leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Monday, June 27, 2011

Light of Hope

Do you remember the taste of strawberries?
Sprawled upon the ash-strewn rubble of Mt. Doom, choking with thirst, Frodo’s unremitting companion Sam tried to awaken his spirits with this question.  Earlier, in the dark of Shelob’s lair, the voice of Galadriel had reminded Frodo, ‘there is a light when all other lights go out.”  Then Frodo reached for and found her gift, the phial, the light of the star of Earendil, saving him from the encroaching 8-legged terror.   But on the slopes of Mt. Doom, where the Evil Lord birthed the One Ring, all other powers were subdued, even the starglass.   Never quitting, Sam offered, in his simple question, what light he had.  Not only the light of enduring friendship, but the light of hope.  Of home.   But this time Frodo was too far gone.  The One Ring had taken him.  “No Sam.  I cannot recall the sound of water.  Or the touch of grass.  I’m naked in the dark.  There is no veil between me and wheel of fire.”
This week I was offered the same light Sam offered Frodo on Mt. Doom.  I may not have been choking with thirst or hunted by a house-sized spider, but I was falling under the spell of the One Ring, sometimes losing my better self.   On April 29 I voluntarily walked away from the security of a well-paid job at Medtronic.    Harder yet, I walked away from the smiling faces of my amazing, engaging colleagues.  For three months I toiled---scraping and stripping glue, painting trim and walls, renting alien furniture ---prepping our house for sale.  And all under a relentless gray sky.   Three months of April rain.
Suddenly that seemed done.
Now what? 
“Let’s pick strawberries!” Linda said to me. 
Unlike Frodo, I was not too far gone.  “OK,” I muttered knowing full well the effort ahead:  36 hours of red-stained hands, sinks, countertops and cookie sheets.    Yet when we arrived at Silkey Gardens and my knees fell upon the straw between the green rows, I felt life return.  Without asking it to, my hand brushed aside leaf and vine.    A flash of red excited my eyes.  Then my middle and index fingers knew exactly what to do.  Slipping behind  the fleshy shoulders, one finger on each side of the stem, they gently squeezed.  Snap!
There it was, green-hatted-strawberry, gleaming red in the sun.   Yes, the sun had returned!   But now was not the time for such savoring.  Pop!  Into my mouth.  For a moment I could not even comprehend, could not contain all the juicy, chin-dripping joy.  Then Ho!  My!  Gosh! 
Sunlight.  I was tasting sunlight.  So warm.  So uplifting. So much energy pulsing down my arms.  My hands, still weary from house prep.  My picking fingers.  Soon, the white box between my knees brimmed with little Early Glows, seemingly filling itself as I got drunk on the strawberry smell.  As always, we returned with more than the thirty pounds we’d intended.  I mean those big Brunswicks so easily fill a box; you felt sorry for the failing Mesabi vines, and then there’s sweeter-than-sweet Sparkle! Linda’s favorite.  Heaven made manifest on a vine. 
39.3 pounds.  Two hours to pick.  Ten hours to wash, core, dry, semi-freeze on cookie sheets, and freezer bag.    And all along their journey to our upright basement freezer, they sustained us.  Grazing strawberries while we pick (how else do you know the good ones?).  Spoon-smushed strawberries in my roasted sunflower seed snack.  Sitting on the deck, we toast the next-door-Pride-party with our dazzlingly red strawberry margaritas.  And finally, the salad.  Red upon green, lettuce and fennel and mint fresh from our Rock Springs Farm CSA box.
When Sam offered Frodo the opportunity to remember the taste of strawberries, he was indeed offering a light, every bit as magical and powerful as the phial of Galadriel.   So Linda did for me. The light of hope rekindled within my mind.  The life-giving light of the sun, harvested by strawberry leaves and pumped like sugary blood into the berries (and into me).  The light of the first massive stars---who in their supernova death throes created all the elements heavier than iron---still twinkles in the palm of my hand, putting the sparkle in Sparkle. 
And the light of welcoming community:  Wise farmer Paul, his jam-jarring mom Grace, all the berry-stained ‘hired hands’,  even little Carson buzzing like a bee as we bounced together in the back of the golf cart shuttle. 
House no longer ours on Aug 1, we’ve rented a one room cabin from our dear neighbor Kim right across the road from the Land. Though only 20x20 we’ve allocated a goodly amount of the precious space to a our old chest freezer.  One purpose.
Come February, snow leaning on the north side our cabin, how better to invite summer inside than a strawberry smoothie?  Engage new life. Maintain what matters.
In the glory of my final days, when all other lights seem to fade, may I be invited, coaxed by my dearest ones,  to remember the taste of strawberries.  There is a light when all other lights go out.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The week-old $310K offer on our house---initially a stack of twelve or so Edina Realty documents signed by the buyer and us (the seller)---morphed somehow into a bloated, yet ravenous creature, capable of seeking, finding and gnawing the raw ends of my emotions, exposing the  bones of my lesser self.    While I must remain aware at all times since he’s still out there ready to pounce, I can’t help but wonder from whence he comes.  What exhumed corpse?  What House of Frankenstein? 
The story’s getting ahead of itself.  Who is this monster?  First, let me tell you who he isn’t. 
He is not our broken furnace.  Yes, our boiler broke this week.   (Ahhh!!!   There, that felt belter).  You should have smelled my indignation when our buyer’s inspector suggested that our boiler might be unsafe.  You should have seen my widening eyes when I called Centerpoint Gas Company’s service line and they told me to get out of the house while they paratroop in their SWAT team.  You should have felt my terror turn to humiliation turn to anger when they tied the red sticker of death upon our carbon monoxide-leaking boiler.

