Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Music of Love

"You don't love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear." (Oscar Wilde)

A song has been skipping along, innocently and happily, in my head today. It's a song I heard long ago when I was a boy and I always sang along to it when I heard it. It was by The Beatles (my favorite band - still today!) and it was called "I Will". Here are the lyrics:

Who knows how long I've loved you
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime
If you want me to, I will
For if I ever saw you
I didn't catch your name
But it never really mattered
I will always feel the same
Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we're together
Love you when we're apart
And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear you to me
Oh, you know I will
I will
It's a sweet song about love and about faith. I'm not surprised that it touched me, or that I still remember it today - I'm kind of an "old-fashioned romantic" at heart.

The song speaks about the magical power of love to touch us in an instant, yet change us forever. It's about knowing the beauty of love - not through thought, but in allowing its melody to stir a chord within us - a chord that leaps in happy recognition of its complement when it hears it. It is a song about an eternal longing, that one would make any sacrifice, wait any period of time - an eternity if necessary - to fulfill.

I'm sure the song has been the gentle soundtrack in my head all day today because it's Valentine's Day, and because I feel like such a lucky guy. Lucky to be married to a beautiful woman, whose heart and being has helped me learn what glorious "music" laid within me: waiting to be played, waiting to be heard, waiting to be shared.

Deborah at Carmel CA - Spring 2014
Thank you Sweetie for being my muse, my inspiration, and my soulmate. May we continue to allow Love to make us its instruments, and to help us always find the song within each other. 

McCartney and Lennon. Rodgers and Hammerstein. Great duos.

The two of us at Benham Falls (Cent. Oregon) - Summer 2015
But I'll take you and me. Anytime. Forever. You've helped me hear all of Life's symphonies.

I love you always.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

100 Walks Around the Lake - Discoveries Made These Last 5 Years

"Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake." (Wallace Stevens)

Have you ever gone on a long walk - perhaps in the woods on a misty day, or along the beach in the morning sunshine - and just been so immersed in the beauty, in all that was new that you discovered, that you didn't realize just how long you had walked? "Wow!", you might say to yourself. "How did I get here? It seems like I just began".

That's what I was feeling when I realized that this was the 100th entry I had written. Though I began this blog over 5 years ago (5 years, 5 months, and 20 days...1999 be exact), it has often seemed like I just started writing it. And over that time, my dedication and interest in scratching away has ebbed and flowed. I began with a great flood of enthusiasm - entries of all sorts gushing out - and then in the last couple of years, they came out in just a thin trickle. But they still came, and I'm grateful for that.

I had boldly said in my 1st entry that I was starting this blog because:

"I want to use it to explore - to learn..I called this "Looking For Pearls" because I am interested to see what unexpected "lessons" I will learn from doing this.  What types of "gems", of insights, will I stumble across on this journey?"

So this morning I sat and reflected, wondering what I had learned from the previous 99 "walks around the lake". What had I discovered or stumbled across that was most meaningful to me? The answers that came to me were unexpected, which I think proves it has been a journey of true value.

