. Form new vision and set new goals, maybe form new beliefs to help guide me through this new reality. or this same reality viewed with a different lens.

We are on a brink here. I’m curious and I’m worried and I’m praying more than I ever have for guidance in what to do. Our country–and maybe it’s our whole planet–cannot keep on like it is without breaking. I’m still reading the New Testament with my sisters, and sometimes Paul’s words seem perfect.

In hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.”–Romans 8:24-26

I love that last, “inexpressible groanings.” It makes me  smile. It makes me think of something I might read in The 13 Clocks by James Thurber (a childhood favorite). It makes me think that God is on my side, groaning along with me, groaning FOR me in fact.

How hard these times are for us all!  It brings me some peace to think God will provide all the inexpressible groanings we need in these crazy times. My job is to keep my hope intact, which I think is another way of saying my faith strong. The reset button is out there, for me and for my world. I HOPE my heart opens to understanding where that reset button might be, what it might look like, and what I can do to press it.








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Gospels with my sisters

The Covid Crisis has given me a deeper appreciation of my health and awareness of my shocking privilege among other things, but its greatest gift so far has been to connect me more with sisters.

Gospels bookclub with my sisters

Photo on VisualHunt

In early March before any of us were issued a “Stay at Home” order, three of my four sisters and I went to a family funeral and shared a very small airbnb over a weekend. We got into some deep conversations about spirit and faith and the importance of the Gospels. Although we were all raised Unitarian, my two eldest sisters have studied the Bible with vigor, one as a thoroughly involved evangelical christian, the other as a very active Episcopalian. We other three have never before read the Gospels, let alone studied them. We agreed it would be fun and informative to read them together; the Lock Down orders and a new understanding of how zoom works allowed this to happen very quickly. We’ve been  meeting almost daily (daily!) for about an hour since mid-March.

It’s slow going. It’s amazing how much there is to discuss! I had no idea, for instance, that the Lord’s Prayer comes from the Sermon on the Mount (which is not labeled as such, really) and that it’s only in one of the Gospels! Well, you can imagine how blown away I was by Matthew (whom we started with). It’s been fascinating to discover where so many of the famous stories and expressions come from, and a little embarrassing that I didn’t know this before. Luckily, two of my other sisters are in a similar boat so I don’t feel too much like an idiot. 

I’ve been so surprised to find out that Jesus isn’t always (ever?) portrayed as the sweet, loving person I’ve always assumed he was. I had no idea Mother Mary is barely mentioned in the gospels, and Mary Magdalene not much more. A huge amount of my prior understanding of the gospels came from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. I grew up singing both.

In case you’re curious, I’m reading with the free Bible app, It’s an astonishing resource. You get to choose and move between editions. I mainly use the NET, whatever that stands for, because the notes in that version can help sometimes. I also frequently look at the Messenger for a more contemporary rewriting of the verses. My sisters often bring in other resources: the Jewish interpretation (can’t remember what it’s called), for example. Because we go so slowly–often just chapter by chapter–our conversations are (sometimes) deeper than, say, those of the FAB Fems podcast. Because three of us are such novices, we ask questions about verses that my more knowledgable sisters admit they’ve skimmed over.

We do love each other!

But this experience brings us so much more than a deeper knowledge of the Bible. We move into discussions about our personal faiths and family history. We are being brave and sharing–questions and answers and ponderings (and sometimes songs!)–that we might otherwise have kept private from each other. We each bring a very different perspective to the discussion. And my mother, 89, sits in. She doesn’t often participate, but seeing her face daily while she’s in lockdown has been a gift to all of us (and vice versa).  Because I am about 2000 miles from my nearest sister and 3000 from the furthest, this experience has kept us all grounded in family connection.

Although we may well morph into less frequent gatherings, I hope we are all addicted to exploring spirit together. I’m not sure, but I think we’ll be reading the Koran next. 


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Life as a Teeter Totter

I’ve been seeing a lot of these little cairns placed on my walks–on the beach, in the woods. Many, I think, are created by bored children who need a project when let loose to play without a playground or friends. Many are created by adults for perhaps a similar reason. But I love seeing them. I love seeing these signs of humanity in nature. And it’s a sign that others, like me, seek balance.

Of course my life, like yours, has been upturned by the Coronavirus. I receive daily updates on how many in our small city and larger state have the disease, how many have died. We are told the numbers are lower than reality–anyone could be without symptoms, transmitting it. I could be. We are cautioned to self-isolate.

