Kathleen Hirsch | Attention
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Attention

Colored Chalk Before It Rains

How wonderful is colored chalk?  And did you ever stop wishing you could squat down with a thick stick of bright pink or yellow or green and bring the world up to the standards of your dreams?

Children’s graffiti is always revelation.   The other day I stumbled upon a small cache of dreams right there on the asphalt of the park, by a bench that undoubtedly held a mother or some suitable female substitute, while two girls made the world a brighter and happier place.

It takes so little.

In response, I offer my own bits of wishful thinking for the start of the last precious month of meandering thoughts and bright blue moons…

Love your friends

and your friends’ children;

Be generous.

Live by grace.

Practice positive regard.

Be unstinting.

Pursue excellence.

Wear your mother’s jewelry.

Loan your favorite books.

Bring gifts back from your travels.

Dance – whenever you can!

Look those who serve you in the eye.

Be Grateful.

Listen.

Practice infinite patience.

Especially when this is hard to do.

Protect innocence.

Honor beauty.

Conduct your life as if goodness and love were the highest names for the holy

and you its nearest willing host.

Just saying…

 

 

 

6

The Season of Weddings

The other day driving in the country, we found ourselves behind a small silver Honda, banged up, a bit rusty and worn by many winters.  Hanging on the back was a faded, wind-lashed sign that looked as if it had been there for years:  Just Married.

I love the season of weddings.

The mother of a son, I love being let in on conversations about dresses and flowers and rehearsal dinners.  What kind of event to hold, and how to make the ceremony meaningful and fresh?

I love the details of fixing up the house, gardens and patios, so that they look their best.  And when it’s show time, who doesn’t well up, hearing the processional music, watching the children clumsily strewing flowers down paths in advance of the bride, or listening to the low, earnest voices of the couple – who we knew as little ones, building Lego castles on our living room rug — as they exchange vows?

Maybe I’m getting soft with age, but I actually loved that Honda, decked out with its silly poster.   Just like I love looking at the photos, long after the event is over, and remembering who I was standing next to for the toast, what new friends I made, how the cake tasted (after all the hand-wringing over who would bake it), who had a bit too much to drink.

Weddings are about so much more than the event itself.  Even in this age of casual, and Lazy Susan “life choices,” they are great, life-defining moments.

I am grateful beyond words to be included in the joy, and am always good for a glass of champagne.   But more than this, to attend a wedding involves me, as little else can, in the narrative of a couple’s life going forward — which, those of us older than the young couple know, will never be as easy as they imagine.  If children come, I will feel a kinship that only such moments of belonging inspire.  If careers wobble or change, if help is needed, by standing in the company of witnesses, I am saying in so many words, “I will be there for you.”

And when, as the years go by, the albums are pulled out for laughs, I am grateful to know that I’ll be part of the memories, as those friends I no longer see are dear players in my own.  To be invited to a wedding confers a special value.  It is intimacy shared with those who matter most.

This is one of the geniuses of the old notion of sacrament.  In the strict meaning of the word, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward grace.  But the power of sacrament is its communal nature.  A thing is made holy by being shared.   In few places is this as obvious as at weddings.

I have been a guest at two weddings this season, both the children of dear friends.  The planning, the crises and fine details became, over the course of their year-long preparations, the stuff of friendship’s growth and the deepening of already-close ties.  When there was a conflict over the dress, or the need to sample wines, these became threads of conversation.  Even before they happened, weddings drew us closer on countless morning walks and long-distance calls; long after they are past, a new richness informs our bonds.

They are the way that we sustain a sense of continuity, of belonging, of family.

The silver Honda brought it all back.

It can be easy in these times to feel left out in the cold, so how wonderful to be welcomed into the warmth!  We’ve sipped champagne and danced and felt the joy coursing through us.  We have welcomed a beautiful young woman from South Carolina and a talented, funny, infinitely kind young man from Connecticut, into our circle of beloveds.

We’ll cherish those good times with friends who have become family until we fall off our personal chassis.

 

 

 

 

5

Welcome to The Conversation

Welcome to the re-launch of my blog!

The past two months have been a flurry of travel and work, visits to beautiful places and connection with friends not seen in years.

All have made me aware that beyond the realms of the daily strivings – even, the hours of creativity and actions to better the world –  friendship is the most precious thing that we share, something so valuable that I have changed this site to reflect it.

The change is towards dialogue.   My hope is that this will become a place where we pool the insights of our passing days to sustain us on our journeys.   I hope my stories and reflections will inspire yours, that you will chime in, and that this will become a space of gathered wisdom for all who care to visit.

