Friday, August 28, 2015

Finding Time For A Mandala Or Two

"To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart." (Phyllis Theroux)

When was the last time you received a good old-fashioned letter? Written by hand...on special cursive...delivered by the mailman, days after it was penned?

When was the last time you sat down and did the same? Probably been a long, long, long time.

The art, and joy, of letter writing and receiving is, I'm sure slowly dying away. And that's too bad. It's a pleasure - and a courtesy - that just doesn't seem "to fit" anymore in our digital, high-tech, texting, Insta-gramming, selfie-taking, IPhoning, Facebook-liking, say it in 140 letters or less tweeting, #whosgotthetime, #whattheheckiscursive, world.

But lucky me. At least once a month, I still get to savor this antediluvian treat. My mother still regularly writes me still, and her letters are always gifts of love that I treasure. I got one just a couple of days ago.

I always enjoy reading them. Each one is a "paper potpourri": filled with all sorts of news, musings, thoughtful reflections, questions, sometimes a poem or two. As I read each squiggly line, I can see her sitting at her writing desk or at the kitchen counter; head cocked, pen gently scratching. I can hear her quietly chuckling when she recalls a fond memory. And I feel the touch of her hand from across the miles as I read what she ends every letter with: "Hope to hear from you again/soon. Love, Mom".

What I'm most grateful for is that her letters keep coming, no matter how infrequently I respond in return. They are truly gifts, sent freely and generously. I often think of them as my Mom's "mandalas": carefully crafted, sent, then let go of. Nothing held on to. Nothing expected in return. Pure expressions of love.

When I do take the time to reply, I often send her back a letter: typed on my computer, attached to an email. That's where I spend most of my time, writing and corresponding. It's quick; it's easy. Click "Send", and it arrives in Scholls, Oregon (300 miles away) in seconds.

But yesterday, I decided to sit and write back to her as she had to me. I took paper and pen, and sat out in my backyard, and scribbled and scrawled a few pages in return. And as I sat, and as I wrote, I learned some things that are easily missed.

There was real pleasure in the physical sensations/skills of writing with pen and paper. I was forced to slow down. Forming the letters required greater presence. Leaving a scribble or scratch-out, or seeing my lines gently slope across the page, conveyed a real "human-ness" - something a typed letter could never do. And I also knew that when my Mom received it, the same "human-ness" would be appreciated. She would caress each page as she read it, lingering and re-reading parts of it she enjoyed. When was the last time you ever did that with an email?

I also was reminded that real Love holds nothing back for itself. When I finished with the letter, I sealed it in an envelope and slipped it into our mailbox. A little while later, I caught a part of myself wanting to re-read what I had written - for the sheer pleasure of enjoying what it had created. That same voice also sighed impatiently, "I wish she had the letter right now. I wonder what she'd think of it".

But I could do neither.  My "mandala" was gone. There was nothing about it that I could "keep" for myself or enjoy immediately. Love was what nudged me to slowly craft it - and then it was Love that would carry it to its destination, in its own time.

"Letters are like wine; if they are sound, they ripen with keeping. A man should lay down letters as he does a cellar of wine." (Samuel Butler)

In the end, I think what I appreciated the most was the reminder that there's still beauty in being an "Ink and Quill" soul in our Digital world. I want to remember to keep finding ways to slow myself down; to give freely; to not always do what's easiest, or most convenient, or most pleasing to myself.

I want to remember to take time for all those things that a part of me thinks it doesn't have time for.

It's likely my Mom will read this blog before she receives the letter I wrote yesterday. I know she will appreciate both; one will not spoil the other.

It's easy to fill one's days with so many things that in the end aren't worth a fraction of what one moment of kindness, contemplation, or love can give. The older I get, the clearer I can see this.

What am I putting up in "my cellar" each day? What am I giving my time, my energy to? Two questions worth asking each day.

I bet my Mom didn't realize that her letter would spark so much in me. I didn't realize it would myself.

