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Spring Calves

April 10, 2012

Spring Calves

Early workday morning
Driving the edge
Between city and country.
Houses on my right
Pasture on my left,
My mind a list of things

Still not done, with
More to do, in the
Moment of dawn when the
Kiss of sunlight and dew
Blinds with its brilliance,
I saw them.

They charged into my day
These two whitefaced cherubs
With little more than a month of
Living behind them, and my heart
Kicked and cavorted with these two,
My face springing, spreading into
The smile of a child full of
Herself and of life. 

The day no less
Hectic because of the
Dance we shared, my
Step would stay lighter,
My smile longer, held
By the image of
Two spring calves.

Perhaps a harried, weary
Traveler will find his
Rest as he discovers babies
Napping in the noon
Sun like two small blankets
Wrapped ’round a sleeping child. 

As for me, I’m glad
I saw you greet the dawn.

© Paulann Condray Canty, 1991 

When you’re different…

March 24, 2012

“When you’re different, sometimes you don’t see the millions of people who accept you for what you are. All you notice is the person who doesn’t.”  ~ Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart

Leaning in…

March 17, 2012

I was listening to a Hazelden webinar on adolescent suicide.  The presenter talked about the importance of engaging the suicidal teen, encouraging them to talk.  She identified the three most important words to say when you’re the one being told, “Sometimes I feel like killing myself.”  What were the words she thought had such power to connect? “Tell me more.”  Three small words with the potential to change the course of a person’s life.

“Tell me more.”  Three words that invite someone to share their pain and confusion.  Why are those words so often left unspoken?  Perhaps because encouraging someone to hand us their pain may be the right thing to do, but it is rarely the easy thing to do.   In fact the willingness to stand and hold another’s pain often leaves us facing our own discomfort.

“Tell me more.”  I replayed those three words as I went about my day.  I thought about how they fit other situations.  How powerful those words could be with those who grieve.  How in the midst of grief we long for someone to ask us to tell them more about who and what we have lost.  How holding the pain of someone else’s loss feels uncertain and uncomfortable, and so we hold back.

I was still chewing on the benefit and difficulty of “Tell me more”, when my weekly dose of Modern Family came on.  It is Phil Dunphy’s favorite day, leap day.  He has big plans to do something out of the ordinary to celebrate.  But as the day continues, things begin to fall apart.  Phil pulls the two boys, Luke and Manny aside in an attempt to salvage their celebration.  He leans toward them and says in a low, somber voice, “I have a plan.”  The boys just stand there.  Phil adds, “It’s kind of traditional to lean in when someone says they have a plan.”  Both boys immediately lean into the circle.  No hesitation. Focused.

That’s when it came to me.  What Phil Dunphy had to say was important.  And when someone has something important to say, we need to lean in.  To lean in and embrace what is being said, giving the words, the feelings, and the person our presence. Perhaps no territory feels more uncertain and overwhelming than the landscape of grief and loss.  When we find ourselves in the presence of wounded travelers and their story, needing to lean in, our first impulse may be to just stand there.  Sometimes we even step away.

Forty five years ago, John Drakeford wrote a book titled, The Awesome Power of the Listening Ear.  It was a book about the “power of simply listening to others”.  I think Drakeford’s intent was to help us push past discomfort to a place of leaning in.  A place of inviting others to tell us their stories.  What if in the presence of grief and loss, we begin to lean in, and quietly say “Tell me more.”

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.” ~ George Eliot

Kindness plus one…

March 14, 2012

I don’t know Ryan Garcia.  But, Ryan Garcia is my hero.  He’s not my hero because of his work.  He’s not my hero because he lives in Chicago, even though I love the windy city.  He is my hero because of what he chooses to do every day.  Ryan Garcia is a bright light in a world of anger, cruelty, and disregard.  In a world where the daily news is filled with caustic campaign rhetoric, sports figures getting a bonus for purposefully injuring an opponent, and soldiers are slitting the throats of 12 year olds, Ryan Garcia is a quiet, steady force of goodness moving through each day.

Ryan and his wife gave birth to a daughter in 2011.  As the new year approached, Ryan observed, “My daughter is 3 months old.  She is starting to become more and more aware of her surroundings.”  He thought about who he wanted to be as he lived out 2012,  in front of his little girl.  That’s when the idea came to him,…366 Random Acts of Kindness.  One act of kindness for every day of the upcoming leap year.  He began a blog to record his journey, writing, “I just hope that she can see this in the future and try and emulate it.”

For the last 75 days, Ryan Garcia hasn’t missed a day of choosing to do an act of kindness.  He has handed out free hugs on a Chicago street, written a letter to a soldier in Afghanistan, complimented 25 strangers, and cleared the snow off all the cars on his block after a snow storm.

