Simple gifts

The other day I walked in the park.

As I ambled by the swings and slides, a woman who looked like she might be a grandmother was with her granddaughter. The child was perhaps four years old. Her blonde hair tousled in the wind as she bent down and picked up a frayed, sad-looking dandelion.

She came bounding toward me — ignoring her grandmother’s calls to come back — and said: “Look! I’m going to give this to my mom when I get home.”

“That’s beautiful,” I said as she held it toward me, beaming.

Then she began stomping on the ground in her purple-and-pink glittery sneakers, looking down at them, trying to make them “do” something.

“No more light,” she said.

Her grandmother came toward me and smiled. “They used to light up more but I guess they’ve lost some of whatever it was.”

I told her to have fun and walked away thinking, how often have I lost my light, whatever it is that I once had. And what has been causing me to lose it?

Perhaps the clutter of many things. Holding on to worries. Agendas. How I think life “should” be instead of accepting how it is. In other words, not letting go, not simplifying.

When I was in the workplace, there was a saying some of you may know: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. If I’m going to be totally honesty here, I have a personality that makes things harder than they should be. I tend to make things more complicated.

I used to get frustrated with that part of me. Now I have come to accept that it’s all part of the unique package that makes me who I am. I am someone who still likes to hold on, someone still learning to “let go” and simplify — and someone who is still trusting in faith there is a Higher Power who moves life along in divine right time and flow.

I am also gentle, or at least learning to be, with all those parts of myself, as I would with a young child. As I might with that little girl in the park.

Would I have yelled at her and told her, “That’s an ugly dandelion!”? Never. Then why would I berate those inner child parts of me that need love and even more love? Especially those parts that delight in the simplest of things?

The older woman I am becoming also needs that love, especially as she is often — not by choice — having to let go and simplify her life. In fact, children and the aged both dwell in a certain simplicity that no longer requires agendas, pride, ego, money, promotions, “things” or whatever it might be. They are content with what is, in the moment.

To be truthful, I am still coming to terms with the losses of my life’s journey as I age. A friend of mine told me he feels like he’s lost his mojo. I understand. And one better, I often feel, as the Mad Hatter said to Alice, “‎You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

Sue Monk Kidd, one of my favorite writers, says this:

“Finally, I began to write about becoming an older woman and the trepidation it stirred. The small, telling ‘betrayals’ of my body. The stalled, eerie stillness in my writing, accompanied by an ache for some unlived destiny. I wrote about the raw, unsettled feelings coursing through me, the need to divest and relocate, the urge to radically simplify and distill life into a new, unknown meaning.”

Like Sue Monk Kidd, I am learning to radically simplify, to distill life into a new unknown meaning.

At the heart of it, I believe that’s why simplifying poses such a challenge — we are face-to-face with some “new unknown meaning.” It isn’t how it used to be. We start as pure beings, simple and free, then gather a lot of “guck” along the way.

Now, in our later years, we are being stripped away to uncover the beauty that has been there all along. We simplify. And while it may be challenging, it is also freeing.

Even my prayer life has entered into simplicity. I am breathing in love, breathing out love. And like writer Anne Lamott, I am saying these three simple prayers:

Help me. Thank you. Wow.

I am learning to be like a child again, delighting in a dandelion. And learning to accept and love the older woman, finding it’s OK to lose some of my muchness. To stomp on my sneakers to discover perhaps a new and more engaging light.

When I simplify and let go, it opens up space to be free. To dwell in the now. To be the soul and body I was created to be.

And that simply makes me say “Wow!”

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What is enough?

Sometimes it seems like there just isn’t enough. Enough time. Enough money. Enough happiness. But what is enough in our lives? Here are some stories for the journey.

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It was nearing Christmas in Georgia. Hot. Humid. But I had signed up for this work and while much of it was fulfilling, it wasn’t always easy. I was in my mid-20s and had joined a group serving the poor in the rural South and Appalachia. I had to be self-supporting so I worked at a day care center in the African-American community.

These children, ages 3-5, had so little. Despite their poverty, they found delight in the smallest of things, being pushed on a swing, listening to a story, throwing a ball to each other.

As Christmas approached, my friend and I decided to buy the children some gifts. She was the social worker at the center and so, with the Georgia sun beating down on us one December day, we set out to buy dolls, stuffed toys, games, trucks. We wrapped each present and then went to deliver them.

poverty_2226036bThe first stop was to the home of 5-year-old Willie James. The car bounced down a red-clay road into woods and then into an open space. When his “home” came into view, I stared in disbelief. It was a shack of tacked-together corrugated tin walls.

William James’ mother greeted us at the door. We walked into the one-room dwelling and onto dirt floors. Worn quilts hung on a clothesline, separating one space from the other. The smell of “greens” boiling on a makeshift fire filled the air with a pungent scent and smoke.

Willie James stood there, excited that his “teachers” had come to visit. My friend squatted down at eye level and handed him the Christmas package. “Here, Willie James. For you. Merry Christmas!”

His eyes grew wide and he broke into a smile and then laughter, grabbing for the gift. He tore at the wrapping paper, his joy spilling into the darkened room, unable to contain himself. When he saw the metal dump truck, he held it high in the air and then to his heart, clutching it as if someone might take it away.

“This is the BEST Christmas I ever had,” he shouted, kneeling down and scooting the truck on the dirt floor.

My heart swelled. I had seen poverty growing up in a Mexican “barrio” in Texas. But not like this. I would see more years later.

I had been working in public relations for a religious community of women serving the poor — especially women and children –in 19 countries. As part of my job, I was sent to write about one of the Sisters working in Tijuana, Mexico.

The people there lived in a “garbage dump” town, next to a stench-filled, skyscraper-tall mountain of trash. Poverty-facts-kid-with-garbageEach day, they would scour through the filth to salvage plastics, metals, anything they might sell to bring them perhaps $1 for the day. They foraged through things I can’t even imagine, just so they could survive.

The houses in this community, much like the one of Willie James, were a patchwork of plywood and corrugated metals. As I walked through the rutted, muddied streets, I didn’t see tears. Or complaints. I saw boys and girls playing, chasing each other, laughing. They had so little. But in their hearts, they were content.

Why do I share these stories? Because years later, I know the reality of these children — whether they are in Georgia, Tijuana or any part of the globe — has not changed. While they may laugh and play, they still have so little of the basics of life such as nutritious food, education, health care. Their futures are severely limited because they simply do not have enough.

In the face of such lack and “not enough-ness,” it is easy to become overwhelmed. It is easy to fall back on “There’s really nothing I can do.” But here is what I believe. We start where we are. One person. One simple act of service. We donate to a food pantry. We help someone with a job search. We visit a homebound person. We take an elderly person shopping. We are simply present to another person and hear what they have to say.

When it comes down to it, most of us really do have more than enough. And whatever that may be — time, money, resources, a listening heart — we can share from our surplus so that others may have enough.

In the end, only we can decide what is “enough” in life. The choice is always ours.