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Hubris

Human hubris is not something I’m grateful for, let me be clear. But it seems to be a fact of life and a condition of our species’ nature. So I just want to name it. It’s time, as a friend said today, to call it ‘climate catastrophe’ instead of ‘climate change.’ It’s been time for awhile. Extraordinary drought, extraordinarily high sustained winds, and apparently a downed power line, today led to an extraordinary wildfire in the Boulder/Denver suburbs. By the time I turned off the TV an hour ago, more than 600 homes had been destroyed. No count yet on loss of life. Not to say this could have been avoided, given the human population of the area, and the trajectory we’ve been on sabotaging our planet’s climate for the past 150 years. Thinking, somehow, that we were in control!

As someone who lived in one of those decimated neighborhoods said to me twenty years ago, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” I had picked up Girl Scout cookies at her house, and asked how she felt about the new subdivision under construction across the field behind her cul de sac. Hers was a neighborhood about twenty years old, small homes separated by quarter acre yards. The new subdivision was McMansions jammed together wall to wall, hundreds of them in the same area that dozens of homes occupied in her neighborhood. She smiled with generous equanimity and said, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” A symptom of my privilege, I suppose, or my good fortune, that her answer surprised me.

In my neighborhood, where homes are separated by ten, twenty-five, or forty acres, and could also all be incinerated by a wildfire, I get grumpy that a new neighbor leaves on a glaring ‘security’ light overnight, shining right into one of my windows. If you can’t stand the dark, why move to an area like this? I wonder. We who’ve lived here awhile are grateful for our dark skies, and find these new spotlights a distressing intrusion. As, I imagine, do the wild animals whose land we share. Ah well. Worse things have happened, like the Marshall Fire. I live with the keen awareness that a single lightning strike, or careless cigarette, or rogue firework, can destroy my neighborhood. And still it feels, watching these planetary winds, these astonishing wildfires, these unprecedented floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, that I live in the safest neighborhood I possibly could. And for that, I am grateful.

I’m not grateful that the US Congressional representative for my neighborhood is psycho criminal insurrectionist Lauren Boebert, and I was super surprised to get a robocall from her–note that the transcription typo is Siri’s error, and the voice sounded right, and the message was on her point–from a number apparently registered to the Palestinian Territories. WTF? Did anyone else in this district get such a robocall? I could go on about that.

It might seem as though my three day break from the gratitude blog has soured my disposition! In truth, I’ve done a heroic job of staying positive over the past year, I’ve enjoyed a few days of going to bed early with a good book, and I’m still just as grateful for all the good things in my life, and in the world, as I have been. But I am experiencing a lack of patience today with stupidity. And I’m allowed a lapse, we all are. I spoke with one friend today who zoomed with a bunch of triple-vaxxed friends the other night, and a third of them had Covid. I spoke with another friend whose Trumpista family had gotten together for Christmas and half of them now have Covid, from her 4-year-old niece to her 70+ lung-cancer-missing-two-lobes sister. She is enraged at them all, and I can’t blame her. Equanimity, acceptance, compassion, and loving-kindness are not easy to practice. And yet, the alternative realm, in which I used to dwell, is just dark and pointless. I finally had to turn off coverage of the fires, and stream “Drag Race Italia” to reset my attitude.

There is so much beauty, grace, and kindness in this world, human and otherwise, that we can sense and experience if we choose to focus our attention on those things. There is so much that is out of our control, from the weather to the choices of others, that will only make us sick with despair if we choose to focus on that. Mindfulness is a balancing act: to be able to know the truth of all that is dark in human nature at the same time as knowing all that is good and bright. We maintain our sanity, our compassion, our humanity, by choosing to turn our attention to what we can influence, and letting go of all that we cannot. We can always affect those around us in a beneficial way by acts of generosity, kindness, compassion; by remaining calm in the shitstorms–or firestorms, or wind or snowstorms–around us; and by appreciating the most basic gifts our lives provide, from electricity and running water to enough food and the other species who share our world: cats, dogs, birds, deer, trees, bees, bunnies, wallabies (depending where you are!) and so many more, even spiders and snakes.

