Stepping Outside Our Carefully Curated Circles–into Joy

Dear Friends,

On this foggy morning, I rose at an ungodly hour to catch a flight. The dense marine layer made the tram, which shuttled us between the terminal and the waiting jet, seem almost cozy, snug.  We’re generally an introverted bunch here in Seattle and as winter closes in grey and chilly, we retreat into our steamy coffee cups and Patagonia hoods. But on this tram so early in the morning, strangers chatted.  Eyes met, smiles transformed a dozen faces with cheer.

There are precious few places left where this kind of magic happens among people who do not choose each other. These days, we are masters at curating our own spaces, sticking to familiar places and people. We keep within the circles we prescribe for ourselves: like-minded, like-educated, socio-economically similar. We choose the messages we hear and we pay for the best experiences we can afford. I realize even the grocery stores I frequent are filled with people who at least approximate “my” people. But recently I’ve begun to wonder about the hidden costs of these “safe” choices.  Are we stunting our spirit’s growth in ways we don’t fully appreciate, missing opportunities for true connection of which we’re largely unaware?

Aboard the flight, the woman next to me in seat 32A is incredibly chatty, and a bit sporadic. She is not the person I would choose to sit with for a four hour flight. She has pulled out her phone and shown me photos of who-knows-what. And I’ve nodded politely, wanting to slip on my Air Pods. But as the plane rises and the millions-year-old miracle of Mount Rainier looms huge and snowy on the horizon; as flat-topped Mount Saint Helens, Mount Baker, and Mount Olympus drift into view, we murmur together with awe. Unexpected warmth crops up within me as I sit with this fellow human in witness of the majesty beyond the window. Honestly, what I feel is joy.

happy“Joy is good cheer. . .joy and curiosity are the same thing. Joy is always a surprise, and often a decision.  Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days, it can be a radical act,” writes Anne Lamott in her book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

It’s this radical act aspect of joy I’m interested in. Because in our highly curated world, stepping outside our patterns and circles is no easy task. Of course I can find quiet joy with my fellow book members who quote T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. That’s almost a given. But can I stretch myself to find real connection in unexpected places? The jolt of joy, the surprise animation of an unlooked-for interaction, is perhaps more likely to open a new door to discovery, to pierce my patterned thinking, than when I’m interacting with those who think and sound like me. I’ve found this recently through a great conversation with an Uber driver, as I helped a mother and son load an impossibly heavy piece of furniture into their car, and today, with the woman in 32A. But the examples of this type of encounter are for me, I’m truly sad to admit, few and far between in the busy, rather contained life I lead. I wonder how many more of these opportunities I have missed?

As we become more polarized and suspicious of one another, my longing to encounter grows stronger. I don’t want to be satisfied with “my people” who are in “my corner.” I want something much wilder and uncontained. I want joy. Joy moves through porous places, erasing boundaries and protections. It is indeed at once a decision, a surprise, and increasingly, I hope, a habit.



P.S.  For a song that strikes this same theme of finding the joy of human connection in unexpected places, check out this songby the Innocence Mission.

P.S.S.  We’d love it if you would post your comments here!  And for those of you who live close by, I wrote this post a few foggy mornings ago–I am indeed back in Washington and it is still foggy!

Consider: Simple Gestures

It all started with crusty bruschetta.  The tomatoes made you want to you cry.  Salice Salentino–I remember the wine, splashed into immaculately polished glasses, the tender pea vines curling around the polenta, and the first bite of that herb-encrusted chicken–crisp skin, an astounding depth of flavor.  

Some years ago, our family endured a series of traumas that stretched over a couple of years–great, unexpected losses that left us with our fists up in front of our faces, waiting for the next calamity.  We felt jumpy, tense with dread, defensive and alert.

The meal took hours, and we never wanted it to end.  The owner, an older Italian man with a face mapped in happy wrinkles, kept appearing at our elbows to tip more wine into our glasses.  Thank you, we’d say, and he’d answer, “Simple gestures.”  Finally he brought us glasses of smoky bourbon.  On the house.  Simple gestures.

When my best friend went into labor after that litany of personal tragedies, I braced myself for more bad news.  I had learned that life was not the easy walk I had expected; I had learned that good was not always reciprocated. Waiting for joy, we were met with sorrow. 

So, after a difficult labor, when my friend brought forth a healthy girl–my first goddaughter–I was completely stunned.  Goodness.  Unexpected grace that shook me awake. I sat down in humble silence and wrote a blessing for my goddaughter.  