"It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end. " (Ursula LeGuin)
  • I have learned that I would never really have known myself without having done this. Each time I write an entry - each time I re-read a past one - I shake my head in wonder, thinking "I wrote this? Wow - Where did that come from?". The truth is it came from a creative, thoughtful, emotional, and spiritual part of myself that rarely expresses itself anywhere else. Writing invites those shy parts of Jon to come out and encourages them to blossom and grow.  The most valuable thing I've learned through my writings is not what I've seen about nature, or events, or other people. It has been the marvelous opportunity to discover my true self; to discover who "Jon" really is. And to realize that that journey of self-discovery never ends.
Me along the Deschutes River - July 2014
"No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it's not the same river, and he's not the same man." (Heraclitus)
  • I have begun to learn what it is I really love...and what I fear.  In looking back at what I've written over the last 5 years, I'm struck by how so little of what I wrote was "newsy". What I was drawn to write about were more nobler things. The titles of almost 1/4 of my entries included the words "Love", "Treasures", "Beauty", "Joy", or "Light". It's clear that writing helped me connect to something higher; something Divine that whispered to me. But I could also see in the great gaps between entries something else that whispered at times to me as well. Fear. Like a curtain descending on a stage, like the fog creeping softly down the hill in quiet cat steps, fear would sometimes tell me "Don't try to write. There's nothing there. If you write, it must be perfect. If you write, it's only good if someone else likes it. You don't have time to write. Just wait for the right moment". And sometimes I would listen. Sometimes I would let fear lull me to sleep. But Love would never leave me asleep too long. A gentle tap would always awaken my heart and stir me to try again. I'm grateful to learn of Love's persistence with imperfect me.
Jimmy Dugan: "Baseball is what lights you up. If you leave, you'll regret it."
Dottie Hinson:  "It just got too hard."
Jimmy Dugan:  "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."
(From the movie "A League of Their Own", 1992)

Writing is hard work - but it is a "worthwhile struggle". I've learned from writing, just a little, some things that only a writer can know. Writing takes discipline. It takes a willingness to sit down in front of the demanding blank page, and to hammer, and chisel, and pick, and dig to express something that you can't know before you've done this inner mining.  It requires honesty: with oneself, with what one sees, and with what one is really in touch with in that moment. The things that I've written that I've been most proud of have been produced, not by my imagination, but simply through my willingness to observe what was around me or in me all the time. Learning to be patient and to wait to be given something to write about is a challenge at times. It still requires that I "show up" and put forth the effort.  It can be hard and frustrating. But the hard is what makes it great.

Today I celebrate the journey I've made so far with this blog, and I renew my wish to continue on. I know there's much more I have left to learn and to discover; so much more that is waiting to be expressed.

"You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself." (Alan Alda)

So, off I go...around the bend...down the road...and over the hill. I'll let you know what I discover along the way.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Lunch Date

"The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

My, my, my. It has certainly been a long time since I've sat at my desk - gazed out the window - and dared to wait until a trickle of creative thought slowly wound its way from my brain, through my fingers, and on to this blank page. For so long, I've felt empty; waiting for "inspiration" to come so I could then write. But that's not how it works. I've learned (but sometimes forgotten) that I must dare to scribble first - timidly and slowly if I must - in order to awaken the muse inside. I must dare to be a beginning; a work in progress.

It's funny. After writing that very first sentence, I actually felt a little shiver of excitement pass through me. It was like the dry "river bed" of my mind felt a spring flood wash through it and was refreshed and brought back to life. Not sure where it will take me, but you can come along!

How about for a Lunch Date? I haven't written one of those for quite awhile. A chance to just chat and muse. To talk about whatever's on my mind while fixing lunch for the two of us. I've got some Spinach Tortellini soup heating up (made by Deborah - best soup in the world!) and some ciabatta bread to sop it up with. Yum! (Or as the Italians say, "Mangia!")

So, as I'm stirring the soup, what shall we talk about?

"The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning." (Adlai Stevenson)

Politics, politics, politics. The 2016 Presidential campaign has begun in earnest, and Deborah and I have been deeply interested in it - more than we have been in the past. So far, it is a race unlike any in our lifetimes. Americans are deeply divided. The dominant theme expressed so far, on both the right and left, is anger. Anger at the current Administration. Anger at politicians in general. Anger at the rich. Anger at immigrants. Anger at those who "refuse to compromise". And because this dark emotion is what's ruling the day, two unlikely candidates are currently leading: a rich, egotistic billionaire for the Republicans (Donald Trump) and a cranky 74 year old self-proclaimed Socialist for the Democrats (Bernie Sanders). I can't see either of them winning the election in November. But all the other candidates (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Ben Carson, Hilary Clinton) have struggled to gain much interest from Americans. I'm hoping that someone who is willing to lead positively and intelligently - someone willing to do the hard, courageous work needed to end the bickering and distrust that characterizes American politics now - will step forward. That's someone I would vote for. Still waiting to see who that will be...

