Category Archives: Resilience

The Resilience of Hope

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, I put a table with colored chalk and hand sanitizer near my front sidewalk with a sign reading, “Please draw a picture or message of hope. Please use sanitizer before and after. Stay safe. Stay well.”

Almost instantly, people began drawing and writing. When rain washed away the chalk, they drew new pictures. Week by week the pattern continues: hope drawn, hope gone, hope drawn. The resilience of hope visible on my sidewalk.

When I first set out the chalk, I had no idea what would happen. Would we become the crazy people with chalk in front of their house? Would anyone draw? Would it matter? Like priming the pump at a fundraiser, I drew a smiley face to get things started, then took my dogs for a walk.

By the time I returned, there were pictures on the sidewalk. Within days, there were rainbows, flowers, stars, a car and a unicorn. There have been trucks, cats, dogs, houses, families, and smiley faces–even one wearing a mask. Today there are fireworks, pets, mountains, and flowers on my sidewalk.

I was moved by what people drew that first week. I was awed. I still am.

Some people draw, others write messages: Believe hope will come. We will get through this. Love, Peace, Hope. Be Kind. Wash your hands. Thanks for letting us draw. Together.

My sidewalk makes people smile in an otherwise grim time.

People have been leaving messages and drawing pictures ever since. Some people pause to look at the drawings and smile as they continue walking. Parents have said my sidewalk is their child’s favorite part of their daily walk. Teens have shown me which pictures they drew and messages they wrote. Adults have thanked me for giving them a place to share. The sidewalk project has helped build a sense of community that counters our isolation. When I need a lift, I walk out to my sidewalk and feel hopeful that we will make it through.

As the weeks pass and the world around us changes, so, too, have the messages changed. They began with “Stay safe; Wash your hands; Love, Joy, Hope; Hope will come.” After the killing of George Floyd, they’ve included “Black Lives Matter,” and “This Sidewalk Is a Blessing.” June arrived and “Happy Pride Month” appeared. This weekend, someone wrote “Just Mask Up or Stay Home” in beautiful colors. Always, there are messages of “Be kind; It will be OK; We’ll get through this.”

Today the sidewalk art includes green mountains beneath a blue sky and yellow sun, “Black Lives Matter, Just Mask Up or Stay Home,” a house, fireworks, a dog saying “Woof,” and flowers. When my own green shoots of hope wilt in the face of the day’s news, I stand at my sidewalk and feel hopeful.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” says Mother Teresa. I can’t do great things to change the world, but I can do small things with love. One of those small things is to set out chalk and sanitizer and create a canvas for people to share dreams, resilience, and hope with others.

Even when it’s washed away, hope is resilient. Breathe it in: We will make it through.

Finding Calm in the Coronavirus Storm

Each night as I try to fall asleep, I can’t help but imagine dying of coronavirus pneumonia in a hospital without my family. I turn my mind to God and fall asleep.

Each day, I think about the reality that people I love will certainly die in the next three months. Who will care for their families? Will I be one of the grieving or the dead, or both? The grief around us will become overwhelming as it is now in other parts of the world. As someone said recently, the freight train coming towards us in the U.S. has become a bullet train. I push the thoughts out of my mind and go about my day.

Several times each day, I imagine the people who are sit at their kitchen table wonder how to pay their bills and rent, buy groceries, and care for their loved ones after suddenly losing their jobs. At other times, I think about the thousands of homeless people and refugees with no way to wash their hands and clean their belongings frequently, and no way to self-quarantine to stay safe. How terrifying that must be. I say a quick prayer for them.

At other times I think about those who risk their lives and their families to work on our behalf, among them medical personnel from doctors, nurses, Certified Nurse Attendants to custodians; grocery and delivery workers, utility workers, first responders; government and community leaders; military personnel; transit drivers; Meals on Wheels providers; nursing home staff; reporters; and factory, farm, and warehouse workers. I am awed by their courage and commitment to the common good. With an aching heart, I lift a prayer on the wind.

I think of those who must still go to work because their bosses require them to do so, those who cannot afford to stay home, and the 70% of workers whose jobs cannot be done from home. These are brave people, whether they consider themselves brave or not, for whom I am unspeakably grateful and afraid. Be with them, God, and with their loved ones.

