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Today a dear friend of mine sent an email forward with a video of Trace Adkins and the West Point Cadet Glee Club performing “Til the last shot’s fired” at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Words spoken by the warrior who introduced them have stayed with me: “Please consider that it’s not about the war, it’s about the warrior.”

The words in the song are from the perspective of the dead calling us to pray for peace so that they may “lay down [their] guns” and go home. I know I’m taking this to an extreme by thinking that tired, fallen warriors wouldn’t call for an absence of war through the powerful voice of Trace Adkins on a stage such as the Academy of Country Music Awards to set their spirits free with a semi-fallen warrior asking us to pay attention to the warrior if the wars “out there” were anything other than a reflection of our wars within.

Once again I revisit Chief Joseph’s declaration to fight no more, forever. With the deepest respect for the women and men who’ve died and those putting their lives on the line right now, I can’t help but ask everyone, “us”, to examine our hearts, to look for the places within where we will not forgive or where we hold on to right and wrong. I have my own inner bruises and wounds that I choose to lick, so it is with awareness of the depth of the challenge that I ask myself, and you, to consider that it’s not about the war, it’s about the warrior. In one way or another we are all warriors–what are we fighting for?

Is it worth it?

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I had a conversation with a friend today about warriors, which naturally included the concept of wars and fighting. Aren’t we all at war in some way? Children are fighting on the playground, adults in the boardroom, parents in the bedroom, gangs on the streets, friends and lovers on Facebook, numerous groups in numerous forums, and each of us within our own hearts.

What are we fighting for? Equal rights? Freedom? A clean environment? Safety? What we want?

To prove we’re right? Good? Important? Valuable? The best?

One of my teachers says there is no “them” out there; there is only “us”. Us at war with ourselves.

I know I have inner conflicts and competing desires and values. I wonder if our experience of war and fighting of all types is an outer mirror of our inner wars…and how long it will take before “we” will stand, as Chief Joseph stood 132 years ago, and declare, “I will fight no more forever.”

What will it take?  How much destruction are we willing to exact on ourselves and others? How much pain are we willing to endure?

     As long as we believe in an us and them…
     As long as we fear rejection…
     And reject forgiveness and love.

New Year’s Eve and other cycle end markers such as birthdays have never had as much importance to me as this one. Why? In some ways I can’t wait for it to be over as if it is simply the end of a story and I get to start a new one in four days.

What if the end of the year (or a month or a week or a day or any cycle) were like the end of a movie? Would we turn it off, go to bed, and wake up to another day as if the events in the movie were just a story, a blip of memories floating around? Would we bother to watch the credits and thank all those who contributed to the making of it? Would we reflect and allow the recollections to stimulate our emotions again? Would we consider the ways it has impacted us—our beliefs, perceptions, assumptions, and choices?

A quick peek at some “2009 year in review” articles revealed lists of happenings with some judgmental commentary. I’m more curious about how these things and those events in our own lives have impacted us—changed us.

I want to bring this year to a close by acknowledging all the people, events, places, ideas, and things that made it possible, including my own ability to perceive as I have.

I want to acknowledge the impact–the changes in me, in my perceptions of myself, others, and the world.

Through this process I want to ring in the new year by using what I’ve learned to re-perceive a few things and drop a few assumptions—maybe write a re-vision…not like a do-over or a take-two, rather an updated version of the beliefs and assumptions that directed the 2009 movie.

I could probably use some wise soul guidance here.

Love you,

Forgiveness. When does it begin? When we take our first breath? And do we just keep forgiving and receiving forgiveness with each consecutive breath? Perhaps it depends on frame of reference…you know, expecting more than someone can give and killing bugs are small offenses compared to rape and murder.

I remember struggling with the concept of saying “I’m sorry,” many years ago…to the point of actually writing an article about it for which I actually interviewed random people for opinions. At the time there was someone in my life who said “I’m sorry” a lot, but it didn’t feel as if he really meant it.

Now, on the other side of that coin, having said “I’m sorry” too many times, I have a different view—a conflicted view, like looking through a kaleidoscopic, cracked lens at the mixed feelings and mixed desires that drove mixed behaviors that lead to mixed messages and requisite apologies.

Sigh.

How unnecessarily convoluted of you; speaking the truth could serve quite nicely.

Ah.

It is for that that I now ask forgiveness.

Love you.

A friend recently sent a note in which he shared an experience of recognizing the voice of the victim in the stories he’d been telling about his life. His ability to courageously acknowledge something that most people judge negatively inspired me to explore my own stories.

Reflecting on a series of conversations transpiring over the past week, I can see the threads I missed at the time because I was so focused on one or two threads that I justified as my cause, which now looks more like my excuse. Standing in the light of truth, not universal truth, rather the light of my honest motivation, I can accept that what motivates me may be self serving.

Here’s the crux of standing in this light: once I see the truth of what’s really there I can no longer point only to the threads that I like or want to believe without pretending. That I suppose presents yet another crux: to pretend or not to pretend.

That part of me that doesn’t want to change or doesn’t want to choose something that I think will reveal my perceived weaknesses, which aren’t very well hidden anyway—I know; I hear you laughing—can easily pretend. It’s as simple as turning the light off. Even now, two paragraphs and a coffee refill later I’ve turned off the light.

I don’t want to stand in the dark with my back to my truth.

Remind me of the name of the voice speaking in last week’s story…help me to hold the light steady.

Love,

Me.

While contemplating the idea of pain influencing me to shrink away from others or to feed confusion about feeling loved, I thought of the lyrics to Bette Midler’s “The Rose”. This and innumerable other songs and poems explore the many causes lying behind pain and its influence on how we interpret love.