"Retirement is wonderful. It's doing nothing without worrying about getting caught at it." (Gene Perret)

Yes, semi-retired life is still good!  I'm still working a few days a week as a substitute teacher and am flattered that I've become a "highly sought after" sub. I've only worked at my 3 favorite schools this year (Hedrick, South Medford, Grants Pass High), but gotten all the work I could want. Very lucky! And when I'm not working, my days are quickly filled with working out at the Club, helping take care of our home, and a healthy share of just "putzing around" (as Deborah calls it!)

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One is not reading them." (Joseph Brodsky)

Finally found a good book to read. For a long time, I struggled to find any book that interested me (which just added to my intellectual atrophy). Out of desperation, I picked up a book that I'd tried to read a number of times, but was never able to finish: Stephen King's "11.22.63" And, miracles of miracles, I'm enjoying it now! It is a richly creative story about a young high school teacher who in 2011 stumbles upon a time tunnel that takes him back to 1957. He learns that he can change history when he goes back to the past (though not always with predictable results). His greatest mission becomes to go back and try to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas which he believes led to so much that is negative in the U.S. today. King masterfully weaves together American history, 1950's Americana and culture, as well as spine-tingling suspense (and a little horror) in this tale. Deborah is also reading the story (listening to an audio version of it) and it's nice to share our impressions of it.

You want to see a video that just cracked me up? It's called "Dogs and Bathtubs". Hilarious! Click on the link below.

"Dogs and Bathtubs" video

(A Lunch Date "discussion" doesn't have to be "all serious" !)

Well, it's about time to wrap this entry up and enjoy a nice chocolate truffle for dessert (a preview of Valentine's Day treats to come!). The sun that was shining when I began this entry has gone away, and now gray raindrops are spattering and splashing my window. It was fun remembering the pleasure of stretching my mind a bit again. I plan on doing it again soon.

"The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I began with a little Emerson. A little Emerson to end with. Nice.

One acorn. One tentative scribble. One step. Out of each can come a whole universe. I'm glad to be reminded of that today.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Love Changes All

"They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom." (Confucius)

As I look out my window this morning, I see that Nature has said "It's time for a change". A thick gray, bone-chilling fog has settled into our neighborhood for the first time, and the bright sunny fall mornings I've been enjoying now seem a distant memory.

Looking out my office window this morning
But even as I blow on my frigid fingers and wiggle my icy toes here inside at my desk, I am glad for the change. I'm ready for the season of soups and sweaters; mittens and mufflers; the light of candles in every room; cheery fireplaces and snuggly flannel sheets. I don't mourn the passing of the bright beauty of fall into the grayness of winter. Change is inevitable. Change is good. Life itself is but a bridge of change: old to new, and back again.

But as I gaze out the window, an interesting question popped into my mind: What is it that causes me to change? What has driven me through the seasons of my life so far?

"Time is a brisk wind, for each hour it brings something new...but who can understand and measure its sharp breath, its mystery, and its design." (Paracelsus)

I suppose that some changes I've experienced have simply been the product of Time: What was once quick in me, has slowed a little; what was once thin, is a little thicker; what filled my life and days then, is now but a distant memory.

One might also say that it is Experience which has changed me through the lessons that accompanied it; sometimes painful. There have been many crossroads in my life - both professional and personal - where change has been thrust upon me, and I've had little choice but to admit that its time had come. Thankfully though, each time that I accepted the change - suffered the pain of what seemed to be lost - Life always gave me something greater in return: a more fulfilling job; new friends; a more honest understanding of what was truly important to me; and most importantly, Love.

