Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Eternal life begins with what lasts forever

Some thoughts in darkening hours, and a dawning Season of Light:

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Photo: Oliver Schratz

Nothing that exists remains in a state of repose.

Everything is either growing or declining.

Benevolent Forces are in evidence, as we are invited away from “fighting evil” toward our human family’s next exciting stage: creative, collaborative, and limitless building of the good.

We are here to mirror to each other the attributes of our Creator.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

Every attribute and faculty we possess, known and unknown, comes into balance as we strive to align the acts of giving and receiving.

Eternal life begins when we honor what lasts forever.

The gift of this age, bestowed on all humanity, is the right each one of us has to investigate reality independently, and to learn to see with the eye of oneness.

The natural outcome of that is to express —  willingly — joyful acts of service, our personal and collective pathway for building the good.

These should be more than enough points of focus to free our hearts from the weight of a world’s unreal illusions this week.

Here’s hoping.

Learn more about these possibilities in With Thine Own Eyes: Why Imitate the Past When We Can Investigate Reality?

Find more about the book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Thine-Own-Eyes-Imitate-Investigate-ebook/dp/B00I1JPC7I


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The heart’s own gift

Painted Desert

Painting: Judy Hughey Wright

I once heard someone describe how, while traveling on a bus in Africa, where many roads look like something Americans would reserve for all-terrain vehicles, he’d had an unexpected encounter with the power of encouragement.

As the driver navigated the deeply rutted road, the passengers would repeatedly, and with great enthusiasm, cry out a phrase that sounded like “ay-kushay.” As the American man watched more carefully, he realized that this was a kind of cheer they made each time the driver successfully avoided a pothole.

His story brought to mind the friends I made when I lived in China. Seldom have I seen people work as hard, or live with so little. In addition to showing a generally uncomplaining and positive attitude, they demonstrated something whose effectiveness finally makes sense to me. As they’d wave me on my way, they’d unfailingly call out, “Do your best,” “Take your time” or “Enjoy yourself!” China3.2009 197

It wasn’t until I got back to the United States and no longer heard these things that I realized how much I’d appreciated such sources of encouragement. They had a lovely sound to my ears — and they were empowering.

To “encourage” each other, literally meaning “to give heart,” is one of the most spiritually beautiful gifts we can share. Perhaps the very scarcity of encouragement in daily life is what has so many feeling weary, fearful, and uninspired.

And an especially good reason to cultivate encouragement is that its opposite, discouragement, tends to breed complaint and criticism like weeds. Falling prey to these, which do nothing to draw us near to God, or goodness, is all too easy, leads nowhere new, and feels bad.

But surprisingly, practicing encouragement instead doesn’t require much more effort, other than willingly letting go. IMG_6181

Then there’s the surprise bonus in choosing encouragement, both for others and our own selves. Live long enough and you get to see how offering sincere encouragement to others turns out to be like giving it to yourself at the same time.

I just love when divine wisdom maximizes things in that very generous way.

Excerpted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=leaofthetre-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1931847673″


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Each day holds glimpses of heaven

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Photo: Cary Enoch

Many aspects of life these days bring a sharp edge that slices into our vulnerable hearts the way paper cuts snag us as if they’ve been lying in wait. Yet, as one friend points out, they happen because we make contact with something.

“Can’t we just try to be kind, to ease up? Can’t we just let love in?” another friend fairly gasped in despair one day recently when the onslaught of news about utterly savage things seemed too much to bear.

The simplest answer is, absolutely we can. Things can all feel so overwhelming, our small, human selves quite powerless, or overpowered — yet the real power we have has been deposited securely in a place that’s always safe from any sort of harm. And its use is designed to be easy and uncomplicated.

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Photo: Aletta Reimer Weiss

One experience that my friend Ronnie received in his work with brain-injured folks continues to bring this home to me, to really penetrate my heart with the truth of it, as the years go by.

In the day program for the clients with whom he works, activities are held in a large community building shared by several service organizations.

One day, an adult client who had been hit by a car as a child was being fed his lunch by his caregiver in the building’s cafeteria. Food was dripping down his chin onto his bib, and he was in no position to clean his own face, or even ask for it to be cleaned. Other than one arm that seems to have a life of its own, he has little control over his own body.

