Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pulling Gratitude from the Air by Angie Ledbetter

My day hasn't started out well. I'm late with my blog post because I didn't check my calendar to see it was my turn. I hate when I do "stoopid" things like that. I don't mean to imply that I think our lovely YOG blog readers are anxiously pacing, waiting for Ledbetter's pearls of wisdom to arrive on their computer monitors; it just makes me aggravated at myself for the screw-up. But after a few seconds, I can smile and laugh at my foibles. We're all human. "Things" happen to our plans from time to time. No big deal.

*Deep breath* Okay, I'm better now. I've been thinking a lot about being thankful for the little things, and have written on that subject before. Today I'm grateful for friends who care about me...who make a long long long distance phone call to make sure I'm okay, since I'm not usually late with posting. *Waving to Kat!* I'm oh-so-glad Mom had a really good night last night and that we've visited, laughed and talked together. After she wakes from her nap, we will make a banana pudding together for my cutie patootie godson.

Yes, I'm grateful for the ordinariness of days and for the most extraordinary and exquisite awareness that my days could be dull and routine and lacking any excitement. Even the sort that makes you fly to the computer to write a late blog post. LOL.

All is well. All is as it should be. Now...back to that banana pudding recipe. May your days be filled with calm during storms, serenity in the face of bad "stuff," and thankfulness for whatever comes your way.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Falling for fall by Kat Magendie

My little log house is busy today, busy with being fall. This is Saturday, a few days before you all will read this YOG post, and on the television is the roaring cry of the crowd as they cheer on their team—college football is back in full swing. Tucked in between the roar and the shouts are commercials with beer and trucks and ducks selling insurance. There are men in helmets and uniforms, there is the crowd in their teams’ colors, there is the green field, the popcorn, soft drinks, hotdogs, the referees with their black and white stripes, the sweeping views of the college towns during breaks in the game.

I reach over and press the mute button when a particularly annoying commercial (wait, “annoying commercial” isn’t that an oxymoron?) is on, and there is this perfect fall afternoon happening right outside my screen door. The creek happy with the recent rain, a mother cardinal feeds a very loud and very insistent baby cardinal—I laugh at how he crosses from one side of the feeder to the other, squeak-squawking and shaking his tail feathers in impatience (the mother ignores him, and this makes me smile)—and a wind in the trees blows leaves up and around, the early dried leaves rustling. Here and there orange, red, and yellow tip the leaves on some of the trees in our cove, and there are giant vines that flame scarlet as they wind around, splashing a shot of red within the green. The air smells crisp and if I were to place my nose close to the ground, I’d smell the musty decay of foliage already fallen away. The mornings and evenings have turned cool, and I’ve retrieved my heavier bathrobe. In the little valley below, the city has begun to put up fall decorations: bales of hay, pumpkins, corn, and tall straw bundles. I saw the first Halloween advertisement a few minutes ago.

I am grateful to be sitting here on my couch, right here, right now, listening, watching, smelling the signs of fall. And there’s more to come: leaves will color in the Smokies and inspire art, poetry, song, and prose; there will be apple cider in the little tourist’s shops, first frost will dust the ridges and housetops, and peeking around the corner are the holidays. If spring is about re-birth, fall and then winter is the preparation for regeneration, the resting before the rising. The sleep after a long wake.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Algonquin by Barbara Quinn

My favorite spot for a drink and a chat in Manhattan is The Algonquin Hotel. The lobby is set up like a living room, filled with overstuffed couches and chairs that have comfy pillows to prop up your back. You walk in, sit down, and feel right at home immediately.It’s such an oasis of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city. The staff never intrudes and you'll find people reading quietly. For the price of one drink, (avoid the special drinks to keep the bill down) they will leave you be for hours and will provide a bowl of munchies. On the back wall there’s a painting of the famous people that used to hang out at the Algonquin including, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, and Harpo Marx. They met for lunch daily, exchanging witticisms, from 1919 to 1929 as the writer's Round table, and were known as The Vicious Circle.This hotel is the oldest operating hotel in New York and was one of the first to welcome women. Their house cat, always Matilda if a female, Hamlet if a male, has a chaise at the front door, and gets a birthday party each year. There's even a discounted lunch for struggling writers though it's probably still too expensive. And take a peek at the hallways whose wallpaper is made up of New Yorker cartoons.

The Algonquin is at 59 W. 44th Street, a short walk from the theater district. It’s always a treat to stop there after a show to dissect what we’ve seen with friends. This part of Manhattan has parking on the street and that’s another nice draw. Saturday, we parked on the street directly across from The Algonquin. Then we walked a short distance to a “Muni-Meter” and paid for two hours of parking.($4) We took the slip from the meter and placed it inside on our windshield. If there are no Muni-Meter spots available there’s always the Hippodrome indoor garage which is right opposite The Algonquin and is reasonable.

There’s lots of history not only at the Algonquin but on this block. Next door to The Algonquin is The Iroquois, a place where James Dean lived for several years. The New York Yacht Club (left) whose facade is cast to resemble the front of a ship is nearby.

I’m grateful each time I plop down in the Algonquin's lobby and soak in the history and tradition of the place.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chaos Theory. by Patresa Hartman

Today, while dressing for the treadmill at the gym, I heard a newscastor on CNN say that the economy discussions and the Presidential debates will yield consequences for "every man, woman, and child on the planet."

That's a pretty big deal. That's an umbrella of a deal, a mushroom cloud of a deal.

Everything feels big big big in this global, political climate. The newspaper is enormous and should weigh 1000 pounds with the weight of the stories it tells. TV news broadcasts life-size through a pixilated screen. I don't think my eyes or my brain are spacious enough to handle all of this giganticness; I watch with only one eye open. My skeletal frame is not designed for world weights.

And so I feel it is no coincidence that I have been noticing butterflies everywhere.

It is September, and the year's last generation of monarchs are migrating south. The last of spring and summer, this population is tasked with the trek to warmer weather to mate and lay more eggs. Preparing for their journies, they flutter across roads, spiral through parking lots, bob zigzag in the backyard. And they are beautiful.

I have developed a new habit of thanking every butterfly I see. I thank winged lovelies for all they add to the world. By this, I refer only peripherally to the butterfly effect in chaos theory. And I refer only marginally to the idea of metamorphosis and breaking free from tightly wound cocoons. These are charming details about the butterfly, but what I find most intriguing is that it lasts in butterfly form for as little as fourteen days. This intricately painted winged insect -- such marked grace, peace, and beauty -- occupies only the tiniest of space in the physical and chronological world. (If I had more space, I would suggest our human world is no larger when you boil it down to proportions.)

