Monday, November 18, 2013

Days of Paradox

Grief and gratitude are kindred souls, 
each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace. 
Patricia Campbell Carlson

As our days become shorter and cooler, I am reminded of how fall is a season of beginnings and endings. On a personal level, it's a season where I celebrate the birthdays of many friends, and a season where I commemorate anniversaries of many loved ones. Fall, more than the other seasons, makes me confront my own mortality and embrace the preciousness that each day brings. As we leave the languishing days of summer behind and embrace the crisp morning air, there's a sharpness and acuity to life in the fall that heightens ones senses. There are many extraordinary days etched in my calendar during this season--days of celebration and days of mourning. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than on November 6th.

For the past twenty years, every November 6th has been a balancing act for me. November 6th marks our wedding anniversary, and it also marks the day that my dad died. It's definitely a strange twist of fate that these two events (one so joyful, the other so painful) fall on the same day. This year marked our 30th wedding anniversary, and the 20th anniversary since my dad passed.

When my dad died in 1993, I wondered if we would ever be able to significantly celebrate our anniversary without sadness. But what I've learned is that we are able to acknowledge both events with the appropriate emotions. I think this is true because my dad was so much more to me than the day he died. I choose to remember him for all of the other days he lived and the important part he played in my own life.

Having said that, I do think it's important to honor the days of the deaths of loved ones with gratitude for their presence. In Judaism we light a special yahrzeit candle on the anniversary that burns for 24 hours in memory of our loved one.  It is believed that the candle represents their soul that we continue to carry in our hearts, and the flame reminds us of them. I also appreciate the way death is acknowledged in Mexico and other Latin American countries with their observance of the Day of the Dead. I like that they have a day every year (November 1) where they build an altar, put up pictures, and share stories and anecdotes about their loved ones. It's a way of being mindful of the passing of loved ones and grateful for the time we had with them on this earth. I think it, in turn, helps us find greater meaning in our own lives.

As we get older, the calendar of our lives becomes crowded with all sorts of significant days--both celebratory and painful. It's inevitable that a well-lived life is going to be filled with these markers. That's the byproduct of living a life with deep connections. Our task is to face these moments with gratitude and embrace the paradox. For it's an inevitable truth that the more we love someone, the deeper we mourn. 

Here's one of my favorite poems by Gunilla Norris on Paradox:


By Gunilla Norris

It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise

when we first try to sit in silence.

It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.

It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us

so fully into life and being.

Our minds do not like paradoxes.  We want things

to be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.

Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.

We each possess a deeper level of being, however,

which loves paradox.  It knows that summer is already

growing like a seed in the depth of winter.  It knows

that the moment we are born, we begin to die.  It knows

that all of life shimmers, in shades of becoming

—that shadow and light are always together,

the visible mingled with the invisible.

When we sit in stillness we are profoundly active.

Keeping silent, we can hear the roar of existence.

Through our willingness to be the one we are,

We become one with everything.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A 21-Day Gratitude Challenge

Only gratefulness, in the form of limitless openness for surprise, lays hold of the fullness of life in hope.

David Steindl-Rast

I just learned of a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge put on by YES magazine and that I wanted to let you know about. As I've written about many times, gratitude has helped me find my way through my grief in ways that are almost impossible to explain. When your life is turned completely upside down and you realize just how impermanent it all is, then it's only natural to begin to focus on the present and everything that we have right now. Being grateful for all the little things that make up my day, helps me create a more meaningful life. Of course, that sounds a bit simplistic, but I think you get the general idea. 

Anyway, this 21-Day Gratitude Challenge is coming on the heels of a Kindness Challenge they did back in September. While the Kindness Challenge focused on the many ways people can give, the Gratitude Challenge will focus on the many ways one receives. As they say on their website, "an attitude of gratitude is a surefire way to fill your heart." And when your heart is full, kindness naturally flows. 

The Challenge begins this Thursday November 7 and ends (appropriately enough) on Thanksgiving Day. I signed up today, and if you are interested, I encourage you to check it out. Right now there are 7369 people signed up. Here's the link

As I understand it, participants will receive a daily e-mail with inspiration and ideas for recognizing gratitude in your day. I've been meaning to start a gratitude journal, so perhaps this will be the kick-start I need to make that happen. 

As we all know, it's far too easy to rush through our lives and not take the time to look around at what is right before us. But taking time to experience true moments of awe and gratitude can help bring us into the present moment, which in turn makes life more meaningful.

Finally, even if you don't wish to participate, I encourage you to go to the link and scroll down to the bottom of the page for a short 12-minute video clip about a 108-year-old Holocaust survivor. I remember when this video made the rounds a couple of years ago, and it is definitely worth a viewing. Alice Herz Sommer speaks many truths throughout the video, not the least of which is that she has learned to be thankful for everything.  Isn't that something we should all strive for?