Poem for a Sunday Morning

February 16

                                              An early morning fog.

In fair weather, the shy past keeps its distance.
Old loves, old regrets, old humiliations
look on from afar. They stand back under the trees.
No one would think to look for them there.

But in fog they come closer. You can feel them
there by the road as you slowly walk past.
Still as fence posts they wait, dark and reproachful,
each stepping forward in turn.

{by Ted Kooser, from “Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison”}


I’m the first person up in my house. I have ample time to sit undisturbed in the quiet of the early morning to read, to write and to make plans for the day ahead.

This time of year, I pour a cup of coffee and take it outside where I can feel the cool air and hear the endless chitter of birds as they construct their small regretless lives in the surrounding trees.

I have no problem with regret. I like that, sometimes, I allow myself to remember my smaller, more vulnerable self. I shudder with the memory of being embarrassed in that particular way, in front of those particular people when I had so longed for their approval.

I ache a little in the heart when I think of how I turned my back on someone in pain or worse, when I caused that pain for no better reason than the very best I could do in that moment was not nearly good enough.

I laugh…a small, incredulous laugh when I remember how naive, how self-righteous, how self-important, how certain, only to discover that I was cleverly defended against the truth of my ignorance.

But I don’t stay there – I do not brood – not even for the length of a cup of a coffee. A sip maybe, that is all. Just a moment in that old place, those old feelings of not enough.

And then the morning lengthens, and the coffee is gone. And, like the birds, I get back to  constructing – to living – my life.

I wonder if the birds know that they are free.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Pocket Poem
{Ted Kooser)

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I’d opened it a thousand times
to see if what I’d written here was right,
it’s all because I looked too long for you
to put in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.


A week ago, for my birthday, my wife recited this poem to me from memory.

It took my breath away. She took my breath away.

The gift of her time, her patient efforts to put it to mind. A gesture of such vulnerability, there in our kitchen, standing there, in front of a hot stove, reciting these aching, haunting words of love.

The poem is ripe with aloneness and longing. It is also tender and hopeful.

The narrator – just like each of us – wants so badly “to be so close” to the one they love. They want to be sure of that love – that they have expressed it just the right way – in the space of their disconnection and uncertainty.

And I cannot help but read in those last lines…”it is warm from me”…an arrival, a coming together, even though the poet does not give us that connection explicitly, he intimates it as though it is real.

He gives us solid ground on which to stand at just the moment when we feel there is none.

I like this poem for now. I like it for Easter. I like it for Covid-19. I like it for the universality of our experience of the unknown. For our losses, whatever form they take in each of our lives, and for our collective, if hesitant, recognition that we can control only one thing: how we choose to embrace the gift of this moment and the possibility of what’s to come.


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Truth and Consolation

Everything in the first list is true.

Everything in the second list is also true.

TRUTH

  1. Life is hard.*
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die

CONSOLATION

  1. Yes, it’s hard. It’s also joyful and magnificent. Which do you choose to focus on?
  2. Except to those who love and rely on you. Except to those whom you serve.
  3. Until you humbly discover who you really are.
  4. You never were. The sooner you let go, the sooner you will be free.
  5. When you accept this, you can stop being a hero and start being a human.

*this list (and the strong influence to write this post) comes from Adam’s Return (Crossroad Publishing, 2004) by Richard Rohr.


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#48 – Letting Go

Of expectations

Of how it’s “supposed to be”

Of old hurts

Of waiting for other people to “get” you

Of old patterns

Of smallness

Of hoarding

Of dualism

Of negativity

Of waiting to be “picked”

Of isolation

Of separation

Of the facade

Of control

Of fear

Of silence

Of what no longer serves you, your family, your community

Let it all go and relish in the freedom of the release. What you needed then made sense…then. It doesn’t make sense to hold it anymore.

So, let it go.


This is #48 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Up for another?


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#27 – Mature Idealism

This is #27 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another, just for fun.


The summer after my sophomore year of college I stayed on campus to work on the conferences and events team. We made beds, hauled supplies and were continuously “on call” for the many groups who used the university’s facilities between May and August.

One large group proved to be especially challenging for our team. Between their ever-increasing demands and our inability to meet them, frustration mounted quickly on both sides. As we approached the boiling point our boss called an emergency meeting to determine next steps. We were worn out, frustrated and short on ideas about how to meet this client’s demands.

The boss asked us for our ideas and I blurted out, “They just never should have come.”

I’ve seen some withering stares in my life but the one I received that day tops them all. Incredulous, he moved on to someone else, someone with something useful to say.

The danger of youthful idealism is that when things don’t work out as you believe they should, an immature response seems all there is to offer. It’s a place of victimization rather than agency, one of stagnation rather than creativity.

A mature idealism suggests that our highest aspirations are always tempered with the acceptance of reality, with respect for the vicissitudes of change. From that place we can responsibly say, “We knew this was possible. It’s not what we wanted, but we knew it was possible. What’s the best we can do in this moment?”

That perspective allows us to open up to what the moment has to teach us and gives us a chance to practice the resilience necessary to make the most of it.

As the saying goes, the only way to survive keeping your head in the clouds is to have your feet firmly planted on the ground.


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#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

This is #25 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another good one.


Jia Jang is inspiring. He feared rejection so much that he decided to pursue it directly with the hope that he would learn to respond to it more positively and more productively.