How can this small creature carry such large significance? While the rest of the world talks bailouts and international economy -- while two men debate for the role of next world leader -- why do I concern myself with insects in the driveway?

It is no trivial concern to be grateful for butterflies in September. They bring me focus -- a reminder to zoom lens into tiny glimpses of loveliness in a world so weighted by conflict.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TGIF by Angie Ledbetter

Yay, it's Friday, and in honor of the end of another work and school week, I think I'm going to treat myself to a haircut. (Not the usual kind I get on the run from Super Duper Bill's that costs $9.95, but the real kind, in a real salon.) Although I'm saying, "TGIF" because it's almost time for the weekend, I'm sure my kids are saying it for another reason -- Thank Goodness It's Fixed, meaning Mom's hair.

While at the salon, I'm hoping the professionals there can wave their magic wands, sprinkle on the magic dust, and utter the proper incantations to bring this client from a look which resembles hair in a windstorm to something more befitting a woman with pride in self.

So, even if my vision of loveliness doesn't come true, at least I'll enjoy the luxury of having my hair washed and pampered as I lean my smocked self back in the reclining chair. And just for today, my bad hair day will be someone else's responsibility. Now, that's something worth being grateful for!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Super(market) Woman by Kat Magendie

Long ago, I was the grocery-maker, but now, I feel rather useless, since Roger does most of the cooking and therefore shopping. I pick up an errant item here and there, and tote it around the store until I catch up to Roger, wherein I’ll flop it in the basket with a, “I need that boodledeedoos for blahditydah,” and he’ll nod distractedly and keep on going—I’ve never seen anyone plow through a grocery like he does. I sighed my way down the animalfood aisle when a woman said, “So many cat foods to choose from.” I hesitated: Do I say, “Well, if I had a cat, I’d buy this one here because the cat looks all happy go snappy...” (although all the cats on all the brands look happy). Do I ignore her because she’s just doing that thing people do? Is she thinking, “Oh, there’s a woman aimlessly walking and sighing, so I guess I have to say something aloud or else there will be a vacuum of nothingness and besides I like the sound of my voice.” I walked on, la tee dah.

In the soup aisle, I picked up two cans of tomato and a can of Vegetarian Vegetable. A very old woman latched onto me with a desperate look and said, “”Where is the rice?” I said, “Oh, um…” I had no idea! I suddenly felt responsible for the old woman. I said, “Let’s try the next aisle,” and we shuffled there, and thank gawd a mighty, there was rice, but it was weird rice, not rice-rice. She looked at me with disappointed eyes, and I, frantic to please her, walked a bit farther down the aisle, and there! Glorious bags of rice! I shouted out to the old woman who was still staring at the weird rice, “Here they are! The Riceseses!” She inched over, and I hurried to go, hoping to throw my soup into the basket before Roger checked out; but a hand reached out and snatched me back. The old woman said in her wavering voice, “I want the rice that has chicken and it’s in a box.” Oh No! I scanned the rows upon rows, and finally, There! I said, rather sreechingly and desperately and stupid grinningly, “There! Rice in a box! Rice in a box!” and when she nodded, I hurried off, barely making it to the checkout in time with my soups.

I walked on my toes, my step lighter; I was smiling instead of sighing; and if I had just a few more minutes, I’d go find that woman in the catfood aisle and say, “That right there is the cat food your cat will love!” and her gratitude would flow across grocery land, onto another customer, who would flow it forward and beyond. By the way, the old woman never thanked me, but I knew she was grateful. I knew as surely as I will stalk the grocery aisles again, waiting for a chance to Save the Day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Last Day Game by Barbara Quinn

(My brother Tony, me, brother-in-law Chris, son Bret)

Being at Yankee Stadium for the last day game of the season was memorable and gratifying. I’ve been going to that Stadium for my whole life. I was born in the Bronx and it was natural to become a Yankees fan under the tutelage of my fan parents. My husband, who was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Staten Island, is even more of a fan, and a repository of Yankee history. We both passed the love of the Yanks on to our son.

For the last game the faithful in my family gathered at the Stadium: my brother, Tony, my husband Tom, his brother Chris, my son Bret, his brother-in-law, Christopher. All those brothers and me. It was a glorious day in many ways. The sun shone brightly, the sky was crystal blue, the infield sparkling green. Overhead the NYPD helicopters kept watch letting us know we would be all right.

The game was tied at 0-0 till the ninth inning. Thanks to a thrilling bottom of the ninth inning hit by Robinson Cano, the Yanks won the game. They may be out of the running for the post-season, but this game had a post-season feel to it. Everyone was on their feet, shouting and hollering so loudly that you couldn’t hear anything above the noise. It’s always been an awesome place when the crowd thunders that way. I’m going to miss the Stadium rocking. I’m even going to miss seeing Cousin Brewski hawk overpriced beers.

But off in the distance through a gap in the Stadium the new Stadium loomed, pristine and watchful, ready to welcome us next year to a new season in a new place.

It’s like being transplanted from one plot of land to another. We’ll take root there and thrive. It won’t be the same. But it’ll be good and I’ll be lucky to be there, roots down, and rooting with the fans again for our home team waiting for the victory song of Frank Sinatra's New York, New York to fill the stadium.

(My brother Tony, brother-in-law Chris, me, and my husband Tom, at the last day game at Yankee Stadium)

(the last day game at Yankee Stadium)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Segue to Morning. by Patresa Hartman

I am grateful for the early mornings, for the wee hours, for the tiny space between dark and light. This space seems to be where my focus concentrates. My ambitions turn into productivity in these early hours.

I have written of this before, I believe, and I think there is a reason I keep coming back to the cycles of the day -- how they match the cycles of my mind, of my body. I am thirsty for fresh beginnings; how fortunate that we get one every 24 hours.

I cannot get away from the messages the day brings and the nature of the things that surround me. I think what I love so much about early morning, really, aside from the productivity and the innate rejuvenation, is how in tune I feel before the traffic of the day begins. My being is alight as the day starts. I am clear.

I don't feel this in the evenings. I think I go about my day being tugged and pulled and sucked out of my skeletal shell. My evenings are spent trying to reunite my flesh and my soul, trying to re-stack myself like finely painted Russian dolls. It is hard work, this body-spirit alignment. By the time morning has come to visit again, the cycle of separate and blend has completed and I am whole.