And in writing that last sentence, I realized something. Real, lasting change in my life hasn't been a product of either Time or Experience. What these two things have produced has been mostly circumstantial. They have brought change to my life, but have they been life-changing? The true agent of change for me has been Love: Unconditional Love. And isn't that true for all of us?

"Where there is great Love, there are always miracles." (Willa Cather)

I can see that because I've been loved unconditionally throughout my life - by the Divine, by my parents, by my beautiful wife - my life and my very person has been changed, in ways I could've never engineered for myself.

Unconditional love is the source of all Life's miracles. It inspires courage in those who were once meek. It softens what once was hard. It teaches that if you stumble and fall, you can always get up and try again. It promises that even in a world that may seem dark and cold, you are never alone. And it grants the greatest rewards, ironically, to those who give the most away. I have experienced each of these miracles personally.

For something so powerful, you'd think it would make itself known in our lives through great deeds and memorable words. But I can see its power comes from all the little ways it can find its way into our lives and our hearts. Unconditional love can be found in:
  • The sparkle of an eye or the gift of a special smile
  • The warmth of two hands joined, whether in gratitude or affection
  • Simple words like "Please drive carefully" or, "Do you need a coat?" or "Welcome home".
  • Someone, who in a painful moment, stands with you and quietly expresses "I'm here for you", or "I forgive you".
"The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them." (Thomas Merton)

And, that I think, is the real miracle of unconditional love. 

It does not ask for anything in exchange for it to be received. It does not require a change. It sees all. It accepts all. It loves all. And because of that, unconditional Love changes both the giver and the receiver. What else in life has such power? Nothing that I know.

So, as the morning's mists slowly lift and slip away, I say a silent prayer of gratitude for being loved, and for being given the opportunities to express love.  Just as the blue skies and warm sun were always there behind the fog, so is Love always present in my life.

The Season for Love is always now. That's a Pearl worth remembering.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Be The Difference

"Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come." (Anne Lamott)

The sun is shining this morning - yet another beautiful day in a long string of them this fall. October has been unusually dry and warm. Deborah and I have been busy working, but still able to find opportunities to get away for little adventures, like yesterday's lunch date in Ashland and a stop at a local winery.

Paschal Winery and Vineyard, Talent OR
 There's no doubt. I'm blessed and lucky to lead a good life right now: filled with love and purpose. So you might find it surprising if I told you that also at times this month, I've felt unsettled; uneasy; even a little anxious. A part of me seems to be looking for some reassurance of some kind. But why?

Perhaps it's because the seasonal change from summer to autumn as been so gradual this year; some "circadian rhythm" within me has been rattled.

But I also know the world around me has seemed to be filled with more "darkness" than ever before.
  • Violence seems to be commonplace. Shootings and bomb threats at schools - both far away and in my own community - have become a weekly occurrence. I know that has touched me.
  • The political season is in full force: Candidates shouting for attention, and attacking each other, left and right. Anger, at times, seems to rule the airwaves now.
Then there are times in the day when parts of me creak a little more stiffly as I get up out of a chair, or ache a little longer after a workout that didn't seem so hard. And a part of me understands a little better Leon Trotsky's lament: "Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man". 

But then I saw two things this week that helped me remember something valuable and lifted my spirits.

The first was this video titled, "Never, Ever Give Up". The link to it is below. You should watch it. I have several times this week.

Arthur was a middle-aged man who could've had every reason in the world to give up and/or feel sorry for himself. But he didn't. In the video, he says his life changed when he met someone who believed in him. But I think the most important change was one within. He made a choice to see possibilities in himself, instead of limitations. He chose to persevere, instead of feel sorry for himself. He chose to work hard, one day at a time - having faith that, if he did - change would come. And the result?

It did. Arthur made a difference: both for himself, and for others. I know he inspired me.

The second thing I saw was this photograph. It was taken a couple of weeks ago at the world premiere of a Hollywood film in Boston. Crowds had gathered to see the stars of the film arrive, and a photographer snapped this picture. What do you think stood out for me?

