So, as is usually the case, the baby watch yielded a baby: Charlotte Autumn Van Carpels, born June 5th at 11:50am. Everybody’s happy and healthy (and, in Charlotte’s case, teeny and gorgeous). One thing I noticed, though, is that things didn’t happen quite the way we’d planned: Patrick wasn’t involved at all in the birth – he’d had to fly to Indianapolis two days before in response to a family emergency. So I picked up Hannah and she stayed with me overnight…and no one went to the birthing center except the new Mom and Dad since Charlotte decided to be born in record time. So I met Charlotte the next day (and had the joy of watching her big sister meet her for the first time, as well), and Patrick met her on Saturday.
Not exactly what we had in mind. And still: astonishing, joyful, miraculous.
Not limiting life to our measure…
I recently listened to someone complaining about his team. As his complaints unfolded, it sounded to me as though his team was actually pretty great: smart people, committed to doing good work, working hard to accomplish the objectives for which they were being held accountable. They were respectful of one another’s opinions and expertise, and they worked well together. No big interpersonal issues. Lots of success. At one point I said, “So the main thing that bugs you about your team is that they’re kind of serious.”
He stopped. “Yeah, well, I guess that’s it,” he said. “I just wish they were more fun; no one wants to hang after work, and there’s not a lot of laughing.”
How often do we overlook the 98% that’s great in a situation or in an outcome because we get obsessed about the 2% that wasn’t what we had in mind? Not even that the alternative 2% is worse – it’s just different. Not what we would have preferred or had planned for.
Here’s a challenge for you. Next time you find yourself irritated, disappointed or upset about something not turning out the way you’d hoped, stop and ask yourself these three questions: “Is this really worse than what I wanted?” “Is there any real reason I can’t be just as satisfied with this?” “Are the ways in which this might actually be better?”
Planning is a great thing, but a big part of the art of planning is being able to flex your plans to accommodate reality as it unfolds.
Till next time…
My second grandchild was born last week – Charlotte Autumn Van Carpels. And when I met her, I was stunned (as I always am by babies, but it’s even more stunning when they’re somehow related to you) by her unsullied beauty and sweetness. As I held her in my arms, I thought about all the possibilities ahead of her: a hundred years of learning, love, accomplishment, joy and insight. The future world she’ll both be a citizen of and help to create.
It’s made me reflect on the traditional Christian doctrine of ‘original sin,’ the idea that all humans are born in a state of sinfulness, based on Adam’s fall from grace in Eden. I’ve never been able to understand this; it just doesn’t resonate with my experience of babies and young children. Looking into Charlotte’s gorgeous little face, I could only think: this is innocence and purity. In fact, my main impulse toward her is to do whatever I can to help her maintain some portion of that marvelous simplicity and light intact as she grows.
She seems to me to be a bundle of purest potential: full to bursting with life; her curiosity ready to be engaged; surrounded by a thousand thousand circumstances, objects and people that can ignite the process of her personal evolution.
And I like to think that we are all still that, 10 or 30 or 70 years later: bundles of potential, able to keep reaching new levels of understanding throughout our lives. I believe we stop ourselves, assuming that we’re too old, too big, too stuck, too tired.
But what if those 2nd century Christians had it exactly backwards: that instead of coming into this world tainted with sin, having to work our way painfully to some state of grace, we arrive in the most complete and lovely state of grace, and have the possibility of staying at least partly in that state while we figure out how to acquire the knowledge, insight, skills, experience and capability to live our best and most satisfying life.
Looking at Charlotte, I believe that’s true.
At my house this week, we’re on baby watch. Our daughter’s due date is tomorrow, and as soon as we get the call, we’ll leap into action: Patrick will call me, so I can make my apologies to whoever I’m meeting with and jump on the train – then he’ll go and get Hannah (our grand daughter), then pick me up at the train station and drop me off at the birthing center. They’ll go home and play (or sleep, depending on the hour) till I call them to let them know that Charlotte, Hannah’s new baby sister, has arrived and they can come and meet her!
It’s all well choreographed (my daughter is a very organized person), and we’ve done it before, so it doesn’t have that nerve-wracking first-time feeling.
But it’s still a miracle.
We think of miracles as once-in-a-lifetime things: the person struck by lightning who doesn’t die; the coin thrown up in the air that lands on its side. But when we limit our conception of miracles to these statistically improbably events, we fail to see the extraordinary in the everyday.
Redefining the miraculous…
One of the definitions for ‘miracle’ at Merriam-Webster is “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.” Having a baby may not seem unusual – but think of all that has to come to pass in order to make it happen. Think of the amazing and unlikely union of sperm and egg; then cells dividing and dividing again, millions of times, each fulfilling a designated role; the baby growing safe inside the mother’s body (that in itself astonishing) till – voila – 9 months later, a perfectly formed brand new human being arrives on the scene, starts to breath, opens his or her eyes…
And begins the miraculous journey toward becoming a speaking, walking, talking, feeling, creative person.
Just because something happens all the time, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a miracle. Let me say that more simply: common occurrences can be miraculous. And perhaps most importantly: we can appreciate them as such. The coming of spring each year; falling in love with someone who turns out to be perfectly suited to you; finding your professional passion and having the chance to work at it every day; doing or saying one thing that changes the course of another person’s life: these are all miraculous.
We can choose to put them into a “that happens all the time” category in our minds, turning them into boring commonalities not worthy of our attention, or we can see them as they truly are: Open our minds to noticing to the incredible complexity of factors necessary to even the most mundane event. Seeing the miraculous in the everyday gives you a very different experience of being alive. Each day seems chock-full of possibilities, happy confluences, wondrous outcomes. The world becomes richer, more three-dimensional.
And it’s up to you: you can see the world and your own life as ho-hum, business as usual, nothing special…or you can see the miraculous at every turn. The choice is yours.
Till next time…