But I'm grateful for the gift, and the Pearls delivered on "Pooh" paper. Thanks, Mom.

Love, Jon

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Goodbye Mr. Tamatea" - A Tribute to A Teacher, and All Teachers

"Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition." (Jacques Barzun)

I don't know where to begin, or even what I want to say in this blog today. All I know is that I was deeply moved by something I saw in the news yesterday. It made me stop in my tracks. Open-mouthed and silent. Gave me goosebumps. Caused small tears to leak out of my eyes and my heart to swell.  It was this short video. Click the link below this picture.

Palmerston North Boys' School doing a Farewell "Haka" for a beloved teacher who had died
Palmerston North Boys' School Says Farewell to Dawson Tahana Tamatea

I have watched this now 4-5 times. Each time I'm stunned by these young men and their powerful display of emotion, respect, and most of all, love for their teacher. At the beginning, I'm almost always overwhelmed by the sight and sound of these 1700 boys, chanting and stomping in unison, their voices fierce and strong.

I know that the "haka" was originally a Maori war dance, performed to intimidate enemies and inspire the valiant. But it's also performed as an expression of deep respect at events, like Mr. Tamatea's funeral.  I think this particular "haka" is a version known as "Ka Mate", which celebrates the triumph of life over death. But I don't want to get all "academic" about this. I want to focus on the boys and what they expressed.

Look into their eyes as they perform. There is a genuine ferocity in many of them, but my heart knows it is fueled by deep sadness. They are roaring in an attempt to hold back the tears. They roar as one, disciplined and proud. They stomp fiercely with all their might - refusing to retreat or bow - yet in the end, step back in quiet acceptance of what they know they cannot change.

Look at the young boys in the front row. Some of them intensely throw their entire selves into the dance - and then anxiously turn and look for their leaders to give them their next cue. Look then at those leaders - the older boys in shirts and ties - who step forward, and deliver the schoolboys' final message of defiance of death. And then comes the final command, "Walk away, away!", followed by 30 seconds of reverent silence. Powerful stuff.

"What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches." (Karl Menninger)

Mr. Tamatea must've been an incredible man. He must have given a lot to these young men in the 29 years he taught at Palmerston North. To have earned such respect and affection, I know he had to have challenged these boys, as well as shown them compassion. He was probably a "no nonsense, do your homework, tuck in your shirt, sit up straight, I expect your very best, "old school" teacher. He also was probably the last one at school each night... a coach... not afraid to look a boy in the eyes and tell him "I'm proud of you"...or share a booming laugh (probably at himself!) with a class. I'm sure Mr. Tamatea was an exceptional educator and man. The world needs so many more like him.

And then today I read an article that sobered me in a different way. The article came across on my Facebook page. It was titled "Why Is It That America Hates Teachers So Much?".  I won't summarize it. You can read it, if you want, through the link below.

"Why Is It That America Hates Teachers So Much?"

After reading this article, I wondered for a moment: Why would anyone want to be a teacher anymore? (especially in the United States - especially in Oregon).  Why would anyone want to take up, or continue, a career that seems so universally demonized and denigrated now?

And then I think of the boys of Palmerston North and the impact Mr. Dawson Tahana Tamatea clearly made on them. And I know that that is the single reason that teaching is still the noblest profession, and draws some of the most courageous and dedicated people to it that I've ever known.

There is nothing nobler - nor as sacred - as the chance to influence young people and to teach them what is really valuable in Life. I could list probably dozens of these "Pearls" that teachers give to their students, but I'll let you reflect on that. I'm positive you will be able to remember at least one teacher in your life who touched you some way positively - who taught you something you've never forgotten - and  who helped you become, someway, somehow, the person you are today. And you should thank them.

So "Thank You" Sister Lucy, Lou McCorkle, Bill Chapman, Tom Rohlffs, Frank Imbrie, Mary Carol Day, Don DeClerck, Barry Adams, Heinz Teubner, Roberta Hutton, Elden Kellar, Guy Finley and many more for all you did for me.

