Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Spring Cleaning Discovery

Spring has returned which meant I was doing foreign things last weekend - working in the yard and cleaning the garage rummaging through boxes of books and papers discerning what I no longer needed.  This process of sifting through the stuff of our lives is an important spiritual practice.  Not ony because letting go and saying goodbye is essential to making peace with life and death but because we never know what may lurk under the cobwebs to remind us what we most need to learn.  And you thought you were just spring cleaning!

One of the relics of my life I re-discovered was a paper I had written for a class I was taking in 1990.  The paper is titled "Don Southworth's Mission - June 31, 1990".  This five page paper, with the date that never happened, lays out my mission and purpose in life and my hopes, dreams and speculations about how my life will unfold.  Reading through the paper I am reminded of the ambitious and slightly naive 32 year old dreamer who wrote it.  Most of my professional and personal goals haven't happened the way I imagined.  I'm not yet a grandfather.  I never met my biological mother.  I am not retiring at the age of 55 with a net worth in seven figures.  I haven't published several books.  I am a minister.  My wife and I do tithe.  We have taken a trip to see the United States.  I have a college degree, in fact two of them.

While the particulars of my life haven't happened the way I hoped and imagined they would, I was struck by those things that haven't changed in over 20 years.  I wrote the paper looking forward imagining what my life would be like in six months, one year, five years, twenty years and when I die.  While many of my goals have changed the ones I have for when I die haven't.  "I will be remembered as a person who had integrity and helped many people.  My legacy will be that life is about crying a little, laughing a little, and mainly showing up."  I still hope that will be so.

The paper ends with a list titled: "The assessments of Don Southworth people will hold:"  Everyone of the seven goals on that list are as true today as they were on June 31, 1990.  I think there is a good chance that some of them might even be coming true.  I hesitate to list them because it feels a bit self-serving but maybe my list will inspire you to create your own.  The list isn't as important as the commitment and reminder it can be for creating and living the life we yearn to have.

  • He was dedicated to growth.  He constantly was learning and exploring the world around him.
  • He was honest and told the truth: about himself and those around him.
  • He was a man who lived and taught a message of love and spirituality to everyone he met.  He accepted others and learned from them.
  • He was a human being and made lots of mistakes however, he learned from them and kept his humility because of them.
  • He lived a life of harmony.  He knew how to work and play.
  • He was a great father and a loving husband.
  • He was happy and joyful and shared this with others.
  • The world was a little brighter place because he walked on the planet.
Reading the paper, and especially the things that haven't changed, reminds me of two old sayings, "God laughs when we make plans" and "When there is no vision the people perish."  It's good to make plans and have goals for our life.  They can help shape the trajectory of our lives and can provide inspiration and reminders of what we hope to be.  But we should hold them lightly.  I was struck in re-reading what I hope I will leave behind that there wasn't any mention of books or sermons or companies I have created or jobs I held.  Seems to me that's the way it should be.    

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Yahtzee Cup of Life

"We're all just seeds in God's hands...Where we land is sometimes fertile soil and sometimes sand." -- Kathy Mattea

I grew up living in the apartment across the hall from my grandmother and grandfather.  When I was in the second grade I lived with them for awhile when my mom was sick.  I think that was the first time I played Yahtzee.  Yahtzee is a dice game, a bit like poker, where the object is to use strategy and luck to score more points than your opponents.  My grandparents and I had hours of fun playing Yahtzee back in the day, as did my kids when they grew up and, when dad twists a few arms, sometimes today.  It is a simple game in an era of video games, Angry Birds and Words With Friends where no computer is needed.  Just five dice, a score pad, and a pencil - the dice cup is optional.

I can't remember the first time I realized that life is a lot like a Yahtzee cup.  I think it was when I was at a conference, meeting with a number of really cool people who I had never met before.  We were beginning a two-year class and had been randomly put together for one of the first assignments.  Before long we were sharing, thinking and connecting like old friends.  Strangers thrown together sharing a time in life, a Yahtzee cup if you will, that was virtually out of our control and yet was an opportunity to create something meaningful together.  I realized how often life is like that; we get to be with people "randomly" who we might fall in love with, create something amazing with or, simply, enjoy a few moments in time.

