On the walk to school, a normally shy and withdrawn little girl comes to my side.
“Guess what?” she asks, her eyes huge. She watches me with her mittens folded together and her boots kicking the ice.
“What? Tell me everything,” I respond (because I have a whole mile to listen and nothing to do but walk with her). And then, I learn all about dolphins.
Dolphins. That was the door that let me into her heart. I think about how–if only I had known–I might have asked about dolphins last year.
If only I had known! I realize that every person I meet today has a deeply held love of something. Maybe it’s dolphins or coconuts or turtles or guitar. I want to make the kind of time and space to hear about it.
I want to give you a whole mile today.
If you had a mile to talk, what would you want to talk about today?
I’m sloshing through this rainy Tuesday in my yellow boots. I carry an enormous blue and white umbrella–big enough to cover at least 5 people. One side of my umbrella dangles awkwardly, broken from years of abuse from high winds.
I look on with envy at folks who have very small, tightly domed umbrellas that fit securely over their heads and fall just above their purses or backpacks: unbroken, private, and effective in keeping one person protected.
Why would I want a big, broken umbrella when I could have a perfect, made-for-one version that covers me fully? That’s the way to stay safe in this storm.
Isolated! Secure! Proud!
It only appears beneficial. As I think more about that perfect umbrella, I think of the loneliness that security brings. I don’t want to be alone in that perfect umbrella; I want you here with me under this broken one.
Let’s walk in this storm together and stay vulnerable. We’ll have to cling tightly. We’ll have to feel the rain. But we’re together and more safe than we could imagine.
Isn’t community a beautiful thing?
My neighbor has a gift. She’s an artist, but nobody really knows–at least we didn’t–until she began to show us all.
Her drawings make me so happy. They evoke something in me that the real object doesn’t. I realize I’m just looking at a drawing of a little girl’s shoes, but something about this artwork delights me.
Reluctantly, she shows her sketches to the neighborhood children, and they gather around her in wonder. “You drew that? You really drew it? With pencil? How?”
If you ever get a chance to speak with an artist, I highly recommend it. I ask Jennifer Kelly to explain to me why I love this drawing so much. She writes, “There’s just something little-girly about the shoes, kicked off in a rush to go play. Their shape is reminiscent of the body’s long curves; the interior almost calls you to put your foot in, and your skin tingles, remembering the feel of your last pair of flats. Maybe the visceral nature of pencil strokes enhances the touch-feel-experience of the memory.”
Living with flair means you seek out your neighbor’s hidden talents. And if you are the neighbor with the gift, living with flair means you offer it to the world. You go public, you open your sketch book, and you let the community be delighted by you and God’s creativity flowing through you.
Journal: What gift are you hiding from us?
Last night, I attend my first contra dance. My own husband has invited the family (including my parents!) out dancing. Contra dance, otherwise known as patterned folk dancing, has great potential to create a fool out of me. You know how uncoordinated I am.
I resist going until the very last minute.
But I know that living with flair means I try new things and embrace–not just endure–new experiences. It helps that Devin, my friend and contra dancing expert, has been telling me for two whole years that I will love contra dancing.
When you go to a contra dance, you become swept up (quite literally) in a world gone by. You feel like you’re at the Dance at Grandpa’s from the Little House books. The band plays all the traditional folk tunes, and a caller tells you what to do. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how old you are. Nobody cares because when the caller tells you to switch partners, you do it. You find yourself dancing with a 4 year old and then a 70 year old, a teenager, and then your husband. You find yourself dancing with your own father for the first time since your wedding day.
You’ll hold hands with complete strangers, form a circle, and shout together. My own daughters learn the dances and circle off away from me.
It occurs to me that this is exactly what communities should do on a Friday night in a college town. I didn’t want to leave.
I now love the verbs promenade and do-si-do.
Living with flair means you attend a community contra dance sometime this year.
Journal: Have you been to a contra dance?
This morning, a neighbor comes by with a shovel to uproot several of my raspberry canes to plant in his own garden. I want to offer a bit of what was originally given to me.
Two years ago, I was that neighbor taking raspberry canes from another garden down the street. That neighbor was so generous, and I planted five of her canes that multiplied from a single plant.
Two years from now, I wonder who will take canes from the neighbor who came today. The five he takes from me will multiply and cover his whole backyard.
All throughout the neighborhood, folks harvest raspberries. I realize the beauty of how interconnected this harvest has become. All this produce came from just one little plant that multiplied and spread.
I think about my own life’s work. I want my words and actions to nourish a family, a neighborhood, a city, a nation, a world. I offer bits of what was originally given to me–loving, encouraging, teaching–and pray the roots go deep and pass between generations. One little cane, over time, can cover a whole community.
