More than Passing Attachments

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The heavy pounding was like a rubber mallet banging the wooden door. Bea dropped the small sack onto the kitchen table and tore off her coat and gloves, each finger tingling from unusual cold that permeated the town. She had just closed and bolted the door and was hesitant to check the peep-hole. It might be Mick, that audacious man down the hall with split lower lip healing after his last reported boxing match.

Mick made her skittish sometimes with his wary sullenness, the abrupt greetings tossed her way as they passed one another, the way his black hair fell over his forehead barely covering a scar that trailed between his eyebrows. He wasn’t, she thought, so mean as tough. He had a wife who was loud and friendly in that way that overwhelmed her but they always greeted each other, chatted a bit. Bea had thought the two of them suited one another fine. Then they had a baby over four years ago, a lovely boy. She’d tried to not wonder about his life with such a pair. It was none of her business, was it? They appeared to love him, were happy whenever she saw the three of them together. What did she know about kids?

The banging erupted again. She strode to the door to take a look. It was Mick alright and he glanced at his watch then right at her, his amber eye enlarged by the round concave glass.

“Bea, I know you’re there, please open up. Mo needs you.”

Bea opened the door a little. “Yes?”

His demeanor transformed as he smiled. His pulpy face was oddly handsome with those golden eyes and a square jaw accentuated by a couple days’ whiskery growth. She didn’t smile back.

“Mo, well, she got a job at the convenience store, she hasn’t found a sitter yet and starts tonight. I have my own shift work and I’m running way late. Can you help us out this once? Just until she gets somebody steady?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t have experience with children–and I work all day long. I do have to sleep at night, of course. Sorry…”

His strong eyebrows came together and he said nothing, then crunched his baseball cap in his hands. “Well, maybe Carter would help, he’s home by ten, usually.”

Carter was a professor at the community college. He taught English literature and creative writing, some grant writing for professionals. They’d gone out a few months but he could be verbose and she was quiet. Things hadn’t gotten far. He was divorced, had two sunny-natured daughters in middle school, and liked to travel so was often gone on week-ends. She saw him in the courtyard and corridors occasionally but barely acknowledged him now. She thought he might still talk to her if given the chance so she gave him little to none. Why complicate life more?

“Yes, that’s a good idea, he might do it awhile. I can vouch for his respectable character. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

She slowly shut the door but it struck Mick’s booted foot.

“Oh, wait Bea, maybe you could at least watch Toby until ten? I’ll make sure Marty or someone will pick him up by then, okay?”

Bea was ornery after a hard day; an ache spread through her lower back. She was hungry for the chicken soup she’d bought. She wanted his boot out of her doorway, his pleading, beat up face with cat eyes to retreat. But she shrugged, then gave him a look of defeat. Everything inside her rebelled against the image of her trying to entertain or soothe a little boy. Hopefully she’d just get him to sleep before the hours were up.

“If there’s absolutely no alternative I’ll do it this once–one time only, okay? Bring him in pajamas with a book or two.”

Mick shook his head as if disappointed in her attitude but thanked her and raced down the hall.

Bea’s nerves jumped about in her center. How did she get suckered into this? It was only a few hours; it couldn’t be so hard. Their lively four year old might turn out to be a pain, but anything was manageable for a short time. She’d seen him chatting with tenants and shared her own brief conversations with him–and had wondered over his strong verbal skills at so young an age.

She got the “to-go” container of soup with its fat penne noodles, chicken chunks, carrots and celery poured it into a deep bowl and reheated it. She took out chilled apple juice, poured some in a tall glass, cut a slice of bakery bread and slathered it with butter. At her small drop leaf table she arranged it all, smoothing a sage green and yellow-flowered cloth napkin. Then she sighed and dipped her spoon into the steaming brothy mix.

She barely managed three spoonfuls when the doorbell rang out. She went to the door and found Mo beaming at her with restrained excitement. Toby harbored a resigned, somewhat suspicious look. They stepped in.

“You’re a real lifesaver, Beatrice, thank you, I can call my cousin for tomorrow and if that doesn’t work out I’ve got a friend needing extra cash. This new job is saving our necks, we need more inflow and less outgo. Mick lost last week-end–he boxes at times, you know, he was almost pro once–that didn’t go as planned.”

Bea plastered a smile on, then held out a hand to Toby who shuffled in with brown furry bear slippers and matching bear (doing cartwheels) pajamas. He ignored her and surveyed the premises.

“Remember Beatrice, Toby? She’s come to our potlucks, even gave you a nice picture book for your birthday, right?”