I write this entry in the evening, after a day of static and friction. I have rubbed elbows and given directions. I have resisted friction and rolled with friction and tripped under friction. I have been propelled by friction and delayed by friction. Before beginning my gratitude post, as I stared at this blinking cursor, all this beautiful white space, I have had vivid memories of a day full of friction, and I have asked, "What am I grateful for? What I am grateful for?" And there is much -- there is even gratitude for the friction (as I know it serves its purpose well). But what I keep coming back to is morning.

I am grateful for the sleep that will carry me to a new cycle, or a continued cycle -- depending on your angle. At the end of this day, I am grateful for the purpose it has served to carry me forward into the purpose of tomorrow -- an endless stream of seamless segues.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Passing Out the Gratitude by Angie Ledbetter

My heart expands when I take the time to think about what fills me with hope, joy and gratitude.

What are these things? You know them well, and I am pretty sure they are the same things that make you happy. If you are taking the time to read this Year of Gratitude blog, then you're probably the kind of person who cares about non-material, lasting stuff vs. transitory "treasures."

The heart-swelling items on my Eternal Gratitude List are *the true friends I am blessed to know and who so often uplift me, *family which has given me strong roots and right priorities, *my children and stepchildren, *neighbors who care about each other, *volunteers -- especially those who travel to storm torn states to restore wholeness, *public servants who never forget to serve, *good teachers and others who add caring and goodness to the lives of children, and *nice people in general who are not thanked enough for, well, their niceness. All of these people increase the world's love quotient. And we can never have enough of that!

Let's take a moment today to appreciate those who add positives to our lives, homes, communities, and planet. Most likely, they'll blush or turn down the thanks, but that's okay too. We'll still be adding more good energy and prayer power to the attitude ether.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Advertising, Forehead Butt, and Me by Kat Magendie

I was watching television (a completely mindless but necessary to my sanity condition I allow myself only on certain times of the evening) when I suddenly felt Not Young. For example, the twenty-something woman as representative for a wrinkle cream; I mean really! Wait until she has my forehead butt and then she can tout the “erase the hands of time” lotions (more like claws of time, or shovels of time...). And if you are wondering what a forehead butt is, just take a gander at the photo to the right. There, right between my eyes: Forehead Butt! You can thank my brother Johnny for naming my deep worry wrinkle set there by time and circumstance and deep deep thoughts, like this deep thought post I’m writing (ahem).

Then there’s the feminine product commercials. I never thought I’d be wistful about those ugly little tubes full of cotton attached to cotton string, when upon “wearing” said contraption, one feels like some strange "pull the string" talking doll, complete with Three Delightful Sayings: “Leave! Me! Alone!” “GO AWAY!” and the one that makes the doll's brows meet in the middle and the mouth straighten into a thin dangerous line, “What do you mean is it my time of the month?” Yet, I want to shout to the screen, “Enjoy it while you got it, sister!” But then again, it’s really nice not to have to worry about PMS: Pissed Manic Screamer, and etcetera.

Even the “older people” on television commercials aren’t allowed to get old. There’s things to inflate you, things to unwrinkle you, things to make you soft, things to make you hard, things to give you hair and things to take away hair, there’s vitamins and tonics and lotions and pills and needles full of stuff that used to be bad for you but somehow makes your face immovable and, um, "perfect"—so you don’t get the forehead butt, *sigh*

Despite Clueless Advertising, I feel incredibly grateful for my health and well-being. I’m even grateful for television—how else would I sit drooling on my couch with glazed-over eyes, stuffing microwave popcorn down my gullet, waiting for the next image to entertain me? Now, if I could just get rid of this forehead butt…I wonder if eating lots of chocolate and drinking a vodka tonic will do? That'll gratitude me for sure!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gratitude for the Germ Tamers by Barbara Quinn

I have a head cold, so today I am grateful for Nyquil and Hall’s cough drops. These two items allow me to get through the days and nights without coughing my head off. It’s so strange to have your body taken over by a pesky virus which is akin to a messy houseguest who doesn’t leave after a day or two. You have no choice but to ride out the unwanted presence, knowing that in a few days life will return to normal. And times like this make me grateful for my general good health which I know will have me back to feeling right soon. What I dislike most right now is the coughing fits. They seize me at unpredictable times. Yesterday, I was in the supermarket selecting steaks for dinner when the coughing started and was so intense my eyes began to water. I retreated to a quiet aisle and reached for my Hall’s cough drops. In a few seconds that soothing cough drop dispatched the tickle in the back of my throat. I could return to my shopping which was truncated to gathering the necessities. Since I had been away I needed to get food into the house. Otherwise I’d have stayed in bed sipping tea and reading, and keeping my germs to myself. But we needed to eat, so I did a quick shop and returned home.

The steaks were barbecued and superb, and so was the Aglianico wine that we drank with them. After dinner I felt a lot better. But as soon as I lay down to sleep the coughing started again. I was ready with my bottle of Nyquil. One dose and I was soon in cough-free sleepland.

Thank you Hall’s and Nyquil for vanquishing the symptoms of my cold! If I could figure out how to prevent myself from falling victim to those viruses, I’d be even more grateful. Till then, I plan to stock up on cough syrup and cough drops.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Grand in Small. by Patresa Hartman

We had breakfast for dinner tonight. It is the second night this week we have reversed our night with our day, our morning bread with our evening snack. And there is something liberating about it. We might as well have worn our underpants out and our top hats in.

I like the periodic reversal. I like to occasionally flip flop small details of my existence and see what the world looks like from its opposite end. Small -- such small little shake ups -- waves ripple big into my whole day, my whole week, and I am walking lighter.

My husband and I are currently flip flopping our living space. We (that is to say, the professionals we hired) have ripped down a heavy plastered wall, uprooted green linoleum, and laid fresh strips of hard wood. When the floors are sanded and varnished, when they are dry and the light fixtures replaced, when we have painted over the current jade with a dark burnt sienna, we will make the piano room the living room and the living room the piano room.

Already the transformation is huge. I descend the steps from our attic bedroom in the mornings and it is an early morning adventure. It takes at least 30 seconds to re-remember where I am and that what has happened was on purpose.

The details are small, and we are delighted. We are delighted with the new light switches; we are delighted with the hole cut for the new ceiling fan; we are delighted with the paint samples fanned out on the kitchen counter. Such tiny steps. Small ripples.

