“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Nobel Peace Prize recipient, philosopher, physician Albert Schweitzer
Lately I have been making a conscious effort to step out of isolation. In my introversion and my insecurity, I tend to keep myself to myself, to hide my light under a bushel, so to speak. To be honest, I have doubted whether my light was of any value. But i realize it is. It truly is.
So I reached out to my neighbors on Facebook, asking who might be interested in a monthly gathering for the purpose of cultivating authentic friendships, the sort where we can ring on each other’s doorbells if our kids are sick, relationships that extend beyond friendly waves as we pass each other walking our dogs. Not a group for gossip and wine, no, but a company of genuine friends. A handful of neighbors want to embark on this project with me! We’ll see how our experiment goes.
I photographed these street lamps outside Westminster Abbey in London. I was struck by the two lamps standing side-by-side, in such close proximity to each other, as if to lend light not only to the street and its inhabitants, but to each other as well. Like people do. Like my neighbors do. We are light.
I am fifty-two years old. God. Yes, I am fifty-two years old.
I have never said that to anyone except my immediate family. It’s not that anyone couldn’t have done just a little math to figure it out, it’s not a secret. I just haven’t wanted to admit it.
And still so completely … unfinished.
Not incomplete– that’s a different thing, implying a belief that I am a living error, a woman missing a vital piece, like a jigsaw puzzle that can’t be glued and mounted in a frame because a corner fell on the floor and was devoured by the family dachshund (I speak from experience on this); a book in which vital chapters of pages have fallen from the binding, like every volume of Harry Potter that our family has owned over the years.
There are no missing pages in my story, all fifty-two years are in there, the book a little frayed at the edges, its pages stained with droplets of Diet Dr. Pepper and dribbles of salty tears.
But my story is definitely unfinished; there is a sense of ambiguity imbuing nearly every aspect of my life right now.
Ambiguity. Apathy. Anxiety. Angst.
The angst has become a crutch for me, a companion in my waking and in my rest; it forces me to repeat over and over every single day a litany of financial debts I wish were paid off, it compels me to scrutinize my body for fat, it necessitates constant and unrelenting worry over my job and whether I want to be in it. When we’re teens, we’re expected to be riddled with this angst. The journals of my adolescence are filled with my looping scrawl, passages of woe and worry, wondering what I was meant to do, who I was meant to be, hearts used to dot my letter “i”s as though a charm to lure love. Then I got married and made babies. I raised them. I raised them well. I stayed in a marriage that grew healthy and strong. Deeply rooted. So why the angst? Why the anxiety? Why the ambivalence? Why, in middle age, do I find myself so crippled by the looming question: what am I supposed to do now?
I fear I have become addicted to the inner drama of that one weighty question. What’s next?
Or worse– what if this is it? What if, at fifty-two, I have already accomplished any great thing I might have done? What if it’s too late to write that book or land that dream job? What if all that’s left is spreadsheets about ops and procedures and fees and days of hellacious knee pain and buying jeans a size bigger? What if I don’t have another day? And that, my friends, is why I had to face the truth that is at the core of every truth that matters: There is no guaranteed next. There is only right now. This very moment. This very breath.
Oh, sure, it’s good to make plans. Last evening Libby and I were having fun talking about the wood-forest-creature decorating theme for her baby shower next month, and I definitely need to check my bank balance and see that a couple of bills get paid today. I have already ordered a couple of Christmas gifts and started saving for retirement (way too late, I am sure, but better late than never). I just bought the prettiest yellow mitten/beanie/scarf set at Target just in case it ever gets cold in Houston again.
But really, it’s just the right now that is mine.
When I was a first-year teacher, preparing for my first lessons and decorating my first classroom, I spent hours cutting out little laminated shapes for our classroom calendar. Our university had drilled into its teacher prep students that buying ready-made bulletin boards was a cop-out, so I was diligently doing what I believed demonstrated my commitment to my students’ education. My one-year-old would stand, wobbly on her feet in front of me, arms outstretched, and I’d brush her off and keep working. My mother in law, sitting nearby, wisely said, “Kim, you’re only going to have these hugs from her for a little while. Think about putting down the laminated shapes and hold your child.” Good advice. I was missing the now of my toddler for the tomorrow of my classroom. I think it’s easier for us to grasp that lesson when it’s the lives of our children at stake. But I would like to walk this a step farther: our own lives are worth that consideration, too. The beauty of our own journeys as human women and men is as worth intentional presence as are the moments with our babies.
