TWIL (This Week I Learned)
This week I thought a lot about renewal. Technically, destruction, decomposition, composting and, well, the end before the renewal.
A headline in the LA Times about the need to take down around 100 trees at the LA County Arboretum would not leave me alone this week. Each time I saw it, I felt a mixture of deep grief mixed with scolding (as in, “Or for God’s sake…with all that is going on in the world, you’re shaken by cutting down a few trees in a park?”)
I only know the Arboretum from my childhood eyes — so, it’s a huge park, with peacocks, ponds, and trees. To me, it is the symbol of peace and that everything is all right in the world. Nothing ever changes. Okay, peacocks escape, and now wander hilariously through the streets, barking and roosting wherever they please. But otherwise, it’s still. Unchanging.
Also this week, I was listening to my new favorite podcast, “You’re Wrong About”, and heard one of the hosts say something about the “charmed life” of the person in the story. How this became, in effect, their Achilles heel, because they had not had to face adversity and grow. So, in this case, the person was rather stunted by middle age.
Riding that edge where I don’t actually wish for adversity but do embrace it when it inevitably arrives is what I strive for since, well, I don’t want stunted growth.
I find myself now in that rare but honestly coveted situation where, in the midst of darkness, I can see the vaguest light of dawn ahead. And it’s exhilarating: I find myself tearing up at inopportune moments, noticing that I am surrounded by people I love and who love me in the most human, awkward, imperfect ways possible.
“What is the scent of water?"
"Renewal. The goodness of God coming down like dew.”
― Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water
“Miracles... seem to me to rest not so much upon... healing power coming suddenly near us from afar but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that, for a moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there around us always.”
― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”
― Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
We’re constantly in a state of change in our lives, which provides fodder for anxiety and stress. Yes, true that it’s inevitable, but I don’t think that makes it any easier. As we get older, we can often remind ourselves that we have been here before and know that we emerge stronger after moving through whatever is in front of us this time.
How to move through, though? How to stay flexible and moving and nimble and alive?
One journal exercise that can help is a “worry purge” — simply write down all your worries onto a page and then leave them there. How you ceremoniously do that is up to you. You can sit and breathe as you place your hand on the page, leaving them there in your book. You can tell your worries to your worry dolls. You can write the worries down and leave them somewhere. You can burn them. The idea, of course, is to recognize that they are not serving you. You might want to thank your beautiful self for the ability to think up so many future stories but then, with compassion, help yourself let go of the future stories that may or may not happen and let them go.
Consider the importance of foundation. Especially in the midst of a storm. For me, it’s daily prayer. I have trained myself to begin to pray at certain moments in my day, so that the habit is cemented and (usually) doesn’t waver depending on my mood.
I think habituating to certain foundational tasks is incredibly strengthening. Keeping these quiet can help, also. Perhaps try to lay a concrete foundation or, if you have one, look for cracks and weaknesses and shore these up.
The idea is something simple and foundational. Five deep belly breaths as you rinse dishes — A daily walk in the woods — Saying thank you for everything — Keeping flowers in your house — Noticing your strong hands and feet …
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
At the end of the day, each day, write a quick, short list of small victories, small changes toward renewal, and celebrate these. We are, of course, in a constant state of flux, so that thought there is always destruction, there is also always renewal in some area of our lives. Look for this and celebrate.
9. Hero: Mary Fields — Postmaster
Why? “This tough reputation ended up paying off. In 1895, she got a contract from the postal service to become a star route carrier—an independent contractor who carried mail using a stagecoach donated by Mother Amadeus. It suited Fields to a tee. As a star carrier, her job was to protect the mail on her route from thieves and bandits and to deliver mail. She was only the second woman in the United States (and the first African American woman) to serve in that role.
“Stagecoach Mary” or “Black Mary,” as she was nicknamed, carried a rifle and a revolver. She met trains with mail, then drove her stagecoach over rocky, rough roads and through snow and inclement weather. And though she intimidated would-be thieves with her height and her tough demeanor, she became beloved by locals, who praised her generosity and her kindness to children.
For eight years, Fields protected and delivered the mail. Eventually age caught up to her and she retired. The community rallied to support her, despite occasional dust-ups with neighbors. Local restaurateurs gave her free meals; saloon regulars chatted with her until bars became forbidden to woman due to a town ordinance. When she died on December 5, 1914, her funeral was one of the largest the town had ever seen.”
10. Take Care of Yourself This Week and Share if you know someone who might like this. Please share with someone you think may enjoy this weekly.
Wild and Precious Podcast, the audio partner to 10 Things, is available everywhere you download podcasts.