And a special "Thanks" to all those superheroes I have had the chance to work with - and the many who still toil away. I hope you're enjoying your summers - but it's not too early to tell you all you're appreciated for all you do in your classrooms - year after year.

Dan and Heather Woodward, Adam Drew, Kelly Burton, Emily Marshall (soon to be Brink!), Brenda Dufour, Kevin Dixon, Susan Kahoun Holt, Wendy Barrie, Mary Wieczorek, Pam McNulty, Andy Frye, Dan Keck, Amy Westerfield, Marilyn Ramone, Doug Potter, Steve Johansen, Ken Yarnell, Jim Lekas, Vic Wright, and so many, many, many more that I've had the chance to work with. You are "Dawson Tamateas" in your own right. I hope you know that.

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for 20 years." (Jacques Barzun)

Very true. But what grows from a good teacher's work has deep roots, and  it will last a lifetime. Just ask those boys in New Zealand.

No need. You can see the seeds that Mr. Tamatea planted.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pits and Cherries - Lessons Learned Lately

"Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know." (Pema Chodron)

At least once every summer, I buy a big bag of cherries and eagerly bring them home to feast on. Whether they are Rainier cherries, sunny and bright, or Bings, dark and seductive, I can't wait to pop them in my mouth - taste their sweetness - and then suck every bit of it off the pit, before tossing it away and happily grabbing another. A sublime summer treat.

But my "eyes are always bigger than my stomach" (as my Mom would tell me many moons ago). I buy too many for us to eat, and so the leftovers sit - orphaned in our refrigerator - until I decide it's time to pit them and freeze them for our smoothies. Sounds practical and responsible, doesn't it? The problem is it's a tedious job - one I tend to put off until I absolutely can't.

So, there I was this morning, slicing the slippery spheres - prying out the stubborn stones with my crimson-stained fingers - one by one - and muttering "Just don't cut yourself, buster!".  Part of me wondered "Why didn't you learn your lesson and not buy so many?", while another voice replied, "Well, it's worth it. You'll enjoy these later".  And in the midst of all this "chatter", a bigger thought came to me.

Pits and Cherries. Hard things that we try to avoid, yet they come with sweet fruit. You only get the latter when you have agreed to accept the former, and been willing to work with it.

What are the "Pits and Cherries" that Life has brought my way? The lessons that have been challenging to learn - often repeated again and again - yet if I've persevered, have been of great value? Some came to mind as I toiled in the kitchen.

1.  "I'm not responsible for anyone else's happiness or unhappiness": This has been a difficult one for me to learn. Over the years, I've slowly seen a part of Jon that is always trying to do just that: take responsibility for how others are feeling - and then scurry to "make it all better" or feel bad when it can't. That's "the pit". But what Life offers in exchange -"the cherry"-  as I see the futility of this, is the opportunity to live my own life. Free to share all, but responsible only for seeing what moves me inwardly. It's funny how that kind of freedom can seem so "scary" at times. but is in reality a great gift.

2.  "Real growth is never predictable or without discomfort.": I've been reminded of this lately as I've been working out more, trying to get stronger and fitter again. After 3 weeks I hit a "plateau" and wasn't improving as much as earlier, and I got a little discouraged. But I pushed on and worked to remember the above lesson, which is easy to forget. Nothing of real value, physically or inwardly, is gained without doing some real Work. Being willing to feel face a limitation honestly - and to do what a part of me says 'I don't want to do". That feels like "the pits". But the treasure received in exchange is the knowledge that the only thing that stands in my way is "Me". And that "Me" is nothing but a dated thought, image, or belief that proves to be tissue thin in the face of a simple willingness to persist.

