Archive for February 2008

Child’s play

February 20, 2008



Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness
of a child at play. Heraclitus

One evening recently I had been engrossed in a book. When it was time to go to bed, I turned on the yard lights and let the dogs out, and was surprised to see that snow was falling, filling the air with large, fluffy flakes and coating the ground with glistening crystals. I stood quietly for a few minutes in wonder at the silence and beauty.

The next day I found myself remembering how I loved snow when I was a kid. We kids were experts at observing and discussing snow. If the snow was wet, we knew it would be good for snowball fights or snowmen (as we called them in those days). But was it going to warm up? Would our creations last?

The energy we threw into building a snowman or a fort, rolling up those heavy balls and lifting them up! But we thought nothing of it; we were strong. And we were full of pride when we were finished.

If the snow was dry and fluffy like it was the other night, we knew it was no good for snowballs. If a few inches accumulated, my brothers and I and other kids from the neighborhood would go to the Highline Canal, a large irrigation ditch a half-block from our house. (It’s empty in the winter.) We knew every spot where the bank had a slope rather than a drop-off, and we hauled our snow saucers to those spots. We would push and spin each other down the slope, trying to throw others off their saucers or get enough momentum to go part-way up the other side.

Writing about play adds a whole new energy to personal history–the energy of joy, freedom, and creativity. It can be a great topic to explore if you feel bogged down in “grown-up” memories.

I hope you will comment on this post and and your own stories to this discussion.

Reflections for stimulating memories:
What are your memories of playing in snow? Of playing in general? Who did you play with? Where did you go to play? Did you play games like dolls, baseball, or basketball, and/or did you just make up the games as you went along? What did you learn from play when you were a child?


Push off from shore

February 11, 2008

Do not fear to step into the unknown. For where there is risk, there is also reward.

Lori Ward

Last night we attended a retirement party for a much-loved minister and his wife of many years. There were many touching tributes and lots of humor, but my favorite part was his brothers (and others) telling in outline form the stories of his life. And there was one story that touched me deeply.

At the time of Bill’s graduation United Theological Seminary in Minnesota, he received a gift from his wife. It was a cross, on the back of which she had had inscribed the words “Push off from shore.” I was captured by this story. It told me a lot about her, and about their relationship.

Later I found myself wondering how I would tell my own life story if I chose the organizing theme: “push off from shore.”

I have pushed off from shore at what turned out to be critical moments–to name a few, leaving home and starting a new life a thousand miles away, changing careers a couple of times (depending on how you count it), moving my practice from Minneapolis to St. Paul (which was regarded as professional suicide at the time), taking on the role of whisteblower in my church, and most recently moving back to Denver at the age of 62. Some of these decisions seemed inevitable; others came in a flash of inspiration; and still others took place only after long, thoughtful reflection and conversation.

But there have also been times I mistakenly stayed ashore when it was time to push off–once in a work partnership, and once in a church. Those were times when I was was badly hurt and seriously disillusioned, but in time I learned some things about my tendency to overdo trust and loyalty that have served me well in the years since.

And there was one time when I had a very lucrative chance to go out on the water and I decided not to, without really knowing why–just because every time I thought about the offer I got a stomach ache.

Exploring themes like this can’t help but take your story deeper, and it may also give you a sense of what leads you’re following, what prompts you’re responding to, what inner currents carry you.

Reflection suggstion:Take a little time to look back over your life with the phrase “push back from shore” in mind. What shores have you left? How did you make those choices? How did they shape the rest of your life? What inner and outer places have you stayed with for a long time? What difference have they made in your life?

Millions leave a legacy

February 6, 2008




Be sure to check “About.” It will make this blog make sense–or at least more sense.


No one can predict the future. All we can do is choose our contribution

to the circumstances which help shape the future.

Don Michael

Last night I attended a precinct caucus. It was complete chaos at first because there were at least two thousand people at a function that’s normally lucky to attract two hundred. The line outside the school reminded me of the serpentine lines at Denver International Airport. When we finally got in, the halls were gridlocked. Some people where looking at maps on the walls to figure out what precinct they were in, and what room their precinct would be meeting in. Others (like me) knew their precinct, but didn’t know the school–so directions to the lunchroom or the mini-theater weren’t at all helpful.

When I finally found the lunchroom, it too was packed. But slowly groups organized by precincts and precinct residents began to sign in. And at last the business began.

We all spent a lot of time standing around. At one point I looked out over those hundreds of people and thought, “I wonder if any of them are thinking right now about what a difference they are making? Do they realize they are part of a dramatic revitalization of our political system? When they think about “making a difference” will they count this night?”

Most of us won’t make a difference in any dramatic way. We won’t spend our lives living with the poor, or teaching inner-city children, or adopting special needs children, for example. Yet we will have a legacy of small choices, built up through every day of our lives. Going to a primary caucus on a winter night in 2008 is one of them.

Reflection starter:

At the end of the day sometime this week, review your day. Look for the tiny ways you received from others–a smile, help with a work project, a listening ear, for example. Then look for the tiny ways others received from you. Did your life shift at all from these encounters? Did your mood change? Did you learn something? Did you understand someone (or feel understood by someone) in some small way? Did you get a new idea? Did you find some new compassion for yourself or others? This is how legacy happens–moment by moment, choice by choice.

No ordinary life

February 4, 2008

Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).

Ronnie Bennett,

So many older people believe that no one would be interested in reading their life story, because they have led just an “ordinary” life. So they wonder: Why go to the trouble of putting it on paper?

In truth, there is no such thing as an ordinary life. Every person

  • Loves and is loved by people along the way–and lives are changed in the process
  • Meets many challenges and overcomes most of them in their unique way
  • Learns valuable life lessons that future generations will need
  • Lives through amazing changes in culture and history
  • Contributes to the larger society–whether through work, raising children, church or social involvements, or hobbies.

Your descendants will want to know who you were and what you were like–not just your genealogy, but your stories and your wisdom. Knowing about you will tell them a lot about themselves.

Life story starters:

1. Take the statements above and do a little reflecting or writing about one or more of them. Who has loved you, and whom have you loved. How has that changed lives? What challenges have you met in your life, and how have you coped with them or overcome them? What wisdom have you gained? How has daily life changed in your lifetime? How have you contributed to our society?

2. Imagine being able to talk with your grandparents or great-grandparents. What questions would you ask them? Write your questions down. This will tell you a great deal about what your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will want to know about you.