Live Inside The Altar [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Dear reader, you have done me a great service. You’ve connected my past to my present.

I’m not sure why but, initially, I numbered rather than named my blogposts. My 623rd blog post was about a practice I’d all but forgotten. Building an altar of gratitude.

Someone out there read #623 so it popped up in my analytic. “This is old!” I thought, staring at the screen. A numbered post! Another era. “I wonder what I was writing about?”

2012. Thanksgiving. Among the darkest days of my life and yet, on that day, I was deeply, profoundly grateful. Life had chased me to a cliff. There was nothing to do but leap. I remember like it was yesterday wandering the streets of Seattle placing notes of gratitude in the cracks of walls, at bus stops, at coffee shops. I felt as if I was invoking. I wanted a better world. If I wanted it, I needed to offer betterment to the world. It was a prayer. A weaving. It was the last time I built my “altar of gratitude.”

A year later I lived in an entirely different world. Everything went to ashes.

2022. Kerri and I are walking our trail. We’re giggling because we just planted a painted rock in the elbow of a tree. “Do you think someone will find it?” her inner 5 year old asks, too wiggly with excitement to stand still. I expect her to skip in circles of enthusiasm.

“Yes,” I laugh. “Someone, someday, will find it.”

As I reread #623 I realized that, in rising from the ashes, I was no longer building my altar on a single day in a single season. I was no longer invoking gratitude. I was no longer hoping for a world that might someday come into being.

I am creating it. Not on a single day or special occasion. I’m practicing gratitude every day. I’m living gratitude every day. Painting rocks, making dinner, watching sunsets, buying groceries, writing blogposts.

Because you sent #623 back to me, a marker in time, I’ve realized I’m living inside my altar. All the world….

read Kerri’s blogpost about EXPLORE

Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This may be the height of cynicism but I don’t think so. Suddenly, as if dinged by a magic wand, we’ve entered that time of year when people remember to be kind. “After you,” the woman said, when I gestured for her to go first. The check out line was long so I had ample opportunity to witness the instantaneous return of the “After you!” It was ubiquitous. People were thinking of the needs of other people!

Later, we came to a four-way stop and everyone at the intersection waved for the other drivers to go first “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Just like the old days.” In my one-day anecdotal sample set, we’d just experienced more public generosity in an afternoon than we’d experienced in a very long time – twelve months to be exact.

It is possible, for the people in a nation newly-priding-itself on the depths of its divisions, to be considerate, one-to-the-other. If we are capable of a ritual-compassion-practice every year when Santa is looking, I have to believe that we can muster up some kindness and generosity of spirit in the eleven month gap between holiday seasons.

It was the day after Thanksgiving so it’s possible that the crowds were high on tryptophan, that the good mood and kindness I witnessed was turkey-induced. But, I don’t think so. I suspect the turkey consumption simply demarcates the time when we turn from our aggression-fantasy and consider our better nature. It simply feels better to lend a hand, to help another than it does to drive on top of someone’s bumper.

I appreciated the turn-of-question Kerri found in an article in Inc. magazine: instead of asking yourself, “What am I thankful for,?” a better question is, “What will I do to make others thankful?” The first question is a me-me-me question. The second turns the eye out, it first considers the needs of other people. It requires action, doing. What we experienced in the store, what we experienced at the four-way-stop, was steeped in asking the better question.

Sometimes the change we seek need not be legislated or debated or strategized; sometimes it is no more or less difficult than asking – and then practicing – a better question.

[Even though we’d hidden the store on our website, we’ve lately had a small run on Be Kind buttons. That, too, gives me hope that others out there feel as I do: a better world is not so far away. It’s as close as an act of kindness]

read Kerri’s blog post about A BETTER QUESTION

Reinvent [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

As we’ve been told, Kerri and I are simpatico. Yet, at this time of year, the vast differences in our past lives come to the surface. For instance, she’s lived in this house – now our house – for 32 years. She raised her children here. I did not have children and was mostly – until I met her – a wanderer. For Kerri, the holidays are rich with memories and traditions, meal prep for the masses, all things that she now misses. Covid has served to amplify her longing.

I’ve always had to improvise during the holidays and, were I to do an accounting of my experiences, I’d wager that I’ve spent more holidays away from rather than with family. I do not suffer the loss and yearning that Kerri suffers. My holiday memories are not fond or tradition-filled.

It was cold on Thursday but we walked a trail anyway. We held hands and talked of reinventing or rituals. It seems so much of past two years has been an exercise in disruption and loss, letting go of what-was and making space for what-will-be. The holidays in our future need not be populated with the ghosts of holidays past.

We read an article that flipped on-its-head the usual Thanksgiving question. Rather than ask, “What are you thankful for?” the article suggested we ask of ourselves, “What will you do to help others be thankful?”

It’s a good question and a great seed to plant for the ghost-of-our-holiday-future.

read Kerri’s smack-dab. blog post

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Lose The Rant [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

I wrote a post and decided not to publish it. I was deeply disturbed by the news. A parade. More violence. Senseless. More and more. And more. Jim wrote that he was going to chisel into his sidewalk the now ubiquitous (to us) phrase: I just can’t believe it.

