Thursday, November 10, 2016

Catalog of Beauty - November 10, 2016

I need to write, but I am still dazed by this week's events. In addition to the election that didn't go as expected, there were abrupt changes at work and a migraine with which to contend. I am beyond weary.

Tonight I'm going to make an accounting of the good things I experienced. Even in the midst of chaos and difficulty, I have cultivated the ability to pay attention to the little things. The practice pays off - especially on days or weeks like this.

1. My daughter's requests for hugs

2. Long stem roses from ALDI for a bargain

3. Seth Meyers' monologue

4. Laughter with a co-worker

5. Deep breaths

6. Choosing to walk by my fountain even though it's closed for the winter. The broader beauty is recognizing that I no longer feel the need to avoid things that are painful or disappointing. The thought had crossed my mind to stop walking by the fountain during autumn and winter, but then I realized that I was avoiding the sad feelings I have missing the water. It's better to feel them and move on. Those feelings dissipate much more quickly when faced head on.


6. Gregory Alan Isakov's voice, music, and especially his lyrics.

7. Wind and sunshine
8. Smiling after the pain of a migraine.

9. Being told that I look like I'm in my LATE TWENTIES by my new Panera friend, Elizabeth.

10.  This epiphany: I have determined that the Trump presidency is going make me bolder, braver, and more loving. All the scary things I have faced in the past five years--my dad's illness, continuous job losses, staying afloat financially in spite of said job losses, my own health scares, divorce, and post-divorce life--have prepared me for this time. I am determined to be an ally for vulnerable people in this new world. One of the ways I plan to do that is to initiate contact with people who do not look like me in all their beautiful diversity. I want to create spaces of safety, inclusivity, and rest wherever I go, which leads to this exchange:

11. At Panera, I noticed a beautiful man who was wearing the heck out of a scarf around his neck. He had such flair, and I told him so. "I love your scarf," I said. He looked at me for a second and then smiled. "Thank you very much. I like your look too." I smiled back and sat in the table ahead of his. I am a proponent of Random Acts of Kindness. It felt so good to interact with this lovely stranger. As Glennon Doyle Melton says all the time, We Belong To Each Other, and this exchange made that phrase pulse with truth.

12. Imagining that my walk back to my office was a scene from a musical and dance-walking all the way back to work.

13. Picking up a handful of trash.


13. Vulnerability, authenticity, and presence in my friendships.

14. Playing volleyball with my friends and daughter at church and being less afraid of the ball. And being a better contributor to the team. Also not bruising my wrist when I served this evening.

15. Lemonade from Chik-fil-A.

16. Having the energy to write this list while snuggled warm and cozy under my covers in my bedroom that is now my sanctuary from the world. 

17. My electric kettle from a friend that makes my room feel like a hotel.

18. It's Friday-eve.

19. Not feeling so down this evening.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

November First Observance

Whew. The past month has been something else. I feel the weight, weariness, and relief of having successfully completed another write31days blog challenge. Behind the scenes, I've also navigated numerous challenging interpersonal circumstances on top of the high-heel-wearing foot injury.

Today is the first day I haven't had a blog post topic planned in one month. I woke up shortly after five a.m., though, to re-read my essay submission for the Glamour Magazine essay contest. I checked the word count to make sure it still fell within the prescribed range and filled out the submission form. Then I pasted the essay into the online form, hit submit, and snuggled back under the covers.

As I fought the need to get out of bed and ready for work, I thought about the significance of November First, and how this is the 25th anniversary of that day.

I've written about this anniversary before, and I suspect I'll write about this day many more times in my life. Longing, sadness, and a dollop of adventure swirl together to make the day stand out in my heart's calendar. At forty-one, I can see more clearly what an important milestone it is. It's the first before-and-after marker of my young life.

To recap, I was a fifteen-year-old who was moving away from the only home she knew. I was leaving my friends and family. I was leaving ballet, tap, and jazz and the Nutcracker Ballet. I was leaving my neighborhood the character that loomed large in the story of my childhood.

The moving van was scheduled to come that day while I was at school. What I was not prepared for was learning that my quiet, stooped little grandpa passed away a few hours after the moving van pulled up to my house. Now I was leaving my beloved grandmother, a days' old widow, all alone.

I keep asking myself, "What does this remembrance mean for you this year?" My answer: it was the first time that I encountered numerous life stressors simultaneously, and that I walked through that difficult time with grace and courage as a teenager. It taught me about my strength as a young person and what I was made of. The forty-one-year-old me is proud of that young girl.

