Saturday, 20 October 2018

On the one hand...

I am sitting in the dining room, sipping my coffee, and looking out at beauty. The sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky, the blueberry bush and the dogwood are clad in red leaves, late blooming flowers add their splashes of colour. A walk in the woods stuns all the senses -- just heavenly! All is well with the world.

But honestly? Not really. All is not well in the world. The news I read is full of awful stories, stories that horrify me and make me worry about the future. We are having an election here in the valley, and people are lined up against each other on issues, neighbours and friends on different sides of the table. Closer to home, people I love are struggling with difficult personal issues and I feel helpless.

And the truth is, I'm having a few struggles myself. This carpal tunnel hand thing is bothering me way more than it should. After all, it's just a hand, not a brain tumor, not dementia, not a stroke. Once the hand surgeon has his way with me in a few weeks, I have it on good authority from many people who have gone through this themselves, that this episode will soon just be a bad memory. I'll be able to return to my studio and have the freedom to be creative. This lethargy I feel right now will be banished.

If I am honest with myself – honesty not always being an easy thing -- I am disappointed in myself. Where’s that victorious upbeat mindset that will overcome all obstacles, that positive thinking vibe I’m always wishing other people would adopt?

I'd like my blog to be about the sunshine, the blue skies, beautiful colors in nature, but the words just aren't coming.

I get this far, then reread what I have written. Where on earth are you going with this whining, I ask myself. Sigh. There’s another blog post for the recycle bin, the second one this week. I'm not getting anything right. I’m stuck like a hamster in a revolving wheel, going nowhere fast.

Then I pick up my current reading, a book by Parker Palmer, called “On the Brink of Everything,” subtitled Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.

Right up my alley and just what I need... NOT. In my current mood I'd rather be reading a comic book, something that makes me laugh. But Palmer, a writer I love, has a lot of wisdom to share, and once again, he points me in the right direction. Palmer has had his ups and downs, and he shares them honestly in all his writing. He has gone through several clinical depressions, and for every book he's written, there are thousands of pages on the cutting room floor, and thousands of hours of being stuck. A pacifist Quaker by spiritual persuasion, he finds himself angry and vindictive at times. One of the chapters in this book is called “What's an Angry Quaker to Do?” How do you deal  with these not-so-acceptable feelings?

With his help, I realize that my sense of the beauty and wellness in this world is not incompatible with the feelings of sadness and helplessness. We cannot always be looking to feel good, if that means that we deny our sadness. I believe more and more as I grow older that we do not live in a this-or-that, black-or-white, left-or-right world. Instead, we live in a world that is characterized by “and also.” Joy, and also sadness. Faith and also hope. An uplifting sense of God's nearness, and also at times a despairing sense God's absence. We have a light side AND also a shadow side. When we do not acknowledge and accept this, we are constantly fighting what we cannot change. So much energy that could be used in good ways is squandered in useless battles.

On the one hand... in my case, the good left hand... there's everything we strive for and hope for, that give joy. On the other hand... in my case, the painful right hand... there's everything difficult and frustrating and sad. Accepting this is how we find our way to peace. It is in the darkness that we see the light.

Howard Thurman, author, educator, and civil rights leader, says it this way: “All around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.Such is the growing edge! This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child—life’s most dramatic answer to death—this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!”

The fact of the matter is, we go through life with both hands working together. As I’ve learned in the last few months, one doesn’t work nearly as well without the other. Finding the place where you can continue to grow, thrive and bless the world with your gifts depends on saying yes to it all, the whole ball of wax.

And thank God, we find other hands to hold, other hands to support us. We're standing together, as Parker Palmer says, "...on the brink of everything."

Palmer and musician Carrie Newcomer are working together this year in a series of retreats and talks. Find out more at  And listen to this inspiring song inspired by the book at

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