But he has total control over his own heart, Ronnie says.

He’d become the friend of a group of 3-year-olds who attend a pre-school in the same building. Each day, after they finished their lunch, they’d crowd around their friend’s wheelchair and tell him all about their day. They weren’t the least bit bothered by the fact that he is unable to answer them, or that bits of food fall off his bib onto the floor. After all, they often have the same problem.

11014906_824910567597565_94928212601865149_nOn this particular day, as Ronnie watched this little group, he suddenly spotted one of those glimpses of heaven we get to see, if we’re paying attention. The small, enthusiastic voices were regaling the young man in the wheelchair, and he was sitting quietly, as he has no choice but to do.

And then, in the next unexpected moment, he raised that sometimes wayward arm. There was, no doubt, some concern among the adult onlookers, as he waved it around. Then, it settled softly on a little girl’s shoulder, like a broken-winged bird.

She smiled up at him, and he smiled down at her.

Life is made up of moments, and some of those moments are pure heaven, Ronnie says. But you need to look carefully for them because sometimes they happen in a crowded lunchroom and if you are always looking up, or down, or somewhere else distractedly, you just might miss them.

Fortunately, he adds, life is very generous with the portions of these it dishes out — a veritable feast, no matter what harsh winds blow or dark clouds roll over our heads. These are the gifts waiting for us to exchange, and not a single day will withhold them from us.

coverthumbAdapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=leaofthetre-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1931847673″


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“The Spirit of God is working in your midst.”

There’s a string of days that glimmer like pearls for me. They occurred around this time of  year, when my friend Marian shared the last stage of her earthly life.

A deep love of spiritual life brought us together. I was 20,  she was 80, and from our first encounter, my young eyes saw that her ageless spirit had found its way far past the world’s pain and confusion and wasn’t limited by them any longer, in any way. How, I wondered, do you find a life like that?

The answer she shared out of her experience became my own: the path of the Bahá’í Faith. I watched her example of being a willing, hopeful, and incredibly creative servant of the human family who was also gifted at helping others feel the limitless possibilities of love. She helped me understand that most often, human souls don’t recognize the potential that’s been treasured in each of us — and that life gets better and better as we encourage and welcome this in ourselves and others.

Marian treated everyone like precious little mines of gems, and maintained a happy, positive tone in this treasure hunt that simply left no room for negativity to make a nest. I’m so thankful I had this reality reflected for me while I was so young, because it’s given me more time to try to share it in my own life.

The mystical experience that accompanied her affirming love could be startling. I’d often receive a call or letter in which she addressed matters that were precisely what I’d been struggling with — but hadn’t shared with anyone. Her gentle suggestions or ideas — sometimes, simply helpful questions — were always an absolutely perfect remedy.

I hadn’t seen her for almost a year the day I first drove over to the small apartment she’d rented after her husband died. Her face was a vivid gold when she met me at the door. I noticed that she talked animatedly about finishing all of the projects she was working on.  Two weeks later, surgery revealed an inoperable tumor on her pancreas.

DCwondersky419732_10151485192181802_265278193_nShe set about the projects she had yet to complete, wanting to be sure that others could carry on the work that was her heart’s desire, which encouraged seeing spirituality and science as allies. She believed that just as religion and science were created to embrace and inform each other, so, our rational and spiritual selves are meant to be collaborators for our own benefit, and our world’s. The educational programs she developed usually reached first toward those whom society tends to overlook or forget.

During those days after her diagnosis, she thanked God continually for the mental clarity that allowed her to pursue her work in the last weeks of her life. “Prayer, and the Word of God, can be mighty powerful nourishment,” she’d tell me with a huge twinkle in her eye. She was tremendously kind and patient with her physical self as it grew weaker each day, an example of loving-kindness I will always value.

On one especially difficult day, she suddenly beamed at me with what felt like an in-rushing of great, surging force and declared,  “We continually overlook the power of love.” IMG_6181

Neighbors and friends still talk about those last hours in her home, when the room seemed to fill up with love and happiness and they didn’t want to leave.

Surprisingly, she used to tell me that, at an earlier time in her life, being ungrateful and impatient had been two of her most difficult spiritual battles, something I found impossible to imagine.