It also makes missing my grandmother and my best friend, Melissa, feel more palpable now than at any other time of the year. It takes me back to those days of saying goodbye, and then saying goodbye again, after our departure was pushed back for my grandfather's funeral. I have been friends with Melissa for 28 years. I am proud of the way we have stayed in touch across many, many miles. I love that we get to be mothers to our children at the same time.

I think of how proud my grandma would be of my writing pursuits. I have a cherished circle of super fans, but my grandmother would be the president of that club. She believed I was a writer before I did. She planted that seed in my DNA with her love of words, storytelling, and writing. Then she nurtured it with encouragement and endless conversation about it.

What I submitted to Glamour Magazine is the hardest, most truthful story I've written yet. It has primed the pump for other stories to come, and I know she would have read it and exhaled loudly. She would have placed her hand over her heart, and exclaimed, "Now THIS is going to give me something to think about for a little while, my little darling."

I appreciate that for just a few minutes in the process of writing about that sepia-toned time of life, I can conjure her as if she's in the room with me. That is the power of writing, and why I can't stop--even when I'm weary.

Handsome Wayne K. Steele, my paternal grandfather.

My grandmother, Maxine, is the woman on the right in the first row. My grandfather is in overalls behind her.

Wayne and Maxine with Steven, before my dad was born.

Monday, October 31, 2016

31. Final thoughts...for now

I spend so much time in my head. I suppose it comes with the writer's territory. It also stems from a desperate need to make sense of things long past that still sting, still linger. I want to get them straight in my head, to order them, and to let them go. I'm getting better at the letting go these days. I keep practicing, and I see improvement. It will be a lifetime's work.

It's been apparent for awhile that in spending so much time in my head that I've overlooked the need to spend time in my body. To move, exercise, feed it well, enjoy having a body that is healthy and strong, to use it, for heaven's sake.

I concentrated on spending more time and energy in my body as I created my 40/40 list last year. The training for and running a 5K taught me that my preconceived limits were beatable and that I actually like running. The trapeze class taught me a different lesson about limits and to know when I've had enough. I still dream of owning kayaks after a peaceful afternoon with a friend on the water. In other words, I came to appreciate my body in new and lasting ways last year.

When I attended the Haven retreat in Montana in June 2015, the concept of the writer spending time outside of her head was reinforced every afternoon as we explored equine-assisted learning and yoga surrounded by big skies and fir-covered mountains.

As you pray, move your feet.”
            - African Proverb
 
This proverb holds deep meaning for me since I began walking and then writing about the Sole-to-Soul Sessions. I understand the power and truth of these words. Choosing to hit the pavement at a depressed season of life personifies its wisdom.

I was praying and hoping for healing and insight before I started walking. But I believe now that moving my feet was what really helped to expedite the healing. By physically moving, energies that time and pain had lodged deep inside began getting moved around and eventually out of my body. These sole-to-soul sessions helped burn off old stuff that was no longer serving me. 
 
Even though this blog series winds down today, I will continue to walk and write about the insights and beauties I encounter. I already have two other stories queued up to write. I look forward to sharing what comes to mind as I bundle up and brace against the wind and cold of the new season. I will continue to move my feet as I continue to pray, heal, and live fully in the present moment. 

 






Sunday, October 30, 2016

30. Catalog of Beauty

I am not against critique, but the world’s need to nick pic everything is a dis-ease. What I crave is holiness. We are so far away from the heart, when only the head leads with only what is wrong. How about the million beauties you walked by today and did not see? Name them. The world needs/ I need your catalog of beauty. What is your catalog of beauty?”
                                  
                                                                -Glenis Redmond

Since beginning this series on walking, my friends have sent me articles and quotes about walking and its benefits. I've also stumbled on a few myself, like the one above. 
 
It feels so relevant to today. So much nick picking, so much judgment. So much emphasis on what is wrong. I was struck by the sentence I put in bold type. My walking habit has helped me focus on “the million beauties” I walk by. But now months into this habit and nearly one month of writing about it, I have figured out that I pay attention to the beauty around me regardless of if I am walking or not.
This heightened sense of attention may be one of the best byproducts of walking as meditation. The built-in slowed pace of walking makes paying attention easier than say noticing from the driver's seat of a car, but it's a practice. The more I pay attention, the more I see. 
 
Today's catalog of beauty:
  • The lyrics of the hymns we sang at church that spoke of hospitality and inclusion. Especially these words from Community of Christ Sings #274:

    Oh, may our hearts and minds be opened, fling the church doors open wide. May there be room enough for everyone inside. For in God there is a welcome, in God we all belong. May that welcome be our song.”

  • Friendship shared and expanded over hamburgers and ice cream after church.

  • Attending a symphony performance with my daughter. In costume.

  • When she rested her sleepy, sweaty head on my shoulder during the performance.

