2012 is brought to you by the word New

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For years, I was one of the many who set New Year’s Resolutions that would evaporate by about February 8th – if they lasted that long at all. I let life get in the way, or I set goals so lofty that it would take superhuman powers and a bottomless checking account to achieve them. Also, there’s a chance that deep down, these were not the goals I wanted to achieve anyway.

Last year, a friend of mine told me about Christine Kane’s “Word of the Year” Resolution Revolution and for me, it made better sense. Choose a word as your guide for the year. It’s the tone or theme of your year.

What is missing from your life? What do you have too much of?  How do you deal with those things you know on a practical level you need to change? For some people, a single word occurs quickly. For others, it requires a period of stillness and contemplation.

As a writer, I appreciate the power and subtlety of individual words. There’s a difference between “sparkle” and “shimmer.” Between “foggy” and “hazy.”  Between “patience” and “perseverance.” Someone’s eyes can be “brown” or “the color of hot tea” (and if they’re “the color of iced tea,” that implies something else again). Choosing the right word – the one that resonates with your needs, desires, goals, and dreams – can be a powerful guide.

Last  year, I chose Trust. I’d tried to conquer Fear, to will myself to not be afraid of failure, success, or stagnation, with little success. I realized the opposite of Fear was Trust. I needed to Trust God (which was another step on my journey to recover faith), Trust Myself (I am my own worst enemy at times), and Trust the Process (the process of living, the process of taking life as it comes and not trying to control it).

I’m no Trust expert. I still wrestle with it. I hate being wrong, so I don’t always trust myself to make a decision. I don’t like having things out of my control or not being able to turn to the end of the story and see who lives happily ever after. But God and I have a better relationship. And it makes the other stuff easier to deal with. Focusing on Trust in 2011 made a big difference in how I approach opportunities, challenges, and obstacles. Trust is becoming a habit.

This gives me confidence to choose another word for 2012. I could stick with Trust and work on cultivating it a little more, but I’ve grown comfortable enough with the willingness to make mistakes and forsake control that I want to move on.

When I shake up the snowglobe of my life, I see several words floating around inside: adventure, laughter, joy, harmony, exploration, experiment, glow, commit, challenge, spirit.

“… A word, however, contains energy, images and meaning. These are things our hearts and souls get excited about. And this is how transformation begins…” ~ Christine Kane

As I contemplated my Word for 2012, I realized that the seeds for it had been planted already in the last half of 2011. I realized what my heart and soul got excited about:

Anything NEW.

My interpretation of NEW for 2012 is to “experience new things.” Take new classes (stained glass, landscaping, kettle bell, maybe yoga or tai chi), visit new places (the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the alpaca farm in Michigan), do things that are new to me (participate in a mission trip, learn to install ceramic tile), or just experiment with other creative pursuits (painting, making necklaces and bracelets, music).

Cultivating Trust last year led to a number of new experiences and I realized how valuable they are for fueling creativity, and for fueling my true Self.

In 2012, seeking the NEW will be my guide. My goal is not to do things perfectly, but to do things for the enjoyment and the experience. It might wind up being messy, awkward, or difficult, but I might also make a new friend, reconnect with an old one, or create something beautiful for the world. We are not meant to watch life happen. We’re meant to be out in it.

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Breath Prayers: a flash fic photo challenge

She watched the neighborhood children laugh and run as the bubbles swirled in the sigh of a breeze.

The sun inched higher, closer to noon. She’d been sitting on this bench since dawn, unsure what to do with herself. Not used to solitude, but not wanting to be alone…or worse, feel lonely.

Two of the older girls blew through the wands, and the younger ones chased after the sparkling spheres, clapping hands to capture them, stepping on them when grape clusters of soap sank to the grass. One girl in a bright yellow dress and jet black hair, charged right through the middle of a bubble cloud, spinning to catch as many as she could with her body but her twirling only seemed to push them toward the sky.

She picked up her lukewarm cup of coffee for a sip. For something to do.

If I laugh, I’ll cry, and I’ll never stop. She swallowed everything and took a deep breath, followed by a slow exhale. Warm leaves and freshly cut grass lingered in her nose. Flowers popped in a rainbow of colors against evergreens and boxwood hedges. Somewhere overhead in the oak tree, a cardinal trilled.

