Living Now That Which We Seek

I wrote my first blog in this space in December of 2012. Since that time I have not written as much as I would have liked. Recently, I stumbled on the Holiday Letter letter I wrote in December of 2011, and it struck me that those two pages contained more guidance and inspiration than most of the things I had written over the years. The value was not so much in what I had said, but in the work of others (including my daughter) whom I quoted and shared in that missive. I am posting it here, with the hope that some of you might still find inspiration and comfort in these words.

I always admired the late Reverend Peter Gomes, whose messages from the pulpit in Harvard’s Memorial Church stirred a lot of souls – especially the memorial services he offered at each of the reunions we attended. Years ago I got to introduce Peter at a church fundraising dinner.  (When he referred to me as “Brother Durham” during his remarks, this mid-western hayseed felt like he had made it to the big time!) Recently, we received a flyer announcing an auction of the contents of Peter’s home. This flyer did what death usually does – reminded me of the value of life.

On page 283 of his book, The Good Life, Reverend Gomes wrote: “The good life is not to be found wrapped up and waiting for us like the Dead Sea Scrolls or some ancient artifacts from a culture that once flourished but is now long gone. Not at all. The good life, whose object, like that of hope, is a future good….enables us to live now that which we seek.” Living now that which we seek makes so much sense. Why do we think that real joy is the goal, rather than a daily choice? I am sure Peter left behind some wonderful items for auction, but the beauty of those antiques can’t compete with the messages of love and good-heartedness he left behind.

Peter also wrote and spoke about gratitude – which has been mentioned in numerous blogs and Holiday Letters over the years. Those of us who write these annual missives predictably express gratitude for our family and friends, and for the many blessings we have been given. For some reason, though, I have resisted practicing gratitude formally by following recommended rituals. That may seem a little odd in the face of overwhelming evidence that keeping a so-called ‘Gratitude Journal’ makes us happier. Yet, I have not been able to discipline myself to do that, or anything else that is recommended by those who have studied the phenomenon.

One writer suggested that we should cultivate gratitude by taking a moment during each meal to tell those gathered what we are thankful for – not just during the Thanksgiving meal, but always. (It could lead to surprises, as I remember one Thanksgiving dinner at which a young Reid said he was thankful for Oprah and Wheel of Fortune.)  Maybe we will try this one in ’12.

Specifically, this year we are grateful that Paige is actually a fabulous teenager–the kind you can only hope for. (Can you believe she is driving?) We are thankful that Craig continues to pursue his passion of broadcasting baseball, and that he is enjoying all that Florida has to offer. We are grateful that Reid has continued to advance in his development; and we are grateful for the way Karen and I still have fun in all that we do together. We are thankful for a wonderful vacation at the O’Brien’s house on Lake Gaston, NC, where Captain Pat turned over the helm to Reid, and Paige mastered the Jet Ski. We loved the celebration in San Francisco with Gary and Barbara, Sarah, Paul, Roxie and Jarrett Tolman (who mixed in a half marathon!). We are grateful for Adam Tolman, and all who give service to this country. We are grateful for Denise, who keeps Karen running, and for Tom who shares his wonderful wit and wines with us. I am grateful that lawyers keep buying The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering (recently published in Malaysia, of all places). And I am grateful to have a job I genuinely enjoy. We are all especially grateful that Karen has rediscovered yoga, as it opens her loving heart even wider.

As some of you know from years of reading about Reid, he lives ‘in the moment’ with great joy. “Live now that which we seek…”  So, I thought I would share with you a poem I wrote about Reid several years ago. (Read the right column first…)

There is something about Reid

that makes us smile

when he finds joy in the simplest things.

There is something about Reid

that makes him giggle,

seeing a moon, a sun, or a mouse.

 

There is something about Reid

that makes us happy

in the way his sweet heart sings.

 

There is something about Reid

that is so sincere when he invites

strangers for “supper me house?”

 

There is something about Reid

that gives us joy

as he asks for his favorite shows.

 

There is something about Reid

that touches souls

with the merriment our lives don’t allow.

 

There is something about Reid

that impresses us all

when we discover what he really knows.

 

There is something about Reid

that changes our hearts

when he says “me happy now.”

 

After Craig wrote such a terrific holiday letter last year, many of you are probably a little disappointed to see me back in the game. And I had truly thought I was retired. But when your brother comes through major brain surgery safely and successfully, you feel compelled to write a little bit more about gratitude — and miracles.

