The Night Sky

The picture, taken with my cellphone, doesn’t capture the magnificence of the night sky as viewed from the ridge where I live.

It was too hot to sleep in my bedroom last night. After turning in the bed, trying to find a comfortable portion, and sweating all the while, I laid a blanket on the small deck outside, made myself comfortable, and watched the stars. I thought about how, before I moved to this place where there is little light pollution and dark means dark, I went for weeks—even months—without looking up. Where was my attention if not turned to the natural glory around me? I may have been too turned inward to notice the sky.

Looking at the stars, it doesn’t take long for me to turn inward anyway. As I look, I think two things at once: Given the vastness of all that is, how is it that I am? And: Given that I am in the midst of this great vastness, how can my response be anything other than gratitude?

May I stay in the middle of those thoughts, humble and grateful at the same time.

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Less Is More, But More Is Better

Lakshmi

I am pleased with my new wall hanging of Lakshmi. Its impact exceeds its $17.00 price tag, and Amazon Prime delivered it within three days. Outlined with sequins, the image reflects the light through the window, brilliant in the morning light, and faintly glowing throughout the night.

Many days after a recent yoga practice introduced me to her story, my thoughts return to the idea of abundance that Lakshmi represents. It’s a good time of year, with Thanksgiving coming up, to have this added reminder visible from my bed, prompting me to be grateful.

Our bedroom walls are schizophrenic. To the right is Lakshmi, the latest addition. Between the two windows is a simple cross I made of two large branches. On the left wall is a huge canvas of three Buddhas. Behind the bed there are four shallow wall shelves that hold a hodgepodge of assorted items: a Winnie the Pooh from my childhood, tools my father owned, birthday cards from my kids, Frank’s grandmother’s opera binoculars, a copy of Les Miserables bound in five books. Also on that wall is a canvas of Audrey Hepburn wearing the quintessential little black dress. And to think I once went through a simplicity phase when I tried to reduce clutter. Schizophrenic, indeed.

My goal in buying the Lakshmi hanging was to have a reminder that I have all I need. But its presence has brought to light an opposite truth, the fact that I’m always looking for more. Instead of looking at the eternal flow of coins pouring from Lakshmi’s hand and visualizing my many blessings, like an overindulged child on Christmas morning who tears into present after present, never stopping long enough to play with one much less appreciate it, I look at those coins and wonder, “What’s next?”

I find myself as one who cries, “‘Peace! Peace!’ When there is no peace.” I aspire to hear the old hymn It Is Well with My Soul as the song that plays inside my head, and yet all I hear is Britney Spears’ Give Me More.

I believe gratitude for what I have can lead me to contentment and joy, but my bedroom walls belie that supposition. This ailment refuses to confine itself to material procession but taints both my image of self (if I only weighted more, if my hair was only this color, if my beard was only this long, if only…, if only…, if only…) and my perspective regarding relationships (if he would just…). It sends me looking outward for something impossible to find because inner peace is inner, you dummy. The longing and searching creates even more discontent and turmoil, not only in yourself, but also for those caught up in your wake.

The abundance of coins ceaselessly cascading from Lakshmi’s hand pile onto an overflowing lily pad that floats in front of her lotus blossom seat. What if that lily pad of coins was all I had? It’s obviously more than enough. It’s mine. She’s given it to me. Why not just take it and be grateful? Maybe I can forget about the coins to come, and think instead of the coins that are. If another appears, how cool is that? I already had plenty, but thank you!

And is it heresy to think I could give that extra coin to someone else? As Sister Ann Wenita Morelove, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time imagining I look like Audrey Hepburn. What would it hurt to imagine that I am Lakshmi, where an endless supply of abundance flows through me to others?

Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.

— John Wesley

The Settling Place

The Settling Place

I am grateful for this book, The Settling Place, written by my mother. What started as an interesting ancestral story first expanded to a narrative intended for grandchildren, nieces and nephews, then finally ended up as a historic novel that took years to write.

Set in the town where I grew up, The Settling Place tells the story of one family’s dreams and how tragedy may be overcome by perseverance and grace.

Fa-re-ed

Fred the Cat

Today I am grateful for my cat, Fred.

Fred came into our lives a couple of years after we moved into our home of fourteen years. In the move we brought with us a solid black cat named Ray, but about a month after settling in he got out of the house and was probably eaten by coyotes. After trying to adopt a cat from the local animal shelter that turned out to be in poor health, eventually Frank and I found ourselves at Petco looking for a replacement through their adoption service.

There were several cats at Petco from which to choose, but I immediately honed in on a black cat, similar to our lost Ray, and asked a sales associate if I could hold him. Oddly, she replied, “You don’t want that cat. You want this cat.” She opened the cage, picked up a grey tabby, and put him in my arms. He immediately stretched out the length of my arm and nuzzled my neck with his head. The cat soon-to-be-named Fred knew he was going home with us.

Given Ray’s suspected demise, I try to keep Fred and our other critters in the house unless I’m outside and able to watch them. Fred often has other goals. He enjoys waiting inside the house by the interior door of the garage until I drive up to the house and open the garage door. That’s when he makes a run for it via the kitty door. His escape usually amounts to his running across the front porch and along the side of the house to the patio around back where he waits for me to let him back in. It’s a game we play.

Last night after dinner with a friend, Fred and I played this game, only this time he wasn’t waiting on the patio when I opened the sliding glass door to let him in. I called, “Fa-re-ed!” in the familiar way I do with no results. I did this off and on for the next hour, calling his name and shaking the kitty-treat jar. Nearing panic, I expanded my search until I eventually found myself walking through the neighborhood calling, “Fa-re-ed, Fa-re-ed!” along the sidewalk, up to the traffic circle, and around the overgrown briars, milkweed, sumac, and goldenrod on the hill behind our house. Desperate, I looked through the brush toward the patio when I saw a shadow, but in the dark at that distance I couldn’t tell if it was the base of the patio chair or the hoped-for silhouette of a cat. I made my way down the hill and into the yard. The shadow moved. Fred had returned.

I am grateful for Fred the cat and for his return. But as I examine how I felt during the search, I wonder about the nature of gratitude. Does gratitude take us to a place where we try to hold on to something lost? Does being grateful mean we hope to keep situations, pets, relationships, people, the way they are? Did my search and subsequent panic nearing despair make any difference to Fred, or was he in complete control of the situation from the beginning, watching from under a bush, or obliviously enjoying jungle-kitty mode as he stalked a mouse or a mole in the dark? How much of feeling grateful is tied up in actually being selfish, or in trying to control, rather than letting things be as they are?

I held Fred as I sat in a chair outside in the dark, feeding him his favorite treats  and releasing my frustration over the whole ordeal, relieved, content, and grateful.