“Hi!”

She startled at the perky voice next to her on the bench. It belonged to the girl in the yellow dress, who gazed up at her with a dimpled smile and bright green eyes.

“Hello.”

The child studied her for a moment, then said, “You know, my pastor says that we can use bubbles to pray. When you blow the bubbles, they float up to heaven so Jesus can hear them.” She unscrewed the lid of the bubble juice and fished out the sticky wand. “And the prayers are real simple and short. And all you have to do is blow.” She puckered, blew through the circle, and a river of bubbles of all sizes burst from the wand, catching the wind and swirling with pinks and purples in a beam of light.

Her heart skipped. And her eyes prickled.

“What…what did you just pray for, sweetie?”

“Oh, I said thank you for the sunlight, and for summer vacation.”  She blew again. “Thank you for my friend Stephanie.”  Another puff. “Thank you for my mom and dad and my dog.”  Another puff. “Take care of Mrs. Grady while she’s in the hospital.” Clouds of bubbles hovered around them before climbing for the sky.

The familiar knot lodged in her throat and she chased it away with the last of her coffee before trusting herself to speak.

“What happens if the bubble pops?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged, and stirred the soap with the wand. “I s’pose the prayer is inside the bubble, and if it pops, the prayer goes to heaven on its own.  Maybe the butterflies take it.”

“You’re very good with…bubbles.”

The girl grinned, “Thank you! You know, sometimes it’s easier to think a prayer than say it out loud.  Here. You try.” She held out the small blue bottle.

“Oh! No, I don’t…”  I don’t pray. Anymore. “…I don’t think I’d be very good at it.”

She giggled and rolled her eyes. “Grown-ups always say that. They say that about swinging on swings and hop scotch too. Jesus knows what’s in our hearts anyway, before we even say it.” Her gaze shifted toward her friends, who were running toward the playground. The girl hopped up to chase after them, but turned back, setting the bottle of bubbles on the bench. “You can keep that to practice.  I have lots of bubbles at home.  Bye!”

An odd stillness settled on her skin. No heat. No cold. Just an awareness of existence. Like her whole Self was waiting.

In her fingers, the small bottle weighed next to nothing. She held it to the light and saw, with surprise, that it was full. Slowly, she unscrewed the cap, and fished out the sticky, pink wand. She hesitated, and blew.

Three or four weak orbs drifted away and collapsed into nothingness.

Fine. Just proves I can pray till I’m blue in the face and it won’t matter.

Trying again, she blew harder. More bubbles this time, in chaotic clouds and different sizes.

What do you want me to say, Lord?

I’ve lost everything. What do I do now?

What am I going to do?

She kept trying, whispering breaths through the wand, as the knot in her throat and the ache in her chest expanded, and tears rained down her face.

Help me understand why this is happening.

Forgive me for any wrong I’ve done to deserve something like this.

I don’t want to hurt anymore.

Please, Jesus, make the pain stop.

Soon, all of her breath collected into sobbing.

“I miss him so much,” she whispered. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Sunlight cleared the branches and warmed her cheek as she watched the bubbles drift higher. Glints and sparkles penetrated her tears. It looked like a hand reaching out, scooping up the cloud of crystal prayers, and lifting them away.

And the more she cried, the lighter she felt, like she could follow them up on the breeze. The knots and aches were gone. Breathing felt like breathing should. It just was.

She looked toward the playground. The children, including the girl in the yellow dress, had gone.

The bottle of liquid – for all her desperate breath prayers – remained full.

She twirled the wand inside again, and blew gently.

Tell John I love him and I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore.

And…thank you for hearing me.


This is for the Week 11 Prompt of the Short Story Slam by Bluebell Books.

What Hope Looks Like

Children Walking on Trail

Image by vastateparksstaff via Flickr

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on my way to work.  I dropped my daughter off at daycare before the first plane struck. I did not have the radio on in the car, so it was a day like any other as far as I was concerned…sunny and clear and perfect.

I arrived at work in downtown Toledo.  Our receptionist looked pale and upset.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

The upset changed to surprise. “You haven’t heard yet?  You’d better go to the Fishbowl (our glass enclosed conference room). Everyone’s in there.”

