What You Will Think About Today

The “father of air conditioning,” Willis Haviland Carrier, claims he had a flash of genius while waiting for a train.  He began thinking about temperature and humidity, and within moments he had a scientific method to chill the air.

Back then, you couldn’t distract yourself from thinking so easily.  

I remember Carrier all day as I walk around in the kind of blazing heat that makes it hard to breathe.  I thank God for what I take for granted:  air conditioning, ice, refrigeration, cold water from a fountain. Some one began thinking and something wonderful happened:

Invention.

I tell my students that invention is the hardest stage of writing.  They simply can’t come up with an idea.  They can’t begin creative acts–making something from nothing–because they don’t know how to begin thinking.

Well.  Let’s just sit for a bit, as if we were waiting for a train on a foggy night with absolutely nothing to distract us.  Let’s just sit here and think. 

It all began while a man waited for a train, thinking.

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Journal:  Do I schedule thinking time into my day?

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I Just Wanted to Remind You

This morning, I wanted to take you someplace to remind you how beautiful the world can be.  Even when there’s heartache, somewhere a rainbow shimmers in a dark sky.  Yesterday, we drove to the Rocky Mountains.  My camera’s very old and not fancy, but look at this! 

Rocky Mountain Rainbow

And just in front of this rainbow, a herd of elk leisurely feast.

Elk on the Mountain

And back down the trail, a waterfall spits and roars down the rocks.

You don’t think about laundry or dishes or sickness or sadness when you’re on the mountain.  At least I didn’t.  I sprawled out and took a deep breath.

Heather in the Heather

My daughters climb and explore.  A friend hands my oldest a pair of binoculars, and she suddenly becomes quiet and thoughtful.  

Sometimes, we need to go places that make us still and thoughtful as we contemplate the beauty of the earth.

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Journal:  Where do you go to contemplate how beautiful the world is? 

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What My Daughter Hid Behind the Piano

I’m sitting in my rocking chair, taking just a moment to catch my breath and talk to God, when I notice something sparkling in the corner of the room.  It’s actually sparkling from behind the piano.  Someone has hidden something back there. 

It’s my daughter’s diary–the one with the glitter cover–that she asked for last June.  Our piano sits in the corner of the living room, and if you squeeze behind it, you find yourself in a little dark alcove.  It’s the perfect hiding place for a child and her diary.  (I ask my daughter for her permission to blog about this secret, and she says, “Yes, and tell people it’s too hard to think when there’s a crowd around you. Sometimes you have to hide.”)

She hides back there, writing down her secret thoughts, and then she locks the diary and tucks it far back into the corner.  She says it’s important to think about the good and bad of each day–just to know it and work it all out

I imagine that dark behind-the-piano solitude, and I wish I could fit back there today.  That journal’s flashy cover catching my eye all day beckons me to go hide and think for a while. 

It reminds me to leave my children alone sometimes and just let them think about things

Living with flair means hiding away at some point today to think about things.  And it means letting others do the same.

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Journal:  Do I have a hiding place to go and think about things? 

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What We’ve Known For a Long Time

I read an article on the bus yesterday that recounts the results of a number of happiness studies.  Researchers want to know if happiness is something we experience or something we think

I love reading articles like this.  Once again, research proves that when we think about our experiences we can put the day in a certain framework to create meaning and joy.   Not surprisingly, this meaning and joy rarely depend on circumstances.  

I’m thinking about that article, and I run into one of the most vibrant and enthusiastic moms in my town.  She’s waving at me as I make my way through the self check-out line in the grocery store.  Within 30 seconds, she’s inviting me to her “Alphabet Summer” where everyday at her home celebrates a different letter of the alphabet.

It’s “J” day, so there’s jam, jello, and jumping in the pool.  I’m imagining jugglers and jellyfish and jackals.  I smell jasmine.

Her two little boys smile, and one of them says to me, “I just loved ‘F’ day.  ‘F’ day was the coolest!”

I’m living in the same town as this woman.  I’m raising my children on the same streets and we are going to the same grocery stores.  I’m making breakfast, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking, and yes, even going to the pool.  We both probably worked-out, had coffee, and will feel tired after lunch. 

But it’s “J” day at her house.

They will jump into the pool instead of easing in.  With this alphabet framework, her whole summer radiates with hidden meaning and wonder.

“Do we have a special letter today, Mom?”

Quickly, I think about the curry chicken I’ve planned for dinner.

“It’s ‘I’ day,” I say.  “For India.”

They are quiet and thinking of exotic lands.  

Same old day.  Same old dinner.  But now, we’ve got ourselves a happiness framework.

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The Throw Back

There you are, eating a burrito or picking at a hangnail, and all of a sudden, it happens: You have a thought.

I wonder about this. I read recently, in a Richard Selzer account, that “a surgeon knows the landscape of the brain but does not know how a thought is made.” Does anyone? Does anyone know how a thought begins? It’s a mystery to scientists.

Today, as I was drinking coffee and watching sunlight filter through the potted tulips, I had a thought. I wondered what great thing I might do in my life. It was a nanosecond of a thought.

I closed my eyes and thought about the great people I know. I concluded that every great person I know has sacrificed deeply. They live for a mission that’s bigger than their own comfort. As I sat there (very comfortably) on my couch with my just-right coffee, I wondered if I could rise to the challenge of mission. What would it take? And why do people do this? Why some and not others?

I sat there, reflecting on a life’s purpose. What does it mean to reflect? Is it useful? Reflection means to pause in the day and contemplate what I’m doing and what it means. A reflection literally is a light or sound wave being thrown back from a surface. I want to let things I observe and experience be “thrown back” in my face; I want to consider them deeply and fit them into the narrative of my life.

If a reflection is a “throwing back” of light, I wonder what I throw back to people when they observe me. What do I reflect, what do I teach?

My moment of reflection stirred something up in me. But I almost lost that thought in the rush of life. I could have ignored it altogether. (I mean, even at this very moment I’m thinking about 20 other things including but not limited to: how to manage the ladybug infestation in my house, how many calories are in a serving of ham, or why all the kids like that Iyaz “Replay” song). That greatness thought, like some shooting star across a dim sky, was barely there, embedded in the mush of neurons. I just had to figure out a way to hold it in place, let it do its work, and honor it today.

I want to be more reflective. I want to teach my children to develop curious, reflective minds. I want to be able to ask them, each day, what they wondered about. (I’m not sure how to guarantee this. I briefly considered sending the children to their room to meta-cognate before lunch.)

Living with flair means I let my experiences “throw back” something to me.

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