“How much is a new boiler?,” I finally squeaked out.
“$5000,” he shrugged.
Turns out it could go as high as $7K.   When we’d already spent $15K plus 3 brutal months of our own blood, sweat and tears prepping our house for market, let’s just say that Friday was a bad day for Mike and leave it that.   Yet, still not monstrous.
He is not negotiation: that terrifying, aggravating, even thrilling game of tractor chicken (play Holding Out for a Hero here  ).    The buyers asked for $2000 to cover their cost of problems discovered in their inspection.  We countered, not only saying no to the $2000 but that they needed to pay the entire cost of the furnace.  I felt so smug, thinking I had them since we were willing to stay on the tractor and let the entire deal die if they didn’t go for it.  Now they plan to withdraw their $2000 request, leaving us no legal opening to ask for anything.  I actually laughed when I first heard it:  outwitted by a technicality.  Now they get a new furnace at their original offer price of $310K.  Irritated as I am, this is still not the monster of which I speak.
So who is this creature?  I’m talking about the monster of opaqueness, crawled from the murky swamp of anonymity.  
You see, we’ve never met these buyers.  Nor their realtor.   Never heard their voices.   Only once, from afar, did we spy them leaving our house, getting into their car.  We’ve seen an MLS photo of their St. Louis Park house (hmmm…can they really afford ours?).  So Bill Minge, our exacting and tireless Edina Realty realtor, becomes their talking head:  the voice of the other side. 
Ho my gosh, what atrocities are possible when you do not know someone?   Understand someone?  Recognize their children?  What of road rage?  What of the studied and brutal nature of children on the internet compared to live interaction with their peers. 
Ho my gosh what healing ever occurred from afar, without a commitment to build relationship? My dear friend Missy and I reminisced over that very thing over eggs at Gigi’s this week.   At Medtronic, we helped other's jobs go better, easier.  The solutions often appeared mystically technical. 
“When did we ever accomplish anything without investing in improving relationships?” I asked her.
“What happened if we didn’t invest in relationships?”
“Nothing or it fell apart after we left.”
At a moment of negotiation frustration, I told Bill Minge my Medtronic experience, then added, “This house selling process completely lacks relationship building.  No wonder we don’t trust each other.  It’s amazing it works at all.”  From across our breakfast nook table, he quietly sipped his tea and shrugged, “That’s the way the process is.”
Indeed!  Problem is, sparing Herculean emotional effort on my part, it’s easy to imagine these buyers as evil.  Greedy.  Out to get us.  And boy oh boy do they deserve whatever I can dish out.  There!  I’m pushing out the close date.  I don’t care if you and your snotty little children have to move twice.  Take that!  I’m not fixing the gasping hole in the window.  Contract doesn’t say so, so I’m not.
As the monster of opaqueness gnaws my better self, I look around at the world I live in.  How many “transactions” occur without transparency, without knowing who I’m working with?  Products and services, even for the care of my mind and body, flow through increasingly anonymous streams of delivery, arriving packaged and purchased at my feet.  I’ve sacrificed relationship on the altar of convenience.  Without relationship, where is my better self?  Where are you?  Where is the divine?
Lately on Facebook, it’s been a joy to read and see all the conversation and photos about relationships, divine consciousness even.  Not once do I recall anyone ever saying they experience relationship or post a connecting photo about an anonymous product stream. 
While the ever-growing monster of opaqueness gnaws our better selves, how hard will it be to make real and lasting change. What hope exists for this world’s great leap forward when our fundamental systems deliver without transparency, without a foundation of relationship?    Good grief, look how hard it is just to sell a house to a complete stranger.  Imagine peace with nations who don’t know each other.  As Michael Pollan said in his breakthrough Omnivore's Dilemna, "If there's any new right we need to establish maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look."

