Fitting in

There’s a poem that was read to us at my Lifeways graduation that is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. From time to time, a new line stands up and takes notice, helping me to guide my actions. The part that is humming for me now is this:

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Lessons on grace, from Anne Lamott and Frank Zappa

Today, I remembered the great quote from Anne Lamott that says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” We all do this from time to time, and perhaps now even more than ever. Imagine if we didn’t back our opinions with the self-righteousness of God?

Then, there’s this: my brother in law’s friend told me this story that his mom told him. One time, a crazed fan broke into Frank Zappa’s house, wielding a gun. Zappa had company over, but took it in stride. He offered the gun holder a beer, and a seat, and everyone sat down to talk. Then he said, my friends and I were just getting ready to do this ceremony in which we say goodbye to something. Can we do that?

They went to this pond in the backyard, and everyone started saying goodbye to their attachments, by throwing something into the water. Frank Zappa threw something in (a sandal? a book? The details have been lost). Then he looked expectantly at the guy. He looked at his gun, said *@!& it!, and threw the gun into the water, and left.

Imagine meeting your attacker with such smooth grace. There have been many stories like this circulated, although perhaps not with such a personage as Frank Zappa at the center. I don’t even know if it’s true, but I like to think it is.

What could be possible if we didn’t assume things about people? What if instead of reacting, we offered the proverbial olive branch (or beer) to someone that we perceive as an attacker? If you have a story about this, please leave it in the comments.