He looked at her from under a fringe of dark disheveled bangs and nodded. Bea saw he had grey-blue eyes like his mom, not the eyes of a scruffy wolf like his dad.

“Come on in, Toby. I’ll for sure see Carter in a while, right? I work tomorrow, leave at seven. I’d prefer he came by for Toby by 10 at the very latest.”

“Right, he said he’ll come after the last class, after nine-thirty or so. You two are too nice! Off to my new job–thanks a million!” Mo hugged her son who hugged back dutifully and was gone.

Toby looked at the shut door then padded beside her, into the kitchen. After Bea retrieved and placed a fat pillow on a kitchen chair, he sat down opposite her sniffing the air a little, his upturned nose almost quivering. He looked hungry. Bea took another spoonful of soup, blew on it then held spoon midway to her waiting lips.

“You hungry, too?” she asked. “Any dinner at home?” Surely they’d fed him earlier. Or were children always hungry?

He nodded, tried to place chin in both hands despite being too low to the table. He openly coveted her bowl.

“I can share some if you like. There’s good bread. And juice.”

He nodded again, watched her get a smaller bowl from an open shelf plus a juice glass. Soon she’d arranged all before him and gave him a smaller spoon which he turned over in his hand once as if it was a foreign, fascinating thing. But she didn’t stare at him. They ate in silence except for his rhythmical slurping. She got a fat slice of bread and buttered it thickly. He held out his small hand for it, nearly smiling, and held it carefully as if weighing its density, feeling its softness.

Bea took her time, pretending this was any ordinary night after a day of work as a legal assistant. The boy was just a surprise. She loved coming home to the orderly apartment, basked in its familiar homeliness.

She had gradually personalized the place with colorful framed prints, a vase of fresh flowers weekly and her grouping of LLadro fox figurines set on the mantle. On a lamp table were two tall jewel-toned candles and a thick book. There was a blanket or throw on every living room seat. She loved to sit before a fire and contemplate little or much, read or watch a movie after dinner and chores were completed. She’d lived a mostly solitary life a long while; it suited her better than in her twenties and thirties. She’d made it to age forty last October. There was simple contentment in that. And also a restlessness, as if the milestone had left her with a new emptiness despite a rich fullness.

Her mother had always assured her the forties were the best years, a time she would expand her vision more, make healthier choices, find her life met by lovely surprises. A new psychic freedom would abound. And so she still had hope, even though her mother had also believed Bea would get her Masters’ degree, meet “a good, solid man” and have two kids by now. They talked even less than they used to; Bea was not able to think of much to say that wouldn’t cause veering into deeper waters. Not necessary. She admired and loved her mother. She was just not of her ilk, one of domestic yet overachieving women.

Toby and Bea finished at the same time. She took the dishes to the sink as Toby wriggled off the chair, headed to the living room where Bea had lit a fire after her arrival. When she entered the room, he was sitting cross-legged before the flaming wood, mesmerized.

“Real wood?” he asked and pointed at the flaming logs.

“Yes, just old pine. It works well enough, don’t you think?”

Toby inhaled deeply. “Better than ours. We use big crayons stuffed with wood, sawdust it’s called. They don’t make the room warm up like this.”

Puzzled and struck by his intelligent comment–was he really four?–she realized he meant the kind of fire logs at the grocery, ones mixed with petroleum wax and sawdust.

She offered her thoughts as if they were having a complete conversation. “Well, I like real wood. It has a good voice, for one thing.”

Toby crooked his head at her, ready with a question, then leaned closer to listen. The snap and crackle of dry wood as it combusted seemed to bring greater ease to his alert, compact body. She found it remarkable that this boy whom she had met perhaps a half-dozen times could sit in her home without fear or no emitting of whiny longing for parents. Mo and Mick had done something very right so far.

“Yes. It does talk! And smells yummy,” he said and smiled widely.

Encouraged, Bea got up to put on her glasses and took out knitting, thinking this would be a breeze. Toby turned to see what she was up to next.

“Knitting, huh? No books?” he asked. “We have lots of time.” He glanced at the wooden mantel clock and furrowed his brow. “Seven o’clock. Two or three hours? Enough time to read and maybe play a game.”

“You read? Tell time?” she asked him, surprised he could read Roman numerals on the clock face as if it was nothing. How did he do that?

“I like all sorts of numbers, what they do. And clocks. Funny old time.” He scratched his head. “Sure, I read pretty okay. I like stories about real things.”

Bea held his clear eyes for a moment and then slid off the couch to join him.

“Tell me more.”

He pursed his lips. “Like, tell you a story?”

