Love as a verb

I spent much of this morning finding and listening to music about home, love, peace, and compassion. And on the way, I ran across a video called “Beautiful Earth” celebrating Earth Hour in the United Kingdom. Blake, the British musical group whose music you hear in the video, is loosely called a “boy band” although that hardly represents the vocal talents of this gifted vocal quartet who named themselves after William Blake, the poet and writer.

All this was sort of a mellow prelude for an after-lunch trip to the fish market and a local retailer that features close-out merchandise. A Saturday afternoon distraction of sorts.

I was unprepared for what would happen, an important lesson about living love, not just thinking about it.

After a quick visit to a nearby pet store to look at cats and dogs up for adoption, I headed to the real destination. Inside, in the bedding section, was a mother and her 22-year-old son who appeared to be a significantly challenged special needs child. He was hunched over and stared vacantly at the collection of colored sheets somewhat neatly stacked on the table.

As I walked over, I found myself uncomfortable being there, even wondering if it was safe. I walked down a different aisle to avoid him. A few minutes later, when I returned to an area just a few feet from him, I felt a certain eerie-ness. I turned. It was the young man, his head pointed away, but his right eye fixed intently on me.

I felt strange, “weirded out,” as some would say.

And then, in what had to be just a split second, I wondered how many others—like me—judged him with their eyes while avoiding our hearts. The feeling of eerie left.

I turned, looked directly at him, smiled and said, “Hi, how are you.” In a clear, strong voice he replied, “I’m fine. Are you okay?”

We had a 30-second conversation about what he was buying with his mother. “Sheets,” he told me saying that he really didn’t understand this “thread count” thing. We laughed.

And then the conversation ended but not before he looked at me and said, “Thank you for talking to me.”

As I watched him disappear down the aisle to join his mom, my eyes filled with tears.

I was embarrassed by my selfishness and all-too-quick judgment. But at the same time, I found myself being grateful for a moment in which love became an action and not just a thought.

High above this overcrowded place
A distant blackbird flies through space
And all he does is search for love.
Love is all that matters in the end…

Love is the oldest secret of the universe
Warm as the touch of two innocent lovers
When they discover that
Love is what we ever really know.

A past and future come and go
Because they do, Love stays with you…

Celebration” by Paul McCartney

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Six lessons from Dylan and Trevor

Life lessons come in many shapes, sizes and situations and mostly when we’re open to learning them.

One recent Saturday dished up some pretty good ones, each served by a couple of unlikely messengers—my coworker’s sons, Dylan and Trevor, ages eight and five. She and the guys showed up to help with some serious office cleaning and straightening.

Now I don’t hang with kids much, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Because I follow their comings and goings pretty much on a daily basis, I knew that her sons are (1) all boy, (2) very polite and (3) extremely smart.  I figured I was in for either a real treat or a pretty long day.

The workday began with lunch and a detailed movie review of the new Dreamworks film “How to Train Your Dragon” that they’d seen a few days before. I was struck that these guys were using complete sentences that logically developed from one thought to the next. I was still learning to tie my shoes at the age of seven. At five, I was sticking my head in chimneys and who knows what else…

Then it was on to the work of the day: packing, shredding, and boxing stuff—all of which was punctuated with lots of questions, laughter and, well, did I mention questions? Bunches of them.

It was a quick 2-1/2 hours. While driving home, I found myself laughing out loud at the time we spent together. There were lessons here. I counted six. Call them Lessons from Dylan and Trevor:

  1. Expect good from everyone you meet.
  2. Think of work as a joy because it can be if you let it.
  3. Tell stories about what you like to do as it makes living more fun.
  4. Say “Yes” when asked if you want to do something—even if you don’t really understand what it is.
  5. Thank people, even if the gift they give you is small.
  6. And, finally, love each other, because it makes everything better.

Thanks guys!

Listening for everything

The more you listen, the more you hear, according to Gordon Hempton*, an acoustic ecologist.