I wrote about my escape fantasy. A quiet place. A place where people know how to hold differences of opinion as a constructive force for good instead of a destructive pout to be right.

This weekend, people gathered at the gallery to see art. To experience art. Painting and sculpture and photography. I have not been in a crowd since the pandemic began and I was both wary and encouraged. I wonder about the new normal.

After the opening we made dinner for 20. Kerri’s inner composer broke through and we saw, for the first time in a long time, the light and warmth of her artistry lift and shine. She turned up the sound and asked us to listen. The music soared. I cried. It was nice to see her again.

Tomorrow is the day – just a day – isn’t that odd – that is set aside for giving thanks. I am thankful to have had a glimpse of the composer. The artist. The lift of her music. I am thankful for people who gather to share art. I am thankful for a dinner with 20, laughter, and our shared nonsense. I am thankful for Mike who finds a way forward against all odds. I am thankful that Bruce passed this way and stopped to say, “Hello.”

I am thankful that I believe that the people of the world are better than the news leads us to believe. I am thankful that I did not publish my rant. I am thankful for my escape fantasy, my quiet place.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE PATH

Ponder Before Turning [on DR Thursday]

Today is Thanksgiving Day in these sometimes-united-states. As a master of understatement and friend of Captain Obvious, I would like to suggest that this Thanksgiving is like no other.

Many of us are in quarantine so we cannot gather. In fact, with COVID-19 raging, the most loving and responsible thing we can do is NOT gather. Family relationships are strained as we peer at each other across the red/blue reality divide. Many of us have lost our jobs – all of them – so the traditional horn-of-plenty is a slightly frightening empty bucket. Thousands of us are queuing at the food banks. Homes are lost, evictions abound. Many are grieving the over quarter-million lives (so far) lost to the pandemic.

And yet…

If I understand my history, this 2020 Thanksgiving is more like the original 1621 version than our usual remembrance. Theirs was a celebration of survival. More than half of the people who arrived the previous year to establish a colony had perished. A hard winter and a raging epidemic took a heavy toll. That very first day of thanks encompassed the grief of loss as well as the gratitude for living to see another day. A successful harvest meant they had a slightly better chance of making it through the coming winter. Can you imagine their exhaustion?

Hope, no matter how dim, provides the necessary fuel of dogged perseverance.

Hope. Belief in the promise of a better day. Imagination sets sail on the seas of the unknown, following the guide star of renewal. Making it through, surviving to see a time of abundant harvest.

So, today, we take a moment, a day. Colonists awash in apprehension. We take a breath. We look back, we know that there is no going back. We grieve what is lost. We ponder how we got here. We take another breath, a day of rest and gratitude before turning to face the realities of rampant uncertainty. We wonder how we can do better. We fill our tanks with hope, knowing that tomorrow we will arise, look forward, and take a single-first-next step.

Sometimes a single-first-next step is as far as we can see.

read Kerri’s blog post on PONDERING LIFE

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Direct Your Gratitude [on KS Friday]

Skip wrote, sharing some of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was a breath of fresh air in a week that’s been chock-a-block with disrespect, deceit, and hypocrisy:

Skip wrote, “I love her discussion of what the tribe does each morning:

Here the school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else. This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. The gratitude is directed straight to the ones who share their gifts with the world. 

All the classes stand together in the atrium, and one grade each week has responsibility for the oratory. Together, in a language older than English, they begin the recitation. It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few before anything else was done. In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, “beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.” 

Today it is the third grade’s turn. There are only eleven of them and they do their best to start together, giggling a little, and nudging the ones who just stare at the floor. Their little faces are screwed up with concentration and they glance at their teacher for prompts when they stumble on the words. In their own language they say the words they’ve heard nearly every day of their lives. 

Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.* 

There is a pause and the kids murmur their assent.

 We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one. 

The kids sit remarkably still, listening. You can tell they’ve been raised in the longhouse.”

*****

A legacy of respect and gratitude. A duty to live in balance and harmony. An orientation of responsibility both to self AND other. Can you imagine – will you imagine – the members of our red team and blue team meeting on the streets and joining hands with protestors of all colors and religions and sexual orientations, starting each day, together, speaking The Thanksgiving Address, “Today we have gathered…” Directing their gratitude straight at the ones who share their gifts with the world. Gratitude set as the highest priority.

It is a legacy to be admired. Words that come before all else. It is a legacy to be desired.

*The actual wording of the Thanksgiving Address varies with the speaker. This text is the widely publicised version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, 1993.

LEGACY on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LEGACY

legacy/released from the heart ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Turn And See [on KS Friday]

grateful songbox 1 copy

Gratitude is a word easily tossed about in this season. It is often a nod to something that ought to be more present. It can be momentary, skipping a stone over the water. A commandment for how we should feel. Be Grateful.

