Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

I know that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but I'm going to start early. 

I'm chugging inbound on the eastbound Southwest Chief, having boarded in the wee hours of Tuesday in Kingman AZ. I was awakened in the pre-dawn of eastern KS this morning as they stuffed the empty seats with heading-home-for-the-holidays passengers at Topeka and Lawrence. That means I have four hours until I'll be collected at the Art Deco Amtrak depot in La Plata MO—just enough time to jot down (well, peck down) all that I'm thankful for in the final hours of my four-week road trip.

I'm thankful for the home that I am returning to. On a basic level, homelessness is a serious societal ill, symptomatic of the inevitable consequences of our winners-and-losers competitive culture. As a road warrior who travels mainly by train, I get to see more than my share of the not-so-pretty sides of cities and the people for whom the American dream has become a nightmare. I was raised with plenty of privilege and advantage and I've been able to parlay those into a life that works pretty well.

On a deeper level, home is more than just a roof over my head: a) it's a place on Earth where I have sunk deep roots, and where I have found a strong sense of Spirit, even though I didn't know I was looking for it; b) it's a community where I have established deep personal connections with fellow travelers in the social change business; and c) it's served as a living foundation from which I operate as a cooperative process consultant—my work is grounded in the reality of my life experience much more than any books I've read or workshops I've attended.

In many ways, connection to place has crept up on me. It was not the way I was raised, and I stumbled upon its preciousness as the years went by and I accreted in my psyche the natural rhythms of my community's farm in northeast Missouri as season followed season, year after year. This is a profound gift that I discovered in spite of my slash and burn cultural conditioning.

I'm thankful for my intimate partner, who loves me profoundly and pushes us to be all that we can be—on stage as public figures, on the couch, at the stove, and in the bedroom. (There's a reason that the kitchen sink is a metaphor for everything—and the goddess only knows we've spent our share of time there, talking about how to build it, how to get water to it, and how frequently to clean the dishes. There's an amazing amount of domestic dynamics that revolve around the kitchen sink.) 

We have been a couple for eight years now, and we've worked our love harder in our eighth year than in any of the previous seven. For one thing, most of this past year we've been doing couples counseling, getting help looking at the parts we've rather not see. I'm telling you, a good marriage (and why settle for anything less?) is not for the feint of heart, and our relationship is a work in progress if there ever was one. All together, I feel blessed and I return home eager to begin our grand experiment in maintaining a single household for the first time.

—Paid Work That Aligns with My Values
I'm thankful for my parents who instilled in me a strong sense of self—as a person who could be all that he could be. While my choices confused my mother and confounded my father (who was hoping he was raising a midshipman of industry who would grow up to be a captain), I've found my place in a life centered around community with a minimal amount of wandering in the wilderness. It was from my upbringing that I learned to be risk tolerant, from which I derived the courage to insist that I make a living from activities that embodied my values and which satisfied my soul, not just my wallet.

Whenever I encounter people who are weary of their jobs, or peers who turn longingly toward retirement, I realize how fortunate I have been. I still get up each day looking forward to speaking at the next conference, facilitating the next thorny meeting, or crafting the next report. People pay me to do what I love and are happy with the bargain. Is that a good life, or what?

—Service Work That Aligns with My Growth Path
I'm thankful for my work in a second way also. More than being consonant with my values, my work is also the way I try to be a social change agent. Rather than heart work that I do on the side as a volunteer, as a community builder (though I know my way around a hammer and trowel, I mean this more in the sense of social sustainability than bricks and mortar) I've made it my business to place the creation of cooperative culture at the very center of my life. And the way I know that's a good choice for me is that my work regularly results in my getting up close and personal with my blind spots and human frailties—often in a spectacularly public way! I figure that when your service path coincides with your growth path it's a cosmic affirmation.

—Living in Interesting Times
I'm thankful for all the amazing opportunities there exist for doing good in the world at this time of flux. While today's global reality (peak oil, climate change, population pressures on water supplies, economic instability) translates into a general malaise of uncertainty and anxiety—and that's no fun, especially for those craving stability—it also creates openings for reexamination and experimentation where there were few before. We live in a time that's rife with possibilities. Though all seeds won't sprout and some fields will be overtaken by weeds, I find it an exhilarating time in which to be cultivating new culture.

