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

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Passion and Compassion…

I have spent many Sunday mornings wondering what I would say if the minister pulled me aside just before the service was about to start to tell me she was unable to do the sermon. With only the benefit of a few minutes to read the assigned readings for the week, would I be able to deliver as a substitute preacher? What would I say and how would it play?

Oddly, perhaps, this is a challenge I would welcome, and my wish sort of came true one weekend. Our minister called me on a Saturday afternoon to ask me if I could step in the next day, as there was an illness in her family, and she needed to be at the hospital. Forgetting that I had to prepare for a major presentation at work on Monday, and somehow forgetting that we were hosting a group of teenage girls for dinner and a sleepover, I said “yes.”

016I found myself sitting in the back row of the church when the service started. I was not participating in the music and prayers; I was scribbling notes on a pad of paper on which I had started writing an outline earlier that morning. I don’t remember much about what I said that morning, and since I seldom stick to my notes, it isn’t even recorded anywhere. But I do recall that the sermon started with these words: “one mile, 14 minutes.” That may seem unremarkable if you are a runner. But I was quoting a text message from someone who used to run half marathons at a much faster pace, so it must have had some special meaning…Yes, it was a text from my brother who had recently been through his second surgery for a brain tumor that he was not going to give in to.

So, who had the greater challenge – me, just talking about life and Spirit to a bunch of captive subjects, or my brother who was battling his way back to full health?

I guess “challenges” are relative. Every time my 22-year old son has to put on a coat or buckle a seat belt or go to the bathroom it is a struggle. Every time he has to form a sentence to communicate what he is thinking, it is a challenge. Thinking about how challenging life is for a person with special needs, makes my little challenge of preparing a last-minute-sermon seem pretty manageable. But why am I writing about challenges?

I had this sudden flash of the obvious – there are good challenges and bad challenges. The real issue is how we respond to a challenge, whether we are facing it or observing it. And that is where it gets interesting. It is almost always best to respond to a challenge we are facing with passion (one of my favorite words). And the best response when we observe someone facing a challenge is compassion. Two really beautiful words – passion and compassion….two very powerful tools in a world that is filled with challenges. Two words that could change the world if we could all just hold them in our consciousness, live them and encourage others to hold them dear.

These amazing words — Passion and Compassion — can be said differently as: Create and Appreciate. Battle and Support. Try and Help. Seek and Encourage. Love and Love Even More.

I am passionate about helping people through my speaking and writing. I feel very blessed. “For those to whom much is given, much is expected.” We all have been given gifts that are uniquely ours. How can we best use them? With passion, I hope.

A Love of Writing

Ordinarily, this time of year I would have written a Holiday Letter to send out with our family Christmas cards. But after 16 years of composing this missive, my son volunteered to write it last year. It was pure joy to read his reflections and perspectives on the year. This year my daughter – just 17 — said she would do it. She, like her older brother, happens so be a terrific writer, so our friends and family will be given a real treat this Holiday season.

It is wonderful to have kids who share a love of writing. When people ask me why I wrote the book, My Father’s Writings, which is actually a novelistic way for me to share my own writings, I think of what I wrote over 35 years ago for a poetry class I took in college.

To write words is to dream aloud.

To read the words of others is to expand the experience of your mind.

To read your own words is to examine the condition of your soul.

To study your own words is to understand the essence of your nature.

To criticize your own words is to appreciate the limits of your ability

To share your own words with others is to expose the depth of your character

230577_475534335800970_902149042_nSo what would you write if you suddenly had  a blank page in front of you and a chance to share your words with others? Given the chance tell your story, what would it be? Years ago we wrote letters to friends and family. Today, we write emails, tweets and texts. It’s a little tougher to ‘expose the depth of your character’ in 140 characters or less. Fortunately, there are a lot of great bloggers who are willing to put their words out there – to ‘dream aloud’ publically. They give us much to read and enjoy, and I aspired to be one of them some day. But I am going to make an early New Year’s resolution – to write more letters.

One of the chapters in my book is entitled, “Other Letters that Matter.” When I look back at those pages I find letters I wrote to my father-in-law, thanking him for raising such a wonderful daughter, to my son as he left for college, to my aunt and uncle when my cousin drowned, to the kids I coached in little league baseball, and to my friends when they learned that their son had a tumor. There are also letters of recommendation and, of course, Holiday Letters. But one letter jumps out at me; just three short paragraphs written to my father soon after I started my own business. Dad grew up on a farm in Arkansas, picking cotton as a kid to help his family make ends meet. Later he moved to Michigan where he worked in factories, living paycheck to paycheck, until he finally retired. I sent him a flyer describing my new company in an envelope with this handwritten letter:

Dad,

I never doubt that you are proud of me, but I know you sometimes worry about me. When I went off to Harvard you thought you were losing me.  But when I came home for the first time as the “same old me,” your smile returned and your sense of relief was like that of a father seeing his newborn son.

These days, I am sure you have more confidence in me, and in my ability to run a new business.  I suspect, however, that you still worry a little bit.  After all, you are a dad!  So I thought you would appreciate — as a sort of Father’s Day present — some information about my new business.  I hope you enjoy reading it; and thanks for giving me the values that will make this business a success.

Love,

Jim

And keeping with the father-son theme, here is the last paragraph of the letter I gave to my son as he left for college:

You know that you are my firstborn son. That means I have to do fatherly things, like make sure you are doing what you need to do to stay on track, and help you make sometimes-difficult decisions. But, you are also very much a “best friend” to me. I hope we can still find time to visit more ballparks together, ride more roller coasters, throw a football around, talk about movies, play some golf and catch a few fish. You have turned out to be a son beyond what I could ever have imagined as a father. I am very blessed by having you as a son. God bless you as you start this new adventure.

I guess this might prove that we really can communicate important messages in a few words; so maybe a tweet, text or email will do. But for me, 2013 will be the year of the letter.