But Hempton says that if you listen for something, you stay inside a narrow expectation of your previous experience and tune out what you’re not listening for. In other words, when you listen just for the sound of the cricket, or the bird, or the wind, you will often miss other sounds going on at the same time.

He contends that real listening occurs when we truly pause and let everything in, opening our ears, our heart and our mind to be filled with all there is to hear.

It’s in this listening that we hear the Universe speak.

***

*Hempton is the author of  One  Square Inch of Silence and is waging his own war to save silence from extinction.

Ideas that just “drop in”

Like many people, I’m fascinated by how creative types find their ideas. (Or maybe that should be how creative ideas find people to express them, but that takes us down a totally a different rabbit trail.)

A recent broadcast of Diane Rehm’s popular radio show on NPR shed a little light on the topic. Her guest was Carole King, probably best known as a singer from the 1960s whose distinctive sound and style created the 1971 chart-topping Tapestry album, a record (and now a CD) that remains popular even today.

Despite her acclaim as a performer, in her heart, King is a songwriter, pure and simple. It’s a fact borne out in dozens of her tunes that have been sung by such divergent artists as Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, the Monkeys, and Celine Dion.

King’s lyrics tell stories, and her music—a pop and folk infused mix—brings them to life. One of her best known songs, “You’ve Got A Friend,” is particularly soulful and was popularized by James Taylor in 1971. Listening to the words makes one wonder how the song came about—a question that didn’t escape Rehm who posed it to King during the interview.

“It just ‘dropped in,’ ” King said.

“When I sat down at the piano,” King recalled, “that song just ‘came,’ and I’ve always considered it a gift. And I’m glad it came through me… It has touched a lot of people.”

Others have explained their creative sources using images. Merle Shain, Canadian author and journalist, wrote about it this way in her book, When Lovers Are Friends:

 

Poets talk of “having lines land on them” and claim that what they write is hanging in the air for anyone to reach. When someone asked William Blake where he got his ideas, he said that he stuck his finger through the floor of heaven and pulled them down.

King went on to use the “dropped in” phrase at least twice more. When asked to explain, she likened it to writing a letter, but not knowing exactly what to say. Then, suddenly, you find the words effortlessly coming out of the pen and onto the paper. For her, it happens at the piano—suddenly music just comes out.

Franz Kafka, noted German fiction writer, explained his own down-to-earth approach to writing:

There is no need to leave the house. Stay at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be perfectly still and alone. The world will unmask itself to you, it can’t do otherwise.

Creativity can be thought of as an intuitive process, nurtured through prayer, contemplation, walks in nature, etc. Sometimes the ideas come as hunches or inklings of something to do. At other times, in the case of Carole King, they come as complete songs or ideas. We do know that the more we act on our intuitive hunches, the stronger and more readily available they become.

For me, it’s a sort of “let go of Jake and just let things be, without judgment or conditions.”

Perhaps it is the rabbit trail we didn’t go down: maybe there are all these ideas just swirling around in the universe—just waiting for someone who is ready to hear them.

Don’t know for sure, but it just might be!

You’re more creative than you think!

NOTE: This post also appears on http://www.whencreativityknocks.com.

When a friend threw out the idea of writing about creativity for When Creativity Knocks–the website of a mother and daughter team who share crafting skills–my mind went conveniently blank. That is until I remembered my all-time favorite story about Michelangelo (you know, the painter sculptor, architect, poet, engineer and original Renaissance man). It is said that someone congratulated him on turning a block of stone into a man. Skirting the compliment, he merely said the man was in there all the time and just needed a little help in getting out.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much good at seeing objects in chunks of marble. Evidently, it’s not one of my “gifts.” Truth is each of us has our own special gifts. One of mine is writing music. People sometimes want to know where the music comes from. Usually, I say that I just sit down at the piano, stop thinking about things, and just listen.

Creative folks listen and observe, often looking for ways to connect seemingly unrelated dots. That’s part of the creative process itself.