  • Driving home, taking in the beauty of the enormous homes on Lindell Avenue. Their chrysanthemums were vibrant and eye-catching. 
     
  • Cadence: “It's just nice looking at all these big houses.” Appreciation for things we do not have and not feeling a need to get them or feel bad for not having them.

  • Costume off, feet free of hours of wearing high-heeled boots. Lounging in cozy pajamas under an antique quilt, sipping tea, texting a fellow writer, and working on this post.




Saturday, October 29, 2016

29. Change of Season


Winds in the east, mist coming in. / Like somethin' is brewin' and bout to begin. / Can't put me finger on what lies in store, / But I fear what's to happen all happened before.” - Bert, Mary Poppins

My walks have been breezier than usual the past few days, and there's been a bite in the air. I've been grateful for my jacket and fingerless gloves I wear in my office. Bert's right, something's brewing: cooler temperatures, falling leaves, the fountain drying up for the season. I feel a twinge of something. It's not sadness exactly, but an appreciation for what this season has brought me—peace, calm, confidence, hope. And curiosity for what a season of walking in autumn and winter will gift me. I know that if I look for lessons and insights, I will find them. 

The change in season feels momentous to me because I have been so attentive in this current season. I have grown so much. Healed in ways I didn't expect and am feeling so strong and ready to take on whatever life blows my way. 

I plan on continuing my daily walks, albeit bundled up. I will likely suspend my walks on icy days, but otherwise, my plan is to walk through the arctic winter like I walked through the blazing summer.
This month's daily writing has been a wonderful ramp up to returning to daily work on parts two and three of my novel. As I walked and let my life unfold before me, I sensed new rhythms settling in. Autumn and winter feel right to be the months for the heavy lifting of writing larger works of fiction (or whatever strikes my fancy). In those months there are fewer demands on my time. No lawns to mow. No softball games to cheer on.

I am certain that walking at lunch will be a beautiful accompaniment to the writing I do either early in the morning or late in the evening. I'm excited to see how my story takes shape in this new season. 

Landscaping crews are changing out the flowers and planting shrubs

I like the drizzly days

Note the leaves that have gathered at the base of the fountains

Friday, October 28, 2016

28. Beauty of Diversity

The floral displays I have walked past in downtown Clayton have been a source of inspiration and comfort. Bursts of color and unique pairings have been a welcome sight for this weary soul. I took a lot of photos to help build a portfolio of ideas I might want to incorporate in my own lawn.

As I passed the Clayton Town Hall and its magnificent display of plant life a metaphor came to mind. What makes this garden so lovely is its variety. Each blossom on its own is a marvel, but if the garden was full of only one type of plant or flower, its beauty would not be so captivating. Lovely yes, but not so breathtaking. 
 
Our diversity—the things that set us apart—really is what makes humanity beautiful. I'm sad when people can't see it, but encouraged when we do. 

 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

27. Singing and Dancing on the Walking Path

Music coupled with the pause at the fountains has been a powerful way to calm and soothe me in this walking habit. Podcasts took up most of my walking time, but when I take a break from podcasts, I have listened to the Hamilton musical soundtrack, Ingrid Michaelson's new album, It Doesn't Have to Make Sense, and Jon McLaughlin's albums, Like Us and Promising Promises. I have a tendency to play an album on repeat for days or weeks at a time. It takes a lot for me to get bored with music. The more I listen the more nuance I hear. I love discovering new things with each listen.
 
I've hit a busy, often stressful period at work. One day, I found myself standing at the fountains, singing and dancing to a song on repeat. Martha Beck says that singing is a great stress reliever, and I have put that notion to the test. 
 
One of the lovely things about growing older and becoming more comfortable in my skin, is how much less self-conscious I feel about the way I look, move, and feel. If someone had seen me bouncing to the music and singing along, I would have smiled and waved and kept on going. 
 
I have felt the mornings' tensions ooze out of the bottoms of my feet repeatedly, and I am grateful each time.

I feel an extra bounce in my step as I walk to upbeat tunes. I am swept along by thoughtful lyrics. Combined with movement, I return to the office feeling lighter and better able to cope with whatever I face in the afternoon. 

 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

26. Injury

One evening about a month ago, I changed into dress clothes for a work event. I traded my comfy, black Clarks Mary Janes for a pair of shiny black pumps. As I walked to my car, I noticed I had to scrunch up my toes to keep the shoe from flopping off my heel. I made this repetitive motion with the toes of my right foot every time I walked.