I was reminded of the Yahtzee cup the weekend before last when I attended a retreat sponsored by the Center for Courage and Renewal and facilitated by Parker Palmer and Marcy Jackson.  Parker has been one of my mentors and teachers over the years and I was nervous and a bit giddy to meet him.  He was one of my closest companions during my lowest days as he has written extensively about his bouts with depression with a poignancy and honesty that is rare to find.  He was everything I hoped he would be and more.  But I was in for a surprise, a surprise that one often finds in the Yahtzee cup of life.

The first evening of the seminar I noticed a woman in the class who looked familiar.  Her name didn't seem right but a trip to Google Friday night confirmed my suspicion.  It was one of my favorite country singers of all time, Kathy Mattea.  I listened to Kathy's song, Seeds, almost every day in 1996 when I was contemplating leaving the corporate world and entering seminary to pursue ministry.  The song inspired me and challenged me to look at my life to find the fertile soil and not the sand.  I overcame my feelings of awe on Saturday morning and invited Kathy to share a small group with me.  After our group discussion I told her about the difference she had made in my life and connected with her, during the rest of the weekend, not as a star-struck groupie but as someone who shared a hunger for learning and a deeper connection to the sacred.  She was everything I hoped she would be and more.

Parker and Kathy weren't the only "stars" in the class.  Each one of the 24 people in our circle were amazing people who were CEO's, homemakers, artists, educators and clergy who were stars in their own right.  One of the great lessons of the retreat for me was a reminder, maybe at a deeper level than I ever have realized before, that people who create great things and inspire others, especially me, are not all that different than anyone else.  And when I, when we, live from our deepest, most authentic calltrpreneur-self, we can do the same.

Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates.  I think I'd say it's like a Yahtzee cup.  By a combination of strategy and mainly luck we are thrown together with people we may or may not know, with a chance to make something beautiful and even surprising happen.  Maybe it's a piece of art, a new company, a deep friendship or a pair of aces.  Who knows?  Our job is to show up and play the game, taking as many rolls as we can knowing that the possibilities and consequences are often out of our hands.  We're all just seeds in God's hands...or dice in the Yahtzee cup of life.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Don - age 4 days.  As usual, with mouth open.

"Did you think the universe went through 20 billion years of work to create you if there was not a particular function that you - and only you - could do?" -- Brian Swimme

55 years ago today I entered this life.  Although I was there I don't remember much about the day.  Too bad.  I know that the day of my birth was a little more complicated than many.  The woman who carried me for nine months and gave birth to me made the decision to give me up for adoption.  I recently discovered she died in 2007.  I'm sorry I wasn't able to say thank you to her or my biological father, who died in 1967, in person.  My birth, I've been told, brought much joy to my mother and father who adopted me and took me home from the hospital.  On my good days I've returned my joy and gratitude to them and - hopefully - the rest of the world as well.  

I'm a big fan of birthdays.  I keep track of them.  I send emails and sing off-key renditions of Happy Birthday to tell people how glad I am they were born.  While I've always loved birthdays, I haven't always remembered what a gift it is to be alive.  Depression, addiction, and hopelessness has a way of doing that and I've suffered from all three at times in my life.  But not today.  Especially not today.  

They say that ministers have only two or three sermons in them that they dress up in different ways, with different stories but essentially say the same thing. I'm not sure I have two or three.  I might only have one.  That life is a gift, more precious and rare than any jewel or star in the universe.  That we must do all we can, getting all the help we can find, to celebrate and share that life.  A life that is like no other and, if we listen and pay attention, will call us to do something great.

If we believe that God is the reason for our creation, maybe it is easy for us to embrace the idea that each of us comes into the world not only unique but with a purpose, a calling to be and do something wonderful.  Now I believe in God, if God is the name for that which is greater than me and within me at work in the universe in mysterious ways I will never fully comprehend.  But when I think about the amazing miracle that life - and each one of us is - thinking that God is the reason I am here is too simple  compared to the bigger reality that Swimme alludes to.

Imagine everything that has had to happen in the two two, or twenty, billion years for us to be alive.  If that doesn't blow your mind I don't know what will.  Think of all the atoms and molecules that had to dance around just perfectly to come together as a human being.  Think of all the accidents and coincidences that had to happen just right for our great, great, great, great grandparents to meet and fall in love.  If you like math, factor that number by about a million for every generation on our family tree.  Infinity seems to be WAY too small a number.  Think about all those eggs and sperm who didn't want to get out of bed, so to speak, on the day of our conception, and think about those who did.  And think about everything that has happened to let you read these words anywhere in the world, whenever you wish.  Wow!