She beamed down at him, liking that idea immensely, but he gave a firm shake of his head as if in disbelief that she would dare ask him rather than do her duty as babysitter.

“I bet you have some good ones, maybe about time,” she said.

Toby looked into the fire, went silent. She thought he had forgotten and now he wouldn’t expect her to entertain him. Relieved, she started to get up and then work on her afghan when he put a hand on her forearm.

“Do you, Bea? Know some stories?” he asked.

“Well, I was hoping you’d bring a book. I just know grown up stories.”

“I have some, then.” He stretched out his legs, flexed his furry bear feet a few times.

“Okay, then. I’m all ears.” She sat beside him.

He giggled, the small sound bubbling up. “All ears, funny thing to think about. Well. There was a boy. He wanted to go to a great school. But his daddy and  mommy said no, he was too little. He ate a lot more and tried to grow bigger. He did all they said, was good. They still said no. The boy wandered into woods as he slept. There he met something with wings, frosty and bright. A winter story fairy. And he went along with that fairy. They had school in the forest and he learned so much. He went home but they didn’t believe those things about numbers and light. They said he’d just been dreaming.”

Bea waited for more, almost breathless, a dab of air trapped in her chest then released in a rush. “What then?”

Toby looked at her as if he had really awakened from a dream, blinking at her. “Nothing. He just was at home. He missed the forest fairy. The numbers games. Like one hundred seventy-two plus one hundred twenty making two hundred ninety-two. It’s something great but not really a thing. It’s like light. Numbers get bigger, smaller, change everything. But are the same… it’s all perfect. I love it.” He shrugged.

Bea shivered, pulled back a bit to better see him. He was lost in the fire again, wiggling his toes so that the two bear heads danced about. There was an intensity that moved her, its stillness and clarity unbroken, pure. She wanted to wrap her arms about him but he didn’t seem to want or expect anything. She wanted to set him apart, prepare him for a wonderful future; he was just being himself.

Who was she, anyway? Just Bea. Who was he? He was a genius blooming within a small body, a gift giver for the world. And she got to hear one of his stories before he knew what he was offering.

“I believe you.”

He turned his whole body very slowly toward her, lay on his stomach and studied her. “You do?”

“Yes.”

“Oh good. Now your turn.”

He turned over and back to the fire. She sat close and he leaned against her. Bea put an arm about him and just like that she remembered her own favorite children’s story. Not real but then was his entirely? She told him about Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail and adventurous Peter Rabbit and how Peter had to elude crabby Mr. McGregor as he explored the delicious garden. He was happy with the telling, quite taken with Peter’s brave maneuvering. She then admitted she had made Peter more hero than disobedient child.

“He was just a kid, he was curious!” Toby said.

“True. But he ended p with a belly ache from too much snacking. This story is over one hundred years old, Toby, so it’s still a good one to share.”

“Huh! But my own story is a secret,” he said seriously, then yawned. “And Peter Rabbit’s long ears are two more ears tonight.”

Bea patted his hand and wondered if she could keep his story to herself,  his geometry of life and school of dreaming, the light that he understood.

******

When Carter came, Toby had been asleep on the couch for an hour.

“Did you know about him?” she asked.

“You mean, do I know he’s very bright? Yes.”

“No, he’s more than bright, he’s…maybe even extraordinary.”

“I suspected it after a talk we had in the courtyard last summer. His vocabulary is impressive, his  ideas something else. He’s very confident around adults but sort of shy around kids. You find him interesting, too?”

They’d settled at the kitchen table. She scanned Carter and found him the same, very tall and a bit spindly, reading glasses hanging around the neck of his worn navy sweater, longish wavy hair still out of control.

“I find him quite wonderful. A sweet child with an amazing mind.”

“Not entirely perfect, I doubt.”

“I’m amazed by what Mo and Mick have done–he’s a great kid.”

He chuckled. “They don’t do much. But they love him, take good care of him and that counts most. He baffles them. They talked to me about him once. I told them he was likely gifted, he could be tested. They seemed surprised. Didn’t much like the thought of it. Don’t blame them. He’ll always be noticeably different.”

“Maybe we could encourage the boy, be good grown up friends to him. We might take him to museums and plays and concerts, go on different hikes and more– if they’d allow us. Don’t you think that would be good? To give him more to explore with that fine mind?”

Carter smoothed his forehead with both hands and groaned softly.”You mean, like mentors? He’s only four and a half. He’ll have school soon. He might enjoy all that, sure, but we both work, his parents are up to their ears in more shift work. And he’s their child, not mine or yours. We can just be kind to him, you know. Listen to him, encourage him.”