3.  "Love isn't about holding on. It's about learning to let go.": I know this is a paraphrase of something I've heard Guy say many times, in many different ways, in talks at the Foundation. But the truth of it has taken awhile to sink in for me. Nothing in Life is permanent, yet I know something in me is always looking to grab and hold on to pieces of life as if they were. Whether in relationships, my career, or an image of myself - always trying to "keep it in place"...always a little worried when something that seemed strong and secure, seems to fade. And where's the Love in that? Real Love is Timeless. Therefore Real Love is never about acquiring, but instead about giving itself away. Because it knows in doing so it will always be renewed.  The more given, the more received. Holding on can be a "small" act - born of fear. Letting go is a generous act - a real expression of Love. I'm reminded again of something that Guy said about the nature of Real Love that I've never forgotten: "Even in your absence, I can feel your presence".

Funny how a simple bowl of cherries this morning sparked all of this!  I guess you just never know where another one of Life's "Pearls" will turn up. Hope I keep remembering to pay attention - and to be willing to work to keep learning - especially "the hard stuff". That's where the real treasures lie. (like chocolate covered cherries - Man, I love those!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finding My Fit

"A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise." (A.A. Milne)

The New Year's now almost a month old; the glow of the holidays has long been dimmed by January's foggy blankets. The Rogue Valley, where I live, is infamous for the seasonal inversion that socks southern Oregon into a dreary, bone-chilling, soupy haze in the early winter. One's desire to do anything active can be mightily influenced by where you live: in the valley or just a hundred feet higher, as you can see below.

Looking down into the Rogue Valley from Mt. Baldy near Medford
So over the years that I've lived here, I've slipped into a comfortably predictable pattern. When December and January rolled around, I usually quit exercising. If the animals have the sense to hibernate, then why shouldn't I? Rest up - enjoy life. Hunker down by a friendly fireplace with something warm to eat or drink and wait until the sun returns. Then I'll get back into shape. It won't be too hard. I'll find my fit.

True when you're 34...or 40...or 46...or 52...and working full time. Not so true when you're 56...and semi-retired. Looking in the mirror in early December told me an uncomfortable truth.

It wasn't that all of my favorite pants had mysteriously, conspiratorily, been shrinking. I had been expanding in a most Pooh-like fashion.  I had to admit it. I needed to do something different to find my fit again.

So in mid-December, well before the January "rush to resolution", I quietly committed to working out - every day - at the Club Deborah and I belong to. I knew there was nothing magical that would help me. As my sister Julie once cheerfully chirped, "If you want to lose weight, it's simple. Eat less. Move more." So I began with the moving more, and haven't stopped since.

Walking. Riding the stationary bike. Jogging on the treadmill. Lifting weights. Repeat. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Some days for over an hour. Other days only 20 minutes. But always go. Keep moving. Work a little harder this week than last.

And then for Christmas, Deborah gave me the perfect gift: a Fitbit activity tracker bracelet. Strap it on and it tracks the steps you take, miles you travel, calories you burn, and will even tell you how well you sleep. Its accompanying software even lets you log the food and water you eat and drink and sends you encouraging "Way to Go!" messages when you walk 10,000 steps a day or meet another goal.

The Fitbit has been way cool, and it's definitely reinforced my renewed regimen. I even bought Deborah one, and now we push each other to work harder (it doesn't help that we're both VERY competitive!). Late night walks around the block in the freezing cold - just to beat the other person's steps total - have become a regular event, complete with all the prerequisite bragging and boasting for the winner. Parking the car further away from our destinations so we can walk farther. We both have enjoyed developing new habits and feeling ourselves getting stronger and fitter as we go.

"The secret of getting ahead is just getting started." (Agatha Christie)

But the Fitbit alone would've never gotten me started moving again like I am. It would've been just another fancy gadget.

If I really wanted to make a change, I had to act and I had to persist. I had to be willing to suffer a little and to make a new priority in my day. And I had to be willing to work harder than a part of me thought it wanted to. I had to make a change in what I was giving my Time and Attention to.

That all sounds self-evident. But it's so easy to wind up listening to a voice inside of you, telling you "You don't need to do this"...or "You're fine just the way you are"...or "You don't have time for this - do it tomorrow". There are always a legion of whisperers who just want to stay snuggled in the cave, undisturbed. It's a precious gift received when you start realizing that none of those voices are really Me, and that they have no interest in what's good for me.