Those of you who have read The Secret know that there is great power in our thoughts. When it was discovered that Rick had a tumor, hundreds of people openly offered “thoughts and prayers.” Relatives, friends, contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn, co-workers at my firm, everyone at Grandville Printing, and the parishioners at our church all offered “thoughts and prayers.” (Even a stranger I chatted with in Denver added Rick to his prayer list…) Don’t ever doubt the power of thoughts and prayers. There is no doubt in my mind that the team of surgeons had an extra pair of divine hands in the operating room. The joy we feel knowing that Rick will be fine is indescribable. I look forward to playing lots of golf with him in the years to come.

Amidst all of this, I continue to be moved by remarks made by the Headmaster of Dedham Country Day School at a Thanksgiving assembly over a year ago.  Loosely interpreted, he reminded us that we should be thankful for sadness, because it magnifies our happiness. We should be thankful for loneliness, as it gives us a greater appreciation for connection. And we can celebrate failure, for without it we would know less success. Reverend Gomes said we can only know true joy, if we know suffering. Indeed, life is rich in joy and sorrow, in achievement and disappointment, in gain and loss. We are so very thankful to be on this journey with such supportive friends and family, as well as those unnamed Angels that move in and out of our lives. May each of us be an Angel for someone every day.

I would like to share a quote from The Power (sequel to The Secret): “So how do you fall in love with life? The same way you fall in love with another person — you adore everything about them! You fall in love with another person by seeing only love, hearing only love, speaking only love, and by feeling love with all your heart! And that is exactly how you use the ultimate power of love in love with life.”  Now, combine this thinking with a quote from Albert Einstein: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” We have unlimited potential. Turn your imagination loose. Decide what you want….believe you can have it, believe you deserve it, believe it’s possible for you, and have an extraordinary holiday season.

Even though Dad is “out of retirement” from writing the holiday letter, he asked me (Paige) to add some thoughts this year. Dad has asked me several times to write the holiday letter, saying it would be a great opportunity, but I never took him up on the offer. I was always a little nervous about jumping into something that he has done for so many years, and for a piece of writing about which a lot of people openly express joy upon reading. I certainly didn’t feel prepared to step into those shoes. My other issue was that I never felt like I had anything truly inspiring to share. This is probably the first year that I have actually been able to somewhat connect myself to the things Dad has to say in the letter.

After reading The Secret, Dad did not want to keep the things he had learned to himself. Mom and I listened to him describe the messages and different ways he thought it could really change a person’s life. However, keep in mind that I live under the same roof as him, so our whole family is subject to these eye-opening things Dad has to say throughout the year–not just in this letter. And I do admit that I didn’t give it much thought the first time Dad talked about it. Then one day during wellness week, which is my school’s version of drug and alcohol awareness and prevention, the guest speaker suddenly asked if we had ever learned about the power of thought. Many in the room were clueless to the idea, but I knew what he was talking about. He went on to describe a time when he was very nervous about a public speaking event, so he envisioned himself doing the presentation and having it be a huge success; by the time he got up on stage, he wasn’t a bit nervous and did a great job.

So maybe this crazy idea that Dad had shared with us was something bigger then I realized; maybe it was actually possible. All I know is if a 16-year-old daughter can be inspired by an idea so grand and unimaginable, it could truly be life changing after all.

With Gratitude

Thank you for “Lib Strong”

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day, and at least one mother spent the day preparing a memorial service for her daughter. A full of life 3-year old who had battled cancer for over a year left this world last week. But let me be clear, Libby Jones left this world having made a genuine difference. Paraphrasing something I said in the homily for my infant son 23 years ago, Libby did more good in her too short life, than most of us do in many decades on earth.

In a sad, but triumphant service yesterday, the tributes to Libby painted a picture of a little girl filled with joy and talent. She was a mischievous sweetheart with an infectious personality that drew people irresistibly into her circle of love. The City of Charlotte has “Lib Strong” signs, shirts and bumper stickers everywhere. Thousands followed Libby’s story on the Caring Bridge website.

During the service one family friend described how Libby used to deal with life’s little challenges using the phrase: “That’s why God made _______.” Spill some milk? “That’s why God made paper towels.” A toy needs to be fixed? “That’s why God made Daddies.” There is a stain on your shirt? “That is why God made washing machines.”

What struck me profoundly, however, and will stay with me forever, was hearing all of the reasons why God made Libby. I do not have a transcript of the remarks from the service, and the words were so beautiful that I don’t want to try to recreate them from memory. But the essence of the message is something for all of us to contemplate.