“Well, I’m going to try something more. He needs more.” She thought how Toby mused over her own use of “all ears” and wondered what he’d say to his parents being “up to their ears.”

“He’s got you hooked already, Bea, just like that?”

“Yes, like that.” She lifted her head, jutted her chin out.

Carter leaned back and tilted his chair on two legs. “And what if this is just another passing attachment? Like you got hooked by us, had a passing attachment to me and my kids? Because I don’t think that would be fair to Toby.”

Bea wanted to bark at him to set those chair legs on the floor and get Toby and just go. She was enthralled with Toby but tired out; he was being too touchy feely. They didn’t need to rehash things. But he was perhaps right. It had been three months since they had spoken much. She had backed away when it got complicated: his life and hers, his children’s comings and goings. Her intrinsic introspection, minimalist ways. His extravagant poetic responses to all. People were trying; people required so much. She liked her legal briefs and research, duties and schedules, more predictable results. But Carter and his kids had fast become important to her.

She had been afraid: how much had awakened in her after being comfortable alone. She’d freed herself, fast.

“Maybe not…” She pushed the chair back, wooden legs squeaking as they scraped the worn tile floor. “Maybe you should gather the boy and go.”

His eyes met hers and it was all so familiar, that soft liveliness with slightly mocking humor, a more often kind regard. Revelations of the poetry in human living that propelled him and finally moved her.

“Or we could wait for Mick to come by here. We could wait on the sofa by Toby. We understand him a little, after all, don’t we? And I could use a steaming hot peppermint tea.”

It took her a moment to decide but when she did it felt good, even right. She fired up a burner and put the kettle on, oddly energized. Carter left her to it. When she brought the mugs of tea to her living small room blanketed in warmth, Carter and Toby were both asleep.  She sat on the floor by Carter’s long legs, rested her head on folded arms and imagined her life happier. Slept, too.

Toby’s eyelids lifted to unshutter his eyes. He smiled into the hazy burnished beauty of a firelit night. At his two new grown up friends. Then his eyelids closed as he drifted to his tantalizing forest in search of more numbers, more light, more frosty tales.

My Call for GodCalming

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I am in need of it despite a surfeit of greenery in the Pacific Northwest; today’s cerulean sky with clouds to redesign it; jumbles of books that should be stocks as I have invested enough in them; sounds of living that lull and inspire from dawn to dark; the arms that catch and hold me fast in affection:  GodCalming.

Yes, I seek a good GodCalming every day.

Because, you see, I am so driven to get on with it and get things done that I have few skills for doing nothing. It seems nearly a waste, the inertia that is urged upon me at times. There is a blandness to it, colorless, empty. There is a lack of intrigue that stimulates me to do something. May I please read from at least magazines as I eat my meal? Can I work on lists for tomorrow as the television blares on? And excuse me, this song on the radio is so exotic and rhythmic I have to get up and dance–I can hear you, but just a minute. I’ll just dust a bit as I move about. And yesterday’s writing session: paragraphs light up in one small region of my brain and they need cutting or correcting, maybe a whole new ending. And bills to pay, those are not yet checked off. I wanted to look up something. There is stuff to be made and art supplies and all the ideas nag at me daily.

When I was still working as a mental health and addictions counselor, I admit you could count on me. I would work overtime. I would do extra research, get every bit of my documentation done before I left, volunteer for a committee, offer to train the new intern, clean up the kitchen mess. To get ahead? Please others? No, really; I was offered management opportunities but I deeply loved to work face-to-face clients. Rather, it was already my nature to stuff all I could into a ten-to-twelve hour day. I was interested in doing things, wanted to learn. Excessive engagement? Perfectionist? Hyperactive? Maybe some of all that, who is to say for certain? Sometimes it sure backfired–the more you do, the more bosses have you do. But this is America and we get used to being driven; it is the way we work.

Bu that is a perspective, not the whole picture. One of my personal fears is not having enough time to live all I want to live. Give what I have to share. Be of enough service. Embrace the love I can.

At a writing convention once, a speaker who is a better published and much younger writer told me, “Don’t worry, there is always time to publish. Just write your heart out; you’ll publish more as you’re ready and you’ll know when that time is.”

I answered, “You’re wrong. That time is here. I feel urgency every day, both to live and to write. For one thing, there is my aggressive form of heart disease but it could be anything, any time, right? For you that feels distant, or maybe you don’t think of it. But the years come and go and there really isn’t enough time to write all that wants to be written. Or do all else that is important to me, for that matter…”

I felt breathless. Her brow furrowed but she smiled as perhaps I was uninformed or a bit out of touch with real reality. I bought her book–she writes well–and walked on. Felt misunderstood and yet undaunted.