I’m grateful for eggs, mushrooms, onions, cheese, homemade hot sauce, and fresh parsley from a pot in the sunroom; grateful for a quick omelette for lunch today, and for all the friends and neighbors with whom I connected on this crazy busy day.

Gratitude Practice, One Year Later

I am still grateful for Liberty wooden jigsaw puzzles. And for the leisure to work one slowly, a bit a day, in between other work.

I’m grateful to know a little bit about birds of the world which not only helps with this puzzle, but reminds me of the wealth and diversity of life in the remaining wilds of this fragile planet. I have held macaws, cockatoos, and eagles on my arm; watched osprey and crested caracaras on the wing in the wild; I’ve befriended hummingbirds, magpies, jays, phoebes, finches; I am grateful for all the birds who have touched my life, and for the thousands more kinds of birds I can only dream of. I’m grateful for a cat who has learned not to catch them anymore.

I’m grateful today that I did it: I kept my commitment to myself to post at least one thing I’m grateful for each day (except two or three) since last winter solstice. How the year has flown by! I’m grateful today for most of the same things I was a year ago, and for many of the same things I’ve been grateful for on most of the fleeting days in between.

I’m still grateful for coffee from Rubicon, and for biscotti and knowing how to bake it, and for having all the ingredients readily available; grateful for the luxury to work from home, where I can enjoy my little rituals in one room and return to my desk in another. I’m grateful for geraniums, an indoor garden, and the end of the darkening days.

I’m grateful for multi-colored LED lights, and a little fake Christmas tree, and being able to hang it with ornaments this year since Topaz has (I hope) outgrown her rambunctious adolescence. I’m grateful for spiritual traditions which celebrate love and life, for Christ and for Buddha, for the generosity and good will of friends and neighbors. I’m grateful for homegrown grapefruits that arrived in the mail today and the zing they’ll bring to many days this winter. I’m grateful for cookies, cakes, condiments, and a wreath that were all delivered to my door, and for the strength of community that brings joy and comfort in these dark days. I’m grateful for a life of connection despite isolation.

I’m grateful for gratitude practice, one year later, and for the innumerable benefits I’ve reaped from focusing my attention on gratitude every day for a whole year. I am happier, stronger, calmer, and more resilient; my heart is lighter, brighter, and more open; my grasp of the interdependence of all of us is stronger and more clear; the world I inhabit seems a kinder place than the one I dwelt in a year ago.

I won’t be stopping my daily gratitude practice, but I’ll no longer be posting those musings every single day. I’ll be grateful to go to bed some nights the moment I realize I’m sleepy! More than anything doing this practice over the past year, I am grateful for you, the friends I’ve known for years and those I’ve never met, who have followed me through this adventure and sent words of thanks, encouragement, support, and love. To hear that my simple practice inspires you to look at your own life through a lens of gratitude inspires joy that knows no bounds. May you be healthy and well. May you be safe, and free from harm. May you be genuinely happy. May you be filled with loving kindness, this winter holiday season, and always.

Poetry

Poetry on a plate: I’m grateful for gingerbread biscotti turning out so beautifully!

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges 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 thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our 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

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 door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our 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
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin. 

I’ve fallen in love with poetry all over again after years of ignoring it. I’ve fallen in love with a dead poet. I am a poet at heart, have always been, I see the world through a poet’s eyes; not a musician’s, a grocer’s, a farmer’s, a politician’s. I’m grateful for my poet friends Christine, Gary, Diane, Marion, Tara, Jane… and all the poets I’ll never know. Grateful for sonnets, sestinas, odes and lyrics; for free verse and form, for the particular sensitivity of the poetic soul. I’m grateful that my mentors introduced me to the soul of W. S. Merwin, 17th poet laureate of the US in 2010, with this quote:

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree” 

― W. S. Merwin

Why? Why would I want to plant a tree on the day the world is ending, when it will never grow big, when no one will sit in its shade or eat of its fruit? Why would I choose to do that, rather than run around like Chicken Little or try to satisfy every hedonic desire in the short time left? Well…

… Why would I not?

