Thoughts on Father’s Day and Fathers

Father’s Day has always been special for me; I have such a good father, and the day also comes so close to my birthday that my birthday and being a daughter have always felt linked. Today we celebrate the fathers, godfathers, other family and friends who have raised us and in many cases, helped to raise our children. We also remember the fathers who have passed on, and those who miss them.

Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, wrote about her father in a way I could relate to. In this book Kushner, who grew up reading in Hebrew, explores how differences in translation, language, and culture affect the understanding of the Bible. It is also a fascinating story about her  family and I highly recommend you read it. Here are her words from this memoir:

My father taught me what he has always taught me: how to ignore the disapproval of the world, no matter how loud it is. He taught me how to listen to myself, and how to hear that same thing in other people and places: the quiet beating of the individual heart.

I hope each one of us would have such a person in their life.

 

Practice Makes Progress

 

I’ve been taking a drawing class at the museum for several weeks. On the first day, our instructor asked us to draw a self-portrait. I started with the obvious—trying to capture the shape of my head, the size and slant of my eyes, the fullness of my lips, adding in cheekbones and topping the image off with hair, or enough swirls and poufs to make it look like hair.

The finished drawing looked nothing like me. Maybe there were a few aspects that resembled what I had seen in the mirror, but my drawing could have just as easily been a picture of someone else.

The takeaway for the day was to learn how to look and then sketch what I saw, rather than what I thought should be there. Next, I had to copy and draw a photo that was placed upside down, which forced me to look at lines, edges, and shapes to complete the picture. Instead of thinking, well, this is the arm, I know what an arm looks like, so I’ll draw an arm, I drew from sight, not expectation.

Guess what happened? My upside-down drawing was far more accurate than I thought it would be, because I made myself focus on what I noticed as I went along, rather than what I know.

Learning how to draw has been rewarding because the initial progress has been swift, hastened by learning some basic rules. My pictures look considerably more accurate than they would have weeks ago. There are basic principles and with practice I am learning how to employ them, observing shapes and shadows, how to measure and adjusting on the page.

I see parallels between my writing and my new drawing practice. When I write an essay, I often start out with an idea, not fully formed, just a sense of what I want to write about. As I keep going, noticing small details, or where my interest picks up, I make decisions about incorporating them into the work.

My drawing instructor recently said, “You have to bound your composition, you cannot fill everything in.” I decide which elements serve the final drawing, much as choosing the right words serves an essay or story. Drawing has taught me to look more closely at the world around me, and reinforces the truth that practice is essential to improvement. My goal is not to hang my work in a gallery or museum, although I share each week’s work as eagerly as a first-grader, excited that my hands and mind have tried to work in concert to create something. Like my writing, the process is as importance as the outcome, and the process and the practice are the two components I can control. The more I draw, the more I want to write, because they complement each other.

Writing will always come before drawing for me, but I’ll keep up with my sketches, if only because they are fun to make and use a different part of my brain. Practice does not have to make perfect, making progress is reason enough to keep on.

 

I Go to the Rock

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My husband and I sat with my father at mass this past Sunday, the ritual and order of the service familiar to each one of us, imprinted in a combined nearly 200 years of experience with the Roman Catholic Church. This church, which was renamed the Church of the Resurrection after three predominately Black churches, St. Andrew, St. Agnes, and St. Mark were merged, is where my parents attended church together for the last several years until my mother passed away in 2017. Continue reading

Day of Reflection and Preparation

Last week, I devoted one day—I call it my Quiet Day—to a day of quiet reflection and preparation for the year ahead. This has been an annual practice and it is my way to start the year in a less rushed state of mind. I don’t bother with resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Nearly 20 years ago, I went through the training to earn a certification in coaching, and even though I no longer coach clients, I still use many of the tools when I want to work towards change in my life.

I began with a look at my 2018 calendar, going week by week to see how I had used the days. I remembered little victories, trips I took, days where I stayed home and enjoyed working in my yard. I thought about the people I spent time with, the meetings and events I attended, and then I wrote down on one sheet of paper the highlights of the past year. It is easy to quickly forget what we have done, felt, or experienced. I saw many happy, positive moments, and the exercise also helped me see where I had spent time doing things that I did not feel were in alignment with my goals, values or needs. Nothing to feel bad about, just something to observe.

Once I had looked over the past year, it was time to dream ahead. I identified a few areas where I want to focus, of course, one is my writing, and then I thought about the steps I would have to take to move forward. I felt a strong desire to try a new thing this year, perhaps something that is a stretch for me. I have not yet pinned down exactly what it will be; I have a few ideas, but I am certain the answer will come to me soon.