When I took off my shoes five hours later, and placed my foot flat on the floor, I felt the pain,like a cramp in the middle of my foot. I sat on the side of my daughter's bed catching up from our long days apart and helping her wind down and fall asleep. I massaged my foot, breathing deeply to cope with the pain I was feeling in the arch of my foot. As I breathed and kneaded my foot, I felt a knot form.
 
From there and for the next two weeks I had a distinct limp. I tried a heating pad. I resorted to wearing my running shoes to work. They provided some relief, so I wore them all the time.

I skipped a day of walking because the pain was so sharp. The next day I returned to the walking habit. It was slow, painful going. As I was making my way back to my office, I scanned my posture and the way I was waddling down the street to avoid the pain. I recognized this tentative movement. Ah, yes, I thought. I'm walking like I had when I was pregnant. Huge and out of balance. Measuring my every step. It was strange to feel that again. 

That day's walk was slow and agonizing. It was a lesson in appreciation. I wanted healthy feet so that I could continue my walking habit. I was also caught in the middle. Resting my foot might offer some relief and help it heal quicker. But not moving at all could introduce new problems. 
 
I thought about the pain I'd been through in the past few years and how ultimately modifying my life a little bit, and continuing to push forward through the pain had ended up being the best way to cope.
In the case of the foot, my running shoes were my modification. They offered support, extra padding, and were able to absorb most of the shock. Attentive friends, early bed times, good books, and time had been the modifications for the emotional pain I had endured.

And then, I visited family out of state, and my physician brother-in-law asked how my foot was. He examined it and declared that I'd injured my plantar fascia. A few hours later, he offered to massage it and work out the knot that had formed. “It's going to really hurt as I work on it, but it really will be worth it. You'll feel better after I massage it.”

He was right about both. The pain and discomfort were hard to bear, but then the next morning, I could put my full weight on my foot and walk normally. I hadn't been able to do that for two weeks. It was a relief. It was also a reminder that sometimes things have to get worse or hurt more before they can get better. If we stop at the edge of the pain—be it physical or emotional—we risk never getting to the good stuff. To the place where it doesn't hurt any more. Where we can walk without limping.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

25. Poetry on the Pavement

One day I took a longer-than-usual walk to Barnes and Noble. Just a few blocks past where I tripped down the sidewalk as I smiled at the attractive blond, I heard the most beautiful poem read by its author on Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons podcast:

Breaking Surface
by Mark Nepo 
 
Let no one keep you from your journey,
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won't let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells your in the night
it can't be done.


Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.


You are the only explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.

I am not a big fan of poetry, never have been. But my favorite book, Love Walked In, is written by a poet named Marisa de los Santos, and her poetry definitely enhances her poetry. I've heard many times over that writers need to read and study poetry to improve their word choices and writing. Nepo's poem and hearing him read it, piqued my interest in pursuing poetry in a more determined way.

Each episode of the Magic Lessons podcast is a discussion on the creative life and how to overcome the obstacles that often meet artists on their journey.

Nepo talked about the importance of being a verb rather than a noun. Writing and creating versus being a writer or creator. His point was that being a verb has far fewer limitations than the noun. Writing and creating is far less restrictive or confining than being a writer or creator. When you're writing or creating, anything can be a canvas: poetry, creative non-fiction, fiction, cereal box marketing. But if you're merely a writer, one novel or one poem can box you in. Make it harder to move out of a label, genre, or mindset. 
 
This concept can apply beyond creative pursuits. Mothering vs. mother; gardening vs. gardener; helping vs. helper; walking vs. walker. 
 
I suspect I was more open to Mark Nepo's poem because I was walking. I was moving my whole body as I was taking in new information. The movement helped me metabolize something new, and thereby made me more receptive.

Monday, October 24, 2016

24. Cultivating Solitude

This week I reread two posts I wrote in January. Read them here and here. I am so grateful that I wrote each post. I risked being honest with myself and in doing so, I created a barometer reading for my emotions. In January, I could not imagine achieving the level of peace and calm I now feel in October. It reinforces the power of the changing seasons of one's life, and that nothing lasts forever. 
 
I was still reeling from all the open space in my schedule that shared custody of my daughter carved into my weekly routine. Not seeing her every day was hard. It was a painful reminder that the decision to divorce, which was the very best one for us, also came with a price—a really high one.
I was uncomfortable with solitude in the early months of this year. 

During the panic earlier this year, I created yet another "rule" or guideline for myself. I told my friends that I would not even think of dating until I turned 43. Since I have a penchant for naming things, I named this thing Project 43. The idea was that to keep the panic of not dating (or actually dating) at bay, I would simply declare that it was not an option for two years thereby freeing my chattery mind from thinking of it. It made perfect sense to me at the time. I know some friends were skeptical, but bless them, they didn't push me on this.