I am grateful for the grand power of small changes.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Great Girl Getaway by Angie Ledbetter

My sisters and I took our mom on a little journey a few days ago. I'm sure we were all hoping for various outcomes from our trip to a Mississippi Coast casino, but I got exactly what I wanted. Was it a big, fat, Greek jackpot win? A day of R&R off life's hamster wheel? Grazing at the casino's legendary buffet?

None of that crossed my mind, although any of it would've been a nice bonus. No, what I hoped and prayed for was a good time for our mother. She's always dearly loved spending time in front of a video poker machine, and hasn't gotten to do that very much in the last year since becoming ill. But, durn it, we made that trip and she had a blast in the jingling, jangling, flashing casino!

I'm filled with gratitude and honor for the opportunity to make our girl's escape. It was fun and it made memories that will stay with me forever...especially this look on Mom's face:

{Photo by Angie Ledbetter}

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Embracing My Brain by Kat Magendie

There are days I rail against the way my brain works. Especially if I feel it is holding me back from something I want to do as I see others do it. Math is one of those things. Being in a crowd of people is another. My writing is yet one other way. I’d always thought about the writing process as just what it was: I sit down; I write; the story comes out. When asked for the plot, I never have a quick answer. For, it seems, I do not think in plots, but instead in abstracts—my characters are abstract, the time and place and circumstance is fuzzy and furry and at a distance. It makes for good fun to write this way, for I simply have a character nudge me (and I may only see that characters eyes, mouth, hair, and I may hear them say, “This is how it is…”) and off I go. Yet, in that abstract comes traditional stories about family and friends and place and belonging—nothing really all that original. The originality is in the cracks and crevices, in the wording perhaps, or between the between.

Where I am envious of other writers is the ability to see the bigger picture, the entire world—the plot, if you will. When I ask of my brain to bring forth the bigger picture, the plot, the whole story, my brain balks, my brain splinters, my brain gives me a kaleidoscope of images flashing past so quickly that I can’t grab hold of them but one little image at a time, and I write that image down and go from there. All in all, its easier for me to just let my brain do its thing, write the story as it comes, and hope for the best. But, what would happen, I ask myself often, if I could draw out plots, if I paired my pretty good writing with a pretty good plot, and Voila~! Best seller! Ah, but alas, the same way I cannot stare at a painting, then close my eyes and picture the image but in parts and pieces and color, is the same way I cannot see my work as a whole until it is completely written.

Today, however, I have decided to embrace my brain. To be grateful for it. Surely in its way of interpreting my world, in the way it perceives data and love and lives and images and words and thoughts has served me well enough. And perhaps there are trade-offs. Perhaps if I saw in completes instead of parts, I’d not see things in the way I do, and in not seeing them in the way I do, perhaps I’d be writing plots, and in those plots I would perhaps have not met the characters who have come to me in visions of eyes, mouth, and hair. Perhaps I’d be someone else. Then I would not be me. Well. Now. There you go.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Gratitude by Noel Hynd

Five years ago, one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer. Seven months later, he passed away.

Another anecdote from the past: Several years ago, I was at the Detroit airport. Planes were late, overbooked, and overcrowded. One person in the group I was traveling with, someone I didn’t know well, was the calmest of those around me. He shrugged and smiled. “I’m just happy to be here,” he said.

Just happy to be here.

Back to the passing of my friend five years ago. My friend had been a tax attorney and had done quite well, working in New York and Brussels for several major firms. Shortly before his death, he said to me, “Here I am with all the money I could ever need. And I don’t have my health.” By age fifty-five, he was gone.

I made a decision shortly thereafter. I wished to do something out of my own gratitude for having more time on this earth. Several months later I was scanning at church one day when I saw a small item on the back page of that Sunday’s program. The church needed a few more volunteers for an upcoming annual one-week trip medical mission to Honduras. By coincidence, I had recently started taking lessons in Spanish. Sometimes everything falls together at once. Not long afterward, I was chosen to be a member of the mission. I would work in the three-person pharmacy, filling prescriptions from the 1000 pounds of medical supplies that we would lug with us.

The first trip came the following February. We bring doctors, nurses, counselors, translators and medical supplies to four remote communities in Honduras. One village is so remote that is a one mile trek up a mountain. The village has no electricity but 300 of the nicest people one would ever want to meet.

Now back to that airport in Detroit. I’m just happy to be here.

I later learned that the man who spoke those lines had himself been diagnosed with some horrible disease several years earlier. He had beaten the illness. So what difference would a little sleet storm make in his life? Not much. Lesson learned.

People like to tell us that it’s a wonderful thing we do each year, this mission to Honduras. My feeling is that it’s a wonderful thing that we are allowed to do. I look forward to the next trip to Honduras in February of 2009. I wouldn’t miss it. And I can honestly say, I will be very happy just to be there.

Noel Hynd lives in Culver City, California. He is the bestselling author of several highly acclaimed action/suspense thrillers which have been translated into 7 foreign languages around the world. His most recent, The Enemy Within, is a mass market paperback from Tor/Forge in August 2008. He has over four million books in print

Organizational Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

Since we’re in the midst of packing up for a cross-country trip, life is rather hectic. I’m figuring out what not to take along because I am trying to keep everything in one carryon bag so that I don’t have to worry about the bags making it to the destination. We have connecting flights both ways and I really don’t want to be missing my underwear when I arrive.

While I pack, I’m most thankful for my husband’s organizational ability when we travel. He writes up an itinerary, brings copies of all the reservations, goes to mapquest.com for directions which he prints out, and also keeps the most important info, such as phone numbers, on one master sheet of paper. That sheet of paper and that folder are a work of organizational art that is mind-boggling to someone like me who operates with lots of scraps of papers and numbers scrawled in the margins of my date book. I can find things, but a little panic does set in till I remember exactly where I may have stored something such as the confirmation number for the hotel room.

Travel is always stressful and Tom’s system does help minimize our anxiety. This way I am free to obsess over whether my mascara and lipstick are going to be viewed as part of a terror attack unless I stow them in the belly of the plane.

Being organized uses a different part of the brain. It’s good to flex that side too. And with that handy folder I can easily step into that world for a time without difficulty. How grateful I am to have someone to take care of me and these details.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plugged In by Patresa Hartman

My fifteen-year-old former self would balk at what I am about to say: I am so very grateful for my complete lack of originality.

There was a time I thought myself quite unique, quite different, a real one-of-a-kind. My thoughts had never been thought before, my ideas, unheard of. With insight this farout and radical, I felt strange. I knew I would never be able to walk among humans in the same way as before. And I wore this perceived separateness with pride.

