The Only Obligation

Today is the 2nd Anniversary of Shine Memoirs. Looking back, I marvel at how full these past two years have been. Full of stories and love and babies and family and friends and adventures and so much joy. My heart continues to expand. As I celebrate today, I feel so lucky that I have this special place to share moments with all you far-flung family and friends. Thank you for joining me on this ride, thank you for being part of this community.

Along with creating, collecting and celebrating life stories, this blog has evolved into a meditation on mindfulness, listening and poetry. As Rumi says below, "The world is new, and you / have been chosen to say this poem." That means you and you and you. "The only obligation is to walk through the meadow / and look."

The Only Obligation

A narcissus sprouts through the ground.
Our souls, having pastured all night
on jasmine, leap up for the dawn.
The world is new, and you
have been chosen to say this poem,
because you are the one 

with the love bites on you.
Your love has brought us to this silence,
where the only obligation
is to walk slowly through a meadow
and look
~ Rumi


Spontaneous Trip

I was missing my Dad. He said, "Just come." I couldn't wait for Georgia to meet her Uncle Patrick and his family. He said "Bring her here now." My sister-in-law's birthday bash was added incentive. So I booked tickets, packed up the kids and off we went to Minneapolis for five days.

On the flight home, I jotted down this quick list of highlights:
  • Sitting up talking with my dad into the wee hours the night we arrived.
  • Leisurely mornings drinking coffee, happily watching my Dad and his wife Laurie snuggle my kids.
  • Listening to Xavier explaining to them that his dinosaurs "lived a long time ago, in a different time period."
  • Cheering on my 10-year-old niece Fiona at her rock climbing competition.
  • Celebrating my sister-in-law Paula at the birthday bash Patrick threw for her at a cool bar in the North Loop.
  • Slumber party with cousins which included playing hide and seek, watching cartoons, and making a waffle feast.
  • Lounging all day Sunday. "Just like Christmas," said my dad.
  • Listening to Xavier giggle on his Uncle Pappy's lap - "Give me five. Up high. Down low. Cut the Pickle. Tickle Tickle."

  • Visiting my dear friend Karin and marveling that we now have children playing together.
  • Going through boxes of photos, newspaper articles and WWII medals from my paternal Grandfather and remembering him. (More on him to come soon).
  • Watching 12-year-old Liam and 10-year-old Finn teaching Xavier how to play basketball in their backyard.
  • Xavier solemnly complying to give Paula frequent kisses. "It's been five minutes," she'd say and he'd stop whatever he was doing to kiss her on the cheek.
  • Fiona doing a clever card trick - I couldn't figure out how she did it.
  • Watching Georgia bounce and laugh in everyone's lap as we passed her around.
  • And we had a sunny outing to my favorite place in Minneapolis, the Walker Sculpture Garden. We walked across the poetry bridge to Loring Park to celebrate more National Poetry Month.

The plaque reads: "The bridge, a 375-foot steel-truss construction, spans 16 lanes of traffic to enable pedestrians to cross easily between Loring park and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It's pair of overlapping arches represents a metaphoric handshake, uniting two areas of the city. Inset along the bridge's upper beams is a poem by John Ashbery that transforms the experience of crossing into a brief escape from place and time." 

And now I cannot remember how I would
have had it. It is not a conduit (confluence?) but a place.
The place, of movement and an order.
The place of old order.
But the tail end of the movement is new.
Driving us to say what we are thinking.
It is so much like a beach after all, where you stand
and think of going no further.
And it is good when you get to no further.
It is like a reason that picks you up and
places you where you always wanted to be.
This far, it is fair to be crossing, to have crossed.
Then there is no promise in the other.
Here it is. Steel and air, a mottled presence,
small panacea
and lucky for us.
And then it got very cool.

—John Ashbery


Flipbook of Family Photos

I visited my mom recently and spent a happy morning looking through family photo albums. I took a few snaps with my iPhone to share with my husband later. When I lined them up in order, it became a crazy wonderful flipbook of our family through more than 40 years - all the way up to my wedding with all our spouses. The haircuts! The clothes! The sullen "why do we have to take this stupid picture" faces! All those memories! One day I will properly scan all these photos, but this was a fun and quick way to "sit down and look through photos" with siblings and parents who all live in different states.


The StoryCorps App (and the $1 Million TED Prize)

Today I downloaded the free StoryCorps App, which has been made possible with the $1 million TED Prize. I spent 20 minutes recording a conversation with my mother-in-law Jane in my backyard, while she held her granddaughter Georgia in her lap. I asked questions about moving from England to Canada as a young bride, raising her children and what some of her happiest moments have been. I asked her if she had any advice for her great-great-grandchildren who can someday hear this recording. I listened to her speak in her beautiful voice. Then I took a photo of us and uploaded it all to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Just like that, easy-peasy, we joined the largest archive of oral history ever gathered.

You can listen to my interview with Jane here.

Let me shout this from the rooftops: Download the StoryCorps App. Go try it. Use it often. Have meaningful conversations with people you love. 

Below a link to Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, giving his TED talk on winning the TED Prize. "Everyone Around You Has a Story the World Needs to Hear."

I highly recommend listening to the full TED talk, but here are a few key excerpts:
I'm going to tell you a secret about StoryCorps. It takes some courage to have these conversations.StoryCorps speaks to our mortality. Participants know this recording will be heard long after they're gone. There's a hospice doctor named Ira Byock who has worked closely with us on recording interviewswith people who are dying. He wrote a book called "The Four Things That Matter Most" about the four things you want to say to the most important people in your life before they or you die: thank you, I love you, forgive me, I forgive you. They're just about the most powerful words we can say to one another,and often that's what happens in a StoryCorps booth. It's a chance to have a sense of closure with someone you care about -- no regrets, nothing left unsaid. And it's hard and it takes courage, but that's why we're alive, right? 
So here is my wish: that you will help us take everything we've learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world so that anyone anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being which will then be archived for history. 
Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving, so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. Or imagine mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down not to talk about that conflict but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so, begin to build bonds of trust; or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday; or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they've learned in life, and how they want to be remembered.  
Every day, people come up to me and say, "I wish I had interviewed my father or my grandmother or my brother, but I waited too long. Now, no one has to wait anymore. At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you'll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so,we'll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what's really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely. 


Pure Gravy

Today is April 1st and the beginning of National Poetry Month. To celebrate all month long, you can find 30 activities from the Academy of American Poets here.

At the coffee shop this morning, the grinning barista told me he was super happy to be alive. He emanated energetic and upbeat vibes. He made me realize, when I stopped to think about it, that I too feel super happy to be alive. And that reminded me of this autobiographical poem by Raymond CarverHe wrote it shortly before he died - far too young at the age of 50 - from lung cancer. This poem, "Gravy" is inscribed on his gravestone, along with "Late Fragment."


No other word will do.  For that's what it was.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman.  Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going.  And he was going
nowhere but down.  So he changed his ways
somehow.  He quit drinking!  And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head.  "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends.  "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected.  Pure Gravy.  And don't forget it."

Late Fragment

And did you get what 
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.