Can you see her? There in the midst of the IPhone-snapping, Instagram-sharing, Goo-goo eyed paparazzi around her is an elderly woman: Smiling and quietly enjoying the moment. Not trying to capture it for herself. Not trying to impress others by proving "where she is" and "what she's doing. Not doing anything to make herself the center of attention. Yet you can't help but see her. And because of that, she too made an impact on me. She made a difference.

Her example reminded me to not always make myself the "center of everything", and it's so easy to do so. Whether I'm feeling "on top of the world" while on a pleasant date with my wife, or worried about the news, or feeling a little self pity about getting older - in each case, I have to remember to watch the part of me that forgets that I'm part of a bigger world. Life is not just about "Me". Things change. I'm not meant to hold on to anything. I'm meant to grow from everything. And I can only do that if I'm present to the moment - not looking back to the past in regret or envy, or fearing the future.

The most important thing I learned from Arthur and the woman was even more inspiring. One person can make a difference. Each of their examples touched me and brightened my day. It all comes down to the choices we make. Do I choose to begin again when I've stumbled? What inner voice am I willing to give my attention to? What am I willing to be an expression of, right now?

One person can make a difference if they're willing to BE the difference.

Remembering that has changed my week. Remembering that has been the right thing for me to do. It has been the Pearl that brightened and reassured me.

Here's a toast to remembering it next week, and the week after too! Salut to "Being the Difference"!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fifteen Roses

 "Love is, above all, the gift of oneself." (Jean Anouilh)

An original letter I wrote my wife today on our 9th anniversary. :-)

This year I decided to do something different. Something “one of a kind” for my one and only love. You.

It’s 2015. So today I give you 15 roses. Each bloom has a special meaning, and celebrates something special about you to me.

I brought you a single orange rose at work today to thank you for how hard you work each week - for us, for your son – and to remind you that even when we’re apart all day, you are ALWAYS in my heart.

The pink rose you see is to remember the year I courted you 10 years ago. Your beauty (inwardly as well as physical)…Your patience with a shy, kind of square, nerd of a teacher…Your passion…and most of all, your deep, strong love captivated me then…and still does today.

Nine of the red roses are to simply celebrate our years so far as husband and wife. Each of these years have been blessings to me: filled with joys and adventures…laughter that makes our bellies hurt…some tears…intense longings… quiet times shared…and always the knowledge that we are here for each other.  They have been the best years of my life.

Three of the red roses are there as symbols of my Love for all of you: Your body, your mind, and your soul. I have always loved you just exactly the way you are, and I always will. You entice me. You teach me. You touch me. My hand will always seek yours.

Lastly, I give you one white rose, as I always do. It celebrates Love, eternal and pure. It is a reminder of the vows I took on the banks of the Rogue River 9 years ago on a beautiful autumn afternoon.

“Deborah. I love you. You are my best friend. Today I give myself to you in marriage. I promise to encourage and inspire you. To laugh with you, and to comfort you in times of sorrow and struggle. I promise to love you in good times and in bad; when life seems easy and when it seems hard. When our love is simple and when it is an effort. I promise to cherish you and to always be faithful to you. These things I give you today, and all the days of our life.”

Happy Anniversary Sweetie.  May our love continue to grow.

Your Jonathan

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Wondrous Journey (Ch. 2): "First Dates, First Impressions, First Love"

"Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others and the delight in the recognition." (Alexander Smith"

The story of the first time Deborah and I met is a special memory to me, and not just because it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that still blesses me today. What also made our first dates memorable was that at times I acted completely "out of character" for me. The lonely, shy, careful bachelor did things that were impulsive, brave, and romantic - revealing a side of myself that I didn't know existed.

The truth is those characteristics were always in there. As Mr. Smith says above, I just needed the right person to come along and reveal "me" to Me. It's funny to think, at times, just how little I knew about myself until Love came into my life in the form of a petite, pretty, sassy Italian blonde 10 years ago.