Over time I have discovered more and more people who think just like me. They get breathless when they talk mysticism and cosmic intention. They have the same questions as me, the same discomforts as me, are peeling back layer after layer after layer and poking around at the meaty underneath -- just like me. It was disturbing at first, to find so much psychic twin-ness. I would read my thoughts in a Milan Kundera novel, or find common ground with a classmate over pizza and beer, and deflate: I thought I had been onto something. Clearly, I would have to work harder to uncover an original idea.

I did so want an original idea. I wanted to be grand and worthy like that.

But I am over it now. I am not original; I am not unique; I am not spectacular; I will not crack open the sky. And I am grateful. For now, when I read my thoughts in a Kathleen Norris memoir, or when my friend, Mary, echoes my sentiments over wine and sushi, instead of deflating, I feel empowered. I feel connected. I sense something universal, and I feel my circuitry light. I feel plugged in -- appropriately and meaningfully placed within something bigger than I can possibly imagine.

I do so want to feel electric.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Regret Less by Angie Ledbetter

Sunday, the traditional first day of the week. I wonder what today will hold? My two sisters and I are taking our mom on a short trip, as she’s been very ill for almost a year and has been itching to go somewhere. She’s always loved nothing more than cozying up to a video poker machine for hours and hours, so we’re going to fulfill that wish for her at a large casino and spend time just the four of us for an overnighter. We’ve got the meds, supplies, wheelchair, and insulin packed and our don’t-leave-home-without-it Bag O’ Snacks that has always accompanied us on every journey.
After so much bad weather lately, we’re hoping for sunny skies with maybe just a light sprinkle or two. I’m grateful for this time and for this getaway. Three people close to me have lost a loved one suddenly in the last week, so I know what a blessing it is to have as many good days as possible to spend with those I care most about. Hopefully, in the future, I won’t have as many shoulda/woulda/couldas and regrets hanging over me as some people do. That is a blessing for which I'm truly grateful.

All this pondering about time and loss of loved ones and regrets got me to wondering if there are things we can do to minimize those dark cloudy feelings, besides the obvious of doing today what could be put off until tomorrow or later on. How do you live more fully each day pursuing the things, people and plans most important to you?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dinner With Physicists by Kathryn Magendie

Brad Pitt—who cares? Tom Cruise—I don’t think so. Mel Gipson—Nope. George Clooney or Johnny Depp—well, maybe but still not quite. If I had to choose a man or two to have dinner with, yes dinner I said!, it would not be some Hollywood entertainer, but instead, give me a physicist. Oh! The Physicist! And while waiting for my physicists to come to dinner, I’d flutter nervously about while lighting candles and worrying over the sauce and just the right wine and what do I wear?—I don’t want to over do, you know. I want to be as beautiful as planet Saturn, as hot as the sun, as mysterious as the moon, as bright as the stars--all my cliche's should be perfect for my physicists.

My first two physicist guests would have to be, ka-thump ka-thump goes my heart: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku. Tyson, with degrees in physics and astrophysics (oh my!), has interests that “are broad, but include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way." (Swoon) And Kaku, a theoretical physicist and best-selling author, co-founder of string field theory, is “a popularizer of science,” and “continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory." (Pant Pant)

Both Tyson and Kaku have a way of looking out of the TV screen that says, “I love what I do, and I love it so much I am sending that love out to you…I want you to see what I see, feel what I feel, know what I know, and I am going to show and tell you in such a beautiful and interesting way that you cannot fail to be one with me—come with me now as we explore, together.” And I do. I am there with them, and I understand—well, most of it anyway. I want to be where they are. I want to walk with them as they point to this and that and there and here, while they tell me all the wonders of our world and of the universe. Their gentle voices, their wise faces, their very intelligence, but more, their curiosity of all things--all things!--makes me long to have them here, in my house, at my table, where all the mysteries of the universe swirl about as we lift our forks to our mouths, as we sip wine, as our molecules and synaptic electrical firings off make protons and electrons and whatevertrons explode, as the warmth from human contact and interested energies swirl about the room. Oh, gratitude for the physicists and scientists and theorists and all manner of ists! But mostly, to my Kaku and my Tyson, whom if one day I met face to face, I would surely blush and giggle like a silly old schoolgirl, but a grateful one at that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Finding the Goodness by Barbara Quinn

My good friend Janet once told me to keep goodness at the center of all I do and then I will always know what to do. That little piece of advice has brought me through many storms and I am grateful for it. It’s so much easier to lash out and feed anger instead of turning the other cheek. I’m not always successful at finding the goodness and projecting it, but I do know that reaching for this attitude of goodness calms my center, and coupled with gratitude for all that I have, helps me walk through the most difficult of times.

I’m in the midst of a maelstrom right now, reeling in the sudden and inexplicable death of a beloved nephew. I am grateful for all the comfort and support from everyone who has reached out with a kind word or touch. It does make a difference to know people care. Sometimes we think it is better to let people be, to stay away and not bother them. And there is a point where there can be too much support, leaving the distressed seeking the quiet of a darkened room. But after all these years I’ve come to know that we are a lot like those elephants that they focus on, the ones who touch tusks while hovering over the dead body of one of their own, the ones who nudge and protect that body till they are sure it is really not coming back to life. We need each other and our rituals. We need the wisdom of friends and sometimes even strangers to bring us through the difficult times. For wisdom and compassion, I am grateful.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The House that Doesn't Complain by Patresa Hartman

There used to be a wall between the kitchen and the front room -- the piano room that housed my ReadingWritingAndThinking chair. Now there is only one space. Where I pour my cereal and where I think my thoughts are no longer compartmentalized. They are fluid and whole and share air flow.

I have great hopes for this new arrangement. Stories and words have no choice but to circulate.

We live in a one-and-a-half story built in 1950. What was once an attached one car garage was converted into a sunken living room by the previous owners. They lived here forty-two years -- raised two boys, buried one husband and father. The woman, the widow who sold it to us and moved to a retirment home, drives by frequently and comments to the neighbors about what we're doing with the flower beds and how we're keeping up with the grass and what is this business with the dark green paint in the front room. What was wrong with peach? I don't blame her; even I still think of this as her house. When so much of you seeps into the floor boards of a place, even I would have to agree it is yours.

