Sometimes it is a gift. Sometimes it is a discipline, of counting items for gratitude, or praying to see the good. Sometimes it comes from the vulnerability of others, helping us open a chord inside ourselves.
Three years ago, I taught adult literacy through Americorps. I complained the whole year about the commute, the frustrating nonprofit bureaucracy, the lack of support, the lack of income, the "unorganized" (or just non type-A!) people I worked with. In May, I had a dream, about my co-workers going through tough times. I really had to be there with them. There was a strange intimacy and compassion to the dream. It had no basis in reality, but I woke up feeling the urgency of loving people. You never know what they might be going through. I went to work and it felt so meaningful--every interaction with a student or co-worker, every opportunity to show people they matter. We had an end-of-the-year ceremony for the students, and they were so proud of their accomplishments. Suddenly I had a 180 degree shift. I loved my job. I decided to stay another year. And sure, over the next year there were moments I felt stressed, but the love for my students and staff never dissipated.
We can wake up one day and see the same thing in a totally different light. Lately, it is my task to search for the different light. Practice seeing it, and one day, suddenly, wake up full of joy and wonder and anticipation of the great love that suffuses the world.
It is in the small things: I was angry I had to pay more money than I had anticipated, to run in a weekend long relay race. I had to give up sleep, spend the whole weekend with people I didn't know too well.
But as it unfolded: On the first day the pouring rain washed out any inhibitions or complaints and we saw how far we could push ourselves, and on the second day the sun came out and the early spring red buds sparkled and after 3 miles the uphill gave way to the most beautiful mountain vista I could imagine and I said aloud to myself, "That was worth it!"
It is in the big things: I had to move away from my family and community and job, put my dreams on hold for two years, because of my husband's job and career.
My neighbor put it this way for me a few days ago: I can enjoy my marriage in the mountains and rivers and trees with little stress or work. I will write and listen and grow a garden and learn what's inside me.
And in the life-and-death things: Grandfather is leaving us; my last grandparent is no longer alive, a frightening reminder of decay and mortality. Only one generation now separates me from death. And we will miss him.
Or the way it really is, the way that spirit and love and community have confirmed for me this weekend: he lives, he has crossed to a realm of pure love and joy, a realm he sought his entire life and longed to be in. And we will be united again.
There is to everything a light and a dark side. And both are real. But I am convinced the light side, if we can see it, is the more real.