There was a time in my life when I would imagine the speck of sand I was in the vast history of the universe and I would feel small, even meaningless.  Humility is an attribute to cultivate in life; worthlessness is not.  It's sad to think how long it takes for so many of us to learn this and how some never do.  It took a community, in fact several of them, to learn this and to keep reminding me. 

This morning my email box is filled with birthday wishes from friends, family and retailers with their own special ways of saying how much I mean in their lives.  Included below is one I received.  Take away my name and put in yours.  I suspect that is what this emailer does every day.  May you remember its sentiments whenever the job is going rough and you doubt you can take it one more day, or the loneliness aches so deeply that you think nobody ever felt the way you do or when you want to return this life for something newer and shinier.  Happy birthday to me.  Happy every day to you.

A few years back, not so long ago, heaven and earth erupted into a major celebration with the news of your impending adventure into this very time and space. You see, someone like Don Southworth doesn't come along all that often. In fact, there's never been a single one like you, nor is there ever ANY possibility that another will come again. You're an Angel among us. Someone, whose eyes see what no others will EVER see, whose ears hear what no others will EVER hear, and whose perspective and feelings will NEVER, ever be duplicated. Without YOU, the Universe, and ALL THAT IS, would be sadly less than it is.

Quite simply:

You're the kind of person, Don,
Who's hard to forget,
A one-in-a-million
To the people you've met.
Your friends are as varied
As the places you go,
And they all want to tell you
In case you don't know:
That you make a big difference
In the lives that you touch,
By taking so little
And giving so much!

Don, you are so AWESOME! For your birthday, friends and angels from every corner of the Universe, including buddies you didn't know you had, will be with you to wish you the HAPPIEST of days and an exciting new year in time and space. You won't be alone!


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Will Work For Vision

"I have been evolving a personal vision statement for some time. It’s expanding the world’s collective wisdom and compassion." -- Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Day two at the Wisdom 2.0 conference began with a session titled, "Mindfully Building a Company from the Ground Up" and ended with a session titled "The Art of Conscious Leadership" which featured a conversation with Jeff Weiner.  In between there were conversations with people from Google, Facebook, Twitter and companies with products so new that the average person, or at least me, hasn't heard of them...yet.  Jack Kornfield and Jon Kabat-Zinn, two meditation teachers whose books have informed and inspired my meditation practice the last 20 years, shared their wisdom so that we might have a glimpse into finding our own wisdom as well.  

I met some amazing people who are passionate about their work and making a difference in the world.  I took a walk in the San Francisco sunshine, sat in the meditation room for 30 minutes, strolled the exhibit hall admiring the art and wares for sale that were beyond my budget and enjoyed dinner with colleagues.  It was a good day.

The most inspiring part of the day was listening to Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn.  He talked about why managing compassionately is core to his principles and practice (read an article he wrote about the topic here) and he shared his dream for the world.  I am not a LinkedIn customer but after hearing Weiner speak about his vision to expand the world's compassion and wisdom and his commitment to his employees and his customers, that will probably change.   The man is a leader with a vision and dream to make the world a better place.  Sign me up to help him make it come true.

As I listened to Weiner I thought about what ministers and CEOs, school teachers and meditation teachers, any one who wishes to lead and make a difference in the world must be able to do.  Cast a vision, a vision that is compelling, inspiring and possible.   The importance of vision is something that business and religion agrees on.  The Bible, Proverbs 29:18, proclaims, "Where there is no vision the people perish." So do businesses - for profit or not - and religious and spiritual communities.

Jeff Weiner is an example of a CEO who understands the power of vision, especially a vision grounded in something larger than himself or making money.  He says:  "I draw a distinction between a vision and a mission.  The vision is your dream.  It's your true north.  It inspires you and keeps you going.  The mission is a realizable, achievable and measurable objective that's ideally inspirational.  Expanding the world's wisdom and compassion.  That's the vision.  That's the true north that leads me into opportunities like this, allows me to create opportunities for people to share highly relevant business intelligence and knowledge."

