The human chain of life

I had a dream, under a cloud be-speckled blue sky

that we all joined hands
with our nearby neighbors,
to the right and to the left,
whose opinions, possibly,
probably, almost certainly,
differ from our own.

Me with thee and thee with thou
until we reached the end of the lane,
the boundaries of the neighborhood,
the extent of the town, 
the limits of the principality, 
across the borders of countries,
over the oceans, lakes and rivers
until we encircled the world.

We formed a human chain 
spanning races, nations, cultures,
crossing opinion, without distinction 
... gradually, 
incrementally, 
hardly noticeably;
bridging every gap,
    grip by grip,
person by person.

No one concerned about
contaminating viruses 
sticky fingers 
or dirt under the fingernails.

So grateful were we 
for the touch of another human, 
we gave no thought to 
where the chain would lead,
how or where it would link up
with the other side
on the other side 
because there would be no other side.

Just the one continuous connection.
Incremental effort,
tugging us in 
each others' direction,
extended arms 
encircling Mother Earth.

She, who has the final word;
Her Pull is the gravitational hug that grounds me, 
as the strength of connection tugs me
toward you on my right and you on my left --
and you toward your neighbor,
whose hands you hold
for the sake of all life.

kicking and kicking but going nowhere?

I’ve never been much of a flutter-kicker. More of an arm-stroker. But when the masters swim workout calls for 100m freestyle kick, well, you kick. And it feels like an eternity to the other end.

Some people seem to have the gift of flutter-kicking, propelling themselves along like a speed boat powered by an outboard motor. Me? I’m more of a putterer. Not for want of effort, mind you. I’ll churn up a wake like nobody’s business and go NOWHERE!

Which is a bit embarrassing, especially if the people who share your lane are either piling up behind you or catching you up and tugging on your feet so they can pass.

Fortunately, today I had my very own lane. So when the workout called for a 100 meter kick, I aimed my kick-board dutifully toward the opposite end of the pool and set off with a mighty push from the wall. Momentum is underrated when you’ve an entire pool ahead of you and a kick like mine.

Now, I’d like to say that today I surprised myself with my torpedo-like speed, but I did not. No, I was much more like the Little Engine That Could. In fact, at times it was only the changing colors on the lane rope that convinced me I was moving at all.

Four navy, three black. Four navy, three black. Four, three. Four. Three.

Isn’t that how days feel sometimes? Like we’re kicking and kicking and going nowhere? Funny how something as simple as a friendly lane rope — which really is going nowhere — can reassure us that we’re actually making forward progress. And that, in the end, is all we really need to know.

….kick on, my friends. Before we know it, we’ll be there.

The day God danced, too

It’s been raining for days and days and days. The sky gray with clouds. Puddles turning to ponds in the backyard. The bluebirds have sought shelter. Even the ducks swimming in the pond out back dart this way and that, pelted by the deluge that lessens then grows but just won’t give up.

I confess my mood falters with the growing gloom. Damp like the pages of the magazine that had the misfortune to be left outside on the screened in porch. When will it stop? When can I go outside? Where is the sun, the warmth, the inhale of clean breath I remember from a day so long ago?

Wait. What’s that? Could it be? It is! The glow of sunshine through the window. Throw open the shutters. Oh my goodness, run out in the yard, skip to the mailbox, spin in circles. Gather the whole 360. It has NEVER felt so good to be in a new day!!

Ahhh, I write on my chalk message board. Who can think of anything better to say?

Thank you, Thursday, for being gorgeous. Clear and sunny. Not a drop of humidity. Perfect temperature. As if this day was made strictly to my very own specifications.

… For a moment, I feel guilty for loving the day so much. I mean really, there are many days much like this in central Florida. There they awake to sunshine, yawn and go on about their business. Treating each day pretty much like the rest, one day indistinguishable, from the other. In the constancy, they are unaware of their good fortune. But today here in Virginia, I celebrate…

And then, for a glancing moment — really a split second — I look up in my reverie and wonder if this might be the way it happens up there in the heavens amongst the onlooking saints. That the day-by-day good-doers are applauded as one would a Florida day, unsurpassed but unsurprising, while the day-by-day sin-committers — the ones trudging through the driving rain, soaked to the skin, clouded over and covered in mud…

Oh, on that day! The day they see the light and turn their face to it, now THAT is a day like today. A run, skip and twirl kind of day. A day God dances in the driveway, too.

When the stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Cornerstone of a movement
Catapulter of a cause,
Motivator of a people.

Launch point of a mission,
Rally cry of the populous,
Mainstay of the faithful.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Product of his hometown;
Tethered to his past,
Kept from his future.

Where did he come from?
Who were his teachers?
Where was his father?
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
He was tall, they say,
Dark-skinned, bearded,
Active, even athletic.