I'm thankful for the amazing wealth of people who know and care about me, and who open up their hearts for me to be there for them in return. As John Donne succinctly pointed out four centuries ago, no man is an island, and I am buoyed by the archipelago of my myriad close relationships. This was poignantly brought home to me in July when Ma'ikwe was ready to throw in the towel on our marriage, and I struggled to come to grips with what my life would be like with the center blown out of it. Slowly, I realized that I would be fine. While my relationship with Ma'ikwe remains precious to me, I had a good life before her and all of the elements of that would remain if she left. I remembered that I am not an island and that even in emotional free fall I could expect my friends to be there to help break my fall.

—Grown Children
I'm thankful for my two adult children, Ceilee and Jo, who both take responsibility for their own happiness and for their commitments. They know how to work hard, and how to take into account how their behavior affects those around them. Most of all, I'm thankful that we love each other, that we freely acknowledge that love, that we make time for one another, and that we enjoy each other's company. No sooner does one visit end than I am looking forward to the next.

I'm thankful for my four siblings, all of whom cultivate the scared garden of familial relations. Though we don't see each other often, we are there at times of need and celebration. Two months ago I visited my youngest sister in Toronto. Two months from now I'll see my brother in Fairhope AL. Blood ties are the long waves of relationship, where the currents are deepest and steadiest. This is not so much about a mind meld or an alignment of values. Rather, it's about a common history and the shared water of our earliest memories. It's recognizing and honoring bonds that is operates on a visceral level. I am thankful that we all know that.

—Wholesome Food
I'm thankful for living in a community that has a core commitment to growing and processing its own food. It's not possible to eat any better than we do. Though I did not move to community because of food, it turns out that I love working with food and didn't know it! I am grateful that my community has a spiritual connection to raising and consuming organic food. It is integral to our symbiotic connection to our land, which we interact with on a daily basis. We feed our land and it feeds us, body and soul.

I'm thankful for a body and mind that still work pretty good at 64—which is a good thing given all that I ask of them. The older I get, the more I've lost friends and acquaintances who have had their health (or luck) run out. Increasingly, these people are younger than me and I have occasion to be thankful for the good cards I have been dealt. It is up to me to honor that gift by playing them well.

I'm thankful for being able to read and for the existence of more good pieces of writing than I will ever be able to get to in one lifetime. I'll never run out of good material to read, and I still buy books faster than I read them. Some of this is the chance to be exposed to new thinking. Some is enjoyment of a well-crafted story. Some is appreciation of word crafting (which is not the same thing as a good plot—J K Rowling is a terrific story teller, but a wooden wordsmith; Charles Dickens was superb at both; Ambrose Bierce was so trenchant and clever that he could make a dictionary good reading).

I'm thankful for the excuse to pause every three days and reflect on what's happening around me, and for the chance to practice my craft as a writer (striving ever to be more like Bierce, though perhaps less acerbic). I have tried at various times in my life to maintain a journal, but was never able to manifest sufficient discipline until I began this blog six years ago. While I have sometimes been successful with an epistolary approximation (when investing in a particular relationship at a distance), these would invariably peter out after some months.

In this format I have chanced upon just the right mix of public service and private inquiry to sustain my interest. Although my primary inspiration for starting this blog was public service, it's proven to be such a personal benefit that I would probably continue it even if no one read it—it's been that much fun and helpful in clarifying my thinking. Today, if someone casually asks how I've been, I can generally swamp their boat by simply giving them the URL to this blog.

Finally, I'm thankful for my favorite way to start the day (other than sex). I prefer French roast, brewed strong enough to put hair on your forehead, balanced with a generous glug of half and half, which neutralizes the acid while preserving the essential bitterness that I crave. It's my only non-negotiable when clients hire me to work with their group.

Where there is life there is coffee
Where there is coffee there is life
We all worship the brown bean
Body of the God Caffeine

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