“Then, when I was ready to completely give up on this life, something told me that it was time to stop my fighting, and I heard those words, what Jesus promised: ‘The Spirit of God is working in your midst.'”

From the day she accepted this reality, I believe she became an unfailing channel for its truth. I can still feel her love at work in my life today, and feel my undying connection with her most strongly when I strive to do the same.

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1385482351


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Tending the smoldering fire

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Artwork: Judy Wright

The use — and misuse — of the power of speech has certainly been in the spotlight lately. At what point, I wonder, might our collective values rise to a high enough level to affirm that freedom of speech was never intended as license to debase others — and ourselves?

The Bible calls the tongue a double-edged sword.

Baha’u’llah encouraged refraining from idle talk, reminding that, “the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison.

Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.”

There’s one childhood memory that continues to serve as a reminder about policing my speech. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summ (13)

My best friend’s father was one of my favorite people, the quintessential great dad. He was kind, soft-spoken, gently humorous and thoughtful. A hard-working man with a big family, he always made time to interact with his kids and their friends, whether drawing caricatures of us as we watched, giggling, or hunkering down his 6-foot-6-inch frame to help us construct the miniature villages that took over his living-room floor. Whenever he spoke with me, as he always made time to do, I felt supremely special, as though I truly mattered.

One day, this kind dad gave me a real gift, even though it felt like something quite different at the time. I was riding in the back seat of his wood-paneled station wagon after he picked up a small gang of us from a Girl-Scout party. We were all comparing the gifts we’d drawn in the gift exchange, and I wasn’t very happy with mine. When one of my peers leaned over and observed under her breath that someone had obviously spent the low end of the price range for it, I felt license to begin holding forth on how worthless and disappointing it was and how unfair that I got it. I was probably enjoying my companions’ attention as I bewailed my plight and began berating both the gift and the giver. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summ (32)

I’ll never forget the look in that dad’s eyes as they met mine in the rear-view mirror and he said evenly but firmly, “Hey now, that’s enough.” I’d never heard this man raise his voice, and he didn’t this time — just set an unmistakable limit. Although I wanted to disappear in that moment, I’m as thankful today for this unexpected disciplinary action as I am for the hundreds of kindnesses he bestowed on me.

Knowing that he was disappointed and displeased with my behavior had an enormous impact on me. I was stunned and then, appropriately, embarrassed and remorseful.

He didn’t need to point out things like how potentially hurtful what I was saying was, how the donor of that gift could have been sitting in the car, for all I knew. Awareness of all of this came very quickly once I was jolted out of my little rant. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summe (3)

All he had to tell me, this man whose opinion I cared about so much, was that it was time to stop, with four words that changed my life forever. He spoke up when my behavior was eroding into meanness and helped set a limit for me that has somehow become internally reinforcing. I believe that he helped activate my healthy sense of shame, and I’m eternally grateful.

Obviously, we’re responsible first for our own behavior. But what kind of change might we effect if, as adults, we accept the role and authority that maturity supposedly confers and determine to intervene and intercept that deadly poison of hurtful speech, even if it’s awkward to do so?

Some people I know creatively interrupt such things by leaving the room, creating a distraction, or changing the subject.

KBb5664cfca316d0ef0b0103802430026aThe always-thoughtful Kindness Blog is posting installments called The Year of Speaking Kindly. As I take more responsibility for the power of speech, I’m finding it a helpful companion:

http://kindnessblog.com/2015/01/02/the-year-of-speaking-kindly-day-2-by-mike-oconnor/

coverthumbBlog post adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details –

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=16JVJ8Z8AKN1RT1M5ZMV


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The Light keeps a place for each of us

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

For two years in a row, I had the pleasure of wandering around the fairy-tale scenes of Germany in Advent. It’s a time full of the beauty and light that the Solstice brings, even as it’s paradoxically the time when our ancestors huddled near fires hoping their stored-up harvest would last long enough.

One December day, I made my way to the market I purposefully frequent for my own supplies. It’s a store that probably would have been put out of business by the much larger one built on the edge of town recently were it not for the one resource it provides that the other behemoth cannot: community.