I know this entry seems all about getting in shape and celebrating physical health - and part of it is. But I also wrote it because I can see so many parallels between these things and my interior life as well. It's easy to be lazy and find comfort in familiar thoughts; to be deceived into thinking that "I will be different tomorrow", but then do nothing different.

I want to remember that if I want to continue to grow and be healthy spiritually, I must also do the work required. To persist when a part of me would like to take the day off. To be willing to suffer a little and to be honest about what I give my Time and Attention to.

Find the time to meditate and pray daily. Feel when a part of me is trying to avoid a difficult moment and go into it instead of trying to go around it. Catch those familiar fears and worries that something in me wants to "set up camp" in and try to drop them and "move on". Work to learn something new about myself, no matter how small, each day. Keep growing. Keep learning.

Being open to doing what is difficult is inviting something greater than me to change me.

"Learn to see the "easy way" as a lying thought that keeps you tied up and doing "hard" time. Do what's"hard". That's the only way to learn that there's nothing that can stop you." (Guy Finley)

I want to remember all of this as the year continues to slowly creep along. I know there'll be times when I will forget the wish that drove me through the last 6 weeks of hard work and its rewards. This will be an entry I can look back on when something inside of me shrinks from doing the hard work and just wants to sleep.

"There is no way around the hard work. Embrace it."

And then start again. One step at a time. One moment at a time. 10,000 times a day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Today's Tidbit - The Christmas Truce

"Peace begins with a smile." (Mother Teresa)

About 10 or 12 years ago, I started writing what I called "Today's Tidbits": little anecdotes and often unknown facts from history that I had learned over time that had always amused me. I wrote a couple hundred of them - usually while I was eating my lunch at school and would then send them to friends and family via email.  I really enjoyed them - but stopped when I ran out of topics. When I began writing my blog, I included a few of them in it, but then stopped because I wanted my blog to include more original writings.

This morning a friend sent me a link to a British produced Christmas ad that is going viral.  It reminded me of one of my most favorite tidbits and stories from history, so I decided to share it. The event happened 100 years ago this December. It is such a good reminder of what we as humanity are all capable of remembering, even in the darkest of moments. And it also reminded me of something else more personal.

Here is the link to the ad. It's well worth watching.

"The Christmas Truce of 1914" TV Ad

And here is the Tidbit I wrote to fill in the history of what actually happened.

As Christmas 1914 approached, World War I had been raging across Europe for 4 months - one million men had already died.  In Northern France and Belgium, British and German troops were deeply dug into hundreds of miles of trenches, separated by a bloody "No Man's Land" which would be a killing ground for the next 4 years.  What amazing event occurred on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914 in this "No Man's Land" where so many had already died, and millions more would die in the future?

Answer:  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914 saw one of history's most amazing examples of open chivalry and the generosity of the human spirit in what became known as "The Christmas Truce".  On Christmas Eve 1914, British Headquarters sent the following message to all of its units in France and Flanders:  "It is thought possible that the enemy be contemplating an attack during Xmas or New Year.  Special vigilance will be maintained during these periods.".  But no attack came.  Instead, spontaneous, informal truces broke out all up and down the trench-lines, and German and British soldiers who the previous day had been trying desperately to kill each, now joined to celebrate Christmas.  

In most cases, it appears that the German soldiers were the ones who took the lead in making informal contact with the enemy, calling to the British troops to come out and stop shooting.  The Germans had brought Christmas trees into their trenches and decorated them with candles - in some, Chinese lanterns were hung as decorations.  The "rules" of the truce were negotiated by agreement among local officers.  

