“be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” ~ rainer maria rilke
when i have faced life’s bitter challenges, the advice i have been given is that they are blessings in disguise. i believe this, but when i am in the midst of turmoil, it is a difficult notion to embrace. often, i am much more capable of realizing this later on, when time and effort have afforded me the ability to reflect and appreciate what i have learned. what i find even more difficult is to remind myself of this advice when life’s challenges are directly related to or by another person. lately, i have realized – more than ever – that my teachers of life’s lessons are all around me.
appreciating my friends and family as teachers is a simple task for me. on a daily basis, i am struck by my loved ones’ kindness, generosity, and compassion. playing with my daughter. cheering me on during a race. encouraging me as i learn photography. sharing thoughts on my blog writing. wiping away my tears. laughing with me until we cry. flying my daughter and i across the world. visiting with a bagful of groceries. sending cards in the mail. offering advice about my career. sending me a text message just because they’re thinking of me. dancing with me at a concert. drinking coffee with me while i vent. surprising me with flowers. trusting me with their secrets. loving me and my daughter through thick and thin. these acts – small and big – continue to teach me how to love with teeth.
there are others, though, that are less obvious and therefore more difficult for me to appreciate in the present moment. i have been trying to pay closer attention to these others, as i think they also can teach me the wonder and beauty of this world. my daughter’s father, although we are no longer romantically linked, teaches me that lifelong respect and a different kind of love is possible. the co-workers that present themselves with professionalism and passion teach me to work hard. the bosses in my career that i have found frustrating as managers teach me ways in which i don’t want to behave as a supervisor. the person that cuts me off in traffic teaches me to keep inconsequential anger in check. the people i ride with on the train teach me about the importance of personal space. the blog writer that i’ve never met teaches me how connected i can feel to a computer screen. my mother, who hasn’t been a real part of my life in many years, teaches me forgiveness. the parents of other children in my town teach me about community. impatient people in airport lines teach me about wasteful energy. my yoga instructor teaches me how to breathe, and how empowered i can feel on a rubber mat. the hot guy next to me in yoga teaches me to stay focused. the homeless people i pass on my way to work, smiling and saying good morning, teach me perspective. the survivors of the boston marathon teach the capacity of the human spirit. the person i fell in love with that wasn’t forthcoming about his addictions teaches me that love doesn’t always conquer all.
my teachers, they are all around me. they are with me, when i’m struggling, persevering, conquering. they come into my life to reveal another layer of myself, perhaps they stay, perhaps they go. either way, i am incredibly comforted.
“it seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. that is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, – is already in our bloodstream. and we don’t know what it was. we could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. we can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. and that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. the quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.” ~rainer maria rilke
to my daughter,
you had a lot of big questions this month. and honestly, little one, sometimes i fumble through the answers.
you are very familiar with the boston marathon. since you were a baby, you have been a spectator on the sidelines. a few years ago, you watched me train through an icy, cold winter. you cheered as i crossed the finish line, wearing a shirt supporting me. last year, we talked incessantly about the horror of the boston marathon bombings. and this year, as we plan our day to watch our friends run, you express your fears. what happens if there is another bomb? do you think we will get hurt? why do people want to bomb other people? one of our conversations about the marathon led us to a discussion about other horrific events, like 9/11. you asked similar questions. how did the bad people do it? why would they want to hurt so many people? what happens if they do that on a plane that i’m on? i attempt to answer your questions, mostly shaping my responses through the view that we cannot live our lives in fear or hatred. love needs to be our base.
we had your parent teacher conference this month. your teacher goes through your skill levels in math, reading, and writing. you are on target with your benchmarks. not ahead, not behind. then, she said, your daughter is emotionally mature for her age. “let me put it to you this way,” she said. “most kids talk about sledding. your daughter talks about the importance of gay marriage.” this, i know, is because we talk about relationships and love and accepted cultural norms. you ask questions, and again, i respond with answers about love, rather than fear or hate.
over the past few days, i have been contemplating the subject of my letter to you this month. and today, during a conversation with a dear friend, i realized what i needed to focus on. my friend and i were talking about work, and she tells me that she believes that businesses often focus on the big, macro decisions. and yet, businesses should be making better micro decisions for a healthy, supportive work environment. she gives the analogy of being a parent. “say,” she said, “you decide you want to be a good parent because you had a crappy parent growing up. that’s the bigger decision that guides you. but then, in the day-to-day, you make these small decisions based on your overall goal. these are what make the difference. these are the actions that transform us in the long run.” i sat back, thinking about my days with you, our conversations, how i try to respond, and how they impact you. the micro decisions. yes. she is right. it’s these little snippets in our daily lives that shape us.
so, here i am, reflecting back on some of our conversations from this past month. did i respond to you appropriately? in a way that demonstrates the values that i want to teach you? in a way that challenges you to critically think about our culture? in a way that gives you the opportunity to ask more? in a way that you feel empowered to initiate more dialogue about tough situations? in a way that you feel confident to shape your own views and express them? do my day-to-day micro decisions, and ways in which i facilitate our conversations, supply you with the nourishment you need to grow?
of course, i’d like to think that the answers to all of these are yes. and yet the reality is that i don’t know the answers. i don’t know why 9/11 or the boston marathon bombings occurred. i don’t know how people live a life created out of hatred of others. i do know that we are all entitled to our opinions, but not at the expense of hurt and oppression. i do know that no life is free of pain. wrestling with hard questions and situations can be the best opportunities for our growth. i do know that our compassion isn’t a solution, but rather a character trait to help guide us in our daily decisions. i do know that i want to teach you that suffering – especially at the hands of others – shouldn’t dictate the way in which we live our lives. instead, horrific events like the boston marathon demonstrate the largeness of the human spirit. a triumph of fierce, brave, love over hatred. i do know that we should share the responsibility of creating a world full of courageous souls.
thank you, little love, for asking tough questions. and having the hard conversations. and still being full of light and love.