Once upon a time, back in the days of being forced to attend dreadful faculty meetings and workshops, I heard a wonderful speech. The woman delivering it was a superintendent, one of two with whom I’d had close contact and for whom I had deep respect. The kernel of her speech was that life wasn’t a restaurant and no one was going to serve you. Life, she said, was a buffet and it was your job to get up and go get what you wanted. It made complete sense, has been reinforced by other speakers through the years and stayed with me for a very long time, perhaps even up until this moment.
Today, it’s floating around in the snowglobe asking to be played with because I think I have a prologue for that concept.
Currently my philosophy has me thinking life is simply life and it’s ALWAYS delivering delicious meals and snacks right to our doors (feel free to think Jenny Craig, if you must). The trouble is we’re too cluttered or clouded to see it coming. Either we’re not always paying attention and miss the meal or we’re too busy doing something else and don’t come to the table or we think it’s the same old stuff and we don’t want to eat it, or we just don’t want to taste “that stuff.” Consequently, we miss out on getting up to get something that could be delicious. Well, since last Sunday, several delectable morsels have come into “kitchen little” here in NYC. And, after receiving today’s “snack,” I have a really cool “Chopped” mystery basket waiting to be turned into a meal.
Lately, I’ve been drawn to watching Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” during which she has terrific dialogues with amazing and inspirational thinkers, writers, speakers and healers. Although I’ve been pretty much bed ridden due to some weird flu bug for the past couple of days, I had to peel back the blankets and pop one eyeball out into the air to see what this week’s pearls of wisdom would be. Having come out of the broadcasts with a necklace worth, and unable to give words to all of them (as usual), one pearl stands out for me.
During today’s broadcast Oprah’s guests, Rev. Ed Bacon, Elizabeth Lesser and Marc Nepo, were focused on discussing their “big picture” ideas around issues such as gun violence, prescription drug use, religion, etc. One of the last, if not the last issue in question revolved around why we spend so much money on our pets. Of course the bottom line was that it’s because we love them and they love us back unconditionally. Interestingly enough, one member of the panel also suggested that we could also be using pets to hide from our fear of deeper, more complex love on the human level. And, given all the listening/watching/reading I’ve been doing lately, those ideas made sense.
What was *literally* eye opening for me was that, in addition to talking about how unconditionally pets love us, one of the guests also said “animals have never forgotten their first set of instructions … love is constant and unconditional.” My other eyeball had to emerge from under the covers with that thought.
Animals have never forgotten their FIRST set of instructions.
Hmmmm … aren’t WE, the humans with the big brains, part of the animal kingdom?
Not coincidently when I dragged myself out of bed to get some circulation going and check on the status of the rest of the world, I found a lovely e-mail containing adorable photos of babies and young children hanging out with their cats and dogs. You’ve seen those photos. The ones that make you smile or tear up like an idiot … little babies in the catbed with the cat or using the pup as a bed and the pup totally enjoying it, etc. As I looked at these photos I thought, “AND as babies and young children, we are EXACTLY the same as our pets. Of COURSE we come equipped with the same first set of instructions … nothing else exists but pure and constant love.” So animals and children have never forgotten their first instructions.
And, facetiously, my next thought was “and then we grow up.”
Tragedy + Time + Distance = Comedy. And although I crack myself up from time to time, I’ve started looking at how I use humor to avoid painful conflict; to make things okay when they’re really not. So, rather than just letting the joke land and moving on to whatever was next, I decided to sit with it for a moment and look at what was fueling my flippancy toward the constancy of love.
What came to mind first was a beautiful link, focusing on *Awe,* shared on Thursday by a really interesting Facebook friend who I think I’d like to meet someday:
Awe … an experience of such perceptual vastness you literally have to reconfigure your mental models of the world to assimilate it.