This was a scenario oft-repeated since I was a child. People not quite understanding such fervor for living, the undercurrent of urgency. From birth I felt the desire to embrace more and push forward, this life a beautiful puzzle box that contained never-ending mysteries. Let me be fully present, let me at it… it has not left me after six decades. I may be somewhat less dramatic about my choices but our essence rarely changes entirely.

GodCalming. I sought it from the start. A way through the mazes of need and desire. A key to the balance that can elude even as the weight on the scales is constantly redistributed. How to help true symmetry come forward from the free-form abundance of life, its vibrant intensity? As with invisible ink, I have held my life up to the light and sought more answers. Or perhaps only one that would work the best for me.

Sleep is a challenge. I am too busy to sleep. I am praying for everyone I can. Then in the wide-screen of my night mind arrive scenes I have visited and there is planning for places and people yet to see. Oh, no, that last line of the poem/essay/story, all wrong, must rewrite now, get pen and paper. Some times I replay things I should not–certainly could not if I had thought better of it– have said and weighing the pros and cons of being quiet more regularly. The past looms and I have to circumnavigate it. The coming years flare like an awesome firework display that then fizzles in the face of rock-hard realities. My several children float by, younger or older, marvelous, confounding. I wonder how they managed to be stitched into my crazy patchwork life but then think, naw, don’t think about all that. On to other things–I cannot wait to witness the superluna–how again does that work? The stars are out there, singing to themselves; if I listen I might hear them. I sit up, look out the window. My nearsighted, unaided eyes absorb glimmering darkness and my ears, its stillness. I am wide awake.

I lie back down, turn over and call on GodCalming.

I have many ways to root out peace and it’s a good thing. If you’re the sort of person who experiences life at high gear, unerringly attached to accomplishing goals daily, a surplus charge of energy even if sick or wounded, have a relentless curiosity about people and most any other topic–well, then, you’ll get this. Those who can just sit, be content, rest and be happily emptied of questions and concerns may not. I wish I could take that spot for a stretch and know how that is.

I have to stop myself. Make detours from tasks and goals. Quell the brain’s and body’s activities. I must remind myself to take deeper breaths, eat more slowly and better (I sometimes forget altogether), close my eyes and put up my feet. Or maybe stare out the window at the wind in the leaves.

Having a balcony was a bonus when I began living in this spacious, light-filled apartment. It would be an enticement to relax. The trouble is, my place is right next to a rambling three-story house. Sitting on my chair with my cold brew coffee I can see into the driveway but also kitchen and one of the bedrooms if I so choose. And I have heard people singing off-key in the shower. Sometimes this happens even if I try to assiduously avoid paying attention. But I got to watch a small family that lived downstairs grow up. The couples that lived above have seemed to come and go. I got used to all their work schedules, the sound of their cars. Their arguments and enthusiasms. But after many years, in this historical, leafy neighborhood, it became another scenario. I can, I think, safely note–now that some residents have been long gone–that it somehow morphed into a drug house, at least in one part. I know because I sat on my second story, partly covered, wide balcony to read, write, eat, talk on my phone and care for my little potted garden. So I gradually saw it unfold. My momentary refuge outdoors became a post from which I could observe too much. This ought to be another story so suffice it to say, they knew I could see them. I even complained to them about the activities. They just shrugged. And all the while I was going to work to treat addicted and/or mentally ill clients and I had to come back home and see teenagers buying drugs. The police seemed otherwise engaged. The balcony was no longer a place to retreat. Nor was it safe. Eventually it resolved by itself, like an illness that got so bad it created its own intervention.

Our tomato plants are thriving and the flowers are  still lovely. I sit and relax, sometimes. GodCalming. Believe me, I needed that during those couple of years. But I still need it daily, no matter what is going on.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I explained what GodCalming is for me. If you guessed prayer has something to do with it, that is true. And reading Scripture and various meditation books. I do these things in the morning, off and on in the day and at night. I go to church as often as I can or want to and appreciate the liturgy, the music, the fellowship. I attend a Christian women’s study group once a week that is lively and thought-provoking. But it isn’t just about engaging in traditional actions of my faith.

It might include daily walks (when I can walk well again–a broken toe forbids it for now) as I am most content outdoors unless writing. I am a seeker of forest trails, enamored of the mountain ranges that surround our valley. I am at home by water, the Pacific Ocean, the abundant rivers and even stony creeks. Yes, God resides in the elements and I hear, smell, touch, view the Presence as much as I can.

