The True Meaning of Life

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
~ Nelson Henderson

In my son Xavier's room, I hung a poster I bought years ago when I lived in San Francisco which says "Help Grow Crissy Field." Michael Schwab designed it along with his other iconic posters for Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  Not only is it a beautiful image, it perfectly captures the nurturing care for the world that I hope to teach my son.  Now with spring bursting out all over Seattle, it is time to actually plant a tree in a tradition that I am handing down from my parents.  They planted a tree for each of us four kids in the front yard of the house where I grew up, and where my paternal grandparents lived before us.  "My" tree is a fragrant and lovely White Flowering Crabapple.  I haven't lived in that town in over 20 years, but I still feel connected to that tree.  I always felt special knowing it was planted for me.  I am so excited to plant a tree for Xavier that for months I have been debating between choosing a Yellow Magnolia or a Ginko or perhaps a Maple for his Canadian roots.  Then again, it might have to be a Crabapple just like mine.

Arbor day has just come and gone and I didn't make it to the nursery as planned to get the tree, but his birthday is next week and we'll plant it then. Birthday celebrations have already begun and we also started celebrating Mother’s Day early with a quick visit out to see my mom, my older brother and my sister’s family.  I am an opportunist and believe very strongly in spreading out holiday fun as much as possible.  For example, I married my husband twice in six months and was scheming for a third ceremony aboard a ship, which would have been a blast had the captain been more jazzed about the idea.  When people ask me which anniversary we celebrate, I look at them, blink and say “Why, both.” Anyway, these national holidays are only reminders, when really every day could be Arbor Day somewhere in the world and every day should definitely be a new opportunity to shower adoration on your mother/grandmother/stepmom/mother-in-law/mom-like people (that means you, Xavier).

On the subject of trees and mothers, I heard Wangari Maathai speak at the Seattle Arts and Lecture Series a few years ago and remembered vaguely that my mom had a connection to her.  Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work founding the Green BeltMovement, but before that she studied at Mount St. Scholastica in Kansas in the 1960’s.  She graduated the year before my mother entered as a freshman.  The whole school was very proud of Maathai then and even more so later when she went on to inspire women to plant millions of trees in Africa and around the world. When I asked my mom to tell me what she remembered, she did and then she said "Thanks for asking."

This is my mom in 1966 soon after she was crowned Homecoming Queen at St. Scholastica's brother college St. Benedict – as a sophomore.  She says she won because her outgoing and charming college beau rallied all his friends, but that is just my mom being modest.  Modest like when she laughingly denies the tales her sisters tell of her dancing on tables, modest like when she said winning the high school Snow Queen crown in Highmore, South Dakota was strategically meted out to different local families (even though a few of the five Markley sisters had that honor).  If my mom almost rubbed elbows with Nobel Prize Winners, won popularity contests, let loose at parties….how many other fabulous stories do I not know about her? It is clearly time for a leisurely tea party over Skype to find out more.

I think the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you don't expect to sit ....and then go sit around the saplings and tell stories with your dear ones.

Three book recommendations:

How to Plant a Tree:  A Simple Celebration of Trees and Tree-Planting Ceremonies  This has tree lore and lovely ideas for planting trees to celebrate births, weddings and memorials or simply just because.

And a classic, The Giving Tree.  

"And the boy loved the tree....very much.  And the tree was happy."
~Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree


Begin Anywhere

Begin Anywhere
~John Cage

Beginning something new is such a delicious thrill.

I am fascinated by the stories of my family and friends and take great joy in listening for the details that make the people I love who they are.  I have had this urge for as long as I can remember to list, research, collect and commemorate the ordinary and the beautiful in everyday life. I journal, I keep notes, I try to organize my photos regularly. I've captured some poignant interviews with family, which has spurred me on to do more.  With my family dispersed all over North America, the conversations are all the more precious when we do have time together.  Since my son was born last spring, documenting his growth and rapid daily changes seem all the more important as the weeks whirl by.

As exciting as any new endeavor may be, it can also be daunting.  So often we well-intentioned humans procrastinate and put our dreams on hold indefinitely. It is true, the cosmos rarely come together in perfect sync, daily lives are busy, we give priority to others, we hesitate to commit until some vague later.  The composer John Cage gives me a good nudge and yes, my friends, today is the day!

Begin anywhere.

My intention here is to curate a space to pause and savor the joy in this life of mine.  I also hope to galvanize you to talk with your families, ask questions and laugh over special shared times in the far and recent past so that your stories live on, so they shine.  Be it a conversation with my mom over tea or a one-minute video clip of my son's giggles to a 30-minute interview with my father, I want to seek out true tales, inspiration and delightful ephemera.  And -- here's the main point of this all -- along the way I want to try to be more present each moment while creating these memories that make up my life.

I am jumping in with both feet to celebrate, share and continue the story-telling.  You are cordially invited to stop by and dip your toe in anytime.  Come sail through the waters of memory with me.  Let the conversations flow.  I hope you’ll join me often so this may become a collaboration; my “I” becoming more of a “We.”  I hereby smash an imaginary champagne bottle (excellent vintage, of course) over the bow of this ship and christen this adventure:  Shine Memoirs.