Deborah and I had continued flirting with each other through e-mails and instant-messaging prior to our first date. I don't remember exactly what we would say to each other. I just remember sitting eagerly at my computer in the evening, waiting for the first message from her, and then excitedly returning to pick up where we had last left off. We would tease each other; share intimate secrets; talk about the day we had, and make each other laugh. I was captivated by just how full of life Deborah was, and couldn't wait to meet her in person. My wish was answered sooner than expected.
On the Thursday night before our first date, as we were finishing our nightly tryst, Deborah surprised me by saying, "I don't want to wait to see you. Come meet me in Grants Pass tonight!". It was "way past" my usual bed-time on a "school night", so I was shocked to hear myself reply, without hesitating, "Sure - Just tell me where!". We agreed to meet at Applebee's - a local bar/restaurant close to the highway - which was the only place in Grants Pass that I knew how to get to. As I jumped into my car for the 30 minute drive (at 10:30 pm), I shook my head and chuckled, "Crazy man! What are you getting into?"

I was the first one to arrive. I sipped a beer at the bar and waited. I don't remember feeling really nervous - but was definitely excited and curious. Then she walked in the door. My heart jumped, and a whispered "Wow" slipped from my lips. She was shorter than I expected (just 5' tall), dressed in a tight white top and jeans that showcased every enticing curve. And her eyes were bright and green and instantly drew me in as she introduced herself and we sat down together.

I felt an "electricity" between us as we chatted, face to face for the first time. There was an attraction evident in both of our eyes - and even more apparent when our knees and thighs would gently, seductively bump together as we talked. Again, I don't remember what we talked about, but the hour we spent together mesmerized me and left me happily emboldened. As I walked her to her car, we stopped and kissed for the first time - not a polite peck - but a kiss with surprising passion and heat that left a smile on my face the whole way home.

Our first "official" date was the next night, December 10th 2005. Though we had already "broken the ice" the night before, I was nervous as I drove back to Grants Pass. It didn't help that I got lost trying to find Candler Avenue and her home - but I finally found it - and we were quickly off to "Vinny's Italian Restaurant" for dinner.

When we got there, something happened that I will never forget, and I think it was the moment that I truly began falling in love with Deborah. As we walked from my car to the restaurant, Deborah very naturally and gracefully reached over and held my hand as we walked. This simple act, done without words, touched my heart and soul. It was as if our hands had been waiting for each other - and knew when it's "mate" had been found. To this day, we hold hands almost everywhere we go: instinctively, intimately, lovingly. The rest of the date was kind of a blur. Deborah remembers me as being nervous still. I probably was. But not even walking out after the restaurant closed and finding I had a flat tire could spoil my mood or the evening. I calmly handled it - got the tire changed - took her home - and a special night ended.

Our 2nd date the next Friday night was memorable as well. Deborah invited me to go to class with her at the Life of Learning Foundation in Merlin. She had been going there for 13 years to listen to an Inner Life/Spiritual teacher named Guy Finley. I had never heard of him or the Work he did, but I was excited to go with Deborah to something that I knew was special to her. The class was a special one because it was the Foundation's "Sacred Holiday Music Concert". Their choir sang beautifully and Guy gave an inspiring talk.  Again, my heart was touched. No one had ever asked me to join them in a spiritual activity before. Deborah revealed to me a deep, rich, thoughtful side of herself that made her even more attractive to me.

"In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. In all the world, there is no love for you like mine." (Maya Angelou)

Those three dates that December changed my life forever. There was no doubt in my mind that I had found someone special and that I was falling in love with her. I didn't know what would happen next, nor what I could do to win Deborah's heart, but I was determined to do so. Whatever it would take, I would do.  Deborah still says to me today, "I never had a chance, did I. You were after my heart."

Yes, my love. I was - and always will be.