He thought about suspending his plan on Day 61, when his father-in-law died unexpectedly.  Then he remembered the caring and compassionate man his father-in-law was, and knew that one of the best ways to honor him was to continue.  So he extended acts of kindness as he comforted his family, helped with household chores for his mother-in-law, and wrote his father-in-law’s obituary.

I hope it is now no mystery why I think Ryan Garcia is a hero.  He is giving the best gift a father can give to a daughter,…a sure and steady path to follow, and a clear picture of what a good man looks like.  And who knows how many of us will be changed by his giving.  Thank you, Ryan Garcia.

What the gardener sows

March 5, 2012

“More grows in the garden than the gardener sows.”…Old Spanish Proverb

I went to their resting place,…

February 27, 2012

Carol at Carol Wiebe Wonders Out Loud, asked me not long ago if I ever wrote poetry.  I told her I did occasionally.  So Carol, here is one from a long time back.  I chose to post it now to add to the ongoing conversation about loss and grief.  Thanks for asking, Carol.  I look forward to seeing where your thoughts on shared mourning “artfully” take you.


Shared Mourning

Not planning to go, but
Drawn there just the same
I went to their
Resting place, and
You stayed by me.

I walked among grey stones
Under grey skies leaving my
Burden in shallow graves of
Sunken footsteps in the
Rain soaked ground, and
You walked with me.

Their stories came not in the
Rushing torrent of new grief but
Slowly, gently, quietly as a
Stream, small but sure, flows
Always toward its rest; I
Spoke with quiet grief, and
You heard me.

Silence settled softly on me,
Around me, with gentle tears
Raining down from grieving sky.
My sorrow cradled in your eyes, I
Remembered those who sleep.
You held my silence.

Shoulders touching, we sat each
Alone, yet bound by strong,
Unspoken words of grief and
Joy for those we love.
Comfort came in our shared mourning.

Run, laugh, and lollygag…

February 25, 2012

I grew up in a moderately large city.  I learned to allow for travel time when going from one side of the city to the other.  I have now lived nearly half my life in a small town.  All these years of small town life and I’m still tripping over the false belief that you can get from any point to another in a matter of minutes. This misconception means I sometimes feel a “beat the clock” anxiety in the car on the way to my destination.

On this particular morning I left my house, driving purposefully, hoping to arrive on time.  I entered the school zone, slowing to 25 mph.  I proceeded slowly, up the hill, toward the school crossing.  I hoped to escape the zone with no unnecessary delays and continue on my way.  I saw the crossing guard boldly step into the street.  Taking ownership with her red octagon held high, she stopped us in our tracks.  It took a second to see the two small children approaching the crossing.  Maybe second and third grade.  A girl and a boy, perhaps big sister, little brother.

The crossing guard smiled as the girl dutifully, and quickly, crossed the street.  “Good job!”, I thought as we waited for the little boy to complete the crossing task.  The little boy was taking his own sweet time. My frustration rose.  Then my best self started the conversation.  “Of course you wouldn’t want to wait for a child.”  “Children are to be dismissed, rushed past, redirected.”  They run when we try to hold them back. Embarrass us with their over the top exuberance.  They lollygag when time is of the essence.  What are we to do?  Maybe follow their lead.


On Friday morning, January 12, 2007, Joshua Bell took his violin in hand.  Leaning against the wall, near a trash can, he played six of the most exquisite classical musical compositions.  His violin case lay open at his feet for any charitable gift from a willing listener.  Mr. Bell was playing where many other street musicians had played.  He was at the L’Enfant Station Plaza of the Washington, D.C. Metro subway.

Something distinguished Joshua bell from other street musicians.  Mr. Bell was a world renowned violinist, playing on his rare Stradivarius, as part of an experiment suggested by the Washington Post. The question?  “What would happen if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?”

For nearly 45 minutes, Mr. Bell played, and a video camera recorded the event.  This musical prodigy played, largely ignored, as 1097 people walked by on their way to somewhere else.  The Washington Post writer summed up the “audience” with these words.

“There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”  (Pearls Before Breakfast, Gene Weingarten, Washington Post Staff Writer)

The first child that was drawn to the sound of Joseph Bell’s violin was a three year old named Evan.  When his mother found out what she had pulled him away from, she laughed and said  “Evan is very smart.”  Little wonder that the outcome of the test led the writer to note,

“The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.”

I dare you to let a little child lead you back to life.
Consider adding these childlike moments to your day.

               Run for no good reason.

Embrace over-the-top exuberance.

Lollygag when you feel the
stress of your day mounting.

Then, find a child and say,

Thank you!

Read Gene Weingarten’s entire Washington Post article, Pearls Before Breakfast.  It’s a beautifully written, insightful commentary.  The video of Joshua Bell’s performance is embedded in the article.

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