My life has been transformed by a new pair of glasses. The first day I wore them felt like I was living in a 3D movie - everything was too sharp, too close, and really difficult to keep in focus. The information overload hurt my head (quite literally), and made me a bit motion-sick, but I persevered with encouragement from fellow eye-glass wearers. Being nearsighted, I’ve grown accustomed to fuzzy edges along the horizon, and in the middle distance, and have only recently had to rely on glasses to see up close. At some point during the past seven years I had simply accepted the world’s blurry lines, come to prefer them in many cases. Preoccupied with whatever has been right in front of my face, literally and figuratively, these past many years, I failed to notice that I was losing perspective. Driving south today on the 101, a stretch that I do everyday, I noticed the jagged treeline running along the horizon line where before there had only been a grey blur. Where my brain once made-do with the information from my eyes to deduce “forest,” now it exploded at the sight of individual trees along that ridge.
Wes Anderson’s masterpiece "Moonrise Kingdom," features a young heroine, Suzy Bishop, who is rarely seen without her binoculars. My newfound farsight (is that a thing?) reminded me of my favorite scene in the film when Sam, our young hero, asks her about them. “It helps me see things closer,” she says, “Even if they're not very far away. I pretend it's my magic power.” What a magic power, to suddenly be able to see clearly the things that are far away, what’s ahead, what’s coming? I mean, this is something I understand on a metaphorical level, but sheesh - how can I practice “seeing the forest for the trees” when I LITERALLY CAN’T MAKE OUT THE TREES!?
I must admit that I feel like a bit of an idiot in all of this, and can't believe that it took me so long to a) realize that I needed new lenses, and b) go out and get them, but I’ll resist the shame-game. Instead, I’m freaking out about this whole new perspective-thing! I had no idea how myopic I had become, literally and probably figuratively as well. I’ve suffered from clumsiness since childhood, and my share of scraped knees has got me in the habit of looking down at my feet whenever I walk. Today, upon discovering this newfound magic power, I decided to look up a bit more on my walk to the Bay with the dogs, and what do you know?! By looking ahead I could actually see the bumps in the path coming my way - was even able to jog around or over them as they approached, because I could see them, you see.
Way back in the early part of Genesis (chapter twelveish) God tells Avram to "Lech L'cha" - typically translated as "go forth," but more accurately spun as "go towards yourself." It is the kind of travel that Rabbi Norman Hirsch referred to as a "radical leaving":
Once or twice in a lifetime
A man or woman may choose
A radical leaving, having heard
Lech lecha — Go forth.
God disturbs us toward our destiny
By hard events
And by freedom's now urgent voice
Which explode and confirm who we are.
We don't like leaving,
But God loves becoming.
Yes. Right?! Yes! I love the idea of a disturbing force (the irritating grain of sand that ultimately turns into a pearl) as an agent for change and opportunity for growth. But sometimes, that irritating force just irritates, and we can't seem to extract it; we simply can't shake it. It takes an act of Trust to take a leaving and to make it truly radical, and there comes a moment where we simply have to jump. To take the step into the great unknown - away from the structures that we believe to be sustaining, normative and "good" - is to have a whole lot of Trust in the outcome. To engage Trust is to excise fear; but to excise fear entirely is to remove a part of oneself - and besides, fear ultimately serves a purpose. In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert urges the reader to write a letter to Fear telling it that you understand its purpose (to keep you alive), and letting it know that you appreciate the work it does (namely, keeping you alive), but that you don't think it should be in the driver's seat, because sometimes it misses really great opportunities and holds you back from exploring what lies on either side of the narrow, one lane highway that it's keeping you on.
In a conversation with the Judeo-Shamanic Reb Gershon he asked the following: "Why do you think the Jewish people love the fruit of the vine so much that we use it to bless and welcome the Sabbath? Because," he replied to his own question, "it is a plant that grows up the wall - taking that which would impede it and using it for its own growth." When fear is no longer in the driver's seat, we can be smart, savvy, cunning, even - like the vine that crawls upward toward the sun simply because that is what it is supposed to do, instead of cowering in fear at the base of the wall. For the plant, it takes only instinct, because it knows no fear (although apparently plant life can feel negative energy - check out the film, "What the Bleep Do We Know" if you haven't yet - it'll blow your mind). The plant doesn't even need trust, per se, it just grows toward the sun... like you do when you're a plant. We, on the other hand, have a more complicated relationship with Trust. In our culture of rational-thought-as-king we have learned to trust only that which we can see, or that about which we can reason. It narrows the focus, and creates an overinflated sense of self, of power, of ego.