I wonder what she thinks now with construction trucks in the drive. They have been hauling out plaster and linoleum -- her plaster and linoleum -- and I wonder if it is causing her as much angst as she felt when she watched us haul out large rolls of her carpet and her prized peach vertical blinds three years ago.

I am so grateful for this house, for her house. I am so grateful to have this space, to have the freedom to splatter myself in various gawdy hues along the walls, to knock down partitions when I feel separate and constrained. I am so grateful for the sturdy baseboards and unyielding steps, for the front flower beds that agreed to expand and host roses and hostas and lilac. I am grateful, because I know that none of it is actually mine, and even so, it opens to me. We have been here three years, and this house does not complain when we insist on filling it with our stories.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grat-ahhhhh-tude by Angie Ledbetter

Zzzzzeet, whirrrrr, beep, beep, beep, click! Those are some of the best sounds in the world. Can you guess what made the noise? Give up? Okay, that is the sound of wonderful electricity once again surging through a hot dark house after six long days. Mere words cannot explain the gratitude and thankfulness (are they the same things?) that whizzed through my mind and body when we got power back after Hurricane Gustav.

Mixed in with the elation I felt knowing the A/C was already doing its magic to cool me off, I also felt a small twinge of loss. I immediately asked myself, "Are you completely crazy? What's not to like about lights and computer and blow dryers and washer/dryers and all the other wonderful things we are used to flipping on with a finger to a switch?"

With extra people staying with us to ride out the scary storm, it had been crowded and sometimes inconvenient, but there had also been a shared camaraderie among us all huddled together around lanterns. The kids were forced by nature, then downed trees, then a city-wide curfew which is still in effect to be home with the family. We gathered with neighbors to pool groceries which turned into delicious meals from the BBQ pit and propane burner. There were no streetlights or city brightness to block out the beauty of the sky one night. For lack of anything else to do, we had to have actual conversations, hang around on the porch or in the front yard sitting in the driveway, and read books during daylight hours. Now that everyone's gone home, I miss them and the shared routines.

Don't get me wrong, I was totally grateful for electricity when it came to cleaning up the house afterward, but the feeling of being a pioneer with an unknown future ahead was exciting. All the old boring routines were replaced by something different. It felt good to be able to help others, to be prepared for any- and everything. Everyone was kind and helpful...pulling together to get yards cleaned and trees cut, sharing ice with those who didn't have any, and other neighborly things you don't get to enjoy often. And I actually prefer coffee made in my old aluminum camp pot.

School's supposed to start up next Monday again, and I have mixed feelings. I know the kids are ready to get back to the books, but I'll miss seeing them as much as I have the last week and a half. We have so much to be thankful for that we take as a given and assume will never end. Disaster reminds us of those things.

Mostly I'm grateful for the people who are camping out here in Baton Rouge from almost 20 states. The tree trimmers and electrical linemen, the roofers and emergency service personnel, the Tennessee National Guardsmen and women who arrived home from a tour in Iraq only to drive through the night to get here and help hand out emergency supplies. Ah, it's a great feeling to know there are those far and near who, in the worst of times, give their best.

Now...I think I'll go run my garbage disposal, just because I can! ;) What would be the first appliance or thing you turned back on?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Listing the Gratitude, one, two, three by Kat Magendie

I read somewhere that listing what one is grateful for will help one to feel that gratitude. That if one smiles, even when a frown seems to feel better, one will begin to feel happy. If I put one foot in front of the other one and walk down my mountain road, even when I’m feeling lazy, I will begin to enjoy the walk. When the words won’t come for a YOG post, just write a sentence and it will lead somewhere.

Sounds like platitudes, right? But, I lay in my bed last night, the open windows sending a nice cool breeze, and I said, “I am grateful for this soft bed. I am grateful for the breeze. I am grateful my parents are still alive. I am grateful that I ate a cookie (okay, more than one) and didn’t feel guilty for it. I am grateful I am safe.” There were some that came easily to mind, others I had to stop a bit and think about, but they came, like a line of people waiting to be touched on the head, to be recognized. I snuggled into the soft, knowing that although I can’t feel it or see it, the world is revolving round and round, and everything and everyone has a place in this world. When things are at their most chaotic, it is then the most important time to still…still. My greatest obstacle is finding that stillness. For my brain jitters, my foot jiggles, my thoughts rushing here, there, and yonder.

Listing my gratitude with my breath helps my lungs to expand and contract. I hear the words, even if at times I feel silly. Someone may hear me! Who will hear? And if they do, why would that be so bad? My chest hums with the speaking. The air is electrified. If I am feeling too private, too tired, or simply too in awe of the quiet all around me, I will list my gratitude’s silently, and there is still the expanding and contracting of my lungs as I breathe in and out. There are too many ways to become distracted with worry and chaos. Too many ways to forget that it only takes a moment to find that silent peace. Too many ways that gratitude can be forgotten. So I list them: one, two, three, four, five…and I breathe and I snuggle in and I feel really really lucky.

Monday, September 8, 2008

After the Storm by Barbara Quinn

They were battening down the hatches Saturday all over Monmouth County, NJ. Tropical storm Hanna passed through the area with high winds and waves. She wasn’t anywhere near the force of what she was when she hit the states to the south of us, but she still posed a threat. In the morning, things were calm and you never would have known that a storm was on the way, other than the charge of apprehension in the air. People were on edge, not sure how bad the winds would be, how large the storm surge would be.

And so we engaged in the calming familiar routines. We removed our porch furniture, found the battery powered lantern, went out for some food and other supplies. At the fish market the customers asked “So when is it going to hit? How bad do you think we’ll get hit?” The market’s owner shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows. All I know is I was out yesterday fishing and it was like glass out there. No boats. Absolutely gorgeous.”

And he was right. The ocean was a tranquil beast yesterday, with no hint of the fury she would soon unleash. Geez. The ocean is bi-polar.

The market owner, a fisherman, told us how he had caught two Blue Marlins yesterday and how rare it was to do that. They took pictures and released them in all their shiny glory. Lucky marlins. He told us that fishermen don’t kill blue marlins, and will walk out of restaurants that have Marlin on the menu.

And so the Marlins got to jump high again, unlike the unlucky Swordfish and Tuna whose lot it is to fill our tummies. I’m grateful for all of them, and for the calming camaraderie before the storm. We’re a lot like those Marlins, hoping not to be hooked, enjoying the calm waters, fighting our way through the rough. It’s good to wake up to a sunny day and still be swimming.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Word About Vigilance by Patresa Hartman

Saturday was beautiful and marked by freedom -- a welcome shift from weeks of commotion and planning and responsibility and schedule keeping. And still, something fell at the end of the day. I don't know where it comes from, this spontaneous cloud, but it appears out of blind corners from time to time and settles around.