Christmas Day saw the most fraternization between the two sides.  Groups of 3-4 men on each side would wander out and meet each other in "No Man's Land".  They would laugh and exchange small gifts (cigars, cigarettes, jars of jam, etc.)  In one exchange, when a group of Royal Welsh Fusiliers refused to come out and meet the Germans, the Germans rolled out a keg of beer toward the British trench and said "Here!  We have plenty!".  In return the Fusiliers lobbed tins of bully beef and jam back at the Germans!  One legend of the "Christmas Truce" is that in one spot along the lines, Germans and Scottish soldiers played a soccer match out in "No Man's Land", just outside of Armentieres.  A German officer in the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment describes such a game, following a gift exchange between the two sides (cigarettes, schnapps, chocolate).  The game was played with great enthusiasm (though not a lot of skill!).  The officer says the Germans howled with laughter when a gust of wind blew the Scots' kilts up - and revealed they weren't wearing any underwear!  According to the officer, the game ended after an hour: the Germans won, 3-2.  

As night fell on Christmas Day, the truces slowly ended and the men returned to their trenches.  Soldiers on both sides sang Christmas carols in the night - sometimes the haunting sound of "Silent Night" could be heard at the same time as "Heilige Nacht" echoed from the other side.  At 8:30 pm, a British officer stood on top of his trench and fired 3 shots into the air.  A German captain appeared on the other side, and saluted.  The next day, the war began again.  By the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, approximately 9-10 million soldiers had died in the long, bloody conflict.

Stories like this remind me of how much I enjoyed teaching history: to both learn and share such stories. The best history teachers I ever knew were great "story-tellers". 

It was that talent of theirs that made history "come alive" and inspired a young man to spend 30 years trying to do the same for his students.

Me at my desk on my last day at school - June 2013

That was me. So here's to remembering all the great history teachers who inspired me, and to all those I had a chance to work with at Glencoe and South Medford High Schools. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Walking El Malecon

"There is no end to the adventures we can have if we only seek them with our eyes wide open." (Jawaharal Nehru)

It was time. We were ready to do some exploring. Deborah and I had soaked up the sun in the cabanas of the Sunset Plaza for a couple of days, but now we were ready to stretch our legs. Whenever we go away, we always like putting on our sneakers, holding each other's hand, and setting off on a long walk to who knows where. We love the exercise, and we love the chance to see something new. So that's what we wanted to do.

The view looking east from our hotel room. Downtown Puerto Vallarta is off to the right
Our destination would be Puerto Vallarta's famed "El Malecon" boardwalk. Everyone said "You must go and see it!" It had quaint shops, cobblestone lanes, street art and performances, food, history - all the culture you could want, and beautiful beaches too. All "just" 2-3 miles from our hotel - at least that didn't seem far to us! We've hiked further in the woods of Lake Tahoe, along the streets of Florence, Italy, and in the neighborhoods of southern California. Pshaw! "A piece of cake!" So, off we went that morning.

The first mile of our walk was uneventful; just walking along side the busiest thoroughfare in the city. Dieselly buses clanked and stank as they rattled by; motorcycles and sedans swerved maniacally around them, and the sidewalks soon filled with people all walking to work. Life like in any other city on a Friday morning. But there were differences. No one was in a suit and tie. We passed some magnificent buildings (like the Sheraton Buganvilias), but right next door to it was a vacant concrete shell of an empty building. And as we got closer to downtown, we began to see more and more people just standing around, looking at us as we approached.

Oh yeah. And it was hot. And humid. And we were sweating. And sweating. Our hands were slippery with moisture, even though we had only been walking for about 20 minutes. The funny thing was that we seemed to be the only ones sweating - none of the Mexicans we passed seemed to be bothered in the least by the weather... sheesh!

We had begun to enter Old Puerto Vallarta, and now the main street was lined with shops and flags.

And the people just standing around began to come to life. "Hey, senor! Come and see what I've got! Good stuff here. Come take a look!"... "Hey, senorita! Take a look - you never know what you'll find! 1/2 price today!"... "Buenos dias, senor...come have a free shot of tequila and look around!". We had entered another Mexican "gauntlet" - just like the time share reps at the airport. The only difference was these people were selling blankets, earrings, hats, and tacos instead of a resort. They were very sharp sighted too. One guy saw the bracelets we were wearing that were our identification at the resort and yelled to us, "Hey! We met at the Sunset Plaza! Don't you remember me? Come over here!"... Clever!

