A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

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I am grateful for…

…Monday morning.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was not grateful for any morning, let alone Mondays. A new beginning, a new day, a new opportunity. Whenever I heard or read any of this, I rolled my eyes and went back to hide under the covers. Yes, I was depressed and yes, I hadn’t yet hit the bottom.

And there was another time, even longer ago, when Monday was just another day feeding into another week which was part of another month of an infinite row of years. Yes, that’s how we think when we are young: that we are eternal and time will always be on our side, aren’t we stupid. A good number of years in that – now I know it’s rather finite – row passed before I got to the bottom of that depression valley, and all the Mondays – slowly but surely – lost their flavour and excitement and joy.

Until one day. I don’t even remember if it was a Monday – probably not. It doesn’t matter. Out of the blue came the memory of another day from that forgotten youth when a nice kind man had woken me up to say “I have news for you.” (We had had a conversation the previous night and I had confessed to him that sunny mornings were not giving me joy any longer). So I said: “Yeah, what kind of news?”

“Well, mixed really. The bad news is that it’s sunny outside…” – he said seriously.

I smiled thinking of our talk. “Oh yeah?”

“… and the good news is that it’s sunny outside.” – he smiled back at me.

I didn’t get it then, I thought he was just trying to look smart to impress me. He was, in a way (long story short, he’s my husband of twenty years now). I got out of bed, had breakfast with him, and then we walked through sparkling snow for about 4 hours. He was courting me, it was lovely.

Six years ago, he watched me helplessly while I drowned in my own sorrows. Then, as I was saying, that memory came back and I got it: it was all about perspective. You’d think I’m pretty obtuse, how could I not get that in the first place? Oh, but I did: in my head. It sounded like a joke then. And suddenly, so many years later, it sank into my heart and it became reality.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is shining. What? It’s cloudy? So? The sun is still there, above the clouds, and your brain knows it. Now let your heart be flooded with its warmth. Feel the new beginning, the new day, the new opportunity. Life is yours to live it. You gotta want it – and why wouldn’t you? It’s in your power to change everything. Yes, gradually – you know, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day either, and that’s one true saying. So start with that step you don’t want to take and just be grateful for today.

Happy Monday!

Time for a Treat

Thursday morning. Man, it’s the middle of the week. Bad news: work is still there and won’t go away by the weekend (worse than bad news: you don’t have a job; keep reading and hopefully you’ll find some helpful ideas below). Good news: you can take a break any time to recharge your batteries. And what better time than today!

Today you’re gonna GO OUT and have coffee, tea or lunch. With or without a friend. Preferably “with” – a friend who’ll have coffee with you at any time really cares for you and…

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(yes, this is my photo of a sewing kit I bought and I intend to sew this little thing – will post it when ready)

But maybe you are a loner and you don’t have friends (yet! – you’ll make some in due time, plus see picture above). That’s OK, you have a date with your best “friend” then: YOU.

You’re gonna dress nicely for this, even if you go to the cheapest place in town. Why? You respect yourself, you respect your audience, friends, family etc. It all starts with you. Even Jesus Christ gave us the command as such: “Love your neighbour like yourself.” Well, if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love someone else. Makes sense? That coffee you’re gonna have will make YOU feel good first and foremost, whether you’re helping yourself or others. Get that?

So start with putting on your best comfortable clothes and shoes. Open the door and go straight to that shop and try spot a table by the window or by the fireplace or in a nook. It’s part of treating yourself. Enjoy every sip. This is not the time to start dieting (by the way, any diet sucks – if it’s not attached to a doctor’s prescription or to a healthy and balanced pattern of fasting, don’t inflict it on yourself. I’ll write a separate posting about fasting, promise.)

Talk to your friend or to your self. Take that half an hour or more to focus on positive things. It’s OK if you need to cry and be comforted, just try not leave the table on a sad or angry note. Think of something good for that last sip.

Worst case scenario: you’re totally miserable, you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any money, your best clothes are mostly rags. OK. All it takes is your will power. Do you wanna feel better? Here’s what you do: You put on your best rags. You take a look at that Monday mirror and see that you’re enough the way you are. You get out of your current physical environment and step into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of water and sit by any available window for 10 minutes. Think about the good stuff in your life, anytime, anywhere. There must be something, dig deep into your memory and let the good bits resurface. If a bad memory tries to take over, push it aside gently saying: “I don’t need you right now.” You do this exercise as often as you can (think of), and in a short time you’ll feel better, more confident, richer and more sociable. Stick to it, baby. It’s called the discipline of feeling good.

In any of these instances, appreciate you took the time to dress up and go out because you deserve it.

Happy Thursday!

 

Gratitude

I had a rather lousy day today when it was supposed to be joyful. A day of paradoxes. There was a ceremony I had decided to participate in though I had had a feeling that the person I was there for would do everything to make me feel unwelcome. And she did. Simply because of too much pride and messed up priorities. Because of rebelious youth and too little love.

I’ve discovered that love is a thing one learns. Love contains pain and patience and resilience and many tears: liquid ones and solid ones, literal ones and invisible ones. When young, we mistake passion and smiles and kisses and hugs for all that love is. We do not see the hidden part of the iceberg. We do not get why mom is mad and dad is disappointed if we put ourselves in danger or we simply misbehave. We see our courage only, we trust our eternal health. We disobey rules and then ask for comfort and then disobey the rules again. How stupid is that? “I’m tired” is something we can solve with a 12 hour sleep or even less – and “just let me sleep” has the sound of a bark, not the faint plea we’ll make much later on. We keep being children for much longer than we like to admit.

And so today, as I was trying to make sense of the inexplicable abominable behaviour of the dear person in question, I suddenly had this sense of peace and profound mysterious understanding that, precisely because I was not receiving thanks or gratitude, I found myself not grateful enough. That I am good enough to exist as I am, yes – but not grateful enough. (For there is a difference, and a big one it is.) That no matter what I will do and how much I would love, I cannot love like God. This reminded me of a beautiful quote I once read somewhere, and I forget the source: “The greatest saint’s love for God does not compare to God’s love for the greatest sinner.”

And so tonight I am willingly grateful. For everything. In my freedom of choice which God has bestowed upon my spirit at birth, I decide to be grateful. For the good, the bad and the ugly, for all the harsh lessons, for every single smile and encouragement I’ve received in my life so far, for the doors that got shut and the windows which opened, for my health and that of my family, for the terrible teachers I’ve had who have truly enhanced my appreciation of the good teachers, for family and friends, for fights and make ups, for failures and successes… for who God shaped me to be, most of the times against my will.

I love you so much, Lord… I do. There are no words. But You know. And in your infinite love and perfect understanding, You Who sees into the depth of my heart, will accept this imperfect plea for forgiveness and my gratitude for this life of mine.

There’s one more little feeling that I have tonight – that gratitude and love are entwined in this ball of light which is all that survives death. Quite literally.