I didn’t have to work too hard because Mo Willems made me hilarious. It was a book that made even the weariest parent energized, even at the end of a long day with a child full of energy that I’d chased around. This book was like the last hurrah of the day and I wondered whether I should actually be reading it right before bed to be energizing my son all over again. When I read Willems’ books to the kids I feel like a professional comic actor, the kids laugh left and right, even if we’ve read the book before. Listen to My Trumpet became an early favourite. Mo Willems has written many books for kids but he describes how many of his early books fell flat until he knew he could engage the adults as well (Wikipedia). The banter between the two characters, Elephant and Piggie, is lively and simple, but often has depth. I read Listen to My Trumpet countless times, and we have a few anthologies of their adventures. Now my kids read the books to me and my husband, each of them taking a character and reading their speech bubbles.
A recent favourite is called Waiting Is Not Easy. The stories often begin with Piggie calling out to Gerald about something that excites her. In this book, she cartwheels in calling out his name and announces that she has a surprise for Elephant. Of course Elephant is excited about it and has many questions and cannot wait. Until Piggie says that he has to wait. He lets out a huge “G R O A N…” The speech bubble pushes Piggie right over. He resigns to waiting, but not for very long. Piggie remains firm that he just has to wait. There is no hurrying this surprise. His GROAN becomes even bigger and he resolves that this surprise must not be worth waiting for. But then he saunters back and groans again. The pages begin to get darker and darker and Elephant is losing it. He worries that they will not see each other. He laments “We have wasted the whole day!” And then Piggie reveals the surprise to him.
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“Today I believe in God,” (p. 7) poet John Terpstra quotes his friend in his book, Skin Boat. He makes this statement as they listen to a jazz trio on a Sunday morning while the offering is collected. I too know this transporting power of jazz music being completely wrapped up in the moment and feeling as though I am right on stage and in the music. There is something special about the improvisational nature of jazz music that has the ability to create a conversation with the audience, the notes being played for that particular time and place. There is also the call and response element where, after each instrumentalist or singer completes a solo, the audience acknowledges it and claps. They participate in the music, respond to the musician, waiting for that last note or resolution when the solo is over. I miss jazz concerts in Nova Scotia, although in December, I had the pleasure of enjoying Michael Kaeshamer. It is unique that Terpstra enjoyed jazz music as part of a church service with an opening song by John Coltrane and the offertory song by Thelonious Monk. The band joined in for the hymns. As he ruminates on his friends’ statement he begins to “translate” it. “Today I have been won over by something that is both here and now and out of this world. With the unspoken addendum, It doesn’t happen very often. And, Tomorrow I may not.” He had been wooed, not argued, into saying it” (p. 9) Terpstra describes about his friend.
These moments when we feel “wooed” do not come very often. The day to day aspects of life plow along with repetition. I find much stability in routine as I homeschool my kids. They like to know what to expect each day, and I know teachers cultivate this ordering of their classroom and it takes many days, especially as January begins a fresh new year after a long break. In January, I take the opportunity to add new elements to my routine. I get up earlier to do yoga and pray before the kids get up most days, rather than sleeping in and having them wake me up. This routine can seem monotonous, this act of waiting, in a way. How we go about each day affects our attitude. Do I leave breathing space between these tasks in order to be wooed? Or am I rushing too much?
Image: Frozen Queen Anne’s Lace, Avery Peters
Tish Harrison Warren wrote a book Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred practices in Everyday Life. She gives meaning and importance to basic events that make up our everyday life and relates them to spiritual practices. From waking up as a form of baptism and learning to be loved, making the bed in light of ritual and what forms life, to brushing teeth as the practice of learning to be in a body, to losing keys and confronting the truth about ourselves, and to sitting in traffic in relation to liturgical time and an unhurried God.
How we choose to see these daily events as a part of our lives matters. Adding up these small events together can have a cumulative effect on the meaning of our life and finding truth in it. It is a form of waiting. It doesn’t seem very significant to be brushing our teeth or making the bed, but it is important how we do it. She quotes another of my favourite authors, Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” (p. 23).
Harrison Warren describes how her typical morning routine was to grab her smartphone as she woke up “like digital caffeine,” she said, “my day was imprinted by technology…[it] began to fill every empty moment in the day…without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom” (p. 27).
So for the season of Lent, upon realizing this affect her phone was having on her, she decided to banish the phone from her bedroom and begin her day instead by making her bed and sitting on it in silence. She “began to notice, very subtly, that [her] day was imprinted differently.”
Another friend of mine who finds himself steeped in the intensity of his days decided to set an alarm to remind himself to stop and be grateful at various points throughout the day. This small cultivation of a habit can greatly affect the outlook of a day.
Our days plod along with these seemingly mundane events . The question remains: What are we waiting for? Or conversely, what are we trying to distract ourselves from?
When Piggie finally takes Elephant out to see the surprise, she reveals the beautiful starry night sky and they both stand there in awe.
We don’t always get to go out at night and be amazed at the stars. It’s not every day that we walk into the world with our eyes open in wonder. After all his frustration in waiting, Elephant was gently guided by his friend, Piggie to open his eyes and see something that was beyond himself. They decided to go out again and marvel at the sunrise the next day.