Just when we were beginning to think we had made a mistake coming here and having to wade through all of this, we turned a corner, and there it was: the entrance to the Malecon, The cacophony of the vendors died down a little bit as the sea breeze took its place....beautiful...

There were statues every where along the way.

There were street artists, like this man sculpting a sand Virgin Mary.

And then there were the Birdmen of Papantla. We had heard of this daily act, and there they were right in front of us. 4 brightly costumed acrobats climbed to the top of a 100 foot pole and then leaned back and slowly fell to the earth, twirling to the sound of ancient pipes and drums. An incredible show!

We were grateful for the show, but I was even more grateful for the rest. I was pooped after only 40 minutes of walking (and so were all the other tourists who had plopped down around us to watch the Birdmen!).  It was time to go find something to eat...and a margarita to boost our spirits a little bit.

Too tired to resist, we were "shanghaied" by another friendly sidewalk barker who shuffled us upstairs into a nearby restaurant: The Bar Oceano. We enjoyed the view, the margaritas, and the fajitas. In just an hour and a half, Mexican culture had washed over us like a wave. We laughed at how much we had seen and experienced in so little time. How much more did we have the energy for?

We got up and continued our stroll. We saw more shops - Deborah stopped and bought a beautiful "peasant" dress from one very excited lady who fussed and fussed over her as she tried it on. Then when we left, eagerly looked out the window, hunting for the next "catch".

We finally came to the Malecon's most famous landmark, its Arches. These Arches are part of an amphitheater next to the Naval Museum there. We stopped for a picture.

There was more of the Malecon to walk - the "Zona Romantica", Viejo Vallarta - still lay ahead of us to wander around. But the weather had gotten the best of us. All we wanted to do was go back to the hotel, change our clothes, and dive into the pool. We could return to finish the "Malecon Mile" another day.

We turned around at the arches and started the steamy slog back to the resort. We walked by the city's famed Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its distinctive crown-shaped dome, but didn't stop for long.

We walked through a couple of more of the city's flea markets, but had little stomach for more haggling, and for carrying anything else with us on our trek back.

We could've hailed a cab. A number of drivers slowed as they neared us and offered us a comfortable return to home. But we were stubborn. We had walked down here. We were going to walk all the way back. An adventure begun must be ended properly. It was a looong ways back, but we would do it.

Looking back to our hotel from the Malecon. Our hotel is the tiny orange one way far away!
"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (Neale Donald Walsh)

By 4 pm, we were back at the Sunset Plaza - exhausted, but glad we had gone on our journey.  It was a unique experience to walk around a city in a lesser developed country and experience all that we did: to see the contrasts of riches right next to sheer poverty, to feel the persistence of the vendors whose lives relied on their ability to attract customers without making them feel like "marks", to savor the cool sea breeze at the same time as the sun steamed our necks, and to wade through all that was vibrant and alive.

And most of all, it made me more appreciative of all that Deborah and I had back at home. That would be a thought that would come to us more than once as our vacation here in "Paradise" continued.  We had stepped out of our "comfort zones" just a little by coming here to Mexico - it would've been easier to have just gone someplace that we had always gone to (Lake Tahoe, the Oregon coast) - and we would've settled comfortably into what we liked, seen what we've always seen. But in doing that, we would've missed a valuable gift.

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." (Henry Miller)

This trip was bringing us closer and closer together. Through its challenges and new experiences, we were feeling a greater appreciation for all that we already had...and most importantly, for each other.  Gracias to Puerto Vallarta for that special gift... it has anchored us ever since!

There is more to tell about this trip...but I'll save that for that next chapter... Adios, amigos!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Time's Changing Treasures

"The years teach much which the days never knew." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I saw a picture recently - I don't remember where - but it's stuck in my mind for days.

