Are You Listening?

thI was uncomfortable with the idea of my turning sixty, which is going to happen in late November.  

I have friends who are older than me who thought they were laughing with me when they saw what they considered feigned distress. “You’re a child,” they said. “Just wait until you’re my age.” 

I have friends who are younger and, with what I read as a patronizing tilt of the head told me, “You look great. Besides, age is just a number” (I’ll get back to them when they’re approaching sixty to find out if they’ve changed their opinion).

They believed they were offering support but I didn’t feel heard. Their words invalidated my complicated relationship with aging and I felt myself becoming invisible.

And then, one day after class, a student said to me, “You’re right – turning sixty is a big deal.” The moment those words landed in my heart I reclaimed my focus and returned to being sharp edged and filled with color. 

Someone listened not just to the words coming out of my mouth but the meaning behind those words. Someone heard me and I was no longer alone. It was time to celebrate.

Hearing is easy. Listening? Not so much. How often do we formulate a response before the person with whom we’re engaged in conversation has completed their thought? How often do we try to finish someone else’s sentence? How often do we interrupt?

I’m guilty of all three more often than not. What about you?

Listening can be part of our daily practice. We hear in a rush. When we listen we are mindful. 

Give this a try. Find a friend and a timer. Pour a cup of tea. And then choose someone to go first, set the timer for five minutes and begin. One person will talk about anything or nothing, the other will listen. No questions, no comments, no chatter in the mind. Just pure listening. When the five minutes are over, switch roles and practice again.


Two Friends, a Promise and Arbitrary Kindnes

I’m drawn to the odd duck. Maybe it’s because, as much as I’d like to believe the opposite is true, I am one.

My friend Forrest is a bit of an odd duck. An odd duck who squeezes as much life out of every single second of existence as he can. It’s as if he’s trying to live as many lifetimes as possible in this one go-around.

Forrest is a green contractor. And he’s just opened a new store, Inhabiture, which features home furnishings created from re-claimed materials. You can visit his website here. But that’s not why I wanted to write about him.

When he was a kid Forrest and his best friend promised to meet each week to discuss their intentions for the following seven days. How they planned to travel through the world. What they needed to see happen in order to move their lives forward. They didn’t always achieve their goals – life has a way of interrupting even the best of intentions – but they kept their promise and continued to touch base every seven days. They remained accountable to one another. And when one found success, they both celebrated. If one hit a patch of rough, they knew where to find support.

And along the way, they came up with an idea – the People’s Revolution for Arbitrary Kindness. As the small print at the bottom of the flier says, “The People’s Revolution for Arbitrary Kindness is a rag-tag band of folks who want to do good for people in need directly, without trying to convert people to any belief. We are all volunteers and have no overhead expenses.”

For several years they’ve collected clothes and blankets, distributing them to the needy on San Francisco’s streets. This year for the first time, cash donations are being accepted and are tax-deductible. Also, for the first time, People’s Revolution are assembling toiletry kits for distribution.

If you want to donate, or would like to volunteer, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Monetary Donations: $100 can provide more than 15 people in need with a toiletry bag of essential goods. Please make checks out to Woodside/Portola Valley Rotary Foundation and mail to Ian Schmidt at Trimergence, 71 Stevenson Place, Suite 1430, San Francisco, California 94105
  2. Slightly Used Clothes and Blankets: Donations should be delivered by November 2nd to Trimergence in San Francisco or Inhabiture Home, 248 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, California
  3. Your Time: Volunteers are needed to assemble toiletry kits and to distribute clothes and kits at 10:00 AM on Saturday, November 3rd. If you’re interested in volunteering you can email Forrest at forrest@inhabiture.com.

Isn’t it amazing what two friends and a simple promise can bring to the world?


Home Sweet Home

House sitting is a little bit like grand parenting (not that I have any experience being a grandparent, but I can imagine).  What I mean is that I move into a home, look after the fine furnishings, the houseplants and the mail.  I lovingly care for the cat, dog, or Koi in question and then – after a few days or a few weeks – I hand it all back.

House sitting is also a bit discombobulating.

Returning home over the weekend after my last extended gig, I believe I felt as disoriented and jet-lagged as the homeowners.  I had grown accustomed to their lovely house, the big kitchen, and the shaded deck where I shared meals with my friend.

It became very comfortable.

And now I’m back in the apartment that I am of course very grateful for but I have to admit – it feels pretty small.  It’s taken me a few days to figure out how to live in the space again.  I can’t remember where my “things” are, and I can’t figure out why I have so much stuff crammed into 200-square-feet.

It’s time to clear the decks.

I want to peel back the layers of detritus – the physical and psychic debris that litters my path and slows the journey.

 

 

 

 


A Tale of Two Families…and Me

Tom and Thea, 2009

In the autumn of 1939 there was a heat wave in Northern California.  By September temperatures approached one hundred degrees. As the Bay Area sweltered, Hitler invaded Poland, New York prepared to play Cincinnati in the World Series and the minimum wage rose to thirty cents per hour.

Bill and Tom, beginning their freshman year at UC Berkeley, met for the first time that autumn on board a train traveling across the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.  Trains did that in 1939.

Seventy-three years later and the boys in that train car are now old men. Bill is tall and shockingly handsome for a man of ninety. Tom walks slowly, but his Irish/Italian eyes still sparkle.  Especially when the stock market is bullish.   He’ll be ninety-one this next May.

Tom and Bill teased one another, as young men will, when each fell in love.  While Tom wooed a beautiful girl on a picnic in the Berkeley hills Bill found love in San Francisco when he met a feisty blond.  The sweethearts married, and Tom’s brunette bride Isabel became best friends with Bill’s gorgeous Bobbie.

Both men served during World War II. Tom was an officer on a Navy tanker in the Pacific.  Bill was an infantryman in Europe who landed in Normandy not long after D-Day and entered Dachau two weeks after it was liberated.

After the war, their homes, one a shiny Eichler the other a rambling Craftsman and only a few miles apart, quickly filled with children. At last count there were eighteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

From time to time the families gather together for simple meals of crusty bread, Bobbie’s cherished homemade soup and bottles of Yellow Tail wine.  They gather to celebrate.  But when Bobbie and Bill lost their eldest and Tom lost his beloved Isabel, they gathered to mourn.

All from a friendship that began when two boys headed to Berkeley on the same train in 1939.

I met the couples and their children four years ago, before Isabel passed.  I was astounded their friendship could be measured in decades as my close friendships are only measured in years.  In fact, I don’t know that there will ever be another time when friendships begun by happenstance will endure seven decades of war, love, marriages, births, and deaths.

Of course I’m grateful to be a few mouse clicks from friends I knew in high school.  But that was almost forty years ago.  What do we have in common except memories?

I look at the lives of these two couples and all the good people they’ve brought into the world and I’m nostalgic for a way of life I’ve never experienced.  Our lives move artificially fast and in the frenzied wake intimacy borne of a shared meal or a family gathering is lost. We flit around the world and we forget people.  We forget moments.  We forget.

So strong is my craving for connection and the setting down of roots that I almost lost a friendship this week.  For me, it would have been a horrible loss.  The lesson I’ve learned from the past few days is that clinging to your idea of something is like trying to hold on to smoke.  It’s impossible.  I will never have the life-long love of Bobbie and Bill, Tom and Isabel.  I won’t have children, or grandchildren.  But there’s no doubt I will have love, connection and intimacy.  It’s possible I already do, but I’m too attached to what I believe those words should mean that I haven’t noticed they’ve been re-defined for the twenty-first century.