This morning, a question popped up as I mulled over an invitation. My inclination is to sometimes say yes, forgetting that no is also an option, often because it’s nice to be included, I am truly interested or curious, I like the people, the place, or the issue, or a sense of if I can, I should. But today I asked myself, “What is most in alignment with my goal or need for this moment, for this day?”Only then did I realize that although participating might be a good thing, it was not the best thing, for me, at this time. I’ve always said that as you get clear on your Yes, the No or Not Right Now becomes more apparent.

Because I can look back with gratitude and understanding that I am still learning, I can move forward with my dreams and goals for 2019, eager and excited to see how it all unfolds. Taking a quiet day is transformative for me, but it does not have to be done at the first of the year. Any time is a good time to look at your life and see if you are headed in the right direction.

Thanksgiving This Year

Autumn candle

This year was a milestone for me—I turned 60 and it was the first birthday that my mother was not able to celebrate with me, call me, or sign her name with my father’s to my card. When she passed away in late summer of 2017, I had no idea of how her passing would change me. I learned very quickly it was a hurt for which I had no words or experience.

I was excited about my 60th birthday and had planned a party (theme: Honey, I’m Grown) months in advance. As the June date drew nearer, I became apprehensive about how I would feel on that day, and wondered if in the middle of the celebration, I would realize that it was not a good idea. But that didn’t happen. Continue reading

Walking Away Money

 

Several years ago, I left a job that I mostly enjoyed, planning to take a one-year sabbatical to sort out what my next move would be. I was a development officer, also known as a fundraiser, for a large midwestern university with national name recognition. I believed in the programs for which I fundraised, the visual and performing arts, scholarships, endowments, and I met amazing benefactors, many of whom I still maintain friendships with. But I knew I needed a change, wanted to explore some of the stories that I carried in my head and heart. I had been able to spend time with highly creative people—artists, musicians, sculptors, actors, and writers, while in that position. When we had time, I asked about their processes, how they studied, when they found the time to practice and create. Continue reading

Winter Walking through Grief

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This afternoon I did something I seldom do when it is cold outside—I went for a walk in my neighborhood. The snow crept in overnight, and when I got up this morning the lawn was blanket of white, and the intersection near my house had the fresh tire tracks of the early risers on their way to work.

I had planned to walk today but when I first saw the snow, I was resistant and did not want to go through the routine of bundling up so that I could walk. So I put it off, one hour, then another, until it was noon. And then I remembered what I learned during my retreat last month. Continue reading

Superheroes and Simplepowers

Superhero heart sticker

We live in an age fascinated by the notion of superheroes and super heroines. It seems as if half of the movies and TV shows are based on comic book characters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all, we like to see people use their special powers to prevent disaster and save the world. Even I am excited about the release of the Black Panther movie this weekend, enthralled with the representation of black and brown characters who display superior intellectual and physical prowess that they use for good.

What is your superpower? What is the skill you possess that can change the world for the better, or the attribute you tap into to get ahead? This is a question I often see in social media, where people refer to their gift as their “superpower.”

I am less interested in the idea of a superpower—I’d rather tap into my simplepower. What do I mean by that? A simplepower is your unique skill, which can be used at will, makes you better simply because you share it with others, and can be harnessed in circumstances calling for compassion and bravery. Even better, unlike the heroes in the movies and comics, you don’t have to hide it. Quite often people know you have this power and seek you out for it. A simplepower doesn’t require a costume change, a life-threatening situation, or a villain. A simplepower can be an act of kindness when someone needs it, good advice for the searching, or a quirky sense of humor that helps a sad person laugh.

Everyone has a simplepower.

My simplepower is encouragement—I like to encourage people, to help them see the magnificent possibilities in their lives. Decades ago, after I knew I was an encourager, I came across a verse in the bible, I Thessalonians 5:11—Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

After I read this, something in my spirit said, “Yes. That is who I am and who I want to be.” I wrote it down, tucked it away in my brown leather planner, and although the days of paper planners have been replaced by smartphone calendars, I still refer to it from time to time when I need a reminder of one reason why I am on this planet.

I love a snazzy outfit and admit that clothing and the right boots can alter my mood. But I don’t want to depend on a cape or a superpower when a quiet reminder will do. We all have a unique gift, some of us are blessed with multiple gifts, that we can share to uplift, encourage, or help another person.

What is your simplepower?