It was a few days after our New Years celebration in the mountains. We returned home to find a mailbox spilling over with Christmas bills, flyers, and coupons. There is nothing like a stack of mail to bring one back to reality. As I stood in the kitchen separating the wheat from the chaff, I brightened at the sight of two little envelopes addressed to “Nonie and Papa.” I recognized my daughter’s open, looping script, but I knew the little notes inside were from our granddaughters. I smiled because my daughter “got the memo.” Writing a note of gratitude is a little nicety that was handed down through the generations of our families. Notes of thanks are not required, but they are oh so appreciated. My daughter seems intent on continuing the tradition.
As I read the notes, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different they were. Each reflected the spirit and personality of the girl who wrote it. One showed the meticulous effort of my eldest granddaughter. From the beginning she has excelled with words, vocabulary, and creative thought beyond her years. However, the written word requires an extraordinary effort to decode what her brain sees into a logical sequence for others to read. As I looked at the note so carefully penned, I could see her sitting on her bed hunched over the wooden bed tray she uses as a desk. Her long hair gathered in a snatched up ponytail with a few escaped strands twirling through her fingers as she carefully listed each gift we gave her. I saw her mother or step-dad stopping by the doorway with perhaps a laundry basket in hand to gently urge her on, help with spelling, or applaud the incredible effort she put forth. The thoughtful note that lay on my counter closed with ”love, your granddaughter.” I smiled because, I would never forget who she was to me…my first grandchild, my namesake, my heart.
The second note also made me smile as it too reflected the personality of my younger granddaughter. Her words were scattershot across the card with a quick cross out and correction. There was no careful listing of gifts but just one quick catch all phrase, “thank you for all the gifts you gave me.” I, too, could picture her writing it, but she would be at the kitchen table in the midst of meal making or some other family activity. She would be surrounded and distracted by her two lovable, loping dogs. Possibly her pet turtle was there too cautiously traversing the chaos to munch on the “Romanian” lettuce she loves to feed him. This younger sister would be splayed in the chair with one foot behind ready to take off like a sprinter as soon as she was done. A parent might be urging her along, too. Perhaps a bit more firmly but no less lovingly than they nudged her older sister.
I marveled at how different these two siblings are. They are only a few years apart, raised by the same parents, in the same households, and yet each so unique. Like their hair color they are as deliciously different as chocolate and vanilla. As I looked down at the notes on my counter, I was filled with love and gratitude for my granddaughters. I realized in that moment that God looks at each of us with the same wonder and adoration. Suddenly, I felt this boundless love pour through me and enfold all of us in a warm embrace. The moment filled me with such peace, hope, and gratitude.
As I stood there basking in this wide open love, I couldn’t help but think of Thomas Merton standing on a St. Louis street corner and realizing his deep connection to the strangers that walked by. As he wrote in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
I wonder now as I read Merton’s words again, did the joy he felt on that day ebb and flow? My joy can flow in on the kind words of a child, a grandson’s chortle, or the lilt and lift of a hymn. Yet, it can easily roll out on a tide of disappointment, illness, or despair. Did Merton waltz through all his days as I sometimes do unperturbed, patient, and loving to all he encountered? Or did he have some days like mine so filled with complaint that he could scarcely acknowledge another human being much less love them?
I suspect the ebb and flow of my days has something to do with how I see the world. On those dark, selfish days my lens narrows. My focus turns inward and all I see are my own faults, failings, and worries. Suddenly, there is no room to see another because my concerns are enlarged and distorted by my diminished view. My narrowed lens whittles my field of vision to include only me and mine.
The remedy to this distorted view is often a quiet pulling in. Like a camera on a dark, cloudy day, some aperture within me needs to open and let in more light. Yet just as a camera needs a tripod, I, too, must find stillness or the images I see blur and remain out of focus. Often all it takes is a solitary walk outside, a talk with a cherished friend, or simply being still enough to notice and reflect. On this day it was a quiet moment at my kitchen counter that filled me with gratitude and wonder for not only my granddaughters but for the love that is heaped upon all of us.
I suppose this is what St. Paul meant by taking on the mind of Christ [Phillippians 2: 5-11]. I don’t believe that he was asking his followers to be divine or even perfect but to see the humanity and the divinity that resides in each of us. The only way I know how to take on the mind of Christ is to widen my lens beyond my own fears, worries and misconceptions. When I look through this wider lens, I see and know the light that shines in all of us.
© Catherine Hause