Walking alone everyday helped fortify the idea that being alone can be a positive, nourishing state of being. and certainly not one to fear or run from.  

What I see more clearly now having literally walked through these months and emotions, is that Project 43 was about controlling the uncontrollable and easing the pain of the loneliness I felt. Walking has soothed those feelings. I feel less panicked about being alone and in fact, I have found joy in my own company. I'm fun! I think interesting things! I listen to great music and read interesting books! I learned how to not fear what an evening or an entire weekend looks like on my own. 
 
Ten months later I RELISH my solitude. I have so many things to think and do and be when I'm with myself. I feel far less needy. I have a finely-tuned gauge for when I need to reach out to people and when I can manage on my own. My friends hear from me far less now than they did ten months ago. I know it's from this place of strength, confidence, and peace that good things will emerge. 

Recently, friends reminded me of Project 43 and it felt like such a foreign concept and so needless. I am really content where I am and with myself. I am open to what comes my way.
 
If I've come this far in ten months, I can't help but wonder where I'll be in another ten.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

23. Walking Inspiration

Long before this walking took root as a healthy habit, I would text my friend Dan about writer's block at work or some such. His text reply often was, Go for a walk. This New Yorker article echoes the things I have experienced as I walk. 

I had really wanted to participate in the #write31days challenge, but couldn't think of a topic I could devote a month's attention to. And then one day, the walking as meditation came to me, and I was thrilled.

He recently took a trip off the grid. Before he left he texted me: “Also, I'm taking full credit for you walking. Just kidding. But I really am. Lol. I crack myself up.” I assured him he could take full credit. I'd taken his advice time and again, and it had worked every time. And then one day, it seemed like my idea, and here I am:
 
A walker. 
 
A woman who walks and meditates. 
 
A woman who walks and smiles and offers positive energy to the people she passes on sidewalks.

A woman who leans into whatever emotion lands on her heart and mind and doesn't run away. 
 
A woman who simply walks and trusts the journey will get her where she needs to go. 

 

22. Walking Prepared me for Summer Highlights

The daily walking habit prepared me for two summer highlights, one planned and one unplanned. Cadence and I took a train trip to Chicago. We met up with my parents for a weekend away, and so that Cadence could purchase her long-saved-for American Girl doll.

We stayed in a hotel a few blocks off Michigan Avenue and walked everywhere. Dad figured by the reading on Mom's pedometer that in one afternoon and evening we logged six miles. I was tired when I returned to the hotel, but it was a good tired. I was also impressed that my nine-year-old managed that kind of distance without complaint.



 
Before this summer, multiple days of walking multiple miles would have worn me out. This summer the walking energized me. 

 
Then a month later this happened:


My Navy Pathfinder, Bert, got sick. On the side of the interstate. Three times. The second time, while the car was in the shop, I walked a Chicago's equivalent back and forth to Cadence's school. Once to accompany her to school. Then because I had no update on the car by noon, I walked back up to school to have lunch with her (a special treat for a kid whose mom works too far from school to do on a regular basis.) And then a third time at the end of the school day to pick her up. 
 
I marveled at how I really didn't think anything of it. I had the time, and I didn't have any other option. This summer's walking has reinforced how self-sufficient a healthy, strong body can be. Being towed to the mechanic shop three times was less than ideal. Spending what I might have on my next trip abroad on repair bills pained me. But the day spent in the sunshine, seeing my daughter in intervals I never get to was priceless. As was knowing I can handle everything that comes my way. 
 
Walking has shaped me into a better version of myself.

On the walk to school

Together for lunch

Glorious day. Look at the clouds!
 


Friday, October 21, 2016

21. The Benefits of Disruption

Hey love. Yeah, I'm talking to you. You, who are worried about sticking to the plan. Making sure everything is just so. Perfect. Not a thing out of place. 
 
I want to let you in on a little secret. I used to be you. I used to conform and think that there was a plan I had to stick to, even when it wasn't working.

I don't think like that anymore. And life is so much richer for the shift. I welcome the disruptions and the detours in life now. I understand because I've experienced it. The really good life stuff often occurs in the disruptions, detours, and unplanned moments.



 
One day after pausing at the fountains, I discovered that the sidewalk I crossed onto was torn up. I didn't think too much of it. I changed directions walked down the sidewalk that ran parallel to my usual route. I noted how this side of the street was shaded by the buildings, but there was less window-shopping to enjoy. No big deal. I kept walking.

I stood waiting for the white pedestrian light to flash. The road work was limited to one small portion of the block behind me, so I could have crossed the street and resumed my regular path, but I opted to stick to the alternate route. I am glad I did because this is what I found on that day's walk.