It was a picture like the one above; a pair of old hands, tenderly holding a worn book. Though both the hands and book are weathered - worn and wrinkled by life - there was something about the photograph that stirred me.

I could tell that the book was special to the person holding it. Who knows what gifts those tattered pages had given the person who now so gently cradles the leather volume? Some bits of wisdom? Words that inspired or consoled? Tales of journeys to distant lands? Or precious memories held dear? But one thing I could tell was that the book was a treasure cherished. Though both it, and the hands that so lovingly held it had been battered by time, they both radiate beauty: a beauty that only the burnishings of time could produce.

Funny how a simple picture could stir so much. I'm sure that when I was younger - even just a few years ago - I wouldn't have even noticed this picture. Would've sped by it in a blink, racing on to something more newsworthy, more dynamic, more "Wow!". But getting a little older has taught me gradually the value of slowing down, just a little.

And when I did the thought came to me that the things we treasure change as time passes. What we treasure in our youth and as young adults is different from what we treasure as we grow older (and hopefully wiser!). So I asked myself: What do I value today? How have my "treasures" changed over the years?

"The best thing about getting old is that all those things you couldn't have when you were young you no longer want." (L.S. McCandless)

  • "The Next Thing to Get" vs "Glad To Let That Go": It seems that when I was younger, I was always pursuing "big things":  my 1st "real" job; getting that college degree; my 1st new car; seeing my name and picture in the paper after a coaching achievement; my 1st trips to foreign lands, etc.. Life was all about acquiring and advancing; crossing accomplishments off an inner checklist and storing away all my "trophies", whether they were the things gotten, photographs taken, or memories tucked away. But I could see in looking back, that despite all that I had done, and all that kept me busy day after day, my life still felt empty. I was just "filling time". Today it seems I treasure more the "letting go" of all of those things. And in return my life has become more rewarding. A simpler life has become infinitely more richer for me; I value more what seemed before to be "the empty spaces"- the quiet moments. I also know that giving up much of what I pursued for so long also left space in my life for something very special.  I met, fell in love, and married Deborah - and learned the "magic arithmetic" of Love: the more you give away, the more you're given in return.
  • "Little Things" are Big:  The older I've gotten, the more I appreciate all those "little things" that I know I rarely noticed when I was younger: the beauty of a single tree in the fall, standing nobly resplendent; the gentle sound of rainfall at night, a single unexpected act of kindness (like Deborah surprising me with a hug as I sit here writing!). A walk around the block on a fall morning with our dog Izzy gives me as much pleasure now as a "road trip adventure" once did. I'm learning that pleasure can be found in every little task done, if I'm present to myself doing it.  Learning to slow down helps open up a whole world of beauty and value: whether I'm just sitting and looking out the window, raking the leaves in our yard, scrubbing my bathroom, or trying to thoughtfully craft each of these words. Some may say "slowing down" is just a natural consequence (and disadvantage) of growing older. I'm beginning to see the beauty and wisdom in doing so.
"The sun shines different ways in summer and winter. We shine different ways in the seasons of our lives." (Terri Guillemets)

I know that there's more that I could perhaps discover about how my "treasures" have changed. I'm sure I've just scratched the surface. But that's enough for now. Clarity will come with time. Writing the "perfect blog" the first time is something else I'm trying to learn to let go of, in exchange for simply enjoying the time I've spent doing so.

At our last class, Guy Finley said something that I thought was inspiring, yet I think rarely believed.

"All of Life's timeless qualities: Strength, Beauty, Kindness, Compassion, Nobility, etc - are meant to be strengthened by the passing of time, not diminished. Life is continually perfecting them, and herself." 

I think it's easy to think that as time passes, it's somehow "taking away" treasures that we once had. It isn't. It's just asking me to exchange the treasures of the past for new ones - for more lasting ones.

I hope to remember all of this. That would be a real "Pearl" of value as time goes by.