Think of it this way: How many ways can you use a paperclip? Once you get past the “holding paper together” answer, the list begins to grow. It can become a device to repair a hem, serve as a hair barrette or unclog an Elmer’s glue bottle. Or, if you’re in the eight grade and combine it with a rubber band, it can help you earn a three-day “vacation” from school. But I digress.

Think of the crafting ideas on the When Creativity Knocks website. Each is the result of using common (and not-so-common) materials in different ways—in many cases, very unintended ways.

Take “All Decks on Hand” for example. It’s a great example of connecting a skateboard with artwork to aid a worthy cause—helping people with autism. Those are certainly unrelated dots, don’t you think? You can watch the video HERE.

Want to be more creative? Start by acknowledging that it’s possible. Then, do your own paperclip exercise by asking yourself: What are ten different things I could do with [fill in your own blank.]

Remember, all ideas in brainstorming are good.

Then, get ready for creativity to knock on your door!

Writing to students

It’s nearly impossible to catch a network newscast of late without hearing a story about people helping people.  Even CNN has added its touch with “CNN Heroes, everyday people changing the world” broadcast Thanksgiving evening. It’s a welcome change from the (unfortunately all-to-common) coverage of violence and hate that, if unchecked in our thinking, can jade and discourage.

Dan Stroup's story of writing birthday letters to his students was shown on the Today Show. You can watch the segment by clicking on the photo above.

A particular story caught my attention this morning—the account of a teacher who, for the past 30 years, has sent handwritten letters to his students on their birthdays. You can watch the video HERE.

The ritual takes place every night in the living room of Dan Stroup, teacher of Bible studies at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. Stroup, with an uncanny memory of his eighth-grade pupils, reflects on their time in class and poses questions about their lives today. Every note is closed with a Bible verse, written in red, at the bottom of the page.

He takes the job (he wouldn’t call it that) seriously and hopes that each letter brings encouragement and serves as a reminder that he remembers them.  “I don’t know who is going to need what and on what day, and I don’t know how God is going to use this,” he says.  “I want to make sure that I don’t drop the ball. Maybe this letter today is exactly what that person is going to need.”

Sometimes we don’t know the words that others need or how, if spoken, the words will fall on their ears. Maybe, if we listen, they’ll come to us. And if Stroup’s 30-year labor of love holds a lesson, it could be that his yearly act of 2500 individual letters will nurture each student. One by one.

“I will listen…”

Sometimes the story isn’t what we think

Diversions.

…the things we don’t always intend to happen, but they take our eyes off the “current ball” and give us something new to focus on. Sometimes planned. Sometimes unexpected. Always interesting if we choose to let them be.

A friend, former boss, and smart guy (all the same person) decided several weeks ago that the world needed an iPhone App (short for application) that would put important data at people’s fingertips. He approached the subject by teasing me with the notion of, “What if you wanted to find the best car dealership to service your, say, transmission? I want to develop that App to help you find that.”

Well, the App had nothing to do with cars or transmissions, but much to do with service.

After signing an agreement carefully crafted by his wife, an attorney, to not let the cat out of the bag and promising first borns, fingers and other unspecified objects, I was permitted access into the inner sanctum of what it was about. Turns out to be a really interesting and useful tool for travelers and others who need the services of professionals in a specific field.

But that’s not the story here. The story is about being open to possibility (there are other posts about that topic on the blog), knowing that we can choose to be a contribution and find tremendous joy and satisfaction in that—even if our “real job” isn’t the most satisfying.

The joy is that I’ve spend the past few days doing artwork, research, and thinking about subjects that I have no firsthand knowledge of, and, to be honest, not an intense interest in. And that’s the point.

Sometimes, our gifts, our talents, our skills, apply broadly to many fields. We only restrict their application by the limits we put on them and ourselves.

My friend, the App owner, literally lectured me a few days ago about that very thing. I didn’t like the conversation at all. But I listened.

And I learned.

Diversions can be good things.

And this one has given me one of the best weeks of my life.

You can have a good week, too.

Make that choice!