It’s what I have been learning very, very recently. This week, even. We’re raised, from infancy, to look forward. To know what we want to do for a job when we’re five years old. To choose a college track when we’re thirteen. To always strive forward, look ahead. And while that can be good, can propel us to invention and innovation, it can also be demoralizing. To always and ever push forward is out of balance. That skewed way of living can rob us of the joy that is found in being fully present in each moment as it is lived. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says:
“Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”
I recently spent ten hours listening to Tolle teach about this principle, and it was tough to grasp at first. How do I lead an organized life and do excellent work if I am only in the now, just contemplating the present moment? But that’s not what I think he means. I need to set goals and move toward them, but always stay rooted in the beauty or pain that is now. I must notice the smiles of my loved ones, acknowledge the needs of my physical body, savor the sip of white wine, take a moment to feel sun on my face, and listen to the sound of my breath as it fills, then leaves, my lungs; all ways to remain present. But it’s okay to dream about the future, too.
To dream without anxiety is the key. Worry and angst rob me of joy in the now, and they are as addictive and habitual as any chemical. But learning to stay present, connected to my own spirit and to the greater universal Divine is so much better. Already this morning, I have walked the baby while taking in the beautiful sunlight and cooler autumn air (Houston’s temperature finally dropped below 90 degrees yesterday), enjoyed some sparkling water, and answered some work emails. All without angst. All without worry. Without anxiety.
To live this way will take practice. It will call for thought and accountability. It will require surrender to what is balanced with a willingness to look for what can be.
This, my friends, is where freedom lies. In each moment lived, one by one by one.
“Past and future, ever blending,
Are the twin sides of same page:
New start will begin with ending
When you know to learn from age;
All that was or be tomorrow
We have in the present, too;
But what’s vain and futile sorrow
You must think and ask of you”- Mihai Eminescu
There’s been some angst lately. Getting older is a mixed bag; I love the increased confidence and reduced worry over the opinions of others, I hate the knee and shoulder pain that accompany my disintegrating bones and cartilage. I love having the freedom to make career choices that are risky. I fear the consequences.
I cherish the memories of the people I love.
I ache that some of them are gone.
In my mind and spirit, it all blends. Past and future: victories and setbacks, loves and losses, scars and comforts. Secrets kept. Betrayals felt. Forward. Backward.
I loved this lantern in Seattle, it’s in front of a beautiful old building that stands beside a modern skyscraper. The contrast of recent and ancient was beautiful. That’s life, right? full of contrast and contradiction. But when we can see the inconsistencies and accept them, when we can look both forward and back while living in the present, we build beautiful, resilient, rich lives.
Lives of light. Shadow, too, yes. But mostly: light.
“I am going to notice the lights of the earth, the sun and the moon and the stars, the lights of our candles as we march, the lights with which spring teases us, the light that is already present.”
I have ever been a person who is drawn to light, to sun, to brightness and joy. Not for me the shadows and darkened nights. And yet, I know that darkness is essential, that a life spent in an eternal and endless glow is not chromatically rich. Variegated hues of gray and the negative spaces of art are what allow for rich texture and depth. In photography, in music, in painting, in life.
But still … I prefer light. It is my prerogative to do so. I choose to shine on! For it is in choosing to turn toward the light that I find resilience, and it is in resilience that I find life itself.
Today, I am having a bit of a blue day, a day in which, by 10:15 in the morning I had already called myself “stupid” and gotten a gentle reprimand and hug from my husband. Anyone else ever have those days, when you feel like nothing you do is going to work, none of the dreams will come to fruition, that you can’t match the success of others? I do. That’s today.
So I went to look at my photos. I do that often, my pictures remind me of good stuff, important stuff. I bumped into this lady in a pocket park in Seattle on a day that my husband and I were wandering around aimlessly, looking for a spot to eat the picnic lunch we’d just bought at the Amazon Go store.
She’s humorous, smiling and a bit wiry, sitting beside her own bag. We enjoyed our lunch with her company. Seattle is a great city.
I think I will go have a good day. Not going to say great- I don’t want to place undue pressure on myself- but good. That’ll do.
It’s a big day for the moon; or more specifically, it’s a big day for humanity’s relationship with the moon. Fifty years ago today, Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon while Michael Collins flew the command module in orbit. American kids have watched the spine-tingling recordings of Neil Armstrong since we were old enough to sit still, eyes wide:
It took some 400,000 people, working together, to make that miraculous trip possible. Collins said in the Google doodle dedicated to the anniversary that when the astronauts journeyed around the world, the refrain was “We did it. We did it.” Our common love for that beautiful orb and for the courage and ingenuity of our brothers and sisters connected us.
