In August, 1988, I moved from Portland, Oregon to Dallas, Texas, where I began my career as a Montessori guide. A couple of months into the experience, I hit an emotional wall of heat fatigue and home-sickness. I phoned my parents and tearfully recited all the reasons I’d like to quit my job and come back to Oregon, including; oppressive heat and humidity, aggressive insects, an overabundance of fried foods, and a serious shortage of trees and mountains. “Now, c’mon sis…” consoled my mother before quickly passing the phone to Dad, who responded to my whiny diatribe with a stern invitation to "tell me about the blessings." I thought he was being insensitive when he told me how daily gratitude had transformed his life. "I begin and end every day by giving thanks," he said and, with a tone of mild annoyance, suggested I give it a try.
A few weeks later, an envelope arrived. It was the one and only letter I would ever receive from my father. Inside, on a sheet of yellow legal paper, the kind he always had on his desk, Dad had written his gratitude prayer. It began, “Thank you, Dear Lord, for this day. Thank you for all of my blessings;” and ended with, “Bless my efforts that they may be good, that they may be productive, and to thy glory.” I put that paper by my bedside as a reminder to recite the prayer morning and night, until at last the words came automatically without thought. Then, I tucked it in my wallet where it stayed for years; until the yellow paper began to disintegrate. I still carry a copy of the original. And we had a copy printed on the order of worship at Dad’s funeral, scattering his blessing a bit wider and further.
A few nights ago I awakened from a dream dialogue with my dad but, by the time I’d located my journal and pen in the dark, only this fragment remained within conscious reach: “You have only one responsibility in life and that is to listen intently for the still quiet voice of God, and allow it to show you where you are needed most. It is only in the care of others that we evolve as souls.”
In life, my father was all about service so his sage advice echoing across the veil wasn’t surprising; I hear from him now and again. Still, I found it quite profound to receive this particular message in the early morning hours of my 54th birthday. Particularly because the night before, slightly in my cups, I’d written a very long journal entry about my wishes, hopes and dreams for the year ahead.
It is only in the care of others that we evolve as souls.
It’s easy to fall into an internal dialogue around an unrealized desire; or to become attached to a romanticized notion of a person, place or experience. Such notions may distract for a moment from the reality that what tethers us to this place is neither the gravitational pull of earth nor the hands we are blessed to hold along the way, but rather the invisible thread to the Divine home from whence we came and where we will soon return.
And if we are very, very blessed, we may experience fleeting moments of sheer bliss in relationship to another, or to nature, or to art. In the presence of this kind of love, one cannot help but want to hold it close; letting go feels counter-intuitive. Bless my efforts...
Near the end of my father’s earthly journey, in 2011 my son and I were able to capture a few moments of him on videotape while sitting in the office where he continued to go almost every day until he died. He was shy about the recorder, but reluctantly agreed when I said it was important for his grandchildren and their children. In that dialogue, Dad recited a list of guiding tenets which he credited to his own father and other mentors along the way. What follow is that list as well as a brief excerpt from the interview:
1. Work hard – nothing worth having comes easily
2. Be grateful for what you have – even if it doesn’t seem like enough
3. Tell the truth – even if it means losing relationships
4. Invest in people – join with those who share your values
5. Avoid going into debt – be a good steward of what you have
6. Allow relationships to grow – and take time to nurture them
7. Don’t be afraid to say no – clear boundaries are necessary
And give thanks every day, at least twice.