I don’t have children at home who need my attention, steadiness, love, and assurance, and for whom I need to be an referee or instant teacher as we remain in quarantine. It’s only my husband and I who will get cabin fever, feel bored, anxious, or irritable. Fortunately, we have a steady source of income and haven’t lost jobs. As an epidemiologist said recently, streaming Netflix while sitting on our sofa doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything to save the world, but we are. Not spreading the virus saves loved ones, caregivers, the world.

I know I am not alone in these feelings. I invite you to pause and pray for all of the people above, some names known to you but most unknown. Pray each day in your own words or with no words. If you are not a praying person, use the guided meditation below.

Breathe slowly several times. Settle your heart. Hold person or group in your mind. Imagine a gentle breeze of peace moving over and around them. Imagine them growing calm, then filling with wisdom and insight. Imagine a path opening before them through a forest and that the Holy One who created the universe will hold them and care for them as they walk that path, no matter what comes. Let that same peace and confidence and courage enter your being, as well. Breathe. Open your eyes and continue your day.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be at peace. The Holy One who created the universe will hold you and care for you in the days ahead, no matter what comes.

Cracked Pots, Mended

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for days to perfect this post on imperfection. Yes, I see the irony in that statement. I need to let go of the struggle for perfection and get on with it. Certainly, I don’t want grammatical errors in my writing, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about life and all that comprises it. I need to remember that perfection in life is more fungible than many of us realize.

Kintsugi Pottery Honors Imperfection

Hand built and hand-painted ceramic bowl broken during the firing process was repaired by Kintsugi. Created by Ruthann Hurwitz, The Village Potter

Ruthann Hurwitz [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

One of my favorite reminders to hold an expansive view of perfection is Kintsugi, a style of Japanese ceramic repair dating from the 15th century. In Kintsuge, a ceramist repairs broken or cracked pottery with silver or gold, and sometimes other materials. The repairs make the ceramic unique, bringing undeniable beauty from what had been broken. It becomes more beautiful for having been broken. It is tedious, but ultimately exquisite.

This style of ceramic repair is influenced by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect; and mottainai, a feeling of regret when something is wasted; as well as mushin, the acceptance of change. Kintsugi reminds us that our broken places can be sources of goodness and beauty.

The boy and The Water Jugs

According to folklore, a boy had to carry water a long distance every day in two jugs that hung from a pole across his shoulders. One jug was whole, the other cracked. The cracked jug was only half full each day when he reached home, while the other jug was still filled to the brim.

As the boy trudged along one day, the jugs begin to speak (as they can in folktales).  The uncracked jug boasted about its perfection, saying,

“I am such a good and perfect jug. I do my work just right.  You, on the other hand, are lousy and worthless.  Your purpose in life is to carry water from the well back to the village but day after day, year after year, only half of your water makes it home.  You’re always going to be like this.  I think that somebody should get a new jug and replace you.” 

The cracked jug was devastated.  It called out to God , “Why have you done this to me? Why is my jug cracked?  I am no good.”  The boy heard the conversation and the jug’s anguished plea to God.  He responded to the jug, saying,

“Yes, you are cracked.  I’ve known that for a long, long time.  But your crack doesn’t make you worthless.  Look at the side of the road below your partner jug. It is dry and barren, and nothing grows there.  Now, look at the side of the road below you.  Do you see the line of wildflowers all along the road?  They flourish because the water that drips slowly from your cracked jug gives life to what would not otherwise exist all along the road we travel.  Through the crack in your otherwise perfect jug, you have brought life and beauty to an otherwise desolate and barren stretch of road.  I will not exchange you for another pot, nor will I let anyone discount the good that your crack has done

The Wisdom of IMperfection

Life keeps reminding me that I need not follow the stern internal voices calling for a particular type of perfection. That striving too hard for perfection kills the joy of life and relationships. That taking a deep breath and experiencing the goodness of “imperfection” elicits gratitude. That what I consider an imperfection or broken place in my life may be a way for me to bring beauty, healing, and wholeness to others.

After all, as Leonard Cohen says, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem, by Leonard Cohen).