Friday, May 31, 2013

Nourishing the Impossible

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, a church festival day which has only recently become important to me.  This feast day celebrates the time that Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Both women are pregnant in miraculous ways:  Mary hasn't had sex, and Elizabeth is beyond her fertile years.  Yet both are pregnant.  Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary will give birth to Jesus. For a more theological consideration of this day, see this post on my theology blog.

Lately I've been interested in this story as a story of women who say yes to the improbable, the impossible.  They open their lives to all sorts of possibilities.  Lately, I've noticed how many people are used to saying "No.  Absolutely not.  Too big a risk.  The consequences of failure will be too awful.  That time of my life is over."  On and on they go, slamming doors, walking away from possibilities, saying no to every adventure.

And something inside shrivels.  The self that can hear the still, small voice stops listening because it's too painful to always face the denial.

Today is a good day to think about what we've denied.  Maybe it's time to return to it.  As long as we have breath in our bodies, it's not too late.

Yesterday I had lunch with one of my writer friends.  For years, she's been talking about moving to San Francisco.  She'll talk about it and then decide not to go.  For a time, her life swims along.  But then, the yearning to go west resurfaces.

Yesterday, I said, "You've been talking about going to San Francisco for years.  Maybe it's time to go.  Just close up the house and go to San Francisco for the summer.  See what happens."

We talked about how that could happen:  how one closes up a house for the summer, for example.  We broke it down into steps.  It's not so overwhelming.  The job that requires her to be geographically here is done for the summer.  She can take her freelance work with her.  If she discovers that she doesn't want to live in San Francisco, she can return in August--or two years from now.  Or she can move somewhere else.

I've been experiencing a similar epiphany lately.  For years, I assumed we couldn't move.  We couldn't afford it--that's my go-to dream killer.  But the truth is, we can afford it.  We'll need to prioritize, but that's a good process.

The whole process is overwhelming, so I did what I always do:  break it into steps.  Step by step, we're getting ready.

I expected disapproval, which so far, I haven't experienced.  I didn't expect that there would be some people who told me, "Oh, I could never do what you're doing."  It's disapproval, in a way, I guess.

And I'm surprised by my response:  "Oh yes you could.  You might be surprised."

In 1998, we did what I advised my writer friend to do.  We really wanted to move away from South Carolina, so we started saving money.  We fell in love with the South Florida area when my spouse had a job interview here.  He didn't get that job, but we decided to move anyway.

I had a teaching job where I could take summers off.  We decided to take a summer, to see what would happen.  We had a safety net.  I could return to that job.  But within 3 weeks of moving here, I'd been offered a 1 year, temporary, full-time position.  It was just the sign we needed.  We stayed.

I've been surprised how my actions have rippled out.  A few years after we moved, I got an e-mail from a colleague at my old school, who wanted to, as he put it, "pull a Kristin."  He had dreams of going back to school.  He took encouragement from my story.  And from what I can tell, he's been successful.

In 2007, I had a friend who dreamed of moving to be closer to family and to move away from hurricane threats.  We explored options.  We discussed job possibilities.  I encouraged her to apply for some jobs that she thought she had no chance of getting.  She got one of them, and off they went.

Yesterday, again, I told my story as a way of encouragement, a way of saying, "I moved away for the summer.  If I could do it, you can do it.  Let's explore how." 

The world tells us of all the ways that things can go terribly wrong.  We need to remember that often we take the first steps, and we get more encouragement than we expected.  God or the universe or destiny, however you think of it, meets us more than halfway.

"Leap and the net will appear."  I can't remember who originally said it, but I first became aware of this philosophy through the work of Julia Cameron.  Her works encourage people to explore their creativity, to take the first steps, to be open to what happens.  In The Vein of Gold, she says, "As a culture, we focus on results, not on the rewards of risk.  Anything worth doing is worth doing badly, but we don't tell ourselves that" (page 205)

She also encourages people to be brave as their creativity soars and takes them to unexpected places.  In her books, she gives us story after story of regular people who begin exploring their creative impulses, thus triggering all sorts of synchronicity.  These are people who said yes to their inner yearnings.

So today, on this feast day that celebrates unlikely miracles, let's practice saying yes.  For one day, let's quiet the negative voices that shout at us.   Today, let us try to remember all of the dreams we might have discarded as improbable, impossible.  Nourish all the possibilities.  Let's choose one possibility and try it on for size.  Let that dream incubate a bit.  Let it swell and grow into a full-blown alternative. 

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