Gratitude finds roots and deep resonance the day you turn around and realize beyond the abstract that this life is limited. These moments are limited. No longer an easy sentimental phrase on a Thanksgiving card, gratitude looks at what and who is present and loses all interest in what may-or-may-not-be missing. A sunset, each sunset, becomes a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Last night, late, 20 came over. We sat at the table, told stories. Drank wine. Chocolate and raspberries. Heather and Brian Facetimed with Kerri. Her laughter in the next room, the enthusiasm of their conversation, made 20 and I smile. A long lost friend tossed a cryptic note into our ocean. We puzzled it deep into the night.

There has never been another evening like it. There will never be another.

Kerri’s GRATEFUL is not a Hallmark card. It is not a commandment or a should-feel. It’s not flowers and feel-good honey bees. It flows with the urgency, the power, and the recognition of that day when you at last turn and see an end to yourself. It is a love note to being alive, a meditation on the everyday priceless moments, a call to awaken to the unparalleled now.

 

GRATEFUL on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GRATEFUL

 

laughing website box copy

 

grateful/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Give It [on DR Thursday]

in the giving copy

 

Enough said. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT IS IN THE GIVING

 

wedding pic with website copy

 

instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson

Offer Pie [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

lincoln quote copy

Kerri flew through Denver on election day and stopped to snap this photo. These days the papers and airwaves are filled with stories of our national dedication to division. They are rife with incivility. We are rife with incivility.

A house divided cannot stand. It reads like a cliche’ – because it is – yet, apparently needs to be put to the test (again). There are a few more things true of a divided house, the reason they cannot stand: They are easy to manipulate. They waste their best energy on division (the tail wags the dog). They are deaf to the obvious paths out of division (when the only tool in your box is a hammer…). The foot they shoot is their own (the house they destroy is the one they are living in).

Above all it infects us with a bad case of Chicken Little Syndrome.

Sometimes the absence of middle ground is made civil when we step into the commons with a dedication to politeness. Courtesy. Graciousness. There are other words that probably sound like so much impossibility. Cliches? Pie in the sky?

Well, tomorrow is a day of thanks giving that usually comes with an abundance of pie!  Perhaps the sky need not fall if we can sit still for a moment and reach across the table with an offer of pie. Nothing else need be decided. Just pie. And thank you. There are few better places to begin the mend.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CIVILITY

 

bong trail, wisconsin website box copy

Look For The Two Points Of View

My latest. As yet untitled. It’s about dreams and angels.

It is the time of thanks giving in these United States and this week when I say my quiet thanks I will include Horatio in my list. Our conversations are life-giving and art-inspiring. And, best of all, tracking Horatio’s thought path is an utter delight. He is an expansive thinker! Here’s an example from our recent call:

“I’m the last person to really see my work,” I said. “Kerri routinely stops me from ruining paintings. She forces me to leave them alone until I can actually see what I’ve painted.”

Horatio said, “You have a parallax problem.”

I thought to myself (who else would I think to?): Parallax is a great word! The last time he flung that word at me I looked it up. In essence, divergent perspectives when looking at the same thing from two different points of view. You might say our political parties have a parallax problem.

Horatio continued, “All religions say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ All religions say it. Love your neighbor.”

What!? I thought. How did we get to neighbor-love from parallax? Grab the reins and hold on!

“The fundamental human problem is to know yourself.” Horatio said. “And artists confront that problem every moment that they stand in front of the canvas or sit down at the piano. Every moment is an exploration of the self, what you see, what you believe.”

From parallax to loving your neighbor to knowing yourself.

“Self. Other. That’s it!” Horatio continued: “That’s all there is! Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the purpose of literature [he was a writer but you can insert any art form] is to 1) entertain and 2) to educate. IN THAT ORDER! You cannot educate first! Playing matters! Fun matters! You must engage the heart first. It opens the path to the other thing.” [take note all ye test makers and proponents of head-driven education].

Parallax: differing points of view. Love your neighbor: a universal aspiration amidst the raging parallax. Know yourself: the fundamental human problem and the singular pursuit necessary to approach the universal aspiration. Heart first: the only route to all of the above.

“An artist has to play. Experiment. Step across the knowns into the unknowns. Question all of those assumptions. Doubt what they see,” he said.

It’s a beautiful paradox, isn’t it? The route to knowing yourself, the route to loving your neighbor, is to doubt what you think. In fact, it is to realize that the river of nonsense incessantly running through your mind is nothing more than a deflection from actually coming to know your self. It is not to be believed. It is the ultimate fake news. It is a great day when you recognize that your inner monologue is entertainment and not education! It’s a great day when you recognize that you need another person’s perspective in order to know your self. You need it precisely because it differs from what you see. Clear vision requires two points of view. It’s called perspective.  Having two points of view opens the door to questioning. It makes probable the birth of a possibility.

“It’s all about relationship.” Horatio concluded, “Now, the only real question surrounding the artist is, in the midst of all of this navel gazing, in the thick of all of this dedicated pursuit of the self, boundary-crossing-questioning, will your neighbors want anything to do with you? Will they want to have you around at all?!”

Oh, yes. Parallax.