I want to obey my governor’s strictures, but people disagree about what that means. Do I avoid going to the grocery store?  Can I still meet a friend for a socially distant dog walk? How far away is 6 feet, really, and why doesn’t that other person move to the side of the path? How frequently should I wash my door knobs? Do I wash my hands even if I haven’t touched anything out of the house? Am I supposed to wear a mask when I leave the house or just when I go into a grocery store? The “shoulds” change daily.

A few weeks ago, not long after this started, I was guided through a Focus therapy exercise by a friend. It’s crazy to think I’ve never had formal therapy before, but it’s true. That morning I woke to a burning in my chest, pressure pushing down there and moving up into my throat.  I freaked inside: maybe I had the virus! But then I remembered that this is what it feels like when I have a little panic attack. I’m scared, I realized. And in grief, too, I have since read. I’m afraid I won’t make good decisions. I don’t trust myself to know the answer. I can no longer trust my world. I am no longer in control.

I hate that. I told my therapist friend that I didn’t know how to balance the conflicting drives in me. On one side is my desire to connect with people, to help with threshold singing, which I know in my soul brings comfort to people. To help in other personal ways also.  On the other side is my need to be a good girl and follow the rules, to do what is right. To be safe and keep others safe. There are some heavy duty moral dilemmas in the world right now–and I know mine must seem pretty shallow in comparison to what others are suffering. But my friend is wonderful and said nothing remotely dismissive.

“So, when you think about balance, what image comes to your mind?”

Immediately I pictured a teeter totter. “Good,” she said. “Now imagine it next to you, far enough away so you can really see it.”

Photo credit: nzgabriel on / CC BY

“When you look at it, what comes to you?”

I remember as a kid sitting on teeter totters–seesaws–and the glorious sensation of flying, moving (if I was balanced well with the other person) in a floating sort of dance of up and down–always best when no one crashed to the ground or was thrown off the top. But if it was TOO balanced, it wasn’t much fun either–it got dull pretty quickly, just staying in stasis. And then I thought of the bongo board.

Back in the day I was quite good at the bongo board and ended up having to really challenge myself with tricks that put my balance (and ok, safety) at risk–moving my legs together, jumping up around on the board, etc. The best part of any skill is to be good enough to do it and feel some success, but not so good that it’s no longer a challenge. I crave balance, but once I get it, I’m bored!

Life is fun when the balance board is moving–we aren’t rocks, we humans. The coronavirus has put a big challenge on our teeter totter of global humanity. I’m not saying that the virus is a game–no!–but that the challenge of figuring out how to stay UP is … exciting in a way that maybe it hasn’t been for a while. At least not to this privileged white middle class, middle-aged woman from a functional family.

We are all having to re-invent how we do things.

We all seek balance, struggle to find it in different ways. Another  friend shared HER two sides artistically:

collage by Lois Holub

collage by Lois Holub













Life is  always a teeter totter, but these days it feels more tottery than usual. I seesaw back and forth between grief and hope, acceptance and fear.  I have gratitude vying for attention at the same time I feel swamped with guilt that I am still able to feel gratitude, that I am so blessed. I worry. And yet I also walk outside where my city is bursting with spring beauty and  notice things I never noticed before. And I take picture after picture of balancing rocks.


How do you put the teet into your totter?



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Hearing compliments

This month, I was in a cabaret. So much fun! And in the aftermath of our two performances, I was both blessed and challenged with many personal compliments. They were wonderful, but hearing them felt weirdly uncomfortable. Though they were tremendously affirming, they unsettled me.

Photo on Visualhunt

And because listening is my word of focus this year, I got curious: what’s going on with that?

The challenge of compliments is to listen to hear.

I can listen to compliments. I can even graciously accept them and affirm the person for being so kind (“How wonderful to hear you say that–that makes me feel so good inside.”). I can usually accept that the person handing out the compliment means it. I can certainly glow in the moment, bask in the stardust. But oh boy, it’s really really really hard to accept that a compliment is actually TRUE.

Listen to it. Take it in. Hear it. Accept it.

When I googled the difference between listening and hearing, the distinction everyone seems to make is that hearing is involuntary, what our ears allow us to take in when there is sound; listening requires paying attention. And of course that is one of the definitions of what hearing means. But I am a lover of words and a manipulator of them. Like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

So when I use “hear,” in “I want to listen to hear,” I mean “I have listened, I have taken in your words and feel like I understand their meaning.” Some urban dictionary labeled this as an old person’s hippie speak.* If I hear someone, I’m honoring the speaker’s (or writer’s) honesty and intention and courage in speaking (or writing) their truth. I used to think it automatically meant that I accepted the truth of the opinion, but I’ve changed my mind.

