Making melodies out of the humdrum.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I have been thinking about gratitude today.  Mostly because a most wonderful friend of mine shed some light for me this weekend.  She always has a way of doing this, and then two weeks later I'll say, "Remember that time when you said...." Usually, she doesn't remember, which goes to show, perhaps (or, I know) how genuine she truly is. 

Anyways, gratitude, according to Courtney, is wonderful because if it is real and in you, you are not stuck in the past, nor in anticipation of the future.  Instead, you are fully thankful for the here and now.  

I think gratitude helps us to be present. And if secured, it might just turn into the realest kind of hope. 

To remember, she gave me the poem below, it's by W.S. Merwin and taped to my wall. 

So, here's to gratitude:  

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with all the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Simple Truths

If you can't go deep, than you can't go high. 

Sometimes these words ring true.  But, not always.  That is: Does getting to the heart of things always beget freedom? Or, sometimes (if not all the time) is that free and fresh feeling a gift given to us and not at all the work of our own hands? 

May Sarton once said, "Go deep enough, and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard."  I like her insight, but I'm not sure if I cling to it as tightly as I once did.  Now, my affinity for a view like May's developed in and around a lot of things:  a liberal-artsy education for one, a penchant for all things philosophical, my idealism, and as I'm learning, my aversion to simplicity. 

I don't say "aversion" because I don't like it-- it's just a little counter-intuitive for me. I think it's hard to be simple in our culture. There's too much buzz about simple living and too many ways to "do" simplicity.  Which part of simple living are you going to embrace? Recycling?  Eating organic (or is it all-natural?) foods only? Committing less? Meditating every morning? Spending more time with friends and less time in the office? We have to wade through the options, which I guess is the point. I am not a very good wader.  I get distracted, and see each option as too opportune to forgo. Sometimes these "opportunities" makes for lots of mind-clutter (read: anxiety), sometimes these "opportunities" make for inspiring vision (read: daydreaming). 

In general I like this part of me, because I think it makes me a pretty deep person.  I don't mean extraordinarily intelligent or philosophically profound, I just mean deep. To me, life never feels simple because, well, there's just a lot out there.   Living is rich and full and brimming with deep suffering and joy. And I am curious about these things, and would like to feel them, and know them. Elizabeth Browning said it best: "Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes-- The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries." 

I don't just want to be a plucker, I want to take off my shoes.  But I wish I could find a way to make this simple in my life. 

The problem (or blessing, somedays) is, I think and see and dream a lot in layers.  Anyone with me here? The most concrete example I can give is that of language.  In college, I studied this theory explaining words as meaningless out of context. In short, language is loaded and therefore useless at face-value. For example, the word rain is a lament when spoken by a farmer whose crops are dying from drought. This is markedly different than a child looking out the same window, lightly singing, "rain, rain, go away."  The mood, the tone and the speaker all matter-- not just a tad, but significantly.  And it is only when we consider this significance that we can actually glean meaning from one. single. solitary. word.  

So, I do this.  Not just with words.  But with life.  Don't worry, I'm not totally neurotic or anything; I don't think it is a diagnosis-worthy condition. But, I get a little sick of the devil's advocate game I play and the pitter patter in my head.  You ask me why she said that snide remark that hurt your feelings? Well, tell me what she had for breakfast, her last conversation with her boyfriend, whether or not she thinks sarcasm is an appropriate way to communicate, and perhaps, the way that her mother addressed her growing up.  Then, I might be able to shed some light on the situation. It takes some time.  Not to mention all sorts of energy.

I used to get really obsessive about just figuring it out.  Figuring out A through Z (then back up to L then down to Q) before drawing any conclusions.  There definitely is good in that process.  Like they say, it's the journey, right?  But, I don't think such a journey is the only way to the one true thing--  to the rich experience that I, and I'm sure most of us, crave. Or as Elizabeth would say, to the thing that moves us to take our shoes off.  

Sometimes, the reality or the end result, is just given to us, and quite quickly, without notice, preparation or due process. Sometimes the emotion is that raw, that deep, that real, that it simply does not matter. It does not matter how you got there, because it just is. 

In the line of work that I am in, I have the deep (deepest for that matter) privilege and sorrow of seeing people overcome by things that just are.  There is no rhyme or reason that warrants the simplicity and sincerity of grief.  And sometimes, if the timing is right, I am genuinely overcome too. For them? On behalf of them? Because of them? I'm not so sure which one it is.  

