Tuesday, May 26, 2009


When I visited truly enchanting Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona, in the spring of 1998, I was fascinated to see on display an art piece hanging in the lobby by a local artist, David Fischel, depicting the legend of The Roadrunner. Did I know that such a quirky cartoon character actually had a noteworthy past? Hardly. The main reason it caught my eye, however, is that my 83-year-old aunt of Swedish descent, who had died earlier in the year, had miniature roadrunners everywhere -- on shelves, pinned to jackets, hanging as drawings on walls. What was Roadrunner's story, anyway? I was definitely curious.

According to Southwest Native legend, at a difficult time in history the people had lost fire -- there was no more heat for warmth or cooking. The people decided to call on the fastest creature around, Roadrunner, to retrieve fire once again from the God of Fire. Roadrunner was also one of the most beautiful creatures at the time with magnificent colored plumage on his head and tail.

Roadrunner was honored and glad to help. He went to the God of Fire and made the request to take back fire so that once again the people would be warm and comfortable. But the God of Fire would have none of it! The answer was, "NO-O-O-O!!!" But Roadrunner was not to be deterred. He was disturbed that the Fire God was treating humans that way and was confident that, with his incredible speed, he would be able to successfully accomplish the mission. He snuck back to where fire was kept, took what could get the people what they needed, and raced back to earth.

Unfortunately, the God of Fire caught sight of him and unleashed a great bolt of lightning. But not even that could stop Roadrunner. When he arrived back at the land where the people were waiting for him, he did, however, look a little different: while he had survived the lightning attack, alas, he had lost the plumage on his head and tail. And, of course, that is how we see Roadrunner today.

I never would have guessed that my little, sparkly, always happy and loving auntie, steeped in Swedish and Lutheran lore, could have such a real connection with a mythic indigenous figure...but on second thought...on second thought, the fit was perfect. Besides her always optimistic attitude, she had never learned to drive, and yet she traveled the world. Hmmm.

Fast forward to my next trip to Seattle when family gathered to honor my aunt and handle distribution of her estate. During that visit, my brother took me and my daughter and her two children on a boat ride across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, leaving from a streetend launch in the Scandinavian enclave of Ballard. This was an excursion that was regular summer fare for our extended family my whole childhood and one that Aunt Lilly must have made at least 493 times. Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula are also the home of a Northwest indigenous tribe, the Suquamish, and their leader, Chief Sealth, whose "Speech" reminds us of the continuing spirit presence of native peoples even after death.

As we entered Hidden Cove, gliding past the local yacht club, I remembered the aliveness and peace I felt as a child padding through the evergreen forest near the cabin, learning how to row a boat, and sitting around the campfire at night singing songs and listening to family stories. Silently I greeted the spirits I imagined were still there, asking if they remembered us, and they seemed to respond with, "How could we forget?" How sweet. It made me smile. I certainly hadn't forgotten them.

We spent about an hour in the small harbor, floating offshore, my brother and I reminiscing about adventures we had had there. It wasn't difficult to call up the memories: the scene looked nearly the same as it did 30 years before, including a cabin cruiser I recognized, listing a bit to one side, the varnish pale and peeling.

We returned to Ballard and pulled the boat up the launch ramp. It had been such a deeply satisfying trip, these three hours away. As we got our land legs back, I absently scanned the western sky under whch we had just traveled.

The thought came to me that the string of clouds which extended across above the horizon was much too long to be an angel. As I kept gazing, I realized that what I was seeing was -- you may have guessed it -- a Roadrunner -- in classic one-foot-forward/one-foot-back pose, tilting forward and down a little, as if heading for Lilly's soon-to-be-sold house! Extraordinary enough, this perfectly etched relief in white vapor, but the most magical feature of all was the small rainbow which, for a few minutes, graced the tail, a reminder of the ancient legend!

There was obviously no signature on this piece of art, and it was as transitory as a Tibetan sand painting, but it has a special permanent place in my inner gallery.

I give thanks to my aunt, to Alice and Mark who invited us to spend time at their cabin, to the spirits of the Suquamish, to the land and people who spawned the ancient story, to the artist who brought the legend to my attention, and, yes, to Roadrunner himself for inspiring us to not give in or give up, to carry on with lightness and laughter -- as my aunt was always wont to do. Oh, and thank you also, Roadrunner, for making this journey from the Southwest to the Northwest, and in such perfect timing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lessons from Lenses

Over the past, ahem, 30 years, I have learned some critical lessons in the care of my contact lenses – yes, my tiny gas permeable pieces of plastic that help me see and that also enhance the blue of my eyes – every day. Did I know that I could learn such profound lessons from something so small, transparent, and voiceless? Hardly.

The first experience happened about the time I was dealing with my failed marriage: my soul was dying, I thought, and we had a daughter, age 4, to consider here – it wasn’t just about me. One day I remember being especially distraught on the houseboat where we lived on Lake Union in Seattle. Yes, for a time I was “sleepless in Seattle,” and, yes, we happened to live across the lake from the houseboat in the movie.