Acceptance is a different step. Sadly, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, I often leap into accepting criticism, but when it comes to compliments, I’m like an immovable object.  “Don’t believe everything you hear!” I learned that in my crib I think. But doesn’t it hurt not to believe anything? And if I choose, why am I choosing to believe the negative over the positive?

Again, WHY? Am I scared?

I wrote about vulnerability a long time ago. That post talks about the fear of how others perceive you. I think what I’m talking about here, though, is a fear of how I perceive myself.  Famously, Marianne Williamson said it better:

Our Deepest Fear**
By Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Williamson’s poem doesn’t tell us why we are afraid to shine; she simply labels it powerfully and universally. But as she underlines the call to action to accept our glories, I figured out something. It’s pressure to show up and shine. To be “on” all the time takes a lot of energy. A lot of work. Can’t I just be a dim lightbulb and move around in the shadows, enjoyed in a very casual way, but not much to remark upon?

And so the truth comes out. I’m just too darn lazy to comfortably own compliments.

But it’s more than that of course. I have a big wall erected against believing my qualities are much to write home about. Some of that is deep-seeded training from my mother’s school of humility. Some of that is because I worry about getting so excited about this quality I have that I’ll become unbearable and boring, immediately negating any truth to the compliment by my acceptance of it.

You like this energy? Let me ramp it up even more! You like my smile? I’m gonna never stop smiling then. You think I’m warm-hearted–just hold still while I smother you with my affections.

With communication, if I accept I can impact others with my words, then the pressure is on to make sure those words are well thought-out, that they express the meaning and message I want them to. The responsibility is intense. “What if I screw up?” stops me in my tracks way too often. And that’s silly and annoying.

Because it’s impossible to control how people hear your words. Hearing is active. As humans, we bring our emotions and our prejudices to the action. And so I must be patient with myself, too, in my own ability to listen, hear, take in, accept.

We are just so complicated, we humans.

*Note: Which is I suppose is true, but I find myself incapable of saying “I grok you.”

**Note: This inspiring poem is taken from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love.

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Listen, my word for 2020


Photo credit: ky_olsen on Visual hunt / CC BY

Last year my word was VOICE. It inspired me to speak truths, to have courage to cross lines I might have otherwise stayed behind. I sang in a choir and learned more about music. I got older. I asked for help when my mother fell and broke her hip and I did not know how best to advocate for her. I spoke my truths even when it meant that I had to leave a group of women whom I had grown very close to, and whose support had encouraged me to own my voice. Ironic.

It’s also ironic that the word VOICE predates this year’s word, LISTEN. Oh, now I get it: I’m supposed to listen before I say something!

So this word choice is in response to some lessons I learned with last year’s word. But I was also inspired to choose this word by a powerful song my choir sang last month for our winter concert. Composer Gwyneth Walker adapted the words from a 19th century poem by John Greenleaf Whittier called “Oh Brother Man.” Her song is called “The Tree of Peace.”

The words:

Oh my sister and my brother, all who walk upon this earth, fold to your hearts each other. Where mercy dwells, the peace of the Lord is there. To live rightly is to love one another, each kindness a gift, each deed a prayer. Oh my sister and my brother, fold to your hearts each other.

Listen, listen to one another. Listen, listen to one another.

Walk with reverence in the steps of those who have gone before, where forgiveness and wisdom have stood. So shall the wild world become a temple, each loving life a psalm of gratitude.

Listen, listen to one another. Listen, listen to one another. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.

Then shall all shackles fall. The violence of war over the earth shall cease. Love shall tread out the fire of anger, and in its ashes plant a tree of peace.

There’s a lot of repetition in the song, and a crashing frenzy in the music with “listen to one another” over and over and over. The music turns this song of peace into a cry of desperation, but it resolves at the end, leaving  me with hope. The promise of hope. I melt with each poignant return to “Oh, my sisters and brothers: fold to your hearts each other.”

Isn’t that a beautiful image? Fold to your hearts each other.

My heart aches. There is so much ranting these days, so much delight in building up the energy of anger in our world. I need a balm to that energy. I want to sing a chord that resonates across all of creation and calms us. I want to listen to the resulting vibe. Hear it. Breathe it in. Become it.

Can we listen in love? Can I?

Anyway, that’s my inspired goal for 2020. You can hold me to it.

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