LinkedIn is one way Jeff Weiner plans to realize his vision which is to expand the world's wisdom and compassion.  He's worked on his vision for many, many years and he speaks about it in a way that not only makes it sound possible but invites and inspires people to help make it come true.  Most of us won't be CEOs of companies with thousands of people worth millions, soon to be billions, of dollars.  But each of us has a vision, a vision that we need others to help make come true.  The deeper we know it, the more passionately we articulate it, the more fully we embody it, the greater possibility it will come true.  Where there is no vision the people will perish.  Without the vision casters, us!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Wisdom of Discomfort

Buddha welcomes us to Wisdom 2.0

"Of all of the skills I have learned in the past 7 years of changing my life, one skill stands out: Learning to be comfortable with discomfort." -- Leo Babauta, zenhabits

Tonight was the opening session of Wisdom 2.0 at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco.  The center is decorated with art, inspirational quotes and sacred images.  In addition to the large hall where the main programs will be held, there are special places for meditation, yoga and small group gatherings.  We learned at the opening session that almost 1700 people are attending the conference (compared with 600 last year) from places all over the globe.  Most people, including me, are here for the first time.

As I sat and listened to the conference founder and organizer Soren Gordhamer welcome us and  facilitate a conversation with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Congressman Tim Ryan and Marianne Williamson, I thought of Leo Babauta's recent post at zenhabits titled "Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe."  I was feeling uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because I'm always uncomfortable around 1700 people I don't know in a setting that has symbols and practices that I'm not familiar with.  Uncomfortable because when I read through many of the profiles of the people in attendance I thought to myself, "I'm a technological kindergartener amongst a group of graduate students."

Since the speakers on the stage were encouraging us to be present and conscious this weekend, I did my best to breathe and feel my uncomfortableness.  It wasn't comfortable.  Which is why I thought of Leo's counsel:  "Master your fear of discomfort and you can master the universe."  I'm not all that interested in mastering the universe this weekend, or probably even this lifetime, but it would be nice to meet some new people, learn a few things and get a little more wisdom - or at least an insight or two on what might lead to wisdom.

Perhaps I got a little tonight.  One of the reasons I have the picture of the mural of St. Francis standing naked before God at the top of this blog is to remind me, and maybe even you, what it means to live a called life.  It is like being naked before our beloved for the first time, we feel both nervous and excited.   Maybe even uncomfortable.  But being uncomfortable isn't the worst thing we can feel.  Especially when it opens the door to doing and learning something new.  Becoming comfortable with discomfort.  A radical notion - perhaps - that can change a life, or at least a weekend.

One of the many quotes posted throughout the Exhibition Center at Wisdom 2.0

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting For Wisdom (2.0)

"How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age? -- Wisdom 2.0

Last week I was in Boston to begin working on an entrepreneurial program for ministers.   This week I'm in the city of my birth - San Francisco - to attend  Wisdom 2.0, a conference that promises to explore the challenge of our age:  To not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.   

The list of speakers and workshops is impressive and I can't wait for the conference to start tomorrow evening.  I discovered Wisdom 2.0 by the most modern of ways, searching for business and spirituality on the internet.  Several of the people I interviewed in Silicon Valley mentioned the conference favorably so I signed up.  There are people who are wisdompreneurs, who are some of the leaders in the fields of consciousness and meditation and who are the movers and shakers of many of the leading technology companies in the world.  I suspect everyone will be a calltrepreneur (and probably doesn't even know it yet!)

My plan is to write something about the conference as many days as I can.  If you are interested in catching some of the speakers go to the Wisdom 2.0 website where almost everything will be live-streamed.  I look forward to getting some new and old wisdom and sharing it as best I can.  These are amazing times we live in full of challenges, opportunities and new possibilities and problems every day.  May we find ways to live with more presence, meaning and mindfulness in this age and every age that follows.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Embracing Our Marshmallow Buddha

My laughing Buddha & Marshmallow Buddha stole

"Laughter is the language of the soul." - Pablo Neruda

It was my first day of seminary and I was wondering what in the world I had done with my life.  I had traded in my suit and briefcase from the corporate world for the blue jeans and backpacks of the Berkeley world. I had uprooted my family, jeopardized our financial well-being, and we were living at my mother-in-law’s while we looked for a place to live.  Why had I done all this?  Because I had been called to a new life. On that first day of school I wondered if the call had been to a wrong number.

In a fog of doubt and uncertainty I walked into my first class, “Minister, Ministry and Identity.” The class appealed to me because I figured it would help me figure out what kind of minister I might become.  My anxiety level increased when I saw that almost everyone in the class was in his or her third year of school.