Beautiful landscaping that was there all along. I'd missed this little bit of splendor because parked cars lined the street and blocked the pops of color and organized landscape design.

I felt refreshed by the change of scenery and nature's beauty. I was happy to be reminded that in spite of disruptions' aggravations, they also have the potential for built-in opportunities for joy and adventure. But we have to be on the look out for them, or we'll likely miss them.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

20. Walking in Extreme Heat

When I started this series, I had a rough outline of what each day's topic would entail. As with last year's series, the outline wasn't carved in stone. I built in room for new insights, space for the story to expand in ways that I couldn't anticipate. 
 
I have tossed out a few topics because when the time came to write them, other more important insights were waiting to be shared. I considered scratching today's topic since I've already dreamed up three extra posts that will come after the #write31days month is officially complete. But today's topic remains because as with yesterday's post, when I delved deeper I was able to find more metaphor and meaning—two of this contemplative's favorite things.

St. Louis summers can be soggy torture. The humidity is high, the sun shines bright, and some days there is no breeze to be found. I know dry heat, and such a thing does not exist in this part of the Midwest.

This summer I walked through the heat and humidity. If you had told me months before that I would have powered through those high temperatures, I would have reminded you that summer is my least favorite season, and I'm not outdoorsy on a pleasant, moderate day.

The draw of the fountains and the landscaping and the fresh air and the freedom from office land all conspired to entice me outdoors even on the hottest days. The benefits far outweighed the drawbacks.

On the super hot days, I didn't throw in the towel. I simply adjusted my pace. I took a water bottle with me. I may have even shortened the route a bit. The summer scorches tested my wimpy weather mettle, and I beat the heat. 
 
And here's where the deeper meaning comes in: Of course, I walked in the heat of summer's afternoons. Of course that didn't deter me. I HAVE ALREADY WALKED THROUGH FIRE, and come out safely on the other side. I have done hard things for a long time. I didn't always feel strong and mighty, but I persevered and did it anyway.

I have a tendency to underestimate the obstacles I have overcome. I felt the heat by leaving a marriage that was serving no one. I felt the heat entering counseling to better understand how I fit into my family's dynamics. I felt the heat every time my efforts and hard work were misunderstood at my day job. I felt the heat every time someone else wrote a narrative about me that served their agenda, but was an inaccurate, harmful, and wrong account of who I am.

Of course, I withstood walking on burning pavement under a punishing sun. I've already been burned. It reminds me of the process of glass blowing. The only way beautiful pieces of glass art can be formed is by being subjected to the heat of an open flame. No heat. No beautiful glass work.

I feel beautiful and light, kind and expansive in ways I've never felt before. I know it's because I now know what I'm made of. I know my own strength and the power of what I've been through.





Wednesday, October 19, 2016

19. Walking in Reverse

Within hours of arriving in London, my best friend saved my life. We were crossing the street near our hotel. I looked before I crossed the street, but in a foggy, jet-lagged state, I'd forgotten that the traffic was going to come from the opposite direction. I looked the wrong way, and a double-decker bus lumbering up the street nearly took me out. Luckily my friend was paying attention and noted my danger. She pulled me out of the street thus saving my life and the trip I'd saved for for months.
 
The jet lag had complicated an already disorienting situation.

I thought of this incident as I reflected on the day I walked my route backwards. I set out in the direction that is usually the end of my walk. I didn't think much about it as I set out, but as the path unfolded before me, I recognized the disorientation of my near-disastrous British street crossing.

Changing directions changed my perspective on everything I see every day. I was now walking into the sun rather than walking with it warming my back. I found myself walking down hill on streets that are usually uphill. I'd gotten use to the exertions of walking uphill, so walking down hill felt strange and a little more difficult than I'd expected.

For a second time in a week, I watched another long vehicle attempt to make a tight right turn. It wasn't quite as graceful as the semi driver's performance, but at least this driver avoided taking out a light pole. What are the odds that I would see two such vehicular spectacles in the space of a few days?
The fountains usually greet me at the beginning of the walk, but this day, they would be the dessert. And then as I approached, I saw this:



The water wasn't running. I have grown so accustomed to the power of this water that I was crestfallen. The ballet dancers are beautiful sculptures, but the water makes them breathtaking.
Sometimes when I get bored with the way I've been doing things, I mix things up. This happens most when it comes to the route I drive to or from work. The change of scenery changes my thought patterns. The thought patterns seem to be what bores me, so this strategy works. Generally when I take on a new route, I feel adventure and a sense of my world expanding. 
 
