Lessons from Meeple

Life is rich with teaching moments, those seemingly small events that impart something about our world, or more importantly, about ourselves.  Teaching moments often come in surprising ways.  A friend’s thoughtful gesture reminds us to become more considerate; our response to one spoken word teaches us something about ourselves.  It’s important to be on the look-out for these subtle moments; they have the ability to help us grow into better persons.

A few weeks ago I had a wealth of teaching moments from a surprising source. Rick and I drove to Maryland to visit our son, Brendon, and his puppy, Meeple.   While visiting, we took numerous walks with Meeple, a one-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. When not walking, we sometimes sat on the sofa with him, petting his soft black fur.  During our visit, I became aware of some admirable qualities in Meeple, reminding me of some important life lessons.  Here are a few:

  • Be curious and aware. The world is full of jewels and Meeple knows that well.  He pays attention.  A leaf resting on the ground does not go unnoticed. Towering trees are not just to look at but to examine with scrutiny.
    • My Learning: Don’t miss out on the world’s treasures! Behold the sparkling morning dew while it lasts and marvel at the orange-rust-red colors of autumn that take your breath away.

 

  • Live in the present. When Meeple naps, he naps well.  When he hears a noise, he listens.  When he walks, he’s committed to it.
    • My Learning: Wherever you are, be there.  Whatever work, study, or play you’re doing, do it with full immersion.  The present is all we have, and it’s plenty rich for all of us.

 

  • Love extravagantly! Meeple excels at this.  One day, after taking him for a stroll, a few of us were walking up the steps to his home to reunite with our son.  Meeple was excited about this, but when he saw that I lagged a few steps behind, he turned around, came back down the steps where I stood, and walked me up the stairs.  He made sure I was coming!
    • My Learning: Greet others with joy.  Include everyone.  Ask yourself, Who might benefit from a smile, a phone call, or a greeting card today?

 

What teaching moments have you received from your pet?

 

 

A Memorable Family Vacation

This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about.  It is not really rest or even leisure we chase.  We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again.”

–Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in Life (1967)

Shana Alexander has named something so essential to not only travel but to life itself: our capacity for wonder and astonishment.  How much of life would we miss if we looked, but did not see, the amazement right before our eyes?  What would our lives be if we lost our capacity for wonder and astonishment? 

My family and I just completed an opportunity to enrich these capacities within ourselves. Rick, our son Brendon, and I traveled together to the northeastern states of Pennsylvania and New York and then crossed the border into Ontario, Canada.  We traveled along the rolling hills and mountains of Pennsylvania, witnessed past accomplishments  of talented baseball players at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, visited the home of one I have long admired, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who tirelessly pursued justice for women, and experienced the life-force, and yes wonder, of Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Of course, the best part is that we traveled as family, which for me increased the depth, meaning, and joy of all that we experienced.  How could I not return home full of gratitude for this venture?

Here is a photo journey that outlines the points and pleasures of our travel together:

Hershey, Pennsylvania

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Our first stop was to “the sweetest place on earth,” Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Milton Hershey perfected the process of producing milk chocolate.  A great story of innovation and vision.

 

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Flytes of chocolate, from dark bitter to milk chocolate sweet!  My favorite?  Always dark chocolate.  We were told there’s a little over 1,000 calories in these six flytes!

 

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Cheers!

Cooperstown, New York — Baseball Hall of Fame

 

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I was taken by this quote because of my family history.  On many an evening my parents sat on their front porch, listening to a Cubs game on the radio.  I am certain they “saw” every play!

 

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One of the Twins great players honored in the Hall of Fame.

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Brendon at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY.

Seneca Falls, New York — The Home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

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The home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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A statue of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton being introduced by a mutual friend.  It was a lifelong friendship, based on a passion for women’s rights, especially the right to vote.  The nineteenth amendment to allow women the vote was passed in 1920.  Neither woman lived to see it happen.

 

Niagara Falls–Ontario, Canada

 

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Niagara Falls, where we shocked ourselves “into astonishment once again.”

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We spent our last evening in Canada at a casino, where a delicious buffet meal of various ethnic dishes was served.  Rick won eleven Canadian dollars!

A Visit to McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Anyone who has had surgery knows that recovery takes a while.  During any rehabilitation period, lives change dramatically, requiring a change in how we spend our time.