Dear one,

may all that is good find you in this world,

just as you have found us tonight.


This hour you unfolded our anxious hands

and we spread them in joy

as a bird spreads her wings. . . .

My husband, Martin, and I have since adopted the Italian restaurant owner’s motto.  It takes us back to that summer night of amazing food and friendship.  Martin bakes scones and we sit outside with our teapot.  He pours tea into my cup.  Thank you, I say.  Simple gestures, he answers.

Let me tell you: life is not one long, delightful meal, and it doesn’t always give you free bourbon.  But it is filled with simple gestures that I so often take for granted: the light slanting down on my daughter’s face as she sleeps, the sound of the piano as my husband plays, these quiet moments of writing on my front porch surrounded by flowers.IMG_4808

What Martin and I discovered as we looked back over those hard things that happened to us, was that even–or especially–then, our lives were overflowing with simple, profound love.  As we put our heads down and trod through the storm, Grace was at our side.  As we sat down at the table of our bitterness, Love was pouring our cups to overflowing.  It was, in a miraculous paradox, a feast of wonder.

As well as I can, I live neither in dread or in the naivete of my youth, but from a center of gratitude.  And the feast goes on–course after course, one astounding flavor after another.

Consider: To Save the World

Dear Friends,

On Sunday evening, my girls came home from their neighborhood adventures with another stray chicken–the second in as many weeks.  My daughter, Beatrix, stroked the dense black and white feathers and announced, “We’re calling this one Pepper.”  Just then our neighbor returned from an emergency trip to see his dying father, and as his family drove their car slowly into their driveway, all chaos broke loose.  The street suddenly exploded with a loose chicken, children, dogs, and one cat, all tearing madly after each other.

I felt half-amused, half-sorry for our grieving neighbors as they returned to the melee of activity, but later, thinking back on how the street turned out to gather around them as they unpacked the car (one neighbor brought a pitcher of G&Ts), I concluded that it wasn’t an altogether bad way to come home.  From quiet sorrow into the chaos of life: animals and children, neighbors clicking their plastic cups together, murmuring, “I’m sorry about your dad. . .” and “We’ve got dinner if you want to come over.”

This past week brought more bad news: a new round of terrorist attacks in London and another step back from hard-won cooperation needed to sustain the earth.  This morning as I drove my daughter to school, these mighty fractures, combined with my own personal griefs, descended like a great weight.  I felt tears well up as I listened to the radio–of all things, that pop song by Charlie Pluth that goes, “Superman ain’t got nothing on me.  Come on, I’m only one call away.”

Swift self-analysis followed:  Sentimental drivel — making me weepy– WHY?

I admit to having a penchant for superhero movies.  This past weekend, when Wonder Woman charged across the front line to free a village, I was sprinting with her, wrist deflectors up, every righteous muscle tensed.  And this morning as I thought of the hurting people in this world and in my life, I wanted to pull out my sword.  Come on, I’m only one call away.

But even the superhero movies these days–at least the good ones–are marked by this complexity: even with superhuman powers, you can’t save the world.  Most of the time, you can’t even save the people closest to you.  We are weighted; we want superheroes.  But as the iconic Flaming Lips song Waiting for Superman says, what we carry is “just too heavy for Superman to lift.”

Superheros have always been part of human mythology.  When we slam up against our own limitations, we often scan the sky, looking for salvation.  But it is our hands that must shape this world for good, our feet that must trod the forgotten places.

“And while I don’t expect you to save the world,” poet and true wonder-woman Nikki Giovanni once said, “I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary.”  Love, share, engage.  These are the superhero tasks of our lives.

Here’s what I can do this week:  throw open my door and join the chaos, chase a chicken and say “I’m sorry,” despite the fact that those words just don’t seem like enough.  I can stand alongside, tell the truth to the people in my life, actively love my neighbor.  And when the time is right, I can march.  I’m no Wonder Woman–but I am full of wonder, and the light inside compels me to pursue peace and healing.  This is our shared, daily, unspectacular work, done one moment at a time, each holy hour.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,


P.S. I hope you won’t miss Lindsay’s reflections on Friday’s blog –I always look forward to capping a busy week that way! And please note–if you’d like blog posts delivered to your mailbox as well, you can hit the “follow” button for weekly deliveries.

P.P.S.  Check Facebook and Instagram this week for something REALLY LOVELY.  We’re thrilled to be able to send some EHH to your actual, old-school mailboxes–handwritten, addressed just to you. And thank you again for being part of this community!o