God may find me as I take out pencil and paint. Or listen to refined or funky music and sing and move to shake things up. Read or make poetry. Look for clues of spiritual wisdom woven in conversations, faces, hearts. God is present when I am with our grandchildren, extended family, trusted friends. And God is often right between a stranger and myself. In giving my hands work to do for others. There are so many ways I experience God it would take a long while to note them.

But this is my truest GodCalming: the opening of my being and flooding it with universal synchronicity. A deep reassurance that the infinite design is numinous if also ineffable, still orderly and humming. The absolute sense–of body, mind, spirit–that the meaning we need is in life itself, wherein we realize the intricacate cohesion of what has been, is, ever shall be. Suffering–there is so much–matters. So, too, compassion and mercy. GodCalming infuses me with hope with an acceptance of the duality of life and a unifying force of Love. I am not truly alone here. I am not very unique. I am a reflection of multitudinous wonders, just as are you and you. In this moment there is the essence of wholeness we are each given; we are to be it, use it, share it. We are made of stars, lest we forget.

So I am to rest within the vibrancy of God. Be unafraid. Know God calls to us to do good, walk in humility. To treasure this span of time on earth we each are given. To know there is no full stop, only a continuum. We are welcome travelers, if not always here, then truly in God’s realms.

The world is so frayed. Frantic and heartsick. How fast we all go, treading water at times to just keep our heads above it all. To make sense of chaos. To construct spiritual or actual protection, to hold in our lives peace. To bring to fruition our dearest endeavors. We do have our work to do; we also have need of calm.

And to just lie down at night and find goodness still is afoot in our thinking and doing and resting, in the tender woefulness of this world. It may seem hard to believe but try to trust a little more.

This is my GodCalming: to right now experience Divinity. To be alive with heartfelt abandon. Keep building kindness and courage. Accept the gifts. Take rest now for all to come. Expect miraculous things as they do occur, every moment, somewhere. Be faithful to my own calling, as we each have a place on earth and beyond. And no matter what, know God (in all glory) Is (with us, in this and all worlds).

Breath of God, find and fill us.

 

“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble… ‘Be still, and know that I am God’…”

–excerpted from Psalm 46

 

 

 

Six Superpowers of Humaness

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Has anyone noticed how in entertainment we are being inundated by (apparently) women, men and children who flaunt an unbelievable array of superior capabilities? Or perhaps they are creatures that only look like humans; some of them do morph rather easily. But I feel swamped every time I turn on the television or examine the new line up of bestsellers. I search for those ordinary decent human beings who achieve humble but worthwhile goals. I am more often faced with either unhealthy, i.e., dangerously flawed characters or secretly altered ones who now command vast and potent powers. The thing is, I really am interested in regular people making their way through the beautiful and daunting landscape of life. I don’t need superhuman examples of prowess. I seek the well-functioning, ever evolving essential Human Being.

Not that this pop phenomenon is new. Comic book, fantasy and sci-fi authors, CGI masters–writers and graphic artists who are world builders of a unique sort–have been giving us fantastic tales for well over a century. And before that, we had mighty mythology based on demigods who were compelled to act out otherworldly feats of bravery and skill. I am sure there have always been stories demonstrating what we humans would like to possess–more fearlessness, strength, power, cleverness if not outright brilliance, the ability to first and last succeed and so on. It may lie in our make-up to desire more than what and who we are from birth. As Homo sapiens, we have need of that drive toward invention, a grasp of problem solving. So there seems an internal itch for most people, a restlessness, perhaps a dissatisfaction that motivates us to strive for something better. And thus, to become greater and more effective. And often, more important. Who hasn’t thought of or plotted for the glory of victorious moments?

The superhuman landscape used to be populated with primarily men who could outrun, outsmart and out-kill everyone else. Destruction seems the byword. Women have gradually begun to further assert their own place within this artificial matrix of amazing powers. We were once given the Six Million Dollar Man to admire but I loved that Bionic Woman in the nineteen seventies. How I cheered her on as she used a supercharged mind and body to make things right! And Wonder Woman, well, she was a whole other symbol of woman rising; her outfit was stunning, as well. And then children began to display unusual skills in stories and shows. Check out any Saturday morning cartoon and accompanying ads and you’ll see what I mean. They love the idea of being stronger, faster and indestructible as much as teens and adults do. Even small people like to win, be on top, and think they want or need to be “king/queen of the hill.” Cue raised wooden sword and a flimsy paper crown. I admit I liked dress-up and being queen, too.