Kauf2Every employee, without fail, says hello, even shares a thought or remark that invites conversation.

The aisles are narrow, yet we all seem to be able to find what we seek and, as if by tacit, unspoken agreement, move thoughtfully, so there never seems to be jostling or haste. Shoppers go to the larger store, if they’re looking for those things.

Customers wait patiently in the single check-out line, actually talking to each other, as the cashier assists the pensioner who moves quite slowly, and then forgets to retrieve his cane.

A young man leaves his place in front of me to run after him with it.

I watch their silent exchange outside through the window behind the cashier, who has also stopped to watch, along with the mother and toddler who are next in line.

Nobody seems to mind that this incident has brought everything to a halt.2501c71da8c20a0d6985117771781830

The old man’s face first looks startled, then lights like a sun. For an instant, it’s a boy’s face again.

The young man looks modest, then happy.

They part with a wave.

Seconds later, he reappears inside the store just as I’m arriving at the cashier. He shows no sign of expecting anything other than heading to the end of the line.

I have so little German – mainly a smile, and enough words to thank him, and tell him that his place in line has waited for him, right here, as I point in front of me.

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

His face is a precise reflection of that sun in the old man’s.

My heart feels as though all time, and all happiness, are here with us in the perfect oneness of this moment. There is enough light in us never to leave anyone in the dark, nor cold or hungry, or lonely or forgotten.

What a bonus comes home with my shopping bags – the very Spirit of the Christkind, the Christ Child.

It didn’t cost me a thing. Yet how much poorer I’d feel without it.


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The remedy still resides in us

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Photo: David Campbell / http://GBCTours.com

My thanks to BoomerCafe for including a piece of mine this week:

Thirteen years ago, my father and I were reminiscing about his years in Civil Defense after a 22-year Army career, my mother’s experience during the London Blitz in World War II, and the incredible good that terrible times can uncover in people.

Then, as we were passing through Atlanta on I-75, we spied an electronic highway message board that read: “National Emergency — All Airports Closed.” As the car radio revealed a cascade of events too large to grasp, I experienced a feeling of smallness and vulnerability unlike any I remember as all my illusions of safety came down at once, like those two destroyed skyscrapers.

Four days later, after a Category 3 hurricane had made landfall near my dad’s Florida home and I’d truly begun to wonder whether the world was coming to an end, I took my place in a blocks-long line at Tampa’s International Airport. I was praying this might be the day I’d finally be able to get home to New Hampshire, on one of the very first flights in the country after eerily quiet days of empty skies.

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Photo courtesy Jen Verhelle

Every single child I saw that day looked scared. Most of the younger ones clutched their backpacks like stuffed animals, if they didn’t happen to be holding those, too. Their parents looked grim, if not equally frightened.

One boy of about 9, who, with his parents and younger brother was waiting to board the same plane I was, seemed unable to contain his terror. His plaintive sounds were agonizing, perhaps because so many of us also had them muffled way down deep. His parents, exhausted after days of canceled flights — a trip to Disney World that had become a nightmare from which they couldn’t seem to awaken — were doing their best to calm him, with no effect.

Gradually, others stepped forward to try, including airline employees. Obviously a polite child, he would hear them out, but then his sobs and agitation returned. He was convinced that if he got on that airplane, on any airplane, he was going to die.

Read the rest at: http://www.boomercafe.com/2014/09/11/remembering-9-11-importance-family

 

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Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details: 

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

 


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The diamonds of spiritual treasure

I am grateful for a Guest Post from author Ron Tomanio, adapted from his

Walking the Mystical Path with Practical Feet series:

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Surviving Difficult and Painful Events – Unearthing the Diamonds Within

“The Great Being saith: Regard man as mine rich in gems of inestimable value.” Baha’u’llah

We see sparkling diamonds that have been cut and polished without giving a lot of thought to the difficult mining process that produced such beauty. Unearthing spiritual diamonds can also be a difficult process, but results in fully rounded wondrous qualities that have existed in a state of potentiality within us since the moment of our creation.

