May 222014
 

There are moments that emerge unexpectedly that remind me to slow and be witness to miracles.

Many years ago, I published an interview with a favorite author, Peter Block. One of the most touching moments came when I asked about his children. He said, “I always knew that the kids were the most important thing that would ever happen to me in my life. And If I was ever going to witness a miracle it was watching them grow up.”

At the time my own children were…still children. Today, as they continue to find their paths into the world, I have a much more vivid interpretation of Peter’s words. I woke this morning to a text from my daughter, Kathryn, with an attached picture. She said…Necklace

10 years ago, you bought me a beautiful and unexpected present for my 8th grade graduation. Today, I wore the same necklace to receive my Masters degree from John’s Hopkins! Thanks for everything dad. I love you.

I am reminded of a letter I wrote to her when she participated in a Kairos retreat in high school. The words I was given are truer today than when I wrote them so many years ago…

Why is your presence in my life a miracle? How else can you describe the flowering of someone so beautiful from soil that so often seems coarse and arid? As hard as I have tried, as much as I wished to be a perfect parent, I grieve over the endless times I failed. I am saddened by the hundreds of times you longed only for a listening and compassionate ear, and I found it necessary instead to attempt to fix or teach. I lament how often the stress of my life intruded on yours in the form of unjustified anger and frustration. I mourn the lost opportunities when a different kind of attention would have nourished you in more abundant ways. And yet, in spite of my failings, you emerge as a caring, compassionate, fervent young woman. Beauty is always a miracle. Too often we simply fail to take the time to sit quietly and be witness to it.

I am thankful every day for David and Kathryn, and that I was chosen to help shepherd them into this world. But days like today remind me to sit quietly and simply be witness.

Oct 292012
 

 

No matter what tragedy people are experiencing, their suffering is alleviated when they learn that others are standing with them. Some of my best teachers of this truth have been younger leaders. One in her twenties said, “How we are going is important, not where. I want to go together and with faith.”*
Many years ago, when our son was just a tyke, we visited a popular Renaissance Faire. Parking was difficult, forcing us to park on a muddy incline. As we tried to leave, the car became hopelessly mired, and I became frightened I would be unable to get it out. Before long my fear turned to frustration and then anger. David, who was strapped into a car seat in the back, began to cry and received the brunt of my emotion. We eventually extracted the car. On the way home, I fretted about my inability to control my emotions and the destructive nature of my words to the son I loved so much. When we arrived home, I pulled him aside and said, “David, next time this happens if you try not to get upset, I will try not to get so frustrated.” He turned to me and said, “Dad, next time let’s not park in the mud!”
I am happy to report that in more than 20 years since that afternoon, I have managed to avoid muddy embankments. I wish I could report similar success in avoiding being ambushed by my emotions. While I have managed on occasion to set initial conditions for the future based on compassion, caring, love and faith, I have, far too many times seeded it with my lesser self. Too often I have faced the world and allowed my insecurities about who I am to unleash fear, frustration and anger…and in doing so, have left those in my wake feeling less.
After apartheid ended in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed to heal the nation through restorative justice as oppose to retributive justice. Victims and perpetrators faced one another. Victims told stories of the horrors they faced, and in many cases, those responsible admitted to their failing, regret and sorrow. Time and time again, victims reported great joy at being deeply heard, and sought no retribution. In the spiritual traditions of Hawai’i, Ho’oponopopo is a process to move beyond violations of the human spirit through forgiveness and reconciliation as opposed to retribution.
Our actions change the future, but over time and distance we can never predict its trajectory. The same is true for the emotions with which we germinate the future. Every change in initial conditions reverberates through the interconnected web of relationships that make up the complex adaptive system we refer to as Pacha Mama. And while I wish I had never parked on that muddy embankment, the fact that I did would have receded from memory many years ago had it not been for the way I did violence to my son. I grieve to this day for my inability to avoid that quagmire, and my inability to seed the future with forgiveness and reconciliation. David deserved better…and so did I.

So Far From Home by Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2012
Aug 152012
 

 

I have been reading Choosing Gratitude: Learning to Love the Life You Have, a wonderful new book by a favorite author, James Autry. He penned an essay entitled “To Serve & Protect” in which he speaks of the difficulties of the honorable profession of being a police officer. In my work related to suicide prevention I have come to learn, as a group, they face one of the highest suicide rates of any profession…the reasons are numerous and complex. In 2007 and 2008, the City of Batavia lost two officers to suicide. Below are words I discovered to honor them.
 
