On the Uniqueness of Life

Writing my friend’s Sunset Speech, a reflection on her life and favorite things, meant preparing her – in a way – for the end of her life.

A lot of the speech came together on a flight to Palm Springs, California. I put the recording of the interview on in my headphones and let it play as I did a download of the main imprints left on my heart and mind from the time together at her breakfast table.

The recording came in handy to fill in dates and catch distinct names of destinations and timelines. Parts of the recording would catch my attention and something would float up – a meaningful piece that, with a thoughtful tie to one of her important notes, would really be a gift for her. As I wrote on the plane, I would feel the rise of potency and know I was on track. Things that felt loose or cheesy, I let be. Good ideas that felt amateur or juvenile, I knew just needed to bake a little bit longer. I have gotten to know my creative process so well at this point in my life. It’s such a blessing to know these types of things.

The next day, I soaked in the hot tub in the morning California sun, before all the sun bathers woke up to grab their chaises. Drinking coffee and reading over my notes, thinking a little and then staring at a palm tree – it felt so good to be somewhere different.

So good to be somewhere different.

Travel helps me write. I have always believed that in terms of self development, travel lets you see yourself against a different back drop. Parts of yourself that are in auto pilot or cycling, are more obvious when you are somewhere different. You can tweak them and change them with new experiences – food and culture, shopping and sitting.

Nancy’s first draft of the speech came together that morning and I called her to read the portion I felt was solid. “Oh, Erin!” I can hear how she speaks, “It’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.”

Later on that day, I would meet a vacation friend: an actual factual little old lady from Pasadena, who was traveling with her daughter. Her daughter would work until noon, then come down with a bloody mary for her mom and they would relax in the sun until dinner; each night with reservations to a thoughtfully picked restaurant. We spent time together in the mornings, sharing on work and life and books. She was so colorful and so charismatic. People would do anything for her. It was fascinating to watch.

One morning, as we soaked in the hot tub, I shared with her why I thought the speech was so wonderful to Nancy – or at least something that I thought went into it: I write with my words, using her words, in her manner of speech. As I wrote her Sunset Speech, an end of life reflection – I would hear her voice. I timed the whole thing using her cadence in my mind.

My vacation friend shared with me how this is actually a skill and a marking of high creativity: to be able to hear in the mind in a different voice. This feels empowering and like a bit of a ninja move. One of my projects on deck is a really sentimentally awesome Christmas book. When I write the manuscript, I hear the story told in my mother’s reading voice. Isn’t that something? Not mine. But my mother’s.

Yesterday, I took the dogs for a nice long walk after writing here on Frozen Spaghetti. The sky had bright sunny clouds with gray clouds interspersed. For the first time in a long time, I put on a podcast episode while I walked as I was curious to hear Liz Gilbert’s guest spot on We Can Do Hard Things.

Totally enjoying her absolute gift of gab, I decided to take a turn and loop through the park despite the early drops of what seemed to be a light rain.

Within 10 minutes, the clouds broke open and I was absolutely caught in a downpour. I was far enough from home that there was no point in running to the house. This was going to be a socks and shoes squelch squirch situation when you are soaked to the bones.

It made me smile. How absolutely hosed I was in this rain.

I have not had this happen since a spring trip to Chicago years and years ago when my daughters and I got absolutely caught in the rain. We didn’t try to escape it and – instead – played at Millennium Park in the puddles, in the never ending rain – because it was fine. It was living.

That day in Palm Springs, when I finished the first draft of Nancy’s speech – I was completely humbled by the uniqueness of her life. Of all her days, a few were so prominent, she remembered them – their quality – their deeper meaning. Nancy is not famous (though incredibly well loved and social social social) but she made her mark. I felt so touched by this gift to me in providing that gift of writing to her. The gift to me?

To know each day I live, getting caught in the rain – making friends while traveling, is my story unfolding. And there is nothing that truly makes one human’s story better than another. Their mark may be different, their audience may vary – who they are in the public may be concentrated or broad – but in allowing this wholeness of each person, without comparison, you get to be fascinated by the unique ways our commonalities play out.