I’m grateful for poetry: for inspiration, consolation, validation, affirmation, transformation…

Diagnostic Imaging

Amy reminded me that I may not have mentioned popcorn yet: I’m grateful for popcorn!

I’m so grateful for all the X-rays, sonograms, mammograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging I’ve had in my life; grateful for the technicians who performed them, the radiologists who interpreted them, the medical schools and personnel who taught these people how to make these images and read them; the doctors and nurse practitioners who’ve shared my results with me. I’m grateful for the various machines, and all their tiny, complicated components, and the decades, centuries, of scientific investigation by thousands of humans whose names I’ll never know, that led to these machines being invented and improved.

And I’m grateful for the nameless lives of various creatures, maybe humans, lost ‘in the interest of science’ as these inventions evolved. This doesn’t mean that I condone testing on animals; simply that I accept that it has been done in the past (and there may be occasions when it’s still necessary, but certainly we’ve come far enough that most of it can be avoided), and I appreciate the sacrifices, willing or unwilling, that test ‘subjects’ have made through centuries. I can feel sorry that some things have happened, and still be grateful for the ramifications of the outcomes.

Anyway, back to the list: I’m grateful for the specific people that work in the Delta Hospital radiology department (and I know I’m not the only one) who consistently show such professionalism, efficiency, and compassion in their work. I’m grateful that my recent brain MRIs show only average signs of ‘aging.’ And I’m grateful that my cervical spine MRIs don’t show anything imminently life-threatening. I could whinge about the catastrophic evidence of: degeneration in the vertebral facets, “reversal of the normal cervical lordosis,” “moderate to severe left foraminal narrowing due to left-sided arthropathy and hypertrophy,” and “central canal stenosis with ventral cord flattening.” It doesn’t sound good, and certainly is enough words to explain this ongoing, worsening neck pain.

Oh well. It is what it is. Accepting this, now I can move forward taking into consideration options, making informed choices on the best ways to minimize physical and mental suffering, adapting my lifestyle with diet, appropriate postural adjustments, exercises, and therapies to improve my health. Yeah, it wasn’t great news, but it was more information than I had before, and reassuring in some respects: I don’t need surgery right now, for example, and there’s no cancer. While my brain may be a little older than the years allotted me so far, my spine might be fifty years older than that. One thing, though: my heart keeps getting lighter and younger every step of the way. Too bad they don’t yet have diagnostic imaging to evaluate consciousness; mine would show I’m getting better every day.

A Room with a View

As we wend our way toward winter solstice and the end of this daily gratitude blog, I begin to consider the many things I haven’t yet mentioned. So many! I’m grateful for a room with a view. When I wake each morning, grateful to be alive, this is the view that greets me. Today, I’m grateful it contains snow, and sunshine, juniper trees and mountains, distant neighbors and lots of space. I’m grateful for the familiarity and beauty of the view, and for the simplicity and comfort of the home from which I see the view. I’m grateful for the sense of stability and security these things impart to my little life, and for intermittent awareness that these seemingly solid elements are fleeting; in the grand scheme of things, as transient as this body I inhabit. I’m grateful for all the causes and conditions in my own life, and the lives of my ancestors, that led to my waking up day after day in this room, with this view.

Speaking of ancestors, I’m grateful for my dear sweet mother, gone these seventeen years; for how she loved and supported me, and how she remains in my life. Instead of guesstimating to slice the cinnamon rolls tonight, I dug into the desk drawer for a ruler, and pulled out this one, which I’m guessing is roughly eighty years old from her name inscribed on it. I haven’t seen this ruler for years, and its sudden appearance as a baking tool startled me into considering her as a schoolgirl, and then marveling that she kept this simple implement all her life, and that I kept it after she died. I’m grateful for the simple things in life and the grand.

I’m grateful that if I wake up alive again tomorrow, I’ll have fresh perfect cinnamon buns for breakfast.

Acceptance

“Yacht Race off Boston Light” three days underway. This pink sky is one of the most challenging sections of any puzzle yet.