When it settles, motion is restricted, fond memory erased. All connection seems lost, and I spin.

It did not last long, and I am grateful. Blew through, blew out, as I slept. But I can still taste it this morning. It hides, but not well: The tail end of it pokes out between the bookshelf and the floor lamp. It is waiting for me to drop vigilance.

A word about this vigilance:

I once engaged a student in a debate about pessimism. He argued that anyone who is a realist is by default a pessimist, because there is nothing consistent in the world but war and death. He was an intelligent man, and an angry student who kept his facial expressions hidden behind a thick, woolly beard.

And it occurred to me then, how easy it is to by a cynic. So much easier. If war is a wheel, it is the squeakiest. If poverty is a color, it is the loudest. If all the ugly in the world is an elephant, it is the most space-taking in the global livingroom. It is not necessarily a matter of intelligence to notice; it is a matter of picking out that which is glaringly obvious.

Optimists often get jabbed. To be hopeful is to be oblivious, too mindless to understand. But I disagree. In a world on fire, it takes work to keep one eye on beauty and promise. It takes vigilance. And so this morning, I will take inventory before the cloud can settle and direct my thoughts.

  • I am hungry, and there is fruit in the fridge.
  • My dog sighs, and her nose is wet and shiny.
  • The curtains are parted, and the fog is hovering just enough for texture.
  • The grass is dewy and a richer green.
  • The street is quiet, the cars still asleep.
  • The turqoise cushion, with its missing button, appears to wink.
  • The coffee is fresh and perfectly tanned by cream.
  • The paper is thick and neatly stacked.
  • It is early Sunday and everything waits.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Guarding Over Us All by Barbara Quinn

The lifeguards were cleaning up the beach yesterday, storing equipment, closing down for the season. Behind them, the waves were large and the riptide strong. This wasn’t a gentle end of summer surf. Soon, they were rescuing five children who were being swept out to sea. What a relief that they were present and able to help. Last summer the worst that could happen did: a child drowned while swimming in the unguarded evening surf.

Today, the ocean was still churning, roaring a clear message to proceed with caution. So even though the official beach season is over, there were guards posted at one beach for swimming, while others patrolled and prohibited swimming elsewhere. I’m grateful to the lifeguards for responding to this unusually strong surf. Being a lifeguard requires so much focus. They understand the riptides, look out for sharks, watch each head in the water, and spring to action on a moment’s notice.

When I caught a wave today, the water was rougher than usual, but not unpleasantly so, partially because the lifeguards were still there watching over us. It’s safe fun losing myself in all that power, tumbling about in the roiling water of nature’s amusement park. The wind was intense and salty, coming directly from the ocean to the shore. The surfers were out having a wonderful time. I could feel the rip current pulling straight out from the shore. My swimsuit was coated with sand because there was so much of it swirling about in the water. Wise parents kept small children close.

On days like this, with the sun beating down, and the water so warm, it’s hard to believe that the summer will ever end. But soon the sun will set earlier, the breeze will be colder. The memories will be bottled and shared in the future. I’m grateful that the families of those rescued children will be able to tell a tale about the time one endless summer when the waves were so high that they had to be rescued by the selfless guards of the beach. My thanks go out to all the guardians of the beach who risk their all. They are the guardians not only of our happy shore memories, but of our futures. Thank you!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pondering While Walking the Cove by Kat Magendie

The mist is thick, and I am walking in the clouds, breathing in a part of the sky. As a child I'd always wondered what it was like to walk on a cloud...would I fall through it? Would it be like cotton? Would it be fluffy and nice? Now, I am walking in the cloud, and the cloud settles on my clothes, on my skin, and it is cool and mysterious. I breathe more in, and Cloud fills my lungs.

We pass Old Tree. Old Tree's gnarled trunk has seen and heard and felt ages upon ages on our mountain. I hurry to Old Tree and press my palm against its rough, and then press my cheek to let it tattoo itself upon me. I whisper, "Old Tree, what have you seen? What have you heard and felt? Give up your secrets;" and I feel the vibration of its stories, the stories of its life, and the stories of all the mountain ways. I rub the scarred bark and hope Old Tree is never cut down by one who does not appreciate. When I turn to leave Old Tree, its branches rub together in its good bye so long see you soon.

It is quiet, even Creek is muffled by the distance as I walk. The only sound is the noise in my head, loud louder it is as a bratty child wanting my attention. I look inward, and listen to the chaos, and when I at last lift my head, I have gone many steps without seeing what my mountains offers. Sometimes, there is the sound of our inward self, whining and yapping and calling to us. I do not want this sound so I tell it to shut up, go away. It does, thank you.

There is scat on the road - full of seeds, and I stop to look at it, wondering what critter has been squatting there. Just a few steps farther, and there is a tiny gray body lying in the road - the second one I've seen since the day before. Life can be cruel and life can be short, but little tiny gray critter never thought about that; he just lived. I imagine in the last of its life, Gray Critter didn't think, "Why me? This isn't fair!" Perhaps he only thought of survival, and when survival didn't appear, he was then limp, lifeless, gone. If another gray critter expected him home, there would be no "Why me? Why us? It isn't fair..." there would be the next thing to do. There would be the life to keep living. I don’t know whether to be grateful that someone expects me home and would say, “Why me? Why us? It isn’t fair? Bring her back!” Or to be grateful I may be more like Gray Critter, not thinking, not wondering, “Why me?” This comforts me, in its own strange way.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Simple Possibility by Patresa Hartman

Today I am most grateful for the palpable boredom of my Wednesday morning 9:00 class. I am thankful for my students' blank stares and gaping jaws, for the monotonous lull of my own voice, for the imaginary tumbleweed that blew across our desks in response to my "discussion" questions. I am grateful for all the backpack zippers that pulled open and then closed shut five minutes before class ended and for the dozen necks that twisted toward the clock at regular 40 second intervals.

I am grateful for the self-consciousness, the impulse to flee, for the squirming discomfort I feel when I suddenly realize that what I'm doing isn't working.

As peace loving as I am, as content as I feel to sit and sit and sit, I notice how much I crave discontentment. I loathe it; but I want it. I don't know whether to be grateful for the dis-ease or grateful for the awareness of the craving. Do you know what I'm saying? It is natural, I'm sure, to invite discomfort as a license to leap, but I'm not completely convinced it's healthy.