If we are fortunate, we have some friends who live lives of beauty every day. Sometimes we are able to know the difficult and painful events that have shaped them, but more often we see, like the diamonds in a jewelry store, only the finished product.Untitled1

One such friend was Larry Akeley. Larry’s father was an engineer who had great expectations that his son would follow in his footsteps by pursuing an engineering degree. Larry tried, he really tried, but God did not endow him with that sort of mind. He dropped out of college and his father was furious. He told Larry, “You’re no son of mine!”

This comment crushed Larry and he spiraled downhill, falling every way an individual can fall—drugs, nervous breakdown. and finally, homelessness that led him to live in the New-Hampshire woods in an abandoned cabin. The day came when he decided to choose quick suicide over slow suicide. His plan was to walk out of the woods to the main road turn right and meet up with other drug-users living in the woods and take an overdose. He stood at the crossroads and for reasons he didn’t understand, chose to turn left and away from taking his life, at least for the moment. He had no plan beyond putting one foot in front of the other.

An elderly woman stopped and offered him a ride. He was stunned, but he accepted. She offered to take him to her home where she gave him some of her son’s clothes and allowed him to use her shower. She gave him a hot meal, and hope, and they became lifelong friends.

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Photos: David Campbell / GBCTours.com

Decades went by and Larry’s father developed dementia. His mother became the primary caregiver until she passed away. Then Larry helped take care of his father like the elderly lady took care of him years earlier. Toward the end of his father’s life the nursing home insisted on strapping his father to the bed at night because he would roll out of bed and hurt himself. Seeing his father restrained in this way bothered the soft-hearted Larry. His solution was to sleep at night on the floor next to his father’s bed and let his father fall on his soft, cushy belly.

Because he was willing to let his experience help mine his inner diamonds, Larry accessed the educational aspects of his difficult experience while avoiding its potentially destructive aspects. He let it break open his heart, developing facets of the qualities of love and forgiveness that he might not otherwise have acquired.

Larry’s own life came to its end just a few years later. The brilliance of his spiritual transcendence still shines brightly for those of us who knew him here, and love him still.


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A first teacher’s gifts

Mum     Remembering Peggy Wilson Edgerly

     My mother didn’t have a “real” birthday except during leap years, which means that when her death certificate recorded her age as 80, she was still technically only 21. 

     In the months before the sudden heart attack that ended her earthly life, there were beginning to be discernible signs of age, such as the slight bend in her slender frame. But the challenge her grey-blue eyes tossed back at the world, even then, always made her seem like a feisty young adult. And whatever her age, she was always an initiator of welcoming hospitality and reaching out to others.

     Mothers truly are our first teachers, which may explain why we can feel so inexplicably alone once they’re gone. With each passing year, so much of what I value can be traced back to my mother, a military spouse whose life didn’t turn out anything like her 21-year-old self imagined it would.

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Buttermere Lake, photo: Kathy Gilman

     During the years my dad was at war, my young British war-bride mother held down the fort in her family’s home not far from England’s Lake District. She cared for my newborn older sister, along with an elderly relative in the last stages of cancer, plus several children who’d been evacuated from London. Somehow, she also found time to hook rugs to generate income to compensate for the meager wartime rations on which her crowded household had to subsist.

     Having been a young mother myself, I now wonder how she ever found the time to do these things — that she took in those young evacuees at all. She knew, however, what kind of life they’d face back home in the city during wartime, because her young face already wore nasty scars from her service as a fire warden during the infamous “Blitzkrieg.”

     If anyone modeled for me how to welcome change gracefully, it was my mother, who came to a new culture to meet her Boston-Irish in-laws, then proceeded to make a home for her family — over and over — in locations all over the world. Her dedicated “nesting” efforts gave every place we lived that consistent feeling of home, however often we were uprooted and forced to start over.

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Photo: Lara Kearns

     Life in a military family meant I had to keep making new friends, and my mother, as with most everything, encouraged me in this endeavor and did her best to turn it into an adventure. She made it easier to nurture friendships by always welcoming playmates at our house and utterly charming them with her warmth. (They usually loved her accent, too.) Friends still talk about how inviting it was at our house, while I grew up believing that’s how it was everywhere.

     Because she was such a canny yet unobtrusive ally in assisting our friendships, my sister and I now find it easy to make friends wherever we go, to be the one to go talk to someone standing alone at a party, as we often saw her do. With her lively mind, she always had friendly, interesting questions that would gently coax people into the nicest conversations, even if she had to ask them in a language she was struggling to learn.