Yesterday was interesting. I was too tired to write about it last night, and probably won’t do it justice tonight, but want to express my gratitude to the imaging technicians at Delta Hospital. Everyone was so kind, from the receptionists on. There were some little glitches, at intake and with the MRIs, that would once have really frustrated me, but my growing capacity for accepting things as they are instead of thinking that they should be different served me well.

I may have never met a more tender, compassionate, and sweet tech than Toni, the woman who did the bone density scan. We were practically in tears of loving-kindness by the time she led me back to the waiting room. The MRI tech was very business-like, though also considerate and kind. I remembered Deb’s encouragement to ask for what I needed, so asked for extra pillows to support my knees to reduce sciatic strain; and when the classical music station wouldn’t play, I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb. Remarkably, the only stations that would play were country, and something called ‘soft rock,’ which was horrible. I experienced extreme aversion during the first MRI as the DJ blithered on and on, and when there was ‘music’ its beat clashed with the machine noises inside my head until, despite a concerted effort to remain focused on my breath, I was completely rattled. I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb again when anxiety rose to unbearable-verging-on-panic, and fortunately that was the end of the first session. I continued in blessed internal silence for the next three tests. It was a lengthy exercise in conscious relaxation, first my face, then abdomen, then shoulders, back to abdomen, back to face–as one area relaxed another tensed up, and I cycled through one after the other, consistently returning attention to the breath. Nothing like a long MRI to strengthen meditation practice.

During the whole second scan, there was a little lump in the pillow, which bored into my head. I breathed through that, but it got worse and worse. It was fascinating to watch my mind deal with all these sensational challenges. She wanted me to keep my head perfectly still when she pulled me out to inject the contrast dye, but I had to insist that she smooth the pillow. It wasn’t really a pillow, just a folded cloth. She was exasperated, and in a hurry. I said calmly, as she prepared my arm to stick a needle into it, “I need to not feel anxious, and I need to feel that you’re not in a hurry.” She softened instantly, apologized, and explained that there were two emergencies waiting and there was only this one machine, and one of her. This put things in a different perspective for me, and we both calmed way down. She thought to put a little lavender patch on my chest, which actually helped a lot. This experience, which was stressful and could have been really horrible, was transformed by my ability to accept things as they were each step of the way, do what I could to change them, and then accept again. And again, there was much tenderness and well-wishing between us as she walked me out.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I left the hospital, for the emotional skill with which I’d navigated the morning, and decided to treat myself to a deli sandwich. But there’s no deli near the hospital, so I stopped at Sonic to see what I could find. At the drive-up menu, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to order factory-farmed chicken or beef, so I left; but circled back and ordered three fried sides. I was glowing with acceptance when the little girl brought my limeade and a small bag, and was only mildly disappointed to find inside the bag just one little wrapped burger. I accepted the error with good cheer, and she said she’d be right back with my order. Way too long later, two more “Welcome to Sonic, may I take your order” queries, and finally my bag of sides, I almost lost it when I opened the bag to find they were small instead of medium, and there was no mayo. Acceptance out the window! Attachment in high gear: I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it NOW! But still, I managed not to be too grumpy. When the manager brought a double handful of condiments and apologized, she said “It’s just the two of us, people didn’t show up…” My perspective adjusted itself instantaneously, all frustration melted, and I assured her it was no problem. We smiled and laughed and wished each other happy holidays.

The food was a big disappointment. But I accepted that easily. Fast food is what it is. I drove home filled with compassion for the people who worked at the hospital, the patients who needed emergency MRIs, the harried staff at Sonic, and deeply grateful for the skill of acceptance.

Artists

I’m grateful to have known many artists. Yesterday I finally reframed two dear artworks, a project I’ve been eager to accomplish for a year, and hung them on the living room wall. I realized with some sadness that most of the artists represented on that wall now are deceased. Dick Higgins was a friend of Auntie’s, and after she died her daughter sent me the small watercolor above. (Dick’s daughter Wendy is a phenomenal oil painter in Santa Fe, specializing in light.) I pirated an old frame and mat that had had a Japanese print in it for fifty years to reframe this one, which is not only a lovely image but also carries the breeze off the Rappahannock River at happy hour.