Let it be beautiful fruit. I think about the bitter fruit of a negative, discouraging, damaging presence passed on between generations. Equally prolific, I fear this fruit also stays within a community.
May our raspberry canes be a blessing and not a curse.
Journal: What bits can I offer to pass on?
My oldest wants to learn flute, and she nods her head and glances at me when the director says, “When you practice your instrument, it’s not just about you. It’s about your community of musicians. You don’t just let yourself down when you don’t practice. You let down the whole orchestra.”
He’s talking about citizenship. He’s talking about personal and community excellence.
The Italian Mama tells me about her son’s marching band debut at the football game. The band director said to the band, “When you put on your uniform, you aren’t just representing yourself. You represent this school, this town, and the whole community of musicians.”
I like thinking about our obligation to ourselves and our communities. It’s never just about me.
Living with flair means I know that I’m responsible to a community. I want my children to leave my home and represent themselves, our family, and our community well.
Journal: What would change if we walked out of the house and thought about representing ourselves, our families, and our communities well?
My new neighbor calls me over to come see the birthday cupcakes she’s made for her husband.
I start laughing out loud when I see them.
She and her children have made little grills with kabobs, steaks, hotdogs, and even hamburgers with cheese on top–all made out of candy. If you look closely, you’ll even see the glowing embers of flames (red sprinkles!). You’ll even see the fine grill marks on the caramel cream steak.
I love these cupcakes! I’m adding them to my list of whimsical things that make life a little lighter. Right beside my green apple and hamburger cupcakes, I’m listing one more: On the Grill.
Late last night, she invites our family over for this “Grill Out.” My children sneak across the street in pajamas, and we follow behind as lightening streaks the sky over the mountains. We share cupcakes and ice-cream and celebrate a dad’s birthday.
I remember–especially this 9/11 weekend–how thankful I am for this great nation and the simplicity of family, neighbors, and sharing cupcakes. I learned that horrible day that we can’t take a single moment for granted. Something about eating whimsical cupcakes puts me in that state of thankfulness. What a privilege to sit around a table with friends, eating cupcakes and sharing our lives!
Living with flair means you Grill Out with cupcakes.
Journal: What little thing are you thankful for this 9-11 weekend?
This morning, I talk to a student about the verb “rehabilitate.” It means to restore to normal, to recover, to reestablish good working order. In terms of physical therapy, this verb represents hope.
Physical therapists know that rehabilitation happens in the context of a whole network of support: individual, family, and community. You aren’t alone in the journey towards restoration. It takes time, and we are all in this together.
I think about this today because of the post-travel anxiety and moodiness I experience! Nothing feels normal around here. I’m rehabilitating–even still–from all those years of depression and anxiety. Good days, bad days, hopeful days, hopeless days.
I’m learning not to fear the bad days anymore. There’s a true self that emerges when you let even the darkness out.
It helps that my neighbors tell me that their friendship isn’t dependent on my good, stable moods.
Living with flair means we see life as a rehabilitation process. As communities, we journey together patiently and offer one another the deepest, most beautiful hope. Good days, bad days. We are all in this together.
Journal: Are you rehabilitating, too?
Today marks the 4th day of staying in a small apartment in a new city all day long whilst caring for a child who has a 103.5 degree fever. I’m not even going to bother making that sentence more concise. It’s been a long few days.
It’s lonely. It’s awful.
My husband attempts to cheer me with coffee and jokes. Then he announces, “You need people! That’s how God made you!” He calls several friends and invites them to take me out for ice cream. It sounds so desperate. Aren’t I stable enough to survive any circumstance? Haven’t I been able to find the flair in even the worst of situations?
I’m learning that I really do need people. I love community. And living with flair means knowing this so I don’t go crazy and wonder if I’m sinking back into despair when I’m alone for too long.
Journal: What are some things you need?
Lately, my community has been reflecting on how we came together. We’ve been in the news twice because others folks take notice of this strange phenomenon.
In the last few years, we learned the art of gathering. To gather means to cause to come together.
We figure out a reason to come together, and each neighbor brings his or her own flair. In the midst of ladies lunches, the play date for Dads, Saturday pancakes, Monday Night Fitness (which grew from 4 people to 50!), community service projects, walking to school, potluck dinners, birthday celebrations, living room singer-songwriter concerts, or whatever else might happen in a week, we consciously decide to do it together.
We resist the temptation towards isolation. And we gather, even if the invitation puts us into unusual situations with folks we aren’t used to. Whatever we are doing, we ask ourselves, “Which family can I invite along?”
Living with flair means finding a reason to bring the neighbors together. You have to pick up your phone or go door-to-door. Whatever it takes, you fight isolation and gather people into community. And once everybody has a place to belong, we all flourish and discover this is how it was meant to be.
Journal: What families do I need to gather into my community?