He recounts his “100 Day Rejection Challenge” in a self-effacing, funny and sincere TED Talk. It’s hard not to smile along – to root for him – as he teaches us an extraordinary lesson.

In the end I felt like I was rooting for myself; to keep learning new things, to keep seeking new challenges, to keep opening my heart to new people and experiences. All of this takes risk and, as Jia so thoughtfully proposes, all of it leads to benefits far too richly saturated for the fearful mind to anticipate or articulate.

{You can also hear Jia talk about his experience on this terrific episode of the TED Radio Hour}


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#20 – It’s ok to be “Good Enough”

This is #20 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one I keep going back to.


The following passage is from an article by Jennifer Kunst in which she provides a compelling interpretation of Donald Winnicott’s theory of the “good enough mother.” As you read it I invite you to do so in a way that allows it to speak to the identity with which you most associate. As needed, replace “mother” with father, boss, leader, teacher, etc.

“What I like about Winnicott’s picture of the good enough mother is that she is a three-dimensional human being. She is a mother under pressure and strain. She is full of ambivalence about being a mother. She is both selfless and self-interested. She turns toward her child and turns away from him. She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment. Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.”

I cannot read this without being flooded with empathy for all of us who struggle with the pressure to be certain, to be right, to be perfect. We would be better off – far better off – if we were able to collectively let go of the myths that keep us small in favor of a more accurate accounting of the common humanity that serves to enlarge and enliven us.

According to Winnicott’s theory, “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953).

The “good enough mother” creates enough distance from her child, thoughtfully and over time, to allow the child to find its own way. By doing so she creates the conditions for differentiation and independence and problem solving skills and resilience. She creates the conditions in which a child can learn how to be among those who thrive in the face of uncertainty, making meaningful contributions to society squarely in the face of the unknown.

It must be for this reason that James Michener once wrote: “I have recently decided that the constructive work of the world is done by an appallingly small percentage of the population….Those men and women who do have the energy to form new constructs and new ways to implement them must do the work of many. I believe it to be an honorable aspiration to want to be among the creators.”

As mother, father, boss, leader or teacher you have acted on your aspiration to be “among the creators” and you are striving to have lasting impact in the face of challenges and changes too numerous to mention. Your contribution to those you serve, then, will best be measured by the ability you cultivate in them to stand in the midst of uncertainty on their own two feet. Propping them up or protecting them from failure only serves to ensure that they will one day join the large percentage Michener describes instead of being a vital force in the “constructive work of the world.”

“Good enough” is much more than good enough. It is how we equip those we love and those we serve to be a force for good in the world.


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#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

This is #14 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Sounds good, right?

It’s almost obvious, a little bit patronizing even.

And, yet.

It can be very hard to do.

How long do you sit on your feelings, questioning them, rationalizing them, negating them? How often do you rehearse difficult conversations in your mind, playing them out over and over, sounding more and more eloquent, clear and convincing, only to have it all fall apart in real time?

The problem with the word “truth” is that it may only be your truth. This is why it makes a lot of sense to heed Brené Brown’s advice and start any truth-telling conversation with this line: “The story I’m telling myself is…”

This has the powerful effect of keeping you on the hook for sharing what you are there to share and letting you off the hook for having to be right. Because your truth is not “right,” of course. It’s likely part of a larger truth, one that was co-created by you and someone else you probably care a lot about, but not a truth that can stand on its own.

But speed matters most of all, because the longer you stew on your truth, the bigger your self-righteousness becomes and the faster your resentment grows. Or is that just me?

It’s hard to speak up, to be vulnerable, to share our hurts, to risk being misunderstood and possibly mistaken. The sooner we do so, the sooner we find out what’s real and that’s when we earn the right, once again, to a free mind and an open heart.


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#11 – There is no “There”

This is #11 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For”


There is no “there.” There is only next.

In the domain of human development and learning, arrival is a myth.

Awareness and action are the currency of the realm.

It’s a currency that cannot buy completion or entitlement to a finish line. It can only buy the ability and the opportunity to keep moving forward.


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#10 – “Development” is a Verb

This is #10 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Development is an action.

Like any effective action it requires insight and planning (reflection) to precede it but, at its core, development is about forward movement and progress. This is not to convey an image of “leaps and bounds” but of an active progression of small steps, the accumulation of which lead to new insights and behaviors which you can name as “developmental progress.”

I do not believe in the distinction between “personal” and “professional” development. Development is always holistic. What occurs in one element of your life occurs in all of the others as well.

The good news about that is that the actions one takes in any area of life will ripple across those perceived boundary lines and have impact on a much larger scale.

Development requires a commitment to remain in conversation with the primary themes that are yours to know and own and to gain more and greater understanding about those themes throughout your life.

This is action with no discernible end point which is why, needless to say, it can be very difficult to keep moving forward. These moments or periods of regression make a lot of sense. Past reactions and behaviors are known and comfortable. Establishing new reactions and behaviors can be exhausting and when you’ve had enough, you backslide into the comfort of the old.

At the very least, a regression serves as a reminder that you have moved forward, if not yet to a sustainable level, enough to indicate that it is possible to do so! And this is where remembering that development is a verb is so important. Unless you have given it away, you always retain your agency to act in your own best interest. You always get to choose to take the next step.

Small actions are still actions. And the right small actions, over time, have the potential to lead to compelling change.


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