Archives for posts with tag: habits

walking the path

A few reflections on walking a path of service, a theme that ran through the 10 day intensive youth training campaign I helped facilitate over the last two weeks.

It’s a path, not a road. It is built by the people who walk it. It is being built by you, now, for as long as you walk it, until you stand still. And even then it is shaped by your stillness, your feet sinking into the mud and leaving the imprint of where you stopped to catch your breath and look forward and behind.

But it’s still a path. It’s not only for you. Hiding the way so that you can show how singularly unique you are does not make you a pioneer, it makes you an egotist. The one less travelled by may very well be the better choice, but it is because of the challenge of the journey and the gorgeous views from the top of the mountain, not simply by virtue of being less walked.

Some walk at different paces. Smile and accommodate them. Step to the side for the quick ones, excuse yourself to the slow ones. Touch hands and walk alongside someone for a while, then separate when your legs beg you to stretch them out and give them a really good run.

It’s not criminal to step off the path, but it will certainly expend more energy and slow you down. Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not. How important is the direction you’re headed?

When in doubt, move forward. Quit assembling maps and equipment and go. Leave your shoes if you can’t find them. There is someone else on the path who will help you if you need it. But they’re not waiting for you. Walk out and let your feet find a place they can move as they were meant to, with joy, one in front of the other.

You’re not the first person to set out on a life of service. But your service matters just the same.

photo credit: Skinnyde via photopin cc



I came into your house when it was empty,
turned on all the lamps, and waited for you to arrive.
When you did, you stomped your feet and scolded me:
Did you think I was made of money?
No, I answered truthfully.

I thought you were made of light.

letter i

It’s rare to see the quality of ingenuity encouraged in school. Generally speaking, who, when, and where get answered, while, “How might you?” is left behind as too messy to grade. It’s one of the most difficult qualities to foster in people who’ve so far been encouraged to dedicate their lives to arriving at the correct answer, not a new one.

When I lived in Malawi, I was talking with a group of secondary school girls who were complaining about a teacher. They told me, “He puts things on the test that he never teaches us in class.” This seemed like simple poor pedagogy to me, until they continued, “He says we’re supposed to think for ourselves. We shouldn’t have to think for ourselves until college or something.”

While it’s rare to find an American student so forthright about their expectations, the attitude itself is common.

But practice makes perfect, right? There’s always hope.

If you run into a problem while working with young people, enlist their help. Work through it out loud. Brainstorm. Be creative first, then be logical. Between those two attitudes, you can get pretty far.

I’m not a very clever innovator or problem-solver, by nature. But that’s why I have my junior youth to help me. We’ll get there together. As for the exactly how, that remains to be seen.

photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

letter f

Every one of us has a family, whether we like it or not.

Engaging families can be a difficult task for an animator of junior youth groups. On the one hand are the overcommitted, overscheduled families. They can be so busy with softball games and viola lessons and the PTA that the idea of taking an interest in even one more of their child’s activities can seem exhausting. They’ll often show up when a group first begins to make sure it’s legit, but then be happy for a couple of hours of solitude each week, during which they can leave their child with you and run a few errands, or sit down with a book for a change.

At the other extreme are disengaged parents. Due to stress or a heavy workload or simply disinterest, they don’t take any particular interest in their children’s extracurricular activities. Unless you go out of your way to get to know these families, you might never meet them at all.

Of course, there are other reasons why family engagement can be tricky, like language barriers or lack of mobility. But these seem to be much more easily overcome.

Two things I’ve learned about family engagement:

  1. Every parent loves to hear good things about their child. Of course, it’s important that the praise be true. That’s why it’s so important to take notes and keep track of the progress you see. 
  2. Degree of engagement is less important than consistency of engagement. The parent that can commit to having one conversation over dinner about the group’s topic every week ends up doing more good for the group than the parent that organizes an entire service project once.

Just like their children, most parents are happy to be listened to. Start there. Work forward. And don’t give up.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

After I drop Jef off at work in the afternoon, I drive straight to the beach. Yeah, I know it’s late November and that the wind whipping over Lake Erie is cold at best and occasionally brutal. But I love the way the wind makes shifting ridges in the sand. On a calm day, I can see my footprints from the day before. On a stormy one, I can’t.

I walk all the way down the beach, past the “guarded area” (not that there are lifeguards this time of year) into the less-maintained stretch covered in all kinds of debris pitched up by the lake and visiting human beings over the seasons. I walk until the beach turns into rocks. I put my hands in the cold lake water and look out at the horizon and I say my afternoon prayer.

Then I walk back. Some patches are firm, and in some places me feet sink unexpectedly. I haven’t found a pattern yet, because the color or pattern of the sand doesn’t seem to be any indication. Some parts are white and crunchy with shells. I don’t really know why that is, either. I walk all the way back, get in my car, and drive home.

When I get home, I put my shoes and scarf and coat away in the closet.

Four goals: go outside, exercise, pray, and tidy. None of these habits totally meets these goals. I still need to do the dishes. I still need to exercise for strength. But it’s a habit I haven’t broken once, not in two weeks. A perfect record! And that’s something, if a very little something, to be proud of.

photo credit: tehusagent via photopin cc

5 things that might make you hate me:

  1. I didn’t vote in the 2008 elections.
  2. I am almost pathologically unable to gain weight
  3. I think alcohol is a stupid as illegal drugs
  4. I did no homework in high school and still got into college.
  5. I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance.