This is exactly what my husband and I experienced after his shoulder surgery.   No more trips to the beach; no long walks in Charleston’s summer heat.  Instead, we found ourselves engaged in everyday activities that kept his shoulder safe from harm and, at the same time, promoted healing.  We attended physical therapy sessions, iced the surgical site, and adjusted the sling—many times over!  And six weeks later, we’re not done yet.

A few weeks ago, though, we made a slight turning point.  It was a Sunday afternoon. The temperature and humidity had dropped somewhat while a slight breeze brushed against us as we ventured outdoors and did something besides rehabilitate and give care to the rehabilitator!  We visited one of many of Charleston’s plantations: McLeod Plantation Historic Site, a place that was turned into a museum only a little over a year ago.

The history of McLeod Plantation goes back to the mid-1800s.   William Wallace McLeod acquired this property in 1851 and constructed a home there.  While the McLeod family sought to defend their advantageous way of life, enslaved men and women worked hard cultivating sea island cotton.  It was a place of hard work, struggle, and complex relationships during a time of war and pestilence. Today, states the plantation’s website, “It is a living tribute to the men and women and their descendants that persevered in their efforts to achieve freedom, equality, and justice.”

This historic site is a testament to the living presence of the past.  For more information about and to see photos, go to:

http://www.ccprc.com/1447/McLeod-Plantation-Historic-Site

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/arts/design/mcleod-plantation-museum-tells-the-story-of-the-south.html?_r=0

 

Get in Gear Race: A Rite of Spring

The Get in Gear finish line.  Photo Jan Stanton
                         The Get in Gear finish line.   Photo Jan Stanton

Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Get in Gear race got off to a great start this morning!  This annual “Rite of Spring” sets the official start of the racing season.  And what a great start it was!  Even the weather worked on our behalf.  We were expecting the possibility of a lingering cool rain from yesterday, but by the time the 5K began the sun was shining.

Jan before the Get in Gear 2015.  Photo Rick Stanton.
Jan before the Get in Gear 2015.  Photo Rick Stanton.

This Get in Gear event holds 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon races, with a 2K race for kids held last night. This year there was something new:  Brass Players from the acclaimed Minnesota Orchestra. They led us in the national anthem and provided appropriate music (the “Lone Ranger” theme) at the start of the Half-Marathon/10K!

I ran a better 5K race than I expected.  I’ve been running slowly all spring and didn’t expect to match my record from last year.  As it turned out, I beat it by over one minute.  I felt like I was working really hard to do so, but I felt great when I crossed the finish line.

After I finished, I helped myself to the provided snacks and then watched the 10K and Half-Marathon runners come in to finish.  I was lucky enough to catch the first place male and female half-marathoners as they crossed the finish line!

This is always a great well-organized race, with lots of people (7,000 registered) and excitement.  I was glad to be part of it on this beautiful Saturday morning!

A Great 10K!

It’s been twenty-nine years since I ran my last 10K race.

I’ve been running frequent 5K races since I took up running again several years ago.  But today was the day I chose to stretch myself.  I would double my distance in this popular women’s race, known as Women Run the Cities.  In addition to the one-mile girls race (sometimes accompanied by moms), this popular, annual event offered a 5K, 10K, and 10-mile race.

The course itself was challenging, with a fair amount of elevation along its 6.2 mile route.  I ran this course a few weeks ago, reassured that I could finish, but as race day approached, I felt a bit anxious, wondering if I was really up to this challenge.

Thankfully, I felt entirely different when I awoke this morning.  I had had a restful sleep, and I felt strong, eager to run, and unafraid.  I had lots of energy and genuinely looked forward to the race’s start.  And what surprised me was that I continued to feel strong as I ran.  I can’t say this about all of my runs, but this one seemed to ‘click.’

I really did enjoy it!

 

Jan, on far right, running a 10K in 1985
Jan, on far right, running a 10K in 1985
Waiting to start! (2014)
Waiting to start! (2014)
And we're off!
And we’re off!

 

The Uninvited Guest

Getting ready for the Get in Gear Race, April 2013.

It happened November 9, 2013.

It was a Saturday morning and I was out for a run—a longer one, I’d hoped.  Clouds settled over the Twin Cities region, with temperatures in the mid-forties.  No, it was not winter yet, no snow or ice.  I could still run on a clean, paved track along River Road.  It was good to be outdoors, doing what I loved to do.