The professor asked us to close our eyes and settle in for a guided meditation.  As I relaxed into my breathing, he invited us to imagine ourselves as ministers and picture what we would be doing.  At first no image came to me but soon a very clear picture became fixed in my mind.  It was not a picture I liked at all.  The picture I had of myself as a minister was that of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.

For those of you who may not remember the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, he is a 35- foot tall marshmallow monster who terrorizes New York City in the movie Ghostbusters.  If you cannot picture what the Stay Puff Marshmallow man looks like, imagine the Pillsbury Dough Boy on steroids.  It is not a pretty picture, especially if it is the picture of a minister.

I began to sweat and tried hard to change the picture in my mind.  The harder I tried to change the image, the more pronounced each rippled marshmallow muscle became.  With all my psychic will and energy, I watched the Stay Puff man slowly transform into the rough image of a 35-foot marshmallow Buddha.  Before I could transform the picture into something more respectable, the professor brought us out of our meditation and asked us to share what we  had envisioned with the rest of the class.  

I frantically wondered what I could say about my image that wouldn’t have me kicked out of school for being a fraud.  I sat on my hands when he asked for volunteers.  My sense of embarrassment and stress grew as I heard my classmates eloquently describe visions of people like Jesus, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr.  People saw themselves serving food to the hungry, fighting social injustices, and offering love and healing to those in need.  The thought flashed in my mind that I should excuse myself and admit that I had made a big mistake about this ministry thing.

When it was my turn to share I decided to tell the truth and live with the consequences.  I recounted my meditative tale and said that I thought a marshmallow Buddha was actually a great image for my ministry because I was someone who believed humor was as important to the spiritual journey as any other spiritual practice.  And, I added, one of the main questions I brought with me to seminary was how, if at all, humor and laughter could be incorporated into religion and the serious profession of ministry.  My new colleagues were gentle, even supportive of my vision, and I learned an important lesson about ministry - and life - which I try to remember every day.  

Honesty and authenticity count.  A lot.  So do laughter and joy.  I keep the laughing Buddha on my altar and occasionally wear my marshmallow Buddha stole when I preach.  I often practice a laughing meditation which helps as well. All of these remind me of that first day in seminary and the most important thing we bring to ministry and calltrepreneurship - our whole selves.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reaching for Different Stars

"The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal.  The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.  It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream...It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for.  Not failure, but low aim is the sin. -- Dr. Benjamin E. Mays 

Today is Super Bowl Sunday (go Niners!) and we can look forward to funny, ridiculous, maybe even historic, commercials between the plays.  During Super Bowl XIX, the day Joe Montana beat Dan Marino for the Forty Niners' second Super Bowl win in January 1985, Apple's famous 1984 commercial was shown.  The world of computers would never be the same again.  The commercial above, Think Different, was first shown in September 1997 after Steve Jobs returned to Apple.  The world of computers, telephones, and music - to name a few - would never be the same again.

Today's musings are not intended to extoll the wonders of Apple's marketing genius (and it has been mighty) but to remind myself and all who care, what and who changes the world.  People with vision.  Courage. Creativity.  High aim.   The men and women in the commercial above dreamed big and aimed high.  They changed the world and inspire us to do the same.

On this pseudo national holiday when millions of people will sit in front of a television screen screaming and cheering for men to score touchdowns and realize their childhood dreams, I encourage you to take a moment to check in with your dreams as well.  How high are you aiming?  How different are you thinking?  What stars are you reaching for?  May we find the courage and creativity to reach a little higher, stretch a little further and get as close as we can to a goal line that won't just win a game but will change the world.  And, of course, our ourselves along the way.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Being Your Numbers

I started my career in sales.  Some would say I have never left.  My first job at nine years old was shining shoes on a street corner in San Francisco.  I took my shoe shine kit and waited near the bus stop with a smile on my face.  The year was 1967 and I lived three blocks from the Haight Ashbury.  Not many people wore shoes and even fewer wanted a shine.  I soon discovered the only way I would get the candy bar or pack of baseball cards I hoped for at the end of the day, was to find another way to make money.  Fortunately the bar on the corner often had an after-school clientele that were happy to buy off this budding entrepreneur with a dime or a quarter.

Over the years I brought my skills for persuasion to many jobs.  I sold newspapers, I managed restaurants, I sold phones and DSL lines, I managed and trained sales people.  I spent two years studying  biology, economics, business, entrepreneurship, language and ethics so I could become a better sales professional.  I became a minister and have been selling transformation, hope and joy - on my best days - for the last decade.  I know the techniques, challenges and possibilities of sales.  And I know the joys and sorrows, hopes and doubts sales people live with every day.  Doubts that are not unique to sales people.