Fortunately, I live in a world of boundless hope, at least from 5 to 6:30AM each morning as I write my story.  In the Corridor, the fenced in world within our world, Ruth, Amelan and the other Members live according to a principle essentially unknown in our world:  tend your wake.    The story opens with a conflict. 
“I am the Mender,” says Amelan.  “I am called to solve problems by applying the five bridges of mending.”
“My dear Amelan,” says momming Ruth.  “If you fly from one problem to the next, from baby Baara’s infection to the leaking oven, you cannot tend your wake, the unintended consequences of your behavior.   Without committing to really knowing Baara or the oven, how will you ever learn what could go wrong if you tamper with them?  Without committing yourself to a long term relationship, how will you take accountability for what does go wrong?  Something always does after all.”
“Were we not created to experiment?” Amelan asks.
“Of course!  And along with that great gift comes the responsibility to attend our wake.  We alone among all creation, have the power to create and destroy so easily and unintentionally.  I am sorry Amelan, but Mending is experimentation without transparency.”
So every morning, I get to observe how the Members of the Corridor confront the monster of opaqueness as he grows and threatens their very existence.    They remind me to do all I can to step away from opaque transactions.  When I’m stuck in one, like selling my house, they remind me to take the Herculean effort:  at least try to imagine the humanity of the buyers.    Or perhaps even take a bold step out of the system, breath out my monster-induced anger, breath in the divine. 
Maybe then I’ll even invite the buyers to our 4100 Harriet July block party.