And then it happened.  I’d covered four and a half miles when suddenly my right leg began to hurt—a lot.  Far more intense than simple soreness or fatigue, this pain was like I’d never experienced before, shooting down my leg with each step.  I wondered how I’d ever get back home, a mile and a half away.

Though concerned, I tried putting on a little optimism, if not downright denial, by clinging to an unlikely hope that the pain would subside all by itself, and soon I’d resume my comfortable run.  That never happened.

Somehow I made it home, every step on the way a throbbing one, until at last I was home, so glad to be off my feet.  Though I usually run every other day, I knew this time would be different. “I won’t be able to run Monday,” I thought.  “I’ll need more rest.  I’ll probably have to wait until Tuesday.”  That never happened either.

By Tuesday, I realized that this injury would need some help to heal.   Diagnosed with an injury to my adductor muscle, I underwent a series of chiropractic treatments, along with rest and frequent periods of icing, hoping I’d be pain-free in a week, maybe two.  After all, I’d registered for the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K with my family, and time was getting close. Surely I’d be ready by then. But as time grew nearer, a healthy sense of realism told me that I would not run in this race.  With sadness, I wrote to my son, “I won’t be able to run with you on Thanksgiving, but I’ll be on the sidelines cheering you and Dad on.”  And so it was.

It’s now been two months since my injury, and I’m well on the path to healing.  Chiropractic adjustments, laser treatments, ice, rest, and appropriate exercises have helped me rebound.  I’m now in the “rehab” portion of my recovery.  I’m even running a little, and I’m optimistic that another run is in my future.

During this time of recovery, I’ve thought of the poem “The Guesthouse” by Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet.  Many of us are familiar with this poem, a beautiful piece of writing that encourages us to welcome everything that greets us in lifeeven illness, injury, and disappointment—because everything that life brings to us has something to teach us.  Here’s the poem:

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

 Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

Meet them at the door laughing.

And invite them to come in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

Because each has been sent

As a guide from beyond.

Frankly, I did not welcome this injury.  It was an uninvited guest, an unwelcome intruder that stole my joy of a regular running practice.   It brought with it many fears that lingered in my mind while I was healing.  I worried that the damage I incurred would take too long to heal, that I would no longer run distances again or even run at all.   I wanted it to go away.

But if I seriously reflect on the words of Rumi (and maybe it’s easier now that I’m on the path to healing), and ask if this guest taught me anything, I’d have to say yes, I’ve learned some things.

These past two months have deepened my appreciation for running. When I run, my life is enriched.  And perhaps I have also grown in my empathy toward others who, upon being injured, are prevented from doing that which brings them life.  After all, an injury is a loss and all losses, no matter how minor or uneventful we deem them, affect us.  They deserve our respectful attention.

And so I continue the work of strengthening and healing.  And for those who also wait for healing and a return to what they love to do, I wish them well.

Good healing to all.

The Great Grape Race near Baltimore, MD., August 2013.
The Great Grape Race near Baltimore, MD., August 2013.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

Ruth and Ray Hobson Photo JStanton
Ruth and Ray Hobson
Photo JStanton

Not all relationships are capable of picking up where they left off, especially after a long absence.

But Rick and I experienced this dynamic when my sister, Ruth Ann, and brother-in-law, Ray, traveled from Arizona to visit us last week.

Due to geographical distance and work schedules, frequent visits had been difficult.  Trips to see one another were postponed.  But this was the year that a get-together would take place, and the excitement of their anticipated visit merged with a gratifying experience of wonderful memories.

At the final twins game.
At the final twins game of the season.

We felt comfortable with one another instantly.  We shared openly about our lives and the lives of our children.  We laughed over games. We (tried to) cheer at the final game of the Twins hapless baseball season.  We relaxed as we took a cruise down the Mississippi River.   During these precious few  days together, we bonded more closely.

Families don’t always experience this kind of get-together, I know.  Sometimes fear and defensiveness characterize family visits, making it difficult for intimacy and love to surface.  These are painful times indeed.

But this visit with these two dear people was entirely different.  Our time together “clicked,” and Rick and I are grateful for this family connection.  Our memories will carry us until the next get-together, which I hope will be soon.

What a great thing: to simply pick up where we left off.

Ruth Ann & Jan Photo RStanton
Ruth Ann & Jan
Photo RStanton