5 additional details:

  1. I was living in Malawi during the elections, with virtually no access to information about the candidates.
  2. Being naturally skinny means that people accuse me of having an eating disorder all the time.
  3. I don’t think booze should be illegal, just less socially mandatory.
  4. I studied on my own and got a 1410 on my SATs.
  5. I have no control over how people use flags as symbols. I’d rather stay loyal to the Constitution than a flag.

There are all kinds of reasons to hate each other. Envy, frustration, disgust. But a little listening to others, no matter what political party or religion or class they belong to, can go a long way.

You’re not obligated to listen any more than you’re obligated to hate, but it might be worthwhile, just the same.

Opting out is how I’ve always dealt with stress.

Worried that bully will be valedictorian? Don’t bother doing your homework. Never going to measure up to your family’s musical talent? Do something else professionally. Got frizzy hair and big teeth and weird chronic rashes all over your legs? Wear baggy jeans and shapeless t-shirts. Throw a hissy fit anytime somebody wants to take you shopping for clothes.

This tactic of pre-emptive sour grapes actually does work in a world of competition. There’s something coldly satisfying about showing a person who’s determined to beat you that their efforts are so low on your radar that you couldn’t even be bothered to try. But what happens in the world of cooperation?

In a cooperative setting, opting out means you fail. It means the people who were trying to help you fail. It means the cause you believed in together fails. And it doesn’t make you look too cool for school anymore.

It makes you look like a jerk.

Developing a culture of cooperation isn’t just about learning to work in a group of equals. Sometimes you’re outnumbered and outclassed, and you need to know how to move forward without shutting down.

Figuring out how to make that work will help a lot on the road to true community. Because some of the coolest, smartest, most talented people in the world are working on this. They have bigger audiences and better skills than you. Are you going to opt out and pretend you don’t care about the world around you?

I hope not.

The rest of us who stink at this need you with us.

The grapes are tiny and misshapen, but so sweet.

I’ve never had an alcoholic drink in my life.

Okay, I’ve had a couple of sips accidentally. But never an entire drink, and never on purpose. And yet:

  • I can dance my butt off at weddings.
  • I can sing karaoke, despite the fact that I stink at it.
  • I can go to bars with friends.
  • I can enjoy a nice Italian meal.
  • I can talk to members of the opposite sex.
  • I can go camping.
  • I can hang out with my in-laws (who are actually very cool).

These are all things people have told me they can’t do without drinking.

Know what else I can do for fun?

  • Play on playgrounds
  • Practice my ukulele
  • Grab a random book from a shelf at my local library
  • Take walks around my neighborhood
  • Volunteer
  • Write
  • Play Boggle (which I usually win), Scrabble (which I always lose), and Bananagrams (50/50) with my husband.
  • Go contradancing.
  • Climb on the giant rocks in and around the Rocky River

Aside from being some of my favorite activities, what do these have in common? They’re better without booze.

For some reason, people find the fact that I don’t drink alcohol stranger than the fact that I don’t eat any meat, eggs, or dairy. I’ve never understood this. It’s not like I need to take B12 supplements to make up for my lack of beer. Vegan is strange, but also trendy, in a hippie sort of way. Dry is just not on the list of hot lifestyle choices.

I love how much less money I spend at restaurants. I love how, when I’m feeling socially awkward at a party, I just leave. Because I can, you know, drive. I love being able to feel proud of the new things I try, knowing that it was my own courage, and not dulled judgment that allowed them to happen. I love being able to trust myself, whether I’m feeling spontaneous or responsible.

Being a teetotaller gives me more choices, not fewer. I don’t expect the whole world to follow me, but I would  like the world to know that when you feel disgruntled about drinking around me when I’m sober, it’s not my sobriety that’s the problem. I’m having a great time on the dance floor, and I know how I’m getting home tonight.

You might give it a try sometime. I’ll be here with my board games when you’re ready to have a go.

The silly thing about the Fast: it isn’t.

It’s as though all the clocks in the world suddenly disappeared. The day used to be evenly divided into predictable pieces, which are now meaningless. Dawn until breakfast. Breakfast to lunch. Lunch to snack. Snack to dinner. During the Fast the long day is divided into only two kinds of time: now, and not yet.

Sometimes they both happen at once.

I clean things during the Fast. I scrub the back of the microwave. Take all the spices out of the cabinet and put them back. Launder the dishtowels. The urge to purify leaks out of my body and into my kitchen sink. I make soap-bubble prayers.

Leaning towards sundown is the strangest. I cook without tasting. Lots of garlic today. Lemon juice. Zatar. On pasta? Why not? I believe it will taste good.

It’s important to have faith.

One bowl of noodles. Broccoli, spinach, walnuts. I’m so full I could burst. It’s no more than an ordinary supper, but during the Fast I realize the enormity of the everyday.

When I fast, I realize how stupid the old test of optimism is.

Glasses are never empty, they are only full of light.

Last year (or rather, December 2010), there was a writing prompt to describe the theme of both the past and future year in one word.

The word for 2010 was “learn.” I was in school to study a new field, living in a new city, working at a new job, and part of a new family. I learned every day, and worked hard at it.

The word for 2011 was “move.” We moved from Cincinnati to Cleveland. I also began walking every morning, going contradancing more often, practicing Shiva Nata on a regular basis, and made a commitment to moving my body. I got moving on beginning my massage practice. I traveled to Portland (Oregon), Chicago, Toronto, and a few other special places besides.

I think the theme for 2012 is going to be “strength.” In addition to starting a strength training program for my body (I can do six pull ups and 18 push-ups now!), I want to be financially strong, build a strong community around me, create a strong massage practice and a strong writing practice, be strong in my convictions and my commitments. I want my family to be even stronger. I want to make my life one that can be relied on.

Here’s to strength in 2012. What’s your word?