We accepted an offer on our house, Saturday,  second day on the market, within 5% of our aggressive asking price, with our preferred Aug 1 closing date.  We’re impossibly fortunate in this slumping market.   We’ll receive more than enough to cover the costs of building our new home (The House the Land Built) and still achieve our “no debt” goal, enabling us to engage the new life.   
Then why do I feel so broken?  
As David Bromberg sang, ‘I must have someone else’s blues.  I swear I don’t know why.’  Shouldn’t I feel like clinking glasses with friends and neighbors. “Yippee!  It’s over!”? 
So what would Amelan do?  After all, my novel’s 17 year old protagonist is the Mendering, claiming to mend anything broken by applying his 5 bridges of mending.  Now you may be wondering if I’ve leaped completely off sanity’s edge:  listening to a fictional character, and a 17 year old one at that?   Well, here it is then:  I vividly remember the day, the very scene where the characters took over my story.    Summer 2004, three months into the first of seven drafts,  timid Dr. Nancy Fobair---the story’s only character from ‘the world as we know it’ amongst the Members of the Corridor---dares to tell me, ‘that’s not what happened, let me tell you what did’.   From then on, writing was easy, if not a little unsettling.  In some ways Amelan Beaver Creek is more real to me than the staged sunroom I’m sitting in (if you want to gawk:   I feel a little awkward ‘channeling’ Amelan real time but here goes. 
“We begin, of course, at the First Bridge of Mending,” says Amelan.  “Name the Pain.”  Pain?  I feel like I just crawled out the window after a car wreck.   There’s no one pain.  First, my chest is gashed, heart bleeding: I’m going to miss so many people.  Alby, my next door neighbor of 15 years, just gave me a thumbs down from his front porch.  I rushed to the sunroom window. 
“What’s wrong?,” I asked.
 “That’s my sad face,” Alby said.
 “I know.” 
All of sudden its real.  August 1.  Gone.  Returning only as ‘friend’ but not ‘neighbor’.  I cannot describe the welcome, the connection,  I’ve experienced on this 4100 block of Harriet Avenue for 25 years.    Kicked out of my house Friday morning for a showing, I walked sidewalks.  Alleys.  So many trees, shrubs and flowers I’d planted.  The maples around our Judson Church, arching over the sidewalk:  I won’t prune them into lushness again.  My first prairie, 4117 Harriet---planted to heal the flotsam and jetsam that spewed from drilling a 200’ deep test well for the churches geo-thermal heat system---now overrun with the invasives of my neglect: thistles,  reed canary grass, ash trees.  The stout culver’s root in Al’s boulevard garden, the snowberry rambling over Ray’s back yard, both dug from our yard and replanted.  My neighborhood legacy will grow on without me.
There’s the stomach pain, the angst of uncertainty.  Would some other buyer give us more $$$ for our house, for our grueling efforts?  We’ll never know.  Unless the deal falls through due to buyer’s inspection or financing or failing to sell their home.  More stomach pain.
Mostly it’s my feet that hurt.  They love to dance with Linda.   Its magic, really, our relationship; each of us following our path in life, yet somehow finding a way forward together.  Really together, rarely settling for a compromising tit-for-tat.  Rather we each hold our dreams as we waltz together toward the light.   I wouldn’t be surprised if one day---when we have no use for our old bones---our feet simply float off the dance floor.  Luminous beings.   Just love.
Right now we’re not dancing.  Hard as leaving is for me, for Linda its more so.  After a good dinner at a  friend’s table, I’m always ready to leave before she is, winking, tugging on her sleeve like a 3 year old.  For good or for ill I live more in the future.  I so want to get down to our Land.  Walk amongst the white indigo’s.
 I couldn’t believe what I beheld from our Land driveway Saturday as dust billowed behind our 20’ U-Haul truck.  Acres, literally acres, of white indigos, Baptisia alba, blooming for the first time.  On this, the fourth spring since we planted our 40 acre prairie, they rose from the ashes of an April controlled burn and shone out their glory.  Its toward them I’m called.  Somehow, I know they are part of the story, the story of wild hope for humanity.  

So maybe this is the pain:  I’m torn in two.  I want to dance forward with Linda AND dance upon the hills in the green, green grass of June.   And this, perhaps, is enough know for now. I’ve crossed the first bridge of mending.  I’ve named the pain.  Once again I need to paddle the river of AND. 
Thank you, Amelan.  I’m not ready for your remaining bridges of mending.  To name the pain is enough.   I’m a lucky man, so much to love, so much love my way.  And, in spite of what the apostle Paul said, love hurts sometimes.  Its alive and beating after all.   Yet I’ve finally learned one thing:  ‘tis better to dance toward the light, no matter how painfully bright, than to hide in a hole in the night. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