Still, I have no choice but to take off my shoes. 

It's as simple as that. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009


About a year ago, I came across a bit of spiritual wisdom that resonated well with me.  I don't remember who it was or where it was, but it stuck.  The gist was: mundane religious habits and habitual acts of worship oftentimes feel silly, basic even, in light of our extraordinary God, but even so, they are important. Why? Because they help us to remember.

And we are so forgetful, aren't we? 

I'll speak for myself.  I know I am quite easily distracted by the newest, brightest (and often fleeting) idea, hobby, fashion, relationship or the like.  And quite frankly, living in new inspiration feels far better than singing the doxology every Sunday or tithing every month. But even so, the habit still helps me to remember.  Once again, in between the lines of the song, I think or sense that my God does not change, and that He is with me, and that He is the Love that will not leave.  And even when I do not feel close to Him, the practice keeps me anchored at least for a little bit. I have learned to trust the motions and God's working in them, albeit that my heart does not always sing.  

I thought about this idea of remembering when I framed a picture from my trip to Africa and put it on my desk at work.  Random, I know.  Hear out the connection.  I am not a linear thinker.

For two weeks in May, I went to Rwanda.  I experienced a nation pulled by the tension of two deep attachments: fear and hope.  I played with Rwandan children.  I learned Rwandan dances. I shopped at Rwandan markets.  I worshipped with Rwandan people.  And then I left.  

I think about Rwanda often and feel a little confused.  I am not trying to be dramatic, but I really do. I came back to the United States on June 3rd, and everything went back to normal.  I did not cry about my trip, or have a hard time reconnecting to my friends, I did not become overwhelmed by the daily abundance we experience here in the United States.  I'm not even sure that I was all that jet-lagged.

So, I think this "confusion" comes in part from the smoothness of my transition. I know that many people have a rocky transition, but I did not. I hope this doesn't make me a bad person. But, I think I just forgot.  Gosh, I am embarrassed by how easily I forgot the richness of dancing in the rain, or holding their hands, or watching them smile. 

So, when I framed the picture of me with six Rwandan boys that you see above, it felt funny. It felt funny because I am distant now, and it would be silly for me to think that I fostered a deep and meaningful connection when really we just shared a meal one afternoon in late May.  But, I framed it anyways, because I want to remember.  

And I believe that the experience was rich enough, deep enough, pure enough, that it will continue to bear fruit, even though I am far from it.  At least I hope so. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I left work yesterday evening on edge.  

I am still learning the level of concern for my clients that is appropriate-- that is: how to take enough responsibility over my work and the people I help, while not so terribly concerned that I don't properly care for myself.  Needless to say, I closed my office door feeling quite accompanied a) by the family that followed me out of my office and b) by the heartache of their current crisis and the imminence of the next one. All I could do was text my friend when I sat down in my car and say, "our jobs are so intense." Pretty basic statement.  But it's all that squeaked out of me and sometimes I have to share. 

I drove home feeling altogether giddy and tragic- tired out by the day, but tugged by the gratification I feel at work in the midst of the chaos.  To that end, sometimes I think that I am such a believer in the therapeutic process because it can provide just that-- a bit of peace, or comfort, or sense (i.e. a moment where you feel loved & affirmed ) in between the chaos (i.e. life). Sometimes its overwhelmingly hopeful, sometimes it allows you to hang on. Either way, it's enough.  In this, therapy looks so different for everyone.  There are many models that I learned in school-- helpful, well researched, well established, effective models.  Sometimes (few times), I ask a question of a client and think, "I just did x y and z." Most of the time, I trust that the knowledge I have is in me enough that I can rely on my intuition and go. 

This time (yesterday), therapy looked like this: 

Client walks in my door, wide-eyed. Looking terrified. My heart breaks for her. I give her an ugly purple stuffed animal. She looks at me inquisitively. I tell her I know it is pretty ugly, but it is so soft, I promise.  She looks at me like I'm weird but holds it tightly.  I ask her if she wants to talk about all the stuff we both know is going on. She shrugs. I turn on some quiet music. It's really quiet.  She pulls out a pack of MnM's she has in her pocket.  I tell her I don't like the blue ones.  She says she doesn't either.  She tells me (for about thirty seconds) why she is so scared.  Then she looks even more scared that she just told me. I tell her she doesn't have to say anything more. Quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet. I ask her if I can give her a hug. We hug. Quiet. Quiet. Quiet. Almost like someone is saying, shhhh, shhh, shhhh. 