Son to a loving mother
Friend to many
Known in his hometown.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Read his Bible,
Found peace there.
One of the flock, but lost his way. 

Moved to a new town
Looking for a new start
Tether of the old life proved too strong.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Remembered... mostly 
For the way he died:
How he suffered,
How he called out,
giving up his spirit, at the last.
Come to me, 
all you who are weary and burdened
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you
 and learn from me,
For I am gentle and humble in heart,
 and you will find rest for your souls.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

You are of inestimable value

Tip-toeing along the forested trail with an early morning group of birders, I marveled at a ray of sun peeking through the canopy and illuminating the brush below. Binoculars at the ready, our small band had stopped to look and listen for the sounds of the small creatures around us. I became instantly aware of my own smallness in the midst of the magnificence of the natural world. There was only silence, but in that silence, I heard this:

You are of inestimable value, but you must diminish in self-importance.

I have to admit, this struck an immediate chord. Even among this little troupe I felt the need to be knowledgeable and capable; thus to demonstrate my value, I suppose. This became particularly and painfully evident to me among these experienced birders who knew much and didn’t feel the need to defend or withhold what they knew. They spotted and identified, not for show, but in order to point it out so that others could see it and learn to recognize it, too.

Bird identification, I have found, is quite a difficult skill. But it is one that can be learned over many hours of practice with a helpful mentor or teacher and a good bird book or two. The fact that you took an ornithology class with Dr. Byrd many years ago at William and Mary is nice but simply has no standing.

Still, in this moment of self-realization, I am also utterly assured of my inestimable value. Can I tell you I teared up a bit at this? It was okay to be less than; in fact, it would be necessary in order to claim my full value.

Shifting gears, here, but stick with me….

Upholding this new perspective on my return from the birding expedition, I felt inclined (nothing to lose!) to email the nationally known cookware retailer from whom I had purchased an expensive Christmas gift but which turned out to have a defective mechanism. We had only now (in May) had the opportunity to try it out and I no longer had the sales receipt, but I felt sure that upon hearing from a valued customer that this expensive item was defective they would surely make it right.

Well, a dozen emails later, including those with photos attached (per their request), the credit card statement indicating the date of sale, purchase price and the sales transaction number (also, requested), they ultimately and summarily declined to replace, repair or credit me for the item. Without a receipt, “they could not help me.” Their final word:

“I wanted to reach back out to you after I was advised by a member of Leadership on your situation. Regretfully, as was relayed to you previously, without proof of purchase we are unable to issue a replacement or a refund. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause. This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but I trust you understand that your request far exceeds our guarantee and return window. Thank you and please feel free to contact us with any other questions. ~ Warm regards, Heather M., Customer Service

Warm regards, eh? But yes, I was asking them to forgo their usual policy in a gratuitous act of kindness and generosity they were not prepared to offer. I did now own $145.00 worth of beautifully hand-crafted Italian wood salt and pepper shakers that are completely useless. They made it clear that I have no right to ask for special exceptions; I am not that important.

And fortunately, having just embraced both my inestimable value and my need to diminish in self-importance, I was able (barely) to quench my desire to shoot back an email to this customer service representative threatening never to shop at this store again and to tell my friends the same and to post this on FB and twitter and perhaps contact the Better Business Bureau. As you can see, my dark, self-important side gave it a good run.

The truth is: the store was within their rights to deny my request. The bigger truth is: doing what you have the right to do isn’t always the right thing to do.

The newly humbled me did send a conciliatory email reply, thanking Heather M for looking into this for me and assuring her that next time I would try out my purchase right away and be sure not to misplace the receipt. Killing them with kindness didn’t get me a refund either.

But whoa, this interchange sure offered me an up-close look at my relationship with my own self-importance (aka pride) and how it can control me. I am not so important that I can make demands or expect special consideration. My ability to spend does not earn me extra attention. My status does not earn me exemption from the rules or excuse me from honoring the stated policy.

And while we’re at it, the One who established my value seemed to say, you are not too important to clean toilets or change diapers. Nor to do the dishes and take out the trash. Nor to teach special needs children, nor university students nor be President. Your value is, and must by rights be, separate from all these things. My sole responsibility in all circumstances is to do my part. My opportunity: to live the life I’m capable of. My calling: to do it all without drawing attention to myself. God is good with that.

When I am keenly aware of my inestimable value which cannot be diminished by any earthly thing, I don’t waste time buffing up my importance or defending it to others. I am nothing and that’s the starting point for everything.

Now I have a pair of useless salt and pepper shakers as a daily reminder. Maybe I’ll take them apart and see if I can get them to work right. Got nothing to lose.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11
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