In that blur of final days  leading to my ‘refirement’ from Medtronic (and 31 years of Corporate engagement) I received  many gifts, none more memorable than the medallion ceremony.  Whether the chill mist hailed from the gray April sky or the thundering torrent of Minnehaha Falls, neither dampened our spirits.   I had so looked forward to that early morning,  presenting achievement medallions to three devoted (and loved if they knew it) mentees: Heather, Keyia and Kim.  Earlier, on the winding drive there down Minnehaha Creek, I rehearsed the words I had chosen to honor their achievement.  Something precious.  Something dangerous.  Advice!   Now, five weeks into my refirement, I still bite my tongue and refrain from asking what they’ve done with it.  Yet, this week, I realize that its I who need the very advice I gave.  Or at least the core.  One word.  A most powerful and freeing word.
Heather, Keyia and Kim might be shocked to learn of their mentor’s struggle (they always did put me on much too high a pedestal for my comfort).   As gloved hands raised our glasses of bubbly apple juice, Kim teased me by boomeranging  my favorite question, “What’s your Y?”.  In our profession’s jargon, the Y measures success.  “I’ve forgotten,” I embarrassingly admitted.   More than embarrassed, I recall feeling disturbed.  Even scared.  If I’ve forgotten how to measure success---what my refirement success really looks like---I’m apt to wander off course.  Miss the mark.  Refire without aim. 
So I begged.  And Kim (though she knew she shouldn’t) told me what I ‘d once told her over Pink Flower spring rolls.  “My Y is percent heart decisions.”    It all seemed so clear, so easy, back then.   I knew that if I let my mind make the big refirement decisions, I was doomed.  My mind is out to kill me.  Don’t feel bad little mind.  You’re great at the how, at assembling and executing a plan of action.  But when it comes to the what---envisioning possibilities and choosing the ones that really matter---my heart has made all the great decisions.    Too often, I’d overburdened little mind with questions he can’t answer.  Wasn’t made to answer.  But refirement was going to be different.   I wanted heart (and soul) to lead the way. 
I feel called to a conversation of hope with the world.  For the world.   How ridiculously impossible, says my mind.   Yet heart knows better.  ‘Seek ye first the kingdom’.   So that was my Y.  Percent heart decisions.  Plot it.  Monitor like with some kind of gas gauge.  
I’m not doing so well.  Below the red line.   Mind racing.  Running on heart fumes. 
Days.  Weeks.  Months now of prepping our old house for sale.   Little mind outpaces heart, creating project lists faster than heart can say, ‘Stop!  Wait!  What really matters right now?’  But little mind already has a plan for the day.  Deliverables (door painted, lawn mowed, bedrooms packed and staged, basement wall painted).  Items needed (two brushes, primer paint, wall paint, lawn mower).  And both lists are in ink, on Medtronic Lean Sigma note paper.  How can heart argue with such precision?
 Then why do I feel so tense?  Why do I snap so readily at Linda (“I threw the wrong box away, OK!”)?   Why do I wake before robin sings?  Oh robin!!!  Tell me!  My heart listens.

Ah, the deck at dawn!  First light on river birch, virgin leaves shimmering.  Dancing.  And silly loon, far off, crying for the beauty of another day.  And I’m writing.  Not this blog---connecting as it is---but my story of hope.  My calling, which I’d forsaken for the first time in seven years.  Oh little mind.  I understand you thought it right, best even, to focus all my energy on leaving the current house.  But heart begs me back  to my story.  To the Corridor.  And especially to 17 year old Amelan.
 I used to laugh at his myopic focus on mind.  Not that he’s out of touch with his feelings, but his mind always decides what to do with them.  Sorry Amelan!  I finally understand you.  Heck, I’ve become you.  Fiery Elli, his travelling companion and first time love interest, confuses him by insisting he follow his heart.  He tries.  Fails.  Blames her for expecting him to be someone he’s not. 
And that’s only the beginning of his challenge.  Along the Way to Dego’s Village he tries to heal the ailing Skye, forge his first love and escape his father’s demands.  Yet all these things, important as they are, continually distract him from his goal:  vie for Poet of the Corridor from atop the Poet’s Tower. 
But it’s Skye, his other travelling companion (and his grandmother were he to know it), who helps them both.  “Heart AND head”, she suggests.  This Amelan is willing to try.  He can be his heady self AND try to be so much more.  Not one or the other but both.  Fully human.  Fully engaged.  “Paddling the river of AND,” as he describes it.
 Heather, Keyia and Kim, it seems I’ve neglected to take the core of the advice I gave you.  The core of the advice Skye gave Amelan.  That one word.  That most powerful word.  AND. 
Head AND Heart.
Isn’t that the point to all this anyway?  Scraping glue off floors.  Stepping down as Medtronic mentor.  Midnight meetings with the new home architect.  Isn’t it all about engaging my new life?  Heeding my call?  Bringing a story of hope into the world?  Like Amelan seeking to vie for Poet of the Corridor, I must attend to  other things as well.  The challenge is keeping my eye on the prize: my call.  Or is that your job, heart?
Ho my!  I just noticed the first spiderwort bloom.  So blue here in the garden before sunrise.  I don’t know why but it makes me sad.  That darned heart.

% Heart decisions.   I’m above the red line.  At this turn in the river.