But what have we gained from this long history of unusually skilled, oddly gifted, characters that we loved or loathed? I wonder how it has impacted our individual and collective psyches in the end. Afterall, the standards these beings set are quite unreasonable.

Is it all taken in the spirit of light entertainment– or are we working out our deepest fears and desires via these heroic personages? Likely some of both. We are given, after all, that impulse to overcome adversity and large brains with which to resolve conflict like no other creatures on earth. We can already do marvelous things with our limber bodies, gross and fine motor control, our collective senses, and an ability to heal from serious trauma and illness, to even transform physically and mentally. But if we could be better equipped, more innovative, stronger and more courageous–then we could accomplish so much more, we think. Even save the world, maybe. Hence the fantasy human, the more perfect specimen. Meantime, these superheroes I find on the screen and in books seem primarily to destroy, maim, kill, take ultimate control–in the name of an ideology, a dream, a ruler of some perfect kingdom where all will be well once more after all obstacles are removed. Or so the story goes.

I propose that the skills we have been designing and idolizing are, if not entirely wrong ones, far less important, if at all. How much of what we yearn for the most has to do with an everlasting perfection of Divine Spirit/God/Creator/Higher Power? And what if we already have capabilities that can change the world, save others, create a greater vision? Isn’t it possible we are emphasizing the physical realm far more than is necessary, even to the point of neglecting our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being?

On my walk today, several everyday human powers came to the fore on my thinking. I thought about what has changed my own life from one that was once imperiled to one that became much more empowered. There are countless stories of individuals who have been more inspiring than I could hope to be. But I have discovered through trial and error and rigorous self-evaluation that there are some things I cannot manage without. They do not include excellent ongoing health or award-winning physical prowess, though those would be lovely. Money is not on the list, nor even a huge circle of friends. And this isn’t about the basic needs, though I am well aware that the lack of food, shelter, health care and safety alter lives in ways that can be dire, even life threatening. Instead, they are powers of heart and soul that we can tap to render powerless those poisons that harm human life in ways as devastating as illness, hunger, and violence.

1. Empathy. Not sympathy, but empathy, that feeling that I can know what you are undergoing because I, too, am human, and I, too, have felt diverse emotions and had myriad experiences. They may not be the same as yours, but I can put myself in your place for a moment and feel your anger or your pain, your longing or joy. Empathy allows me to identify with what your life experience, motives and situations. I may then sympathize with you and commiserate with you–but first empathy has to be present to enable me to respect your experience and recognize it as valid and real for you. I need strong empathy for others to begin to connect to them and to be caring in even simple ways. Otherwise, relationships are shallow, transitory, without mutual appreciation and I give little to nothing of my understanding or concern. Empathy, then, empowers us to be more considerate and responsive human beings. It helps us reach across large divides of socioeconomic and cultural differences. It keeps us from falling prey to our worst selves and has the power to mediate peace and generate great goodwill.

2. Compassion, after which the word mercy entered my mind. It also is attached to empathy. Without compassion I would not be moved to assist anyone, would not be willing to overcome reticence and take a risk to be there for others in their distress. I would not care when someone else is suffering because it would not be seen as my problem. Compassion enlarges our understanding and strengthens our hearts. It moves people to interact in ways that offer solace as well as time and energy. But it can also be what keeps us from reacting impulsively and unfairly to others, to say things that are undermining and hurtful. When you have compassion, you sense another’s sensitive spots and feel suffering and so, respond sympathetically. You choose to be gentle and helpful because you desire the same and want others to experience life that way, too. Compassion moves from your heart to another’s and creates a vitally important bridge. But do not mistake it for a softness that is weak. Rather, it strengthens your character and shores up bravery.

Mercy is only an act of extreme compassion. It may be a little dangerous to experience because it can mean putting one’s own self on the line, doing what is unpopular when others may be unable to see the value in such a compassionate response. You may hold the power to do otherwise, to be inclement in your action, yet you choose not to be. It may mean that the person has been deemed undeserving of such care and acceptance by others yet you are still moved to offer both and abundantly. Mercy alleviates terrible misery and offers freedom from harsh judgment and a punishing response; it accepts another person or situation as they are, with deep kindness.

3. Forgiveness, without which there is little hope for ourselves or the world. To be unforgiving means that anger and resentments are stockpiled. It indicates we think we are right and others are wrong and they need to be punished somehow. The old angers take up room in our souls and minds and crowd out potential for growth. They keep us stuck, grind us down. Have you been around someone who is resentful of something that may have happened twenty years ago? It lives in their bodies: hunched shoulders, tight mouth, frown lines. They move as if ready or even looking for a fight. They are marked by discord because they cannot let go of what someone said or did or what did not happen as they believed should. They blame and conspire to get even or get revenge. Without forgiveness, they will never know serenity or lasting joy. One foot is in the past and the present is spoiled, the future a repeat.