And I pondered: ADULT humans have to reconfigure mental models of the world to assimilate awe. Given the imposed constructs of our daily lives, we have neither time, nor patience nor the tools it takes to be in simple awe of anything in our environment, let alone things with which we’re familiar, like our loved ones or the pasta we eat every Sunday. BUT our animals and our young children …. they’re so open and in awe of every moment that whizzes by. Just watch a baby play with its toes, the same toes he had six minutes ago, over and over and over. Or watch my beautiful little cat Maya who, after 7 years, is still chasing her shadow tail or my shadow finger and having a great time (and in the moment I’m wagging my finger, casting that shadow and giggling, I am awed by both of us). Animals and kids are the poster models for the awe factor. It’s simply the way they roll.
And, again, my next thought was “and then we grow up.”
Ok. So I continued chewing on the sarcasm to see if I could spit out the bitter part.
From the depth of my soul, from my wounded heart, and even beyond my own experiences, I wondered again about those “first instructions” and the beauty of constant, unconditional love. “What the heck goes so wrong that, in the face of tender love, in the grace of warm love that asks for nothing in return, in the place of love that seems to be mutually agreed upon, fear can bubble up like a volcano and change everything. How can we let fear be stronger than love? How can love be so frightening that fear becomes a better choice? How is it possible that, rather than enjoy waking up in total awe of a loved one every day, warts and all (theirs and yours), it’s easier to fear experiencing the full capacity of love and just be done with the meal? Why haven’t my cats chosen hiding places instead of glueing themselves to me whenever possible? I’m not “Miss Mary Sunshine” every moment. My cats must simply reconfigure their mental model of the world every night while they sleep and the “awe factor” must also be part of their “first instructions.” So … animals and children never forget their first instructions: constant and unconditional love is tempered by a sense of awe.
It’s interesting to consider that, somewhere along the line, we start surrounding ourselves in protective armor that renders us love and awe-deprived as well as amnesiacs of our first instructions.
And then my mind landed on last week’s interview with Dr. Maya Angelou (who I named my adorably wise and peaceful little cat for).
For her final question in this wonderfully enlightening two part interview (and I could listen to Maya talk for….. I don’t even know how long, but a long time), Oprah asked Dr. Angelou, “What do you know for sure?” And with only a nanosecond of thought, this brilliant beacon of light, love and enlightenment answered:
“I know for sure that love saves me. And that it is here to save us all. I know it’s a sense. It’s more close to us than air … more loud to us than hearing. I know it. I know that we can sit in it. Yes. Love, honey, and you know by that I don’t mean mush or any romance or sentimentality. I mean something … It’s so … It can raise the dead. It can make a mountain move. I KNOW it. I haven’t DONE it. But I know it as surely as I’m sitting here.”
Dr. Angelou’s beautiful sentiment was filled with reverence and awe for the depth and power of love. It was clearly all over her face as I watched her create the thoughts. And it was beautiful.
Somewhere in the depths of my soul, in the greenest place in my heart, I KNOW that love is all that. And, as that, pure, full love cannot exist without the child like presence of awe. And love lets go and forgives so that more love can fill in the spaces. Children and animals totally “get it.” Watch them. Something happens to interrupt their joy (a playground fight, a whack with a newspaper), they respond, and then they’re right back up on the love train. Made of teflon, they accept the interruption and let it go so that love and awe can flow back into the space. The first instructions: Constant and unconditional love must be tempered by a sense of awe and forgiveness.
Love is all there is and it carries the day; it saves them every time because every moment is new even if it’s old. And it can save all we adult “know it alls/seen it alls,” too … if we stand in the space of of awe and forgiveness every day.
So, like the pizza man, life delivered morsels for a meal and my “Chopped” mystery basket contained First Instructions, Awe, Animals and Children and Love. The taste of this meal, Constant, Unconditional Love Bathed in the Breath of Awe and some Forgiveness (from the pantry), is very familiar and worth having on the menu every day. As breakfast, perhaps.
Before I make that decision, though, I’ll need to play with my toes for an hour or get Maya to play “Whose Tail is it Anyway?” for a while.