The backwards walk didn't feel expansive. It felt smaller. The disorientation was unnerving. I was having difficulty coming up with what the deeper meaning of this walk in reverse might be. So I slept on it. This morning in the shower (where the great thinking really happens) it came to me: trying new things is good, but so is sticking with the things that feel right. I've spent much of my life adjusting to what works for the people around me. It was a function of people pleasing. Those actions never felt right, but I did them out of habit. Today I know that doing what feels right--for my body in yoga, parenting my child the way that's best for her despite what others assert, and taking walks in the direction that feels most meditative--is the very best way to live a life.
 
I haven't repeated the walk in reverse since that day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

18. Running Errands

I was first a girl from two small towns, and then became a suburbanite as a young adult. I do not have access to public transportation, so I spend 90 minutes a day commuting to and from work. I like where I live. I've chosen a location where most of the shopping and services I need are relatively close. I can drive to the library, grocery, and dry cleaner with relative ease, but none of the services I need on a daily basis are accessible by foot.

The daily walks have added a new dimension to my productivity. By folding errands into some days' meditative walking—to the bank to deposit money, to the shoe repair shop, to the post office, and to the bookstore I feel the modern stress of “so much to do, so little time” ease. Just an errand a day or two a week, and the stress dissipates.

I'm also a romantic and a minimalist with European sensibilities. I love the idea of walking to the market every day for the food I need. While I'm not crossing that particular chore off the list on my walks, the other errands feel like a fill in. 
 
I stumbled on this interview with Sting and Jimmy Fallon. It combines two of my favorite things: Sting and walking! Sting talks about the privilege of having the opportunity to walk to work. I could absolutely relate. If only I could walk to work!

Monday, October 17, 2016

17. What I Found Whilst Walking

In the spirit of the heightened awareness this habit has cultivated in me step-by-step, today I'm writing about the random things I have found on my walking path. They are obscure, insignificant objects. They caught my attention. They piqued my writer-brain, which led to posing questions and kept me entertained as I walked my route. 
 

These shoes were on the sidewalk across the street from a court building. I snapped a picture and thought, What's the story here? Does the person miss these shoes? Did they hurt his feet? How were they abandoned exactly in this place?

The next day I passed the shoes again. In the very same spot. Do they constitute litter on day two? Is someone coming back for them?

I was prepared to take a third photo, but when I came to this stretch of sidewalk the shoes were gone. Who took them?


This sheet of styrofoam was waiting for me on the stretch of sidewalk near the trash can. Lucky break. I didn't have to carry it far.
It was a litter-picker-upper's jackpot. I couldn't stomach the idea of it being passed over and stepped on or broken apart into a million pieces. So much easier to dispose of it now, and avoid a bigger mess.



We have a coin jar at church. When the offering is collected, the children gather loose change from the congregation's wallets. I pick up every coin I find. Small gesture added to small gesture makes difference. I pick up every penny.





Again, how do shoes get abandoned? Does the wearer notice that she's only wearing one shoe? These are the big questions sights like these induce in this walker.



There's not much to say about this sofa pillow. It caught my attention because, well in a way, it's litter. It doesn't belong in the center of an intersection. I didn't retrieve it because I don't belong in the middle of an intersection rescuing a sofa pillow either.


This abandoned glass sat in the side yard of a home I pass everyday for nearly a month. A friend said she thought it was a glass from the Ritz Carlton hotel a few blocks past the home. I looked for this glass every day and contemplated what I should do with it, how it got there in the first place, and how long it would stay there. I was intrigued that the homeowners hadn't noticed it, but it is a stretch of yard that isn't mowed, so I understood how it would get passed over.
Then one day I looked and it had shattered. There had been a storm the night before, and I assumed it had been struck by something. I was a little disappointed when my game was over. I left the glass in pieces just as I found it and kept walking. 
 

A reminder that a new season is around the corner. What new ideas will I think up as I walk in cooler temperatures and crunch on leaves that turn fiery red and fall to the ground?


This is my friend, Jana. She's one of my best friends at work. One day I noticed a car slowed in the street to my left. I hadn't noticed it at first because I was preoccupied with the podcast I was listening to, but finally the driver got my attention, and it was Jana!


More nature.




I wonder when I see an abandoned shipping slip, “Is there a parcel waiting to be picked up?” Should I pick it up and do something with it? I choose to keep walking.





More of the same.


I found this little bit of loveliness on a family's driveway. It made me think of the cutie drawings my daughter has done in her childhood career.


This saying caught my eye as I passed my favorite retail store on my path. I like the idea of marrying adventure in the second half of life.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

15. People Who Cross My Path

One time I said to a friend, “Don't you just look at the people around you and feel so connected to them? So full of love for them?”
 
She looked at me blankly. “No, I really don't feel that.” Her answer wasn't judgmental just resolutely no.

