At about 3pm today I was flooded with a tremendous sense of calm and hopefulness, or maybe optimism would be the better word. I hadn’t been aware of feeling particularly pessimistic or hopeLESS, although my general temperament is geared more toward Russian melancholia than American sunniness, so my default setting is intensity. Thinking hard ’bout stuff. I try not to steep myself overly much in the wailing and gnashing of teeth mood generated by the news but like all of us, I have been prone to feelings of tremendous sadness, frustration and defeat lately.
So I had this lovely little mystical moment while driving along Route 53 in Hanover, a commercial street not known for its ability to inspire transcendent experiences. I went to the very ugly, very American mall to do a bunch of errands where my feeling of hopefulness and optimism miraculously endured. Here is a short list of things that might have contributed to the feeling:
1. Guy in nursing home playing old show tunes.
2. A person I like a whole lot but don’t know very well informed me that she is becoming a grandmother for the fifth time in four years. Her two children are having lots of babies. This made me unreasonably cheerful, like fist-pumping-the-air happy. I have no idea why this news should make me feel gleefully triumphant. Maybe because people having babies is such a simple vote of confidence in life.
3. The Sleepy’s was closed when I went to peek in the window at Tempurpedic mattresses. Handmade sign on the door said “Back at 4:30.” What? Someone took an hour and fifteen minutes, minimum (I peeked in a bit after 3:00) to deal with something? And flouted what I assume are company rules about hours of operation? Good. I hope everything’s okay. I hope the sales guy (it’s always sales GUYS in mattress stores, have you noticed?) ran home to make love to his Most Significant Other. Maybe working with beds all day made him amorous. I don’t know. Whatever it was, sometimes you need to close the shop and inconvenience the shopper, interrupt commerce for a bit. People before profits. See you soon, mattress salesperson.
4. Two guys outside the local Verizon carrying sloppily little hand-made signs in support of striking Verizon workers. Real people with real signs on the real street make issues real-er than if we just read about them on the internet. Also good.
5. A little girl, probably about two years old, trailed her mother into Office Max dressed in a homemade fairy princess dress. It was floor length and pink with a tulle overskirt and off-the-shoulder sleeves that looked more than a bit grimy from wear. She was whining and being encouraged to hoof it by her slightly irritated mother. I liked her a lot. I liked the contrast between her crankiness and her beautiful, slightly grimy gown. Go ahead, Princess Crankypants. We’ll have high tea after your nap.
6. Young man and woman holding each other and kissing in the Panera parking lot. Ah, l’amour. I noticed that London is very much a lover’s city (Paris, watch your back!) but I don’t often see passion being played out in the American ‘burbs. In fact, I worry about that. People need to kiss more. Yay for kissing in the Panera parking lot.
Okay, let me back up for a moment. There were, maybe, two things that happened today that may have set me up a bit for the flash of complete hopefulness and clear joy that I experienced. One was that I got a letter from a prisoner in Angola, a place that I associate with Sheol, with all the most horrible things about humanity. He asked me to be his spiritual advisor and friend. Just holding a letter from Angola was scary. But you know, of course I’m going to answer him because that’s what I have to do. It’s not about my opinion or my emotions, it’s what I have to do. I don’t know if you experience this or not, but when I have total clarity on what I have to do — a sense of commandment that absolutely obliterates even the option of personal choice — I experience a blissful clearing away of Self that creates a space for God to enter as a felt presence.
The other thing that happened was that I visited with an elderly person whose spouse had just died and who had a beautiful sense of acceptance about it, and peace, even with the grief. That was another moment where some holy space got created into me, as always happens when I am in the presence of someone who confronts the truth of death in a non-anxious way. It’s like puff, almost a physical sensation of lightness and sense of cleared space within. Yes, death is real. And yes, we’re fine. Puff.
“We must praise God in all circumstances,” wrote Paul to the Thessalonians. It’s totally crappy advice if you take it to mean that people who are suffering should praise God for terrible things that happen. But of course that isn’t what Paul is suggesting. It’s not about thanking God FOR the circumstances, it’s about being grateful within the circumstances that God is God.
The circumstances lately seem crappy. But if I don’t praise God in these circumstances, I close myself off to the greater reality that is running this show. I’m grateful today that the veil of illusion lifted and I was able to see glimpses of the greater reality in the face of a peaceful widower, the stomping of a tired fairy princess, and the embrace of suburban lovers in a mall parking lot.