19 July 2010

a bit of kindness

I had thought to chatter a bit about the marvelous Carole King and James Taylor concert one evening in Oakland--and it was wicked indeed...the memories that the songs evoked (my oh my), the energy of a live performance, the quick dry humor of James Taylor, the genuine care and friendship that could clearly be seen between two people who are each in their own right quite accomplished song writers and composers, as well as performers--but other moments leading up to that night are just as pronounced in my mind and bear sharing.

I must begin by saying that I don't know how or why people (strangers) happen on me, how they know to talk to me and know that I will talk to them in kind (because I don't want to appear rude).  It just seems to happen.  I can have my nose buried in a book or in knitting, my back to them, my body language saying "I'm on quiet time with myself"--it doesn't seem to phase some people.  And although many friends will shake their head with a firm "I don't believe you", I am a shy person, one who finds it difficult to talk to strangers and is uncomfortable in large crowds.  Having said that, I met two people on Monday.  Two people who needed some conversation, some contact at that time in their lives.  One, a twenty-one year old woman who, with her grandfather's support and love, is going to college, despite the wreck her parents made of their family (her words not mine).  I closed my computer, put aside my notebook, and we talked about life, struggles, and perseverance.  The other was a middle-aged man, fresh out of prison and living on the streets.  His face had been badly sunburned a few days before but was starting to heal.  He asked to share the shade under a tree where I was reading.  We talked about choices in life and possibilities of new chances.  He asked for a hug as I left--I declined--but shook his hand and told him it was good to have meet him.  I tell you about these two encounters because it helped shape my thoughts and attention throughout the rest of the day and into the evening.

Later that evening, after we had been driving around looking for a spot to have some dinner in Oakland, without luck (one choice was closed, another was too long of a wait), we chose Denny's (I know...it's very much not my "thing" but I wasn't going to the concert without something half way fresh and fulfilling inside my body, and the choices later would be pizza and fried foods, so Denny's it was).  They were quite busy with both the concert and an A's baseball game the same night, and they were short-staffed.  Despite these issues, the waitress was courteous, good-natured, and warm, sharing her warm smile with everyone.  As we left, I handed her a tip much beyond the standard.  She stopped, tears in her eyes, and gave me a hug--the kind of hug that is reserved for long-time friends or beloved relatives.

Yes, the concert was brilliant, but it was the "topper" to an entire day with bits of human connections.  I think sometimes we run through our days, link with our circle of people, and forget that there are so many moments of kindness we could give to others, to strangers.  Usually it's the small gestures that can turn a person's day around, like Anna's encounter at the grocery market.

09 July 2010

mindful of the moments

"There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life." 
~~Pema Chodron

::  Breathe.  We live in times where technology is both friend and foe.  I often wonder what I would do without the internet or cell phone.  How life would be different without instant (or near instant) links and connections to information or people!  I use these snappy technologies to plan trips, to connect with friends old and new, to find a recipe, to research just about anything, to send a quick note.  But this constant link to everyone and everything can be draining.  A friend I communicate with and know only through technology (and an occasional package of lemons to her home from mine) has recently made a decision to slow down her connection with technology, returning to more elemental and grounded pursuits.  I have to applaud her true grit in committing to this change.  There is indeed something to be said for infusing her days with family first, taking time to breathe in life, savoring moments in a quiet personal way.  Others are choosing to disengage completely from all technology.  Yes, certainly, there is need to separate when each day is consumed with being linked, when moments go unnoticed, when one can't breathe.

::  Listen.  When our daughter was young (she's an adult now, even though that smacks both my mind and hers with a resounding thump followed by a "wow"), we lived quite a distance from her school.  That travel time, both morning and evening, gave her a one-on-one captive audience for connecting and listening.  Whether she was traveling with Papa or Mama, great conversations (sometimes prompted by NPR, sometimes prompted by her day at school), dreams, problems, and plans were explored.  We listened to her in a way that would not have taken place had we been at home, distracted by those daily chores and routines.  Because we developed this dialogue exchange as part of our everyday family pattern, there was, and continues to be, trust and a deep bond in our relationship.  There were other, maybe more typical moments each day, each week, when we shared, like gathering at the kitchen/dining table at meal time or traveling to/from swimming meets on weekends.  Whatever the primary purpose, the best outcome was to connect, to listen, to enjoy each other.

::  Observe.  Having my camera has been my best tool for noticing details.  It has reminded me of how children observe the world, especially small children.  If one crunches down on eye level of a two year old, the view looks so different.  There's a richness, an intensity, we tend to miss as adults because we are always looking at the big picture, the horizon.  Starting when she was wee, our daughter would collect seed pods and rocks, little gifts of nature she would happen upon on walks.  The rock obsession continued well into her teen years, spotting a color, a shape, a texture, to add to her treasury.  Using the camera reminds me to stop and consider attributes of what appears to be simple everyday items and occurrences in that adult eye, to regard with a different perspective.  With a release of the shutter, a moment is seized, held captive, observed.
**  The rock collection?--some were deemed unworthy as time went on, but many remain in boxes or have found their way to my own shelves, tabletops, containers.