Being a Houstonian, I have visited the Johnson Space Center and stared at the moon rocks, nearly unable to comprehend the distance those rocks traveled. The module the men were in is so tiny, it’s hard to conceive of the courage it required to suit up and shoot beyond Earth’s atmosphere with so little protection.
Last Tuesday evening, after a busy day working, babysitting my grandkids, exercising, folding laundry, and writing, I wearily trod upstairs to my bedroom to soak in a warm bath and go to bed. The blinds in my bedroom were open and the bright, silvery light of the moon caught my eye. I stood at the window, just drinking in her beauty, breathing, and allowing my spirit to settle.
A little later, face washed and teeth brushed, I climbed into my cool percale sheets, fluffed my feather pillow, and curled up with my iPad for a few minutes on Facebook before reading myself into sleepy oblivion. My friend Kyle had posted this lovely, eerie photo:
Isn’t it heavenly? I commented, “I stood at my bedroom window to watch the moonrise tonight. Beautiful. Glad to know my sweet friend was watching too.” A few minutes later a mutual friend chimed in from New York City, she had also been taking in the sublime view from her hotel room. Three friends, touched by beauty, connected by a celestial light.
The moon connected the human race in a vast way in July, 1969. She connected three friends in a small way in July, 2019.
We often tell children to wish upon a star. I love the song from Pinocchio, it’s a perfect message for children about having the courage to wish. But tonight, on this momentous anniversary, I am going to wish upon the moon:
I wish that we can love each other more.
I wish that we will learn to listen better.
I wish that we will allow grace to scatter its beams into the dark corners of our lives.
I wish that the moon’s glittery light will light a lost one’s way home.
“What it means to make art isn’t always that you get to make a living. It might just be that you get to make a difference.”
As a creative soul who yearns to spend her days writing and photographing, it was a real gift to be relieved of the burden of earning money with it. How many of us artists have been asked, when speaking of our art, “How are you going to earn money with it? What’s the point wasting your time if you can’t make a living?”
Or the ominous: “Major in something practical.” I have heard the dreams of many students crushed with that advice.
The work of art makes the world beautiful, it soothes our collective and individual souls, it creates connection.
Creativity matters. Art matters. Make it.
Photo above taken by me at Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch, where artists of all kinds are celebrated at the annual Family Reunion.
Follow Seth Godin, who keeps me motivated and fueled to keep doing the work I am called and created for at:
I saved St. Patrick’s in New York City as the finale of the series because it’s the first cathedral I ever saw. I was raised in the suburbs of Dallas, where evangelicals dominate the religious life of the community, and smaller church homes were the norm. Dallas suburbs haven’t really been around long enough to have storied, historic cathedrals. But a visit to the Big Apple opened my eyes to a whole world of diversity and art. I love New York City more than any other in the world.
One of the things I appreciate about St. Pat’s is how crowded it is, tucked in among the Fifth Avenue crush of skyscrapers and traffic lights, cab horns blaring, tourists gaping, and black-clad New Yorkers hustling to work. It’s not quiet inside, one doesn’t feel an immediate hush inside its walls. Nevertheless, holiness is there.
One might wonder why, if I have left behind organized Christian religion, I have been photographing and visiting cathedrals. What draws me, beyond the intricate gothic architecture, the turrets and gargoyles and limestone? It is simply this: I still love God and Goddess. I know, without a doubt, that the Divine One still loves us. She grieves for us. She waits and watches for us to love.
Just last week, I found this little mushroom circle out on a walk at work. It’s already brutally hot here in south Texas, and these little fungi were bravely popping up out of the dry, rocky soil, a visible testament to the sheer determination of our planet’s flora to survive and sustain.
A few days later, I cued up the next Supersoul podcast on my app, and it was an interview with cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg, a renowned pioneer of time lapse photography. He specializes in nature time lapse, he’s very passionate about it, truly (isn’t it fun to encounter people who are passionate about what they love?). He described a film project about a phenomenon of which I had never known: mushrooms are but the visible part of a vast underground mycelium network that connects plants over miles and acres. The plants share nutrients and information. Isn’t that staggeringly awesome?!
Paul Stamets, an environmentalist at the center of the film, says, “I believe nature is a force of good. ‘Good’ is not only a concept, it is a spirit. And so hopefully, the spirit of goodness will survive.”
Even at the ripe old age of 52, I find myself newly amazed by our planet, and with a refreshed love of it. Ocean, tree, water, mushroom…mycelium. All miraculous. All connected to the Divine One. As are we.