My own questioning began in earnest when my marriage to my high school sweet heart disintegrated. I thought love conquered all! But I was wrong! And I decided that love wasn’t what I thought it was…and, in fact, I didn’t know anything about love, let alone being created to be loved.

Tell me about love and being loved and shrinking away. 

Like the first time you touched a hot stove—you pulled away. The next time you came close to a stove you either shrank away or you reached out to see if it was hot. If it was, you pulled away, if it wasn’t you learned that stoves aren’t always hot. If you shrank away, you associated the stove with pain, hot or not. Love is simple like that. People are not.  

When love has strings attached, you experience pain. When love expects nothing in return, you experience love. This applies when giving and receiving. When you love another with an expectation of how they’ll be, or what they’ll do, or what will happen next, or that they’ll love you in return, you’re likely to experience a staggering set of emotions ranging from disappointment to resentment and anger or even hatred and cynicism. 

Sounds simple…and maybe easy if I was Peace Pilgrim, but I’m not. So now what?

How do you know when you are loving simply?
How do you know when you are being simply loved?
 

Do that.
Receive that.

Learn to recognize the strings—starting with your own.
If you are honest with yourself, you’ll know what to do next.

I wonder if the journey is really about learning how to love simply and to be simply loved.

Love you–simply.

Ah hell. Who said life was supposed to resemble a perfectly pressed square of finely woven Japanese brocade made only of the finest spun silk? Certainly no intelligent philosopher I’ve read and yet I’ve pressed and ironed and added new threads, the best I had at the time, and kept the tension of the warp threads and the weft threads as even as possible. And I’ve stretched it and squished it and dyed it and boiled it and scrubbed it and, yes, I’ve even tried removing a few rows. You laugh because you know how true it is.

Now the shape of my fabric resembles nothing but me. How sweet is that? A lumpy here, smooth there, colorful, multi-textured, unusual piece of life, ironically just like all the other unique quilts of life, for which I thank God. Isn’t she brilliant?

It’s interesting how all of our beautifully unusual pieces of life come together in the big quilt–overlapping here, blending beautifully there, bunching up in places, sometimes stretching to meet, sometimes barely touching, sometimes shrinking away.

Why do we shrink away? William P. Young, in The Shack, writes: “Pain has a way of keeping us from feeling loved—and if left unresolved too long, can leave us forgetting that we were created to be loved in the first place.”*

More on that later…

Love you.

*This sentence is in the notes I took while reading the book, which I gave to a dear friend, and may not be exactly how Mr. Young wrote it. You can find it on page 97 in the 2007 version.

I suppose we are all looking for something, like the characters in The Wizard of Oz. Maybe not as earnestly…or maybe. Each on our own journey separate yet together. You know, that soul dance, bumping up against each other, taking nourishment and delight or offense, seeking what we need, even when incognizant. Our amazing souls create perfect situations for us to meet our needs, even when it doesn’t seem so.

What am I looking for? It isn’t as obvious as the lion looking for courage, the very thing already within. Or is it? If others, those beautiful souls journeying with me, serve as mirrors, are they simply showing me something I already possess?

Oh.

Damn.

So…an unmet need might be a bit more humbling than something like needing to feel heard or respected. Maybe it’s to see how I  pretend everything’s okay when it isn’t; how I justify to have what I think I want; how I minimize disrespectful behavior of others and defend them to maintain peace or status quo; how I stuff my feelings for the same reason.

Breathe.

Love you.

Veteran’s Day. I’m reminded of family and my dear friend Slim who was always old from my then young eyes.

Slim who drove a cat in the woods well into his 70’s and gave me packaged cookies and coffee after school in a special mug with my name on it…even after he said the cookies were giving me a double chin.

Slim who “chaperoned” me to out of town sports games. God forgive me … and thank you for putting such a special man in my path, even if only for a little while.

Slim who sat quietly while we, the women, drank coffee and worked the daily jumble.

Slim who ate the open faced peanut butter sandwiches I made for him at lunch, smothered with real maple syrup just the way he liked it.

Slim who gave me beer when I was old enough and gave me away when I married my high school sweetheart in a beautiful dress with pearls and lace that my mother made for me.

Slim who sat for hours in the yard pulling weeds out of the grass after they took his drivers license away. Maybe he was remembering his experience of storming Normandy that he shared with me once. Or stories of blowing up bridges as part of his role in an elite special services group that only accepted disposable men–men who had no family; stories he never shared with me; stories I’ll never know.

Slim who unknowingly gave me sorrow when he didn’t know who I was the last time I saw him.

Slim who wasn’t family, but was my grandpa. I salute you, your soul, wherever you may be.

Love you.

Life. To live it or not to live it? This question swirls in the emergency rooms and depression halls in numbers too high to count.

What influences anyone to reach the point of wanting to give up…to either literally die by suicide or to live without living, like the walking dead?

Oh.

Yeah, I’ve been there. In both places actually. As I think of it an endless stream of theories rush in. As good as they may be, theories serve very well to give me an answer that will soothe my mind for today, like telling a child just enough to answer a question without causing confusion.

But I want to know the truth of it. Is there one? A truth about the spirit dying within? Burning out? Turning the flame down so low that few, if any, can see it?

Perceiving that one is alone kills the spirit. Community gone Individual. One for one. Lost is “all for one and one for all.”

I suppose many things can create that perception…a different experience for each. I could blame the competitive nature of our society, the walled off hearts of the wounded and disappointed, the prideful and the martyrs…and the list goes on. Blame, though, cannot reconnect the lost spirit, the lonely or the scared to humanity.

Only we can do that. Not “I” nor you, nor him nor her, only “we.” Only “we are in this together.” Life is not something one can live alone.

Yeah.
Love you.

December 2017
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