That day my husband was at his dental office, as usual, and Rachel was at her day care center – and with all of the turmoil inside me, I started to cry – a lot. After a while, my left contact lens was bothering me, so, in my upset, I went to the sink in the bathroom and hurriedly leaned over the sink and popped the lens out of my eye. Unfortunately, I had not put the plug in and – you guessed it – down the drain it went. I could have easily replaced the lens, but just in case it could be retrieved, I grabbed a flashlight and through my tear-drenched eyes, looked down the drain. To my astonishment, there was the contact, stuck convex against the side of the pipe. I wet the tip of a finger, gently and slowly reached down toward this little piece of plastic doing an incredible acrobatic trick, and brought it back up to safety. Whew! That was close!

Lesson 1: Even though everything seems to be going down the drain, always look for the seemingly impossible possibilities.

The second profound incident happened when I was waiting in my car after dropping a friend off at an appointment. For anyone who wears hard lenses, you know that the way we get one off its place on the iris is to basically “pop” it off by stretching the eyelid and closing the eye. Well, somehow, as I was waiting for the friend to return, I guess I looked to my right and back out the back right window, hitting the headrest in the process – and guess what? As I quickly turned my head to the right, the headrest was in the perfect place to pop the contact out of my right eye!! Oh no, I thought, no, I can’t have lost my contact! This time, I would not have liked the idea of paying for another one. Oh, no!!

Frantically, I looked everywhere before disturbing anything, in case it had just flipped out on top of something. Nada. So I started going through everything in my purse that was open on the seat beside me. I looked on the seat, on the floor, all the time saying, Oh, no, it’s gone.

Then I decided to change my thoughts, to change what I was so freaked out about, to change the possibility. I settled down a little, decided to start saying, “I’m now finding my contact.” I said it over and over, in my mind and out loud. And of course I called on Saint Anthony, the one who helps us locate lost objects.

After that ten minutes of frantically tearing things apart, I started saying the new momentary mantra, being conscious of the emotional energy I would need to put behind my new sentence to make it happen. Within just a minute or two, I had the thought, hmm, maybe it went down between the seats. I found my little flashlight in my makeup bag and threw some light down the crack right beside me. Bingo! There it was, as in the first incident, somehow stuck on its convex side about an inch down. Below it, just a dark slit into oblivion. And this time there wasn’t enough room for me to put my hand down to get it, nor could I do the body torqueing that would be required to a) put something below it to stop it from going into the dark hole and b) to actually retrieve it with some kind of tool; I would have to wait until my friend came back.

With his help, holding a plastic knife with some fabric wrapped around it below the lens (in case it fell as I was retrieving it), I gently inserted a piece of fabric that I had moistened, contacted the contact, and again had the thrill of pulling a little acrobatic piece of plastic back to safety. Unbelievable.

The turning point seemed to be my changing my thoughts that I had lost it to, instead, that I was finding it, with an enthusiasm over the top.

Lesson 2: Our thoughts create our reality; change your thoughts, change your life – and be sure to put e-motion (energy in motion) into the mix.

Now, if you think the previous two accounts are somewhat miraculous, wait ‘til you read this one. I was dog-sitting for friends while they blissed out on a cruise to Mexico. For me, it was a wonderful week away from my rented space, a retreat of sorts, a time to rejuvenate and meditate. Midweek, I designated two days for contemplation and quiet – no TV, no radio, just me looking inward and enjoying the place I was in.

One of those mornings I did the usual – walked the dogs, had my coffee, put on my makeup, including the – yes – installation of the contact lenses. (Incidentally, I am still wearing the same pieces of plastic I purchased 20 years ago – yes – 20 years ago. Explains why I’m so attached, yes?)

After completing the contact regimen (as you can imagine, I am now very careful to stop up the sink before I do the drill), I unstopped the drain, put my things away, turned off the light, and walked out into the living room. Oh, no, where’s my right lens?!? Panicked I ran back through the bedroom, hoping I wasn’t destroying the lens that might have simply fallen to the carpet, and charged into the bathroom. I turned on the light. The lens was nowhere to be seen.

Almost automatically, I reached down to the stopper, which I slowly unscrewed off its support. I gently lifted it, and there, balancing on one of the cross-struts, its concave side looking up at me, was the contact. I held my breath as I moistened my finger (without turning on the water, of course) and very slowly and methodically moved toward the lens. I made contact with the contact, simply moved my hand away from the drain, and felt more gratitude than I think I’ve ever felt. Truly a miracle. If this little piece of plastic had been half a hair’s breadth to the left or right….well, you get the picture.

After I replaced it into my most grateful right eye, I, in my meditative mode, asked Spirit if this was the intensity of gratitude that one must feel in order to magnetize love/money/opportunities/whatever; I have to say I saw a huge nod, a definite “YES!!”

Okay, I think I get it.

Lesson 3: Meditate a lot and take action that is inspired; follow your intuition. The result is the gratitude, and that can only bring us more joy.

So, with Lesson 1 of expecting seemingly impossible possibilities, Lesson 2 of minding – and changing – my thoughts, and Lesson 3 of taking inspired action, I can be grateful for the power this gives me to focus – pun intended, I might add – to focus on the very best for all and to complete the task.