I am calling it: The Conversation.

The Conversation will rely on your Comments – please note the added feature here.

Stay tuned.  I am in the process of creating other opportunities for gathering – in person and virtually.

But now, a brief offering from my time away.

A dear friend passed away yesterday after four valiant years of battling cancer.  I can still see Deborah at her 50th birthday party, twenty-odd years ago.  She had rented a small performance space in Boston, set up café tables for us, her audience, and for an hour dazzled and delighted us with her virtuoso piano playing and singing from on stage.

I’m sure that night most of us were thinking,  “Wow – would I ever have the guts to do this?!?!?”

But not Deborah.  She was fearless, exuberant, sensational – bold, humorous, and delighted by life.  Always.  Mostly, she was thrilled to be with friends, giving us the pleasure of her talents, capabilities, and vast stores of Texan humor, that lit up every room she ever entered.

All of us who knew her will carry her light to the end of our days, and hopefully cast a bit of it for others before our last breaths.

Rediscovering the grace and original blessing of friends had been the gift of these past few months for me.  I’ve gathered with old high school friends also struggling with illness, pulled out wedding albums and newspaper clippings from childhood, shared meals and stories, reacquainted with their children, and done those silly, remarkably meaningful things like recalling the flavors of lollipops at the amusement part we frequented as 12 years old.

Can it get better than this — that I have friends with whom I can share such memories?

None of these conversations were about who’s right or wrong, who’s up or down, who has been to the latest restaurant or has something to say about the book they are reading.  They haven’t been filled with obsessive worrying.  They haven’t even been about the ample topics we’ve made the time to catch up on.

Not at all.

These things are fine in moderation, the wholecloth of our daily rounds.  But the “conversations” I’m describing have had value chiefly in the words beneath the spoken words.

They’ve been about vulnerability, trust, and self-disclosure.  Even when we’ve been talking about coconut-flavored lollipops, we’ve been engaged in exchanges of the heart, a flow of communion, support and love that words just dress in temporal garb.

I hope that such meaningful conversation will continue here, and become a wellspring for us all.

Please join me!

Happy Summer

7

The All New “Attention Collection”

I spent some time this week with a smart, provocative book by David Dark.  It’s called life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious.

Dark is an unlikely prophet for yours truly – an evangelical former English teacher turned theology professor in Nashville.  But since he teaches college-aged seekers as I do, I was interested in his take on things.

If you like being challenged to consider the autopilot mode that keeps sending you back to your church, or the Starbuck’s on the way to work, or the Internet – that self-satisfied voice that keeps telling you you have it all together – this is a book for you.

His best wake-up call is one I want to give a shout-out to here.

Dark tells us that we all need an Attention Collection.

I love this.  It makes me think of the little figurines my grandmother gathered when she had a few extra pennies.  The quarters from every state my son once painstakingly collected (he never quite got to all 50).

Dark says that we need to see what we see.

Easier said than done.

We need to pay better attention than we do just hurrying through our daily lists and hop to the addictive techno-twitches that offer instant gratification and long-term emptiness.

We need to notice the hawk on the bough, remember the inspiring poem we heard on the radio, the look in the eyes of the 10 year olds along for a college tour with the sibling they would too soon have to say goodbye to.  What we truly attend to seeps into our beings and forms the mind and soul that we are.

As a lifelong keeper of writer’s notebooks, a hoarder of overheard conversations, lines written on the back of receipts, I can’t say enough about this concept.

Dark writes,  We have an obligation “to make sure you’re still taking on this business of being awake to yourself – to be a witness to your own experience, to listen to your own life, to see what you’ve seen…What could be more socially essential, more sacred?”

Once we begin to see the sacredness of the smallest particular (Blake’s great cri du coeur), we start to have a better sense of how good work gets done.  (As opposed to a lot of the work we actually do, by the way.)

Attention is a miracle.  It is the gift we are given, first, to see what we see, and then to share it.  We get to sift through our grab bag of impressions and insights each and every day, and decide which items are worth passing along.  In the process, we get smarter and better about what we don’t need to erode our precious, miraculous attention on.  A major fringe benefit.

Sharing our “attention collection” is the ultimate act of collaboration with the great project of consciousness.  We give little gifts of goodness, value, hope by sharing what we have been fed by.  Daily bread.

I’m seeing what I see much more vividly, thank to Dark.

“The surest evidence of what we believe is what we do,” Dark writes.

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