Those who have a near death experience describe how they experience a sense of peace and unconditional love. There are research studies where participants describe this peace. Most of us do not have this experience where our lives flash before us. Instead we marvel at the stars, other times we are transported by an amazing jazz concert. But mostly, our days are filled with the mundane.
Image: Frozen Goldenrod, Avery Peters
How does waiting show up in the body? Perhaps in moment of suspended breath and surprise, with a deep release when a feeling of anxiety has passed. Last year, when I began to pay attention to where I hold tension in my body, throughout the day I found it in many places of strain such as my legs and shoulder from injury. I worked though them with stretching and breath, but most surprising to me was my clenched jaw. I clenched it throughout the day and paid attention to it and released it when I remembered but it persisted through the night. I noticed in particular the tension in my neck and jaw as I bent over my phone, staring at others’ images, slowly comparing myself to others. The tension would increase and my focus narrowed in so tight, my vision concentrating on a space so small there wasn’t even space for my breath. This distraction from the practice of making space took me out of it and wound up in my body so tight as feelings of inadequacy.
The man sitting in church who said “Today I believe in God” felt peace. Piggie and Elephant experienced wonder and peace. Can we trust a strength and peace that is beyond us?
“Today I believe in God.” Those words can take two different tones, whether or not you believe in God. It can be just a moment of awe that passes, or it can be a daily decision. As a Christian who makes this a daily decision, I don’t say those specific words every day to myself but they become a part of me every time I wake up and sit down at the table with my children in the morning and read with them. We light a candle, we read a Bible story, we sing together. I begin each day over and over again with the same routines and the same problems, the same anxieties and stressors, worries and doubts, and every day I feel as though I start again.
When you see the stars, how often do you really see them? Are you rushing off to your car as you glance over your shoulder at the sky? Or do you sit, take a deep breath and imagine the expanse light years beyond you? Does your body know how to stop, slow down and see?
I think it is wonderful that so many people are seeking to understand their nervous systems, deepen their breath, and find healing. The world is changing at such a rapid pace, it’s hard to keep up and it’s anxiety inducing to worry about what others think and whether we are speaking and behaving acceptably in public. We can apologize over and over again for our mistakes. We all do wrong and offend people. I wake up and need forgiveness every day, even for the way I fail my children and my husband. I am not the perfect wife or mother. Where is the forgiveness we can offer each other? Where is the grace? Where is the peace?
As a longtime supporter and advocate of fair trade, I worked as an assistant manager at Ten Thousand Villages for 3 years in Toronto. I gave presentations to schools and community groups on the benefits of fair trade and how it positively affects communities and their abilities to provide for their children and send them to school. I longed for everyone to know about fair trade and how child labour and corruption exists in the trade of cacao beans. I bought as much as I could from artisans represented in my store: dish ware from Vietnam, baskets from from Bangladesh, necklaces from Peru, hand cream from Burkina Faso. I shared all their stories along the way in hopes others would furnish their homes with their work too. It was hard to know how much difference I could actually make on my own. I tried to understand where my purchase came from and the benefit my decisions could have for someone around the globe. There is a cost for these ideals we aspire to. They are many. Intangible. The cost of justice for one at the price of injustice to another, the cost of having clean energy in one place while the environmental cost is offloaded somewhere else. Who will pay the price?
In the same way that we wait and hope and try our best to make ourselves better, less anxious, more accepting of others, seeking justice and fairness for those in our communities, we also wait for these things on a larger scale. We long for the world to be made whole. We long for nature to be restored, for there to be enough food and water for all. We long for wars to be over, we long and wait to be free. But we see how daily as individuals we don’t accomplish these desires. We look to others we admire to help us meet these goals — maybe they are wiser than us, maybe our leaders know something we don’t, but even they mess things up.
We all feel a sense of wonder and peace when we marvel at what is beyond us, but what are we waiting for? Like the audience listening to jazz music, we are present for each solo and applaud along the way at the beauty and wonder that is happening, but there will be a different applause at the end when we discover that there is a resolution and the song is whole and completed.
Nourishing Nervine Tisane
Our senses open us up in many ways to shifts in perspective. Herbs are a beautiful way to engage with the sense of smell and taste (and touch if you blend your own). Tea is also something to share. This is part of the peace and the healing. This tea has been a pleasure for me to make and share with many friends who I know experience anxiety, but in the process as I make it for others I slow down and breathe and think of them and say a prayer. Each ingredient has its medicinal action. Oats are nourishing. Cocoa nibs are uplifting and lavender is soothing. I love all of the ingredients, but my favourite part is the lavender. I think back to midsummer, in the heat of the lavender field, sliding alongside lavender after lavender plant at a friend’s u-pick. Then I place all the stems on screens in my basement as they dry and then place them into paper bags until I am ready to garble (yes, I just learned from another herbalist that removing plant matter from the stems is called garbling). Garbling is my favourite process. My fingers get saturated with the oils of the lavender buds. The repetitive process induces deep breaths as they drop into the bowl. I get milky oat buds from my friend Rachel, but oat straw also works in its place. You can get the ingredients at your local health food store or grow your own!
4 parts milky oats or oat straw
2 parts lavender buds
2 parts cocoa nibs
Steep 4 tbsp covered in a 1L mason jar for 20 minutes or more. Strain and enjoy!
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Love the Terpstra reference! Thanks for writing this.