I dropped my belongings at my cubicle on my way down the hall, thoughts racing. I feared something had happened to one of my coworkers. It was a small company and we were all pretty close.

Everyone was packed into the conference room, staring at a small color television.  It took a moment for my brain to process what my eyes saw.  Smoke billowed from one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

Someone said a plane had struck the tower.

What a horrible accident, I thought.

Minutes later,  the second plane slipped along the backdrop of blue sky, and disappeared as smoke and flames shot out the windows of the second tower.

No one breathed for a moment. No one could comprehend.

Then…reports of the Pentagon attack…and another plane hijacked. Things became clearer.

We were under attack.

In our corner of the world, sun shone between the buildings with a clear September day taking hold. A few hundred miles away, the lives of thousands had just ended. The lives of thousands more were turning inside out.

I remember Dave, one of my coworkers, was standing next to me in the hall outside the Fishbowl as we watched in disbelief as the first tower fell, followed by the second.

My first thought was, “Oh, my God – the firefighters.” When reports started coming in about the devastation, the loss of life, and the chaos on the ground, my second thought was…

“What the hell kind of a world am I raising a child in?”

My oldest daughter was four when the Towers collapsed, and Flight 93 plowed into a field, and the Pentagon was attacked.  She remembers a bit about that day, and she’s learned more about in the years since.  What I remember most is how she responded to the events.

I sat in the living room of our apartment, watching entirely too much CNN, waiting for someone to rationalize the events of the day away or at least convince us it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Except it WAS as bad as it looked and no one was going to be able to rationalize anything.

My daughter asked, “Mama, what happened? Why are you sad?”

I tried to think of a way to explain this that wasn’t going to frighten her too much or plant seeds of distrust.

I said, “Well…some men stole some airplanes and used them to attack other people. A lot of people died.”

“Why did they do that?”

“I’m not really sure, sweetie. Maybe they just didn’t like us because we don’t think like they do, and rather than try to understand, they decided to fight with us. You know how on the playground two kids might not like each other and they’ll start a fight?  Sometimes it’s easier to fight than to listen. I’m not saying that’s right…it just is.”

She thought about this for a minute, then said, “But why can’t they just hold hands till the bad feelings go away?”

That’s what hope looks like.  That’s why we raise children in this “Post 9/11 World.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9

My youngest, who is eight, has been hearing “9/11…9/11…9/11” all week. She was born nearly two years after and has no understanding of the events of that day. But earlier in the week, we did watch Engineering Ground Zero on Nova, about the construction of the new skyscraper and the memorial at One World Trade Center. I thought Michael Arad’s memorial design – two deep fountains in the footprints of the fallen towers – perfectly symbolized the gallons of tears and sweat poured out in the last ten years.

“Mama, what’s nine-eleven?”

Similar to what I’d said ten years ago, I replied, “Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York before you were born, and the buildings collapsed. Another plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, and the passengers of a fourth plane were very brave and kept the plane they were in from crashing into another building.”

I waited for the “why?” but instead she asked, “Did a lot of people die?”

“Yes.”

“Like, 40?”

Forty does sound like a lot.

“No, baby. Almost three-thousand.”  My heart hurt to have to say that, to inflict that kind of information on someone so kind-hearted and young.  This is the child who can go anywhere and have a friend within minutes. This is the child who will walk  up to anyone walking a dog and chat them up about the dog’s name and breed. This is the child who says hello to every baby and toddler in the supermarket.

But that’s what hope looks like.

Or as President William Jefferson Clinton once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right with America.”

What is right are our children. But they need us to teach them to look at the world with both open hearts and open eyes. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the events of 9/11 because it is a teaching tool for resiliency, sacrifice, and the speed at which life passes. It is a teaching tool for being proactive with life and for loving our neighbor.

On 9/11/2011, it’s hard not to remember smoke and flames and debris and fear. But we can also remember support, encouragement, determination, bravery, solidarity, and the fact that we are still here. So much as changed in ten years, and not all of it for the better. It seems, at times, that we were strongest in our weakest moments.

Where will we be in 2021? What does hope look like? How do we teach our children to learn from our mistakes?