In that moment, I remembered that I'm not like most people. 
 
##

A few years ago when I was sad and confused, I decided to flirt with the world. It was a decision that would change my life. This flirtation takes the form of making eye contact with every human being with whom I come in contact. I offer a smile. I relish their responses. I'm delighted when I get a smile in return, and am undaunted when it is not. No one is spared this smile/connect campaign: man, woman, teen, child, baby. No one is exempt. Not even intimidating beautiful, men.

This is scary territory for me. It's a vulnerable assignment. People don't expect to be seen like this. With intention by a stranger. I persevere. This simple act fills me with hope and great love.

I remember the young teenager who served me at the McDonald's drive-thru. He had a beautiful smile, so I told him. This is not what he expected from a white woman. A look of surprise flashed across his face, and then he smiled more. 
 
There's the dad at school who never smiled. He became a project. I looked him in the eye and smiled every time we brought our children to school at the same time. He was a tough nut to crack. I kept smiling, and he kept staring at me. And then one day, he looked in my direction and waved. From then on we've exchanged a smile and hello. Now it seems he seeks out the exchange. Success!

##

I am my father's daughter. We don't know a stranger. We strike up conversation with everyone—the cashier at Home Depot, people in line at the grocery, you get the idea. Our warmth melts people, and they respond. These random conversations have led to interesting relationships:
  1. Seated next to a pregnant woman carrying twins on an airplane, I mentioned that I was considering moving to France to be an au pair after college graduation. By the end of the flight, the woman asked if I would consider nannying for her family. Nannying for the twin boys was my first job out of college.

  2. On another flight, I was pregnant and seated next to a woman who was recovering from a broken heart. I shared my experience of a college heart break. We exchanged information at the end of the flight. We've been acquaintances for ten years.

  3. Standing below the Prague Astronomical Clock in the historic town center waiting for our city tour begin, a mother and daughter heard my travel companions and me speaking English. “May we wait with you for the tour? We don't hear many people speaking English,” Lisa explained in her beautiful Northern Irish brogue. They toured with us for the three days we spent in the city. We've exchanged Christmas greetings, wedding invitations, and baby announcements in the eleven years since that cool Czech morning.

    ##
It comes as no surprise that this walking habit has peppered my path with a new cast of delightful characters. The smile/connect campaign continues as I walk through Clayton.

Patty was in her front yard one day as I walked by. I admired her new landscaping, started asking some questions, and ended up getting the name of a landscape architect for my own yard.

 ##

Jeremy is an ambassador at the Panera Community Cafe, a social experiment the company launched to feed the community. Those who can afford the suggested price pay that or more, and those who cannot, pay what they can. Jeremy and I struck up a conversation one day as I ate my meal and wrote a handwritten letter. Jeremy remembered me the next time I came in for lunch and a friendship emerged. We've seen each other on the sidewalk as he makes a food delivery. We hug, wish each other well, and continue to our individual destinations. I am always greeted with a warm welcome when Jeremy is working.

Recently I went for lunch and didn't see him. I assumed I'd missed him on his day off. I went in again a day or two later, and he wasn't there again.  I asked one of his coworkers about him. He's not at Panera anymore. He got a better paying job closer to home. I am thrilled for him, and sad for me.

##

I took my shoes in for repair and met Linda. She and her husband have owned the shop for thirty years. They have five children. She's a warm woman, proud of the work she does.

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One day I walked to the Barnes & Noble.  The store is a long walk from my office, so I was walking as quickly as I could to get there and back within the hour. The stretch of sidewalk I was walking was on a steep incline. I noted an attractive blond man leaning up against a brick retaining wall outside a restaurant. I got shy and almost didn't look at him, and then remembered that I interact with EVERYONE. Just as I looked up, locked eyes, and smiled, my toe hit a crack and I tripped. In front of this beautiful man. I smiled and kept walking.

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The final regular character I greet on my walks is a TopCare employee. He sweeps the grounds of the office building in which I work. He waters the plants. I wave and smile at him. At first, I could tell he didn't know what to make of my outreach. Over the course of the summer, he's figured out that this is what I do. Now he readily waves when he sees me.

##

This smile/connect campaign has been a balm to me this summer as I work to understand how there can be so much hatred and distrust of people. Since I believe in the power of the smallest gestures, this campaign makes me feel like I am doing my part to sow seeds of peace and harmony wherever I go. Call me Pollyanna. I am certain these brief interactions have made ripples in other people's lives. I know they have improved mine.

This TED Talk echoes my experiences as I have interacted with the random people who crossed my path. I love the speaker's description of talking to strangers as “beautiful interruptions.” My life is richer for each of these often fleeting moments.