     Long before the days of what the sixties would label Women’s Lib, military spouses like her were already demonstrating women’s versatility and capability, strong models for their daughters — and sons. When you’re so often the only parent on the scene, there’s simply no room for the kind of thinking that’s limited by gender bias.

     Among other invaluable gifts, she was able to listen in a way that made you feel that hearing you was the most important thing in the world. She also taught me how to value and use my own time — not just to be efficient and accomplish things, important as that is, but to also savor and enjoy something worth enjoying.

     It makes me more than a little sad that I recognize these things now that she isn’t here to thank in person. “A father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world,” the Bahá’í writings acknowledge. “Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children. Therefore, children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence, and must implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents.”

     After my mother’s death, the one thing I heard most consistently from the many who loved her was how much kindness she’d always shown them. Thus, it’s quite clear how I can best honor her memory. Her modeling of kindness and generosity is likely the most important lesson my first teacher ever gave me.

     So, thanks for everything, Mum. You’ll always be twenty-one to me. 51D7zcqZNML._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-62,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

 

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_title_0/181-3985550-8507050 


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My first teacher is still 21

Photo on 2-17-14 at 7.48 PM #2My mother didn’t have a “real” birthday except during leap years, which means that even when her death certificate recorded her age as 80, she was still technically only 21.

Mothers truly are our first teachers, which may explain why we can feel so inexplicably alone once they’re gone. With each passing year, so much of what I value can be traced back to my mother, a military spouse whose life didn’t turn out anything like her 21-year-old self imagined it would.

MumDuring the years that the war ravaged Europe, my young British war-bride mother held down the fort in her family’s home in England’s remote north. She cared for my newborn older sister, along with an elderly relative who was in the end stage of cancer, plus several children who’d been evacuated from London. Somehow, she also found time to hook rugs in order to generate income to compensate for the meager wartime rations on which her crowded household had to subsist. She had compassion for those young evacuees, both because they’d had to leave their families, and because she knew the life they’d face back home. Her own face already wore nasty scars from her service as a fire warden during the infamous “Blitzkrieg.”

If anyone modeled for me how to welcome change gracefully, it was this woman who came to a new culture to meet her Boston-Irish in-laws, then proceeded to make a home for her family—over and over—in locations all over the world, wherever her husband’s military orders took us next. Her dedicated “nesting” efforts gave every place we lived that consistent feeling of home, however often we were uprooted and forced to start over.

Schwan73586_10201817493622394_728135709_nLife in a military family meant I had to keep making new friends and my mother, as with most everything, encouraged me in this and did her best to turn it into an adventure. She made it easy to nurture friendships by always welcoming playmates at our house and charming them with her warmth. (They usually loved her accent, too.)

Because she was such a canny yet unobtrusive ally in assisting our friendships, my sister and I now find it easy to make friends wherever we go, to be the one to go talk to someone standing alone at a party, as we often saw her do. With her lively mind, she always had friendly, interesting questions that would gently coax people into the nicest conversations, even if she had to ask them in a language she was struggling to learn.

Long before the days of what would come to be called Women’s Lib, military spouses were already demonstrating versatility and capability, offering strong models for their children. Their spouse’s presence was often shadowy and intermittent, which tended to make these wives adaptable and decisive, and give their children resilience, as well. That’s very likely why I wound up marrying the son of such a mother.IMG_0433

Among her many gifts, my mother was able to listen in a way that made you feel as though listening to you at that moment was the most important thing in the world, the only thing in her world. She also taught me how to value and use my own time—not just to be efficient and accomplish things, but also savor and enjoy something worth enjoying.

“A father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world. Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children,” the Bahá’í writings acknowledge. “Therefore, children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence, and must implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents.”

After my mother’s death, the one thing I heard most consistently from the many who loved her was how much kindness and help she had always shown them. It’s very clear, therefore, how I can best honor her memory. Her kindness and generosity are the most important lessons my first teacher ever gave me.

So, thanks for everything, Mum. You’ll always be twenty-one, to me.

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Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

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