Acknowledging our shared challenge

The life we see on social media is all about the wine and roses, isn’t it? It’s the filter of what others want us to see, not the full picture. This morning, I was walking through the garden and all I saw was the wear and tear (transplant shock that caused a rose to lose all its leaves), chores to do (the mint is starting to spring back through the mulch), and damage (the bunnies have found the lilies and forest grass). So today’s post is more #BeReal than #ShareBeauty. Our lives will always be full of challenges and imperfection and we shouldn’t avoid acknowledging them. Shared challenge, rather than shared beauty, is often our common ground.

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Good things come to those who wait

Patience isn’t high on my list of character strengths. Ask my family, friends, and colleagues. They’ll tell you when I get an idea in my head or a goal in my sights, my next question is often why isn’t it done yet? I often see patience as procrastination. I have little tolerance for the latter — in others or in myself.

Patience is a virtue.

All good things come to those who wait. 

It will come, in due time. 

All phrases I was convinced were contrived by someone trying to get a head start in the race.

I find this impatience lurking even in my greatest joys. When I see potential in something or someone, I want that potential to be realized now, sometimes even yesterday.

K will look at me when I’m focused on the end of some timeline and ask why are you trying to rush it? She’s right. Nearly all of life is evolution, not revolution. Most things in life don’t need to be — or refuse to be — rushed. I’m learning to embrace this new approach, sometimes reluctantly, to allow things to unfold organically and without meticulous intent.

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Last summer while hiking in New Mexico, I captured this photo at the top of a ridge adjacent to our campsite. We’d just finished a strenuous ascent up a rocky path. Over the last mile, the wind strengthened and the sky threatened to open.

The trees on the ridge fell victim to wildfire years ago, now just lifeless scars. The scene felt heavy, and my Catholic heritage evoked an almost Gol’gothic visual in my mind. It was beautiful in its somber tones, but I was impatient for more. I knew the sun was setting behind the ominous clouds. I paced the ridge hoping they would part to reveal its glory.

They never did. The grey pall dissolved into night.

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The next morning I crawled out of my tent. The rising sun cracked over the ridge, bringing new life to the charred trunks, a vibrant green to the reborn understory. The clouds gave a hint of the blue sky above.

It wasn’t the beauty my impatience craved the night before.

It was more. It was greater than.

It was the good thing that comes to those who wait.

The juxtaposition of these two photos has resonated in me since I took them. My heart kept telling me there was meaning in the imagery, but my mind struggled to find the words to describe it. Every time I saw them in my collection, I knew I had to write about them — that they had potential. It frustrated me that their story would not spring forth, no matter how hard I squeezed.

I had to wait for the meaning. It had to come in due time.

As it struck me that these images were my lesson in patience, The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun crossed my consciousness. Morrison’s drawn out vocals, dripping with potential, demanding patience from his listener. Twenty seconds for just three lines. Masterpiece worth the wait.

Can you feel it
Now that Spring has come
That it’s time to live in the scattered sun

Patience will never be one of my greatest virtues, but I’ve learned to welcome its long-neglected place in my life — with the universe, those who intersect and inhabit my life, and myself.

 

 


From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. These photos were taken at Elkhorn trail camp on Saturday-Sunday, July 22-23, trail days 7-8.

To be or not to be … yourself

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My Instagram feed is filled with affirmamemes, the embellished quotes that remind us to be kind to ourselves and not listen when the world insists we conform to some idealized notion of living. Many a day, they show up at the perfect time to provide a shot of emotional tonic.

They’re right — to a point.

We should live our lives as authentically as possible, and not let others define who we are or how we should live.

But taken to an extreme, the attitude they exude — this is me, take it or leave it — tips toward an arrogance that denies the possibility of a better version of us waiting to be created. We buy into their simple affirmations, feel good wrapped in their forgiveness, share them out into the ether as our flag planted in unshifting ground.

There’s a danger in drinking too much from the stream of affirmation, without taking a hard look in the mirror, having honest internal conversations, and making the course corrections we need to be better versions of ourselves.

Finding awesome in the garden

I’m an early riser in general, even on the weekends. It’s just me and my coffee for the first hour or so on most Saturday mornings. Sometimes, I’ll use the time to write and reflect; but more often, I take this unhurried time to learn something new or find inspiration in the stories of others. My favorite place for doing so is TED.com, whose simple tagline is “Ideas Worth Sharing.”

This weekend, I found a TED talk called “The 3 A’s of Awesome” by Neil Pasricha. In 17 minutes, Neil tells the story of how he overcame adversity and disappointment through attitude, awareness and authenticity. Please take a little time to watch the video below, as only he can do his own story justice.

I’ve spent much of this weekend cleaning up the garden I’ve so woefully neglected since August. As I filled yard waste bags and tore out cold-damaged annuals, I had plenty of time to roll the concepts of attitude, authenticity and awareness around in my mind, internalizing and understanding them more clearly with each revolution. I kept asking myself, Why did I give up on the garden this year? Continue reading Finding awesome in the garden

Just below the surface

One of my favorite plants in our garden is a witch hazel shrub that grows along the back fence. In the decade we’ve owned the house, the witch hazel has grown more vibrant and beautiful each year, full of flowers in late winter and dense, lush foliage throughout the spring and summer. Its flowering in February and March is an eagerly anticipated signal that winter is coming to a close.

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Hidden

There are things in life that you can walk past a thousand times and never give them more than a passing glance, taking them as a mundane given in your visual landscape. The sculpture above was one of those things for me. Located on the back corner of Foellinger Auditorium on the University of Illinois quad, facing a group of magnolia trees I have grown to cherish, the sculpture is one of the two Sons of Deucalion and Pyrrha pieces by the late sculptor Loredo Taft. But for me, it was simply another inanimate, nameless statue until today.

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A wish for tomorrow

Tonight was one of my two nights each week where my son and I have the evenings to ourselves because my wife teaches a night class at a local community college. Our father-son nights have always been a uniquely satisfying time for us, when we are able to give each other an undivided attention that doesn’t happen during the rest of the week.

Our evenings usually end with me sitting on or kneeling next to his bed as he snuggles into his pillow, both of us recounting how we have enjoyed the evening and each other. Invariably, he will make a profound statement or ask a question that has no easy, thirty-second answer. In these moments, I am struck by his young wisdom and challenged to comment or answer in a way that is honest, yet understandable to someone just past his seventh birthday.

Continue reading A wish for tomorrow