Getting caught in the rain, listening to Liz Gilbert reflect on her partner’s final days brought on this awareness: Liz is so big in the world yet she had such small mornings, cleaning up throw up – she had hard nights, with an addicted partner. See what I mean?

No matter how big the grand scheme is, each day we get is so quite frankly ours. And it’s perfect. In its sun or in its rain.

In this? There is a lot of power.

And in that power? Is peace.

Peace in Snakes and Cookies

I once had this image of Jesus praying, knowing he was going to physically hurt and face death.

I imagined him on the cross, knowing that he was going to die and how, based on what we know about Christianity, he must have hung there with conviction that God prevails – life prevails…

…from the darkest days of winter come the lightest days of spring.

Carolyn Myss said in an interview with Oprah that she did not think humans were actually afraid of death, but moreso afraid of how they were going to die.

Jesus knew. It was going to be brutal, but all good in the end.

I used to think this was a generational thing, but the older I get, the more I realize adhering to a “God-given” concept is difficult. You can be a good person without being Christian. (Heck, you can probably even be a better person than some Christians. )

Believing whole-heartedly there is one way is not accommodating to a flexible, alternate world.

And, given the state of media and the flux of information, even feeling settled into one way you find mildly appealing can be a challenge. There is just so much to consider, all the time.

I hear people say, “I am not religious. I am spiritual.” But there is not always conscious alignment between outward living and spiritual self, necessarily.

In some of my experiences with people in either school of thought “you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person” or “I am not religious, I am spiritual”, I see an opportunity for ministry – for community – for service. Something that puts it out there and if the school of thought is really working for you, invite others in, saying, “YOU! Yes! You too could be enjoying this miserable day!”

Sometimes it’s the absence of gratitude I don’t understand, like shouldn’t we all honor that bigger intelligence that makes bees and galaxies?

And, that leads me then to the concept of “hope”.

I have grown to realize that I prefer to use hope as a noun “I have hope” as opposed to a verb.

Don’t “hope so” – have hope that it will be so. It’s supposed to be an anchor, anyway. (Hebrews 6:19)

People hope for new things but then spend time imagining every single possible obstacle or opposite result: “but my family”, “but my children”, “but my life”, “but my job” “but the bills”…

We all do this – we think of all the things that have to change or move for that thing that feels good and right to happen and it makes us sad.

We lose the hope.

HYPOTHETICAL SADNESS CHOKES HOPE.

I remember watching Lucy color on a sheet of graph paper. The page was covered with the exception of two cookies that she drew for me when I came over to sit by her. What I found fascinating was that when she offered to “draw me some cookies”, she drew them directly on top of something else.

Personally, I would have been strongly inclined to use a blank piece of the paper or start a new sheet.

After all, it is a new picture – a new image – a new concept – a new idea…

How could that new idea possibly take shape and be whole on top of another idea?

But… see, that is just it!

Your life is completely layered. Year after year,  you layer: memories, lies, challenges, successes, goals, ideas, relationships lessons, skills, failures, loss.

Watching Lucy color on top of color, cookies on top of snakes, I realized my personal grief, sadness and stress tend to come from wanting fresh starts, clean slates, new beginnings so I can change.

I crave resolutions, birthdays, milestones as times to rebuild and realign my identity to a newly discovered aspect of my purpose or a new habit or practice.

I found peace in all those colors, assimilating them along with the years of my life. All of my experience I wish I could erase because I would do it differently? I know now that within those experiences are my lessons which have led to subsequent successes.

I know that the times my strengths were undervalued or underused propelled me to where I am now: valuing and using my full set of my capabilities as much as humanly possible.

Why do I want to wipe those clean?

Grace is acceptance – acceptance is peace.

This picture to me is grace: draw something new on top of what already exists.

No more guilt-debt, wishful line-erasing, wasteful paper… just keep coloring.

Love the layer and layer the love.

So think about that for a little bit. I’m going to go to sleep.

Grace in Snakes and Cookies