Many of the things I have written over the years have been focused on finding ones life’s purpose and fulfilling our intended role on this planet. The Universe works. As imperfect as it may be, the earth moves around the sun like clockwork. The air provides oxygen that allows us to breathe. A complex mass of cells form to create bodies and brains….people are born and people die.

I believe that this Universe has a spiritual thread running through it that ties us all together. No, we are not here by accident. We all have a purpose. As an observer of people, it seems clear to me that the purpose for most, perhaps, all of us, is to care for those who need care, to educate and inspire those who wish to learn and grow, to create jobs, to create art. To generally lift people up, however they may need it at a particular moment, may be our greatest purpose.

As I listened to the many beautiful reasons why God made Libby, I couldn’t help thinking about why God made me…..Stephen Covey says we should begin with the end in mind. And while I pray that my work isn’t done yet, someday it will be. I can only hope that when that time comes someone will be able to find examples of where I cared for those who needed care, educated and inspired those who wished to learn and grow, created jobs, created art and generally lifted people up.

Libby’s father, Josh, reminded us that our priorities should be family, friends and faith. That is a beautiful perspective that I will always carry with me. Thanks to Libby, I am forever changed and will always be grateful for the reboot that she inspired in my life. I guess that is just one more reason why God made Libby.

Thank Heaven For Little Girls

My daughter came home from college this past Sunday. No, not a college she is attending, but a college she visited for a couple of days to hang around with one of her friends. This is the third time she has spent a weekend at the school, and I am convinced that it is Nature’s way of preparing me for the inevitable – for the reality – that my little girl will actually be going to college this year. Of course, she is not my “little girl” any more, but the dads out there who have teenage daughters know exactly what I mean.

Having grown up in a family with all brothers, I could only imagine what it might be like to have a sister. And after being the father of only boys for many years, I didn’t think I would ever get to know the joy (or challenges) of having a daughter. But, as is always the case, a higher power moved the pieces around the game board, and I found myself holding a precious baby girl in my arms about 17 years ago.

090The most unexpected part of the having-a-daughter experience is witnessing the amazing bond between a mother and a daughter. Frankly, as a father you feel pretty much superfluous from the time your daughter is 13 until she is 17. But it is probably worth it just to see how connected and supportive a mother and daughter are to each other. While my mere existence seemed annoying to my suddenly-not-so little girl, she and her mom really seemed to understand each other during those formative years. This worked in part, I am sure, because my wife is a terrific mom. Partly, though, I also want to attribute their great connection to genes, and natural selection, and other things outside of my control – that way I am less inclined to feel like a failure as a father…..

But as my daughter really grows up, it warms my heart to think of all of the joy she has brought to my life; and it makes me wonder if I have told her that enough. Maybe there should be guidelines for dads who raise girls. Truisms like this come to mind:

• You can’t tell your daughter enough how proud you are to be her father

• You can’t thank her enough for the compassion she shows for the people around her

• You can’t thank her enough for appreciating her mother

• You can’t thank her enough for letting you hang around with her now and then

• You can’t thank your daughter enough for being born in to your world

A few weeks ago I mentioned that if we do the same things that lawyers should do to have better relationships with their clients, we will have better relationships, generally. Similarly, we can apply many of these same expressions of gratitude to other people in our lives — not just our daughters. (Thanks for the reminder, Brad.)

We were thrilled this week to learn that our daughter got admitted to her college of first choice. It is not nearby, and there aren’t even direct flights to the city in which it is located; but it is a great school and I think it is a great fit for her. I guess it is starting to hit me. When we leave her at school for the first time the outpouring of emotion will be overwhelming. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done when I left my oldest son at college. This next one is unfathomable to me!

In the Homily at my other son’s memorial service I talked about how risky it is to love children so much because of the potential to be hurt. I wondered aloud whether the unbelievable joy that children brought to us was worth the potential pain that we could suffer as parents.
I was thinking of how devastated I would be if one of my children so much as broke a toe; I was thinking of friends who had experienced the loss of a child or faced some frightening childhood ailments – and, of course, I was thinking that my new twin boys, at the time, were not completely out of danger.

When I expressed those concerns to my wife she looked at me in her ever-perfect way and said: “The only way to avoid the pain you fear is to never really love anyone absolutely and unconditionally.” Then it all seemed so simple to me. The greater our love for someone, the greater the pain we feel when we miss them or if something unfortunate happens. But pain born of Great Love is not the kind of pain we should seek to avoid. ‘Having a girl’ has been a universally more amazing and loving experience than I ever could have imagined, and I need to welcome the pain of watching her grow up.

My little girl came home from college this past Sunday, but the real journey is just beginning.