It’s too late to thank Mike Rappley and Carl Ensign, members of the Batavia Police Department, who, for reasons we will never fully understand, found their lives so unbearable that they chose to end them.
In the wake of their deaths, I have been thinking about ways I silently mistreat the men and women whose lives revolve around the simple pledge to “serve and protect.” In fulfilling this sacred oath, they often find themselves in the position of interrupting the normal flow of life—stopping me for a violation or redirecting a trip home to deliver me safely past an accident or construction project. And when that interruption impacts my life, they are too often the recipients of my frustration and anger.
Years ago, I spent time with an officer in his patrol car. In those hours, there wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to affirm him for his work. In fact, since his time was spent inserting himself between the lawful and unlawful sides of our society—facing only the unlawful side—I couldn’t imagine when a kind word or a simple thank you would be part of his job. These servants typically face only danger, sadness and criticism. They halt dangerous practices in the community, end domestic disputes and wake us in the middle of the night when a loved one is lost to one of life’s many tragedies. We have even come to rely on them to resolve neighborhood disagreements we have become too timid to face personally.
The word respect is based on a root that means to look. Re-spect means to “look again.” We respect another when we take off our blinders—reflect on our biases and limited interpretations of life—and look with fresh eyes at who they really are. Since Carl’s death, I have been trying to show my respect for the men and women of the Batavia Police Department by looking again at the many things they do to make this community a safe and magnificent place to live.
So, to every member of the Department, even if you cannot see it next time I pass you on the street, know that I will be saluting you for all you do. Thank you.
 
Post Script…to this day, four years later, I still salute every police officer I encounter.
Apr 192010
 

It is a common aphorism in Buddhism: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. But being ready, and recognizing the teacher in your midst, is often difficult—especially when you are blinded by emotion, and it takes humility and forgiveness to restore your sight.

Recently, Judi and I attended a week long Hawaiian music festival on the island of Hawaii. The hulas, music, chanting and dress were nothing short of stunning. But it was in the midst of the magic that events conspired—and an unlikely teacher was sent—to teach me how the world is so often different than I first perceive it.
Just before the festival began, I left my seat to purchase a program. When I tried to return to my seat, moments after the opening ceremony commenced, a stern-looking, Hawaiian security guard tied a rope across the stairway and told me the stairs were closed. When I asked how I could get back to my seat to see the show, I’m sure my frustration was apparent. In the pidgin-English so common in Hawaii, he said “When it ova” and his gaze and posture showed he was not about to be intimidated. Twenty minutes later, when the opening ceremony was “ova,” they lowered the rope at the stairway to my left. The guard, who stood eye-to-eye with me, indicated his stairway was for exiting only by pointing me to the other set of stairs. I rolled my eyes and begrudgingly followed his directions…but I was more than a little upset.
My Hawaiian partner in this dance of power had a graying ponytail, leather hat and leather vest…I was certain his motorcycle sat waiting for him out back. Judging from the look on his face, he seldom smiled and, I surmised, had been granted little in the way of a sense of humor. He was certainly not someone with whom I would want to spend any protracted period of time. Part of my frustration stemmed from my being intimidated…it was clear he could win any power struggle and I felt inferior.
I spent much of that first night angry. He certainly did not treat me in the spirit of “Aloha,” the Hawaiian approach to welcome and hospitality. I made a mental list of the ways he could have better responded to my needs as I stood as the guest in his presence.
The second evening I had overcome my anger and began to realize the festival was correct to honor the opening ceremony by not allowing the disruption of people entering late. Nonetheless, I was happy to discover the guards changed stations and I did not have to face my nemesis.
The third night, he was back, but I managed to get to my seat without being noticed. But, as I sat in the bleachers awaiting the final hours of the festival, I realized I was in pain—my frustration and unwillingness to view the world through his eyes had left a wound in the human family. Then I recalled a phrase from the book, Effective Apology by John Kador: “When the relationship is more important than being right.” In that moment, even though my relationship with the guard was temporary, unless I acted, it would remain with me as an emotional scar. Repairing it became more important than finding a way to extract some amount of emotional compensation. I left my seat to search out the man who was to become, in the next moment, my teacher. He recognized me immediately. He looked at me, not knowing what to expect. I held out my hand, looked him in the eye and said, “I was frustrated the other night, and treated you badly. You did not deserve it and I am sorry.” In the next moment, the brightest smile broke across his face. This very stern Hawaiian was smiling and shyly looking at the floor…he suddenly found it difficult to face me. “It’s no problem!” he said as he warmly shook my hand.
So what did he arrive to teach? I learned much from this simple teacher, but the lesson that feels most humbling was about my prejudices. Prejudice simply means to pre-judge. On that third night, when he looked at me with that very genuine, gentle smile I realized that I had not allowed this very human of beings to fully show up in my world. I had placed him in a box into which he certainly did not belong. I also learned that generosity and kindness are sincerely returned, often when you least expect it.