The Mussar tradition understands Trust, or Bitachon, as one of the core character traits that a person must have in proper measure in order to lead a well-balanced life. In Modern Hebrew, bitachon means "security." When I lived in Israel, there was usually a "bitachon" fee tagged on to the bill at dinner - a few extra shekels to pay for the security guard stationed at the entrance to the restaurant or cafe. Bitachon, in that context, implies a real life-or-death kind of safety to one's physical being. So when I am engaging in bitachon, I trust that despite challenges and unforeseen twists in the road, everything will work out for the best. I trust that my life will have meaning because I live it in alignment with my values, my dreams and my hopes. In this Freaking Lech Lecha moment, Trust is what it takes to step from the safety and comfort of known, the present, into what I hope will be the safety and comfort of the unknown future. On July 1st I will say farewell to the people and places that have become Home for these past three years. I will lay down my intentions as a path before me, and trust that the "road will rise up to meet me," because to do otherwise would be to let fear do the driving - and that's just not how I plan to do this Radical Leaving Thing.
Shot from a sling, I've been hurtling through time and space these past two weeks. The shot was set loose by my Great Aunt Zelma's death and funeral in Portland on March 23rd. After a hasty rearranging of schedules and projects I headed northward with a heavy heart and contrite determination. Auntie Zelma was nearly 107 years old, and I had not seen or spoken to her since her 100th birthday. I carried a significant load of regret with me as I headed home to do this last mitzvah for her, to show up in this small way where I'd been unable to do so before. It was comforting to be with my mother amongst our extended cousin-network to honor the memory of a woman who gave us so much of her time and energy when she had it to give. I spent countless afternoons and evenings with Auntie Zelma in her pink studio apartment in the Portland Towers. We would play Go Fish at her little card table by the window and take special trips to the tiny supermarket in the basement of her building that I found endlessly delightful. Her Candy Bowl Game was always on-point, and I remember the odd roll of Tums she kept in there too, "adult candy" she called it. And then life, and disagreement, and a stubborn family streak (that it seems we shared) came between us, and I let seven years go by without a word to the last living connection to the grandparents I had loved so deeply and lost so young. My cousin who took care of Zelma these past many years kindly assured me that she knew I loved her and that she remembered me with fondness... but regret is a hard emotion to shake, and I was determined to turn that remorse into purposeful action instead of wallowing in it.
With that lesson learned, the rest of my time in Portland sped by, while I thumped through forests, helped dear friends consecrate their new home, and spent time with family. There is nothing as arresting as the brazen rays of sunshine through the Portland rain. A twitterpated, springtime-y energy coursed through the city, bringing me back ghosts of spring afternoons past. I had convinced a long-lost friend from summer camp to come see my new favorite band, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down with me on Friday night. After a SUPER satisfying show (dancing and singing like the spastic twitterpated bundle that I was) we set about catching up on the past seventeen years. In full disclosure, this friend was one upon whom I had harbored a *bit* of a crush, and around whose friendship and its fizzle I had created an entirely unflattering narrative about myself. Over a bottle of locally-brewed-something-or-other (when in PDX!) he proceeded to dismantle the unflattering stories that seventeen year old Callie had told herself and locked away in her heart. He held up an unfamiliar mirror to me with his own version of the story, and in an instant the "Ugly/Awkward Duckling" narrative that had become a part of who I was, simply... disappeared. I drove away from that encounter feeling like a little Mario Brother who had just landed a Super Star as my heart "blip-blipped" it's way back up to full power just in time for a weekend full of celebrations - including a baby shower. Talk about the Circle of Life/death and rebirth/winter's end and spring's beginning; it was just all happening and I was just feeling all the feels.
With a full heart, I flew out early Monday morning to meet up with classmates and colleagues in White Plains, New York for a seminar. It was nourishing to reconnect with dear friends and mentors over insightful, honest and visionary content and conversations. As I prepared to leave the seminar I found myself in a small breakout conversation about success: how we define it, by whose measure, and are our parameters external or internal? Do we listen to societal and cultural messages about success (attain, achieve, acquire) or do we hone in on our unique gifts, and measure ourselves by our ability to honor and share them? The conversation left me feeling more clear on my own next steps; I was riding high on a wave of emotion and jetlag, but high none the less. I returned to work refreshed - like my heart had been given a shiny new coat of paint. A beautiful, floaty, generous feeling that lasted for about a day until my bubble burst, as they are wont to do, and a basket into which I had placed many eggs turned out not to be much of a basket at all (more on that later).
A common theme appears to have surfaced in these encounters, as well as my latest reading material: Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, and Rabbi Irwin Kula's Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. Both write about creativity and the need for rest and downtime in order to produce anything of substance and meaning. That week in Portland followed by a quick shot of professional development was just the prescription for a blocked-up creative process. Both books also talk about the role of Trust (my capitalization) in creative living... which is where I'll leave you for now with a "to be continued..."
I'll publish another post on Thursday with more on This Freaking Lech L'cha Moment, and in the meantime, as ever, thank you for reading, and for coming along on this ride with me.