When we forgive, we are freed of the toxic state that drove us into a wilderness and kept us hostage to loneliness. Hanging onto old hurts and wrongdoings sours life and impedes becoming effective individuals. It weakens us to keep close and hate the thing that wounded us. At its worst, a lack of forgiveness ignites rage that is taken out on others, intentionally or mistakenly. Forgiving is letting go and letting God–or time or other circumstances we will never know about–take care of things. It means not worrying at all about who deserves what. Learning to take responsibility for our present lives and be engaged in this moment. And all this includes forgiving one’s self. And then moving on.

4. Hope. Without hope people would not get up every day and get on with the work and risks of making and living a life. It’s just hard being human in so many ways. We all experience setbacks and losses and if there is not hope, despair can seep in and spread like a slow flood. Then it is difficult if not impossible to see good coming of any efforts. People do finally stop trying. They can die–emotionally, spiritually and sometimes physically. Or they numb themselves further with addictions and distractions. Hope is the power that changes a viewpoint from bleak to brighter. If we don’t have it within ourselves we must seek until we find it, as it will transform everything.

Offering hope is one powerful key to serious change. It renews energy. It offers solutions. If held out to someone, it indicates that you care enough to see a reason for him or her to keep trying, keep believing life can be even a bit better, even much more so. Hope is a lifeline that can lift one person up out of the quagmire of self-destruction and self-loathing. It can take fear and make it obedient to a new courage. It assesses trouble and then infuses it with the healing of greater possibilities. Hope is a light, carrying us from the stormy seas of human living to that obdurate lighthouse which reassures us there is a safe place for us to land. And to start again.

5. Gratitude. Without it we humans cannot appreciate all that we have. And if we are not appreciative, we are surly and anxious and tend to get lost. Flailing about in the bottomless well of complaints. Gratitude–for one small thing each day if that is all we can come up with–reminds us what counts most and what we do have. Not what we don’t have–it will always be something we do not yet or may never have. Unhappy with your life? Sit down and write a list of what you can appreciate. It might be the camellias starting to bloom. It may be your neighbor’s two little dogs that don’t bark all day and night. It could be that fact that you can open your cupboard and find enough food for a week. Or it might be that you can make another choice, do one thing different, find a new path because you have a mind and a will that enable you to do so. The power of appreciation and gratitude is that you find out you have blessings you just forgot. Next option: share what you have with someone who could use a boost, too, and see how much more gratitude you reap. Be prepared to feel refreshed and ready to do more good. Like taking expensive vitamins but much better.

6. Resilience. That’s right, we human beings were born with the ability to recover over and over, to bounce back from punishing times. To recreate ourselves, if necessary. Resilience means we have elasticity; we can be pushed and pulled and even broken down and still we can get back to our innermost heart and soul and start again. We do not take failure easily, do not stay down for the count if we can help it. But if there is not a way to overcome at the moment, we tend to think we just have to wait out the bad times, gather all our strength and be ready for change when it becomes possible. We persevere and find a way through or around impediments in our lives. We take stock of ourselves–resources, energies– and our attitude becomes regenerative. And that means we overcome and make things happen even when it seems it cannot be. Our will and our minds and hearts seek triumph and completion. I believe we all harbor a profound, inherent love of life, will do all we can to enhance and enjoy it. So we will not be defeated for long, not if we have breath and a smidgen of hope. It all works that much better when we pool our collective skills and gifts. There is power in one, yes, but there is more creativity, wisdom and strength in adding to that one. Not to mention companionship, a boon to any good thing.

So there you have it, my thoughts on a few amazing powers we already have. We may forget them in the hectic mad dash of our daily living. I could write for hours more about the unique, life changing ways and talents we human beings have. And it also hit me when I looked at the list and realized that nearly every human power is rooted in, of course, love. I guess I thought it had already been made obvious by naming compassion, mercy and empathy, hope and forgiveness, gratitude and resilience.

Love. It means I want to do good things, even a great deal of them, for me and for you–and always, only the best that I can do even if that is not quite up to snuff sometimes. This is my aspiration, in any case. It is what I want for my children and grandchildren. Not to emulate some fantastic, overdressed, frighteningly overbearing and willful “superhero”.  Just to be the extraordinary ordinary human being that we have always been meant to be. We are already heroes, my friends, waiting to happen.