“Cats on the Furniture” is a print by one of the loves of my life, Daryl Harrison, who died of breast cancer in 2006. She was scientific illustrator for the University of Florida biology department when we lived next door in the 80s, and was staff artist at the Albuquerque Zoo for years before she died. This print perfectly captures her skill and her whimsy. It came in a silver metal frame, and the mat had faded, so I stole the frame and mat from an old pastel my mother made of me and Knobbydog, which always bugged me because she got his head wrong. I’m grateful I know my way around a picture frame.

When I owned a gallery in the 90s, I supported the artists by purchasing a lot of their works. One of my favorites is this fox by an artist still living, Daniel Logé. Another, below, is this lovely spring alpine scene by Richard Van Reyper. I became friends with his daughter when she brought some of his paintings to enter in a show. I was immediately enchanted with his work, and also with his daughter who became a friend. They’re both gone now. Gretchen succumbed with grace to cancer ten years ago, and I just learned that Dick died last year.

My mother painted a couple of versions of this vase with lilies of the valley, her favorite flower. Amy has the more abstract version of it, while I got to keep this one. She died in 2004. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. She loved the art of Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), and this print below, Fudo Falls, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was made the year before he died. Oh wait! That’s a Liberty puzzle!

And it’s not on my wall, but it was on my table for the past few days. Liberty carries a number of Hiroshige prints made into puzzles. I’m grateful to Sarah for sharing her puzzle collection with us here in Colorado, and thoroughly delighted in assembling this first of three. More on that, perhaps tomorrow. I’m grateful for artists and the infinite worlds they bring to life.

Meditation

Monkey mind had me in its grip tonight but meditation quickly calmed the screaming beast inside. (photo from Unsplash)

I found myself ruminating about an upcoming stressful event, and getting more and more physically uncomfortable, feeling flushed and short of breath, anxious, shaky, even angry–all from my thoughts alone. I am grateful I’ve been practicing meditation for years, and recognized a good opportunity to use this skill to calm myself. I lay down and played a 24-minute recorded meditation by B. Alan Wallace called “A Tour of Shamatha Practices,” which focuses the mind on the breath. In no time, my breath calmed, my mind calmed, and I let go of unskillful thoughts and projections. I certainly don’t know what the future will bring: why waste precious time fretting over it? It could as easily go well as poorly, and the attitude I bring to it will largely determine how stressful, unpleasant, or comfortable it will be for me. I’m grateful meditation restored mental balance tonight, and grateful I had the presence of mind to turn to it instead of letting monkey mind ruin my evening.

Favorite Things

Using up the last of the dog-pill ham on a sandwich with Havarti, mayo, mustard, and homemade bread & butter pickles, along with the last of the squash soup. I’m grateful to have enough to eat, and to recognize my good fortune rather than take it for granted.

I’m grateful for the simple pleasures of favorite things, like the chartreuse blanket Deb gave me years ago, the hori hori garden knife from Lee Valley that Garden Buddy noticed the other day, double dark chocolate Milano cookies, Zoom cooking with Amy, year round Christmas lights, a hot shower, bees on flowers, happy shows, the Raggedy Ann doll I’ve had for sixty years, a camera phone in my pocket, and a cheese sandwich with plenty of mayonnaise. It’s great to be grateful for these tangible things, and important not to look to them alone for happiness. I’m also grateful for a “life of the mind,” and for meditation and other skills to train that mind; for knowledge and wisdom acquired through years of choices, mistakes, and unintended outcomes, along with deeply satisfying results sometimes, like this house I live in. I’m grateful for new ideas and experiences, for old friends, and for a heart that keeps on ticking.

Knowing Better

I’m grateful for at least knowing better, when I engage in unhealthy behaviors like caving to cravings (too much sugar, for example), or divisive speech, or even staying up too late so I’m asleep on my feet. Knowing better I can, if I choose to, examine what gets in the way of making consistently healthier choices.