I think it's a combination of friction and forward propulsion. At the exact moment the student in the back row swallowed the universe with his yawn, I decided something must be done. My pride would not survive four months staring at 20 students' tonsils. Cogs turned; my brain showered sparks: I would overhaul my entire semester plan. I would burn everything old and rebuild. I would start from scratch; it would be sparkly and new and relevant. I left class ready and invigorated. I left class with a project.

I don't know what this means to be grateful for projects -- if it's the creator in me (something to celebrate) or the restless wanderer (something to fix). But, I like blank pages and blank screens. I find them inspiring. I find them motivating -- miles thick with possibility.

And so today I will suspend any self-analysis on what it means to be addicted to forward thinking instead of grounded in Now. I will reserve today for the simpleness of Possibility. And that will be quite enough.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ode to a Wrinkled Tomato by Barbara Quinn

Is there anything more perfect than an end of summer tomato? I’ve been eating them on a daily basis for the past couple of weeks now. They’re sweet, juicy, and so far removed from the pulpy mid-winter variety that they should have their own name. A little salt, olive oil, basil, parsley, and a clove of garlic smacked with a knife are all it takes for tomato heaven. The red juices color the oil and beg to be sopped up with a crusty bread. They’re tasty enough for a tomato sandwich now: tomato and a little mayo on a couple of slices of bread.

Last night I visited the local farm stand and picked up some heirloom tomatoes. There are a lot more of those heirlooms this year in the market. I enjoy the odd shapes and colors which are quite beautiful sitting in a bowl on the counter, though they don’t last long there. I’ve had a constantly changing still life on that counter.

I also picked up some heirloom plum tomatoes: plump, long, and perfect for cooking. They were the basis for a fine sauce that simmered with herbs and lobster claws and crabs. Oh, this was an end of summer meal to savor and linger over. My husband and I added a nice bottle of wine and let the sun set while we had our fill of the great bounty that is available to us in this country.

I’m grateful to the farmers, and the fishermen who work to bring us this amazing variety of food. And I’m most grateful for the local purveyors whose simple goods are fresher, and purer than the commercial variety. I’d rather have a small, oddly shaped heirloom tomato any day, brimming with flavor beneath its unshiny skin, instead of a perfectly formed, chemically enhanced red globe. Talk about deceptive advertising. I guess tomatoes are like people. The lined and wrinkled ones have so much more to offer than the artificially enhanced ones. Spending time in the garden means aging to perfection. Here’s to intense taste behind a not so pretty exterior. Eat a tomato. Love those wrinkles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Eveningtime by Kat Magendie

There is a business to the coming of eveningtime. First, the critters who sleep away the night are up to last minute feeding, or nesting, or whatever their duty calls them to do. Then, there are the night critters beginning to stir from their hidey places so when it turns dark, they can go about the business of finding food, and drink, and each other. Same with people: winding down the day, or those who just begin to start theirs.

I am sitting in my library typing this--oh and my library is quite tender and small, but it is full of books. Books are squeezed in every space they can be filled unless there is something else that needs to be clear of books: like chairs, the floor, a table with a lamp, doo dads and rocks and old albums and photographs and this computer and a dog bed and...so on it goes. And as I sit, I hear the first cricket. It is an eveningtime that brings back to me memories of when I was a girl, running barefooted, hating to hear my mother call out, "Time to come in! Kids! In! Now!" And we kids would trudge in, our feet dirty; in fact, every surface of our body and clothing dirty, tangled hair, fingernails filled with dirt from digging for treasures. Then, as now, the crickets would start their conversations. If we were lucky, the fireflies, or lightening bugs, would just begin to flash...that is, if we'd delayed going inside by hollering out to our mother, "Five more minutes, please!" Five more minutes always meant "until Mother gets mad and says, 'I'm not telling you again! Time to come in!'" Stampede home, all the dirty feet flying to suppers, baths, errant homework, bed.

But now, right now is the eveningtime of my life here and now. I sit in this library overstuffed with books and listen to the right-before-dark descend. There is a pause, a moment on the brink, and before I have time to wonder at being on the cusp of something wonderful and nostalgic, the dark falls, heavy and soft all at the same time. How can I forget gratitude when I am in the eveningtime?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gratitude for the Wellspring of Hope by Barbara Quinn

Today, with a huge hurricane bearing down on the Gulf again, I’ve been thinking about the difficult times so many are facing. I find it hard to find anything to be grateful about in the face of nature's wrecking ball. But in reality, there is much to be grateful for at times like this. The "hurricane hunters" who fly into the storm to get bearings on where it is going, the government officials like Mayor Nagin who urge people to get out, the bus drivers and hospital workers who make sure people get to safety, are humanity at its best.

Besides all these angels of mercy, I have come to be grateful simply for being able to hope. No matter how bad things get, when I dig down deep there is a small spring of hope trickling away waiting for me to discover it. That's what enables us to act. That's what keeps us going in times of need. We hope that we will be all right, that things will change, that there is light on the other side of the darkness.

I rely on that tiny trickle of hope. It’s elusive at times and sometimes I'm afraid it's dried up entirely. But I’ve grown to be patient about waiting for it to grow once again, and fill the chambers of my brain with the silvery liquid of life. When hope gives birth to joy, well, there is nothing better. Joy, like hope, washes over us without any thought and we accept it willingly without questioning. No dwelling on either of those to muck up the day.

Dante’s Hell had a sign over it, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” Think of it. A place without hope. Hell is darkness, burning darkness, the complete absence of hope. Living hell. Horrible to contemplate, and horrible to live with. We all have dark days, and when I do I am amazed at the power of the darkness to blot out everything. This darkness is palpable at times, weighing heavily on me, making movement difficult, threatening to plug up the wellspring of hope for good. Nothing matters, nothing attracts, nothing makes sense.

So what do I do when the darkness falls? I dig deep and search until I can find the trickle of silvery hope that is meant to keep flowing, meant to lie in wait until the darkness passes. I can’t hurry the dark, but it does pass, the way night passes. I find one good thing to think about. And then another. I take care of other people to the extent I can. And then good old hope returns, slowly at first and then so bright some people shy away from it. Hope is a good and glorious thing. I wish you hope wherever you are, no matter your situation. It can keep you going and get you to the other side. Act, take care of yourselves and those in need. Hope will follow. Godspeed to all in the path of the hurricane.

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