 She asks me what my favorite movie is.  I tell her Pride and Prejudice.  She looks at me funny (for like the tenth time). I tell her I like books.  Then she asks me my favorite book. I tell her. Now we are playing the favorites game.  (Favorite song, favorite TV show, favorite know how it goes).  Then it's quiet for a long time again. She eats her MnM's and sits and cries. I tell her I am so sorry and that I am here. 

The end.

Who would have thought? Mnm's and the purple furry thing in my office corner.  And silent hushes. Therapy? Still trying to figure it out. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A New Friend

I am reading a book right now by Wendell Berry. It's called "Jayber Crow," and is the story of a barber (Mr. Crow) living in a coastal community called Port William. I hope Port William is somewhere in the Northwest, like Seattle or Portland, because that's how I picture it. Like many of the books on my shelf, the pages don't contain a whole lot of riveting plotline. I like growing with a character more than I like following a series of events.  When it comes to reading (and probably, life), I am most present with characters when I am privy to their thoughts, rather than partnered in their actions.  For me, good writing lifts people off the page, and I get attached and want to be friends with them.  I know that's kind of weird and impossible, but it's true. When I was in fourth grade, I used to tell my mom these things, and she would listen and nod her head for awhile, but then always ask me if I needed her to write a letter to the teacher to excuse me from reading these books. I'm not sure she got my point,  but I think she was just trying to help.

Anyways, I say all of this because I've decided, with 100 or so pages left in this book, that I'd really like to meet Jayber Crow. I have developed a deep affinity for this introverted, thoughtful barber. He grows up with limited attachments, bouncing from one relative's home to the next, but stands firmly on the vision of "making something of himself." In the first part of the novel, he routinely uses this phrase, enough so I think it soothes him because it is a pretty idea to cling to.  At first, this "making something of himself" means ministry, and the pending "call" or (lack thereof) keeps him awake at night-- wide-eyed, frightened and far too alert. Once he finds Port William and truly lives into the richness of this place and these people, he finally, (finally!) feels at home and quits trying so hard. He breathes.  

Around this home-coming, Jayber also becomes quite content to fade into the background-- a far cry from the lofty ideals he once held for himself. He does, what we might call, basic, if not perfunctory jobs: he is a barber, a grave-digger, and a church custodian.  He cuts hair, buries people, and cleans up after they worship. In these things, he finds peace and rest.  He experiences the things that matter in this world-- love and grief and joy balled up in the same moment. It seems that he lives by a few basic rules, and trusts that the rest might follow; 1) He shows up 2) He pays attention 3) He listens well.  In this, he says: "And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart." 

I read this line and first thought of John 3:16- the sacrificial Godly love that moves me to be who I am.  It's something I think about every day, and try to believe it (some days more than others), act on it (again, some days more than others) and in my own way, share with others. Sometimes I think I'm doing a good job, sometimes I think I'm missing the mark.  The latter more than the former.  But when I read Jayber's humble epiphany on page 254, I really believed him. I really believed that he was so loving and so gracious to the people he serves, to the community he has found himself in and to the seemingly ordinary gifts he has been given. I really believed that giving and grieving, for Jayber, go hand in hand, and it is altogether joyful. 

I think I am scared to death of finding that balance. Jayber doesn't seem to be. 

So, I'd like to meet him. 

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I thought about what to name my blog for some time. I'm not really sure how important titles are in this whole blogging world, but to me, a title is like a theme, and I like themes, so I figured I'd better pay attention to it.  I made wrote down prospective titles on the back of my grocery list, and even typed some out on the computer.  Some of my options, I think, were really bad, and maybe my winner isn't the most ingenious either, but here is why it felt right:
  1. I hum a lot. You might think it's one of those awkward fill-the-silence kind of things, but I don't really think that's the case. I'm pretty okay with silence. I think I hum when I'm content, the way we might smile or daydream or play or listen well when we are content. But humming lasts longer. And you can switch up your melody. And if its not annoying, it might be catchy. 
  2. I love music but most of the time, I forget the words to songs.  I'll remember the tune well enough to hum so it's halfway recognizable. There's comfort in that, isn't there? That the essence might be in the harmony, not the details?
  3. Humming is simple and wholesome and direct. Sometimes I wish my life was.
So, there you have my justifications. Please don't make fun, because clearly, I put some thought into this :)