When you are in sales your financial well being, and your general mood, is frequently determined by how much you sell, how much you produce.  This is true in many parts of life.  One day, years ago, a mentor of mine, after hearing my angst and frustration, said "Ah, you're being your numbers."  Being your numbers.  How often do we let the production and activity of our life determine how well we feel about ourselves and our world.  When I was in sales I often battled the sense that how well I was doing was based on how many phones, newspapers, hamburgers I sold.  Over the years that battle has shifted to how many goals I achieve, how many people came to church on Sunday or how many people read this blog or how often I write it.  To name just a few.

I'm not sure who first said it but I first heard it from a minister almost thirty years ago.  "We are human beings, not human doings."  As someone who has been accused of being "Type A" over the years those words were a bit of a jolt.  As were "ah, you're being your numbers."  We are human beings and not human doings.  How well we nurture and affirm our beings might even affect our doings.  One of the invitations Steve Jobs and St. Francis, Silicon Valley and Assisi, calltrepreneurship offers us is the opportunity to be and do.  Meditation, prayer and time in nature help with the being, reminding us that we are connected to something deeper than our latest quarterly report.  Tapping into our creativity, connecting and working with others, serving something larger than ourselves helps with the doing, reminding us that the how is more important than the how many.

I have learned over the years a lesson that I can still forget.  I am more than my numbers.   Whether those numbers are how much I am - or am not - selling, how much I am - or am not - writing, how much  I am - or am not - producing, or how much love I am - or am not - remembering I have.  The danger in being our numbers is that our sense of joy, self-worth, our very being -  is based on something or someone outside of ourselves.  It's okay to like numbers, to enjoy the feeling that getting something done, and done well, gives us.  But when the doing becomes more important than the being we can get in trouble.   Be first.  Do next.  Easy to say, not so easy to live.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Anything But Grace

"This is the time/For you to deeply compute the impossibility/That there is anything/But Grace." -- Hafiz

On the first day of winter I wrote about waiting for test results to determine if my wife Kathleen's cancer had returned.  Our great Christmas present was to hear the news that, while she has advancing arthritis and a degenerative disc in her back, her cancer seems to still be in remission.  After we celebrated this wonderful news, I proceeded to be sick for the next ten days.  Nothing major except for the type of cold and cough that makes it hard to climb out of bed and do anything but sleep.  My apologies for not posting this good news sooner to let those who have been worried, wondering how our candle was burning.

The possibility of having a terminal diagnosis in one's life is one of the most profound and scariest teachers I have ever met.  It is a teacher that we all will learn from at some time in our life.  A teacher that we may try to run and hide from at times, especially when the lessons' subjects are people we love, including ourselves.  I am always surprised how powerful death's lessons, real and feared, can be and how easy they are to forget...until they come around again.

Two lessons have stuck with me this time.  Perhaps writing them down will help me remember them when death hides in a corner of my life and I forget how present it always is.  The first lesson/reminder is how overwhelming it can feel to be loved.   When we let people know what is happening in our lives, especially when our news is scary and involves pain and sorrow, they react as we react for them sending love and prayers and good wishes.   Thanks to the modern communities of social media the love and care is greater than ever possible. Being on the receiving end of this energy is both nurturing and humbling.  Kathleen and I felt this energy and love as we have before.  It is profound and it makes a difference.  We are deeply grateful for this love and at the same time I always feel blown away by its intensity.  Who am I to deserve such attention and care?

Which leads me to lesson two.  That there is, or could ever be, anything but grace.  We have nothing to do with being given this great gift of life.  We can be grateful for it, we can celebrate it, we can love it with all of our hearts and yet we know that we had nothing to do with it.  In the last two weeks millions of people around the world waited for test results in hospital rooms and doctors' offices just like we did.  They received just as much love, care and prayer as we did.  But the results from those tests led to tears and sorrow instead of joy and dancing.  Life, death, joy, sorrow...grace.

I keep the Sufi poet Hafiz's book, The Gift, on my desk/altar where I can frequently open it up and remember the joy, sorrow, love and grace that is life.    He writes, "This is the time/For you to deeply compute the impossibility/That there is anything/But Grace.  Now is the season to know/That everything you do/Is sacred."  And so it is.