Reflections

How (the Idea of) A Rebel Book Club Helped me Find the Jet Stream

Sometimes finding the jet stream or seeing an old challenge in a new light be like this: 

  1. You browse through (last week’s edition of) Time Out London because better late than never.

  2. You see an article titled “Eight Bloody Brilliant London Book Clubs.”

  3. Before you can even finish the bloody article, you’ve already started the google search “Rebel Book Club” - the editors pick for Best Book Club for non-fiction fans.

  4. Within 90 seconds, you’ve decided that you will apply to join.

  5. You shove the website under your husband’s nose and he says, “Why would anyone pay a monthly fee to read a book?”

  6. You meekly say something about community and cocktails, but then within 90 more seconds, you have a new plan that involves printing out the library of 48 book titles the group has already read.  

  7. Armed now with the list so you can read like thinkers & doers, you pull up an app you’ve already paid for called Blinkist to start getting the book summaries.  After all, you are a doer even if you have chosen to lay forth and conquer.

  8. Since it’s too early for a cocktail, you make yourself a second cup of coffee, wish for a donut, and settle in to the first book summary: Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.  

  9. You are intrigued enough by the key messages of the book to send your Economics major son a WhatsApp about the book suggesting *he* read the full thing.   

  10. Since you need to set your sights on something more doable than building an economic system that encourages growth while also preserving the environment, you move on to the second book summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear.

And there it was.  The actionable thing I wasn’t actively looking for but needed to hear.  

The main idea in Atomic Habits is that small changes in behaviour done over time can have a big impact.  The author described it with this analogy:  if a pilot of a plane taking off from LA to NYC decided to move the nose of the plane 3.5 degrees to the south - a change so small that it would not be felt by passengers -  at the end of the flight, you’d be in Washington DC not NYC.  Small change, big impact. 

Patience then is having confidence that though you may not be seeing immediate results, you know you are on the right trajectory.  Habits are one way to get yourself on that trajectory.  I may still jiggle in the middle but I’ve got enough of a habit around exercise that should I stay the course (and manage my chocolate intake), things will eventually firm up.  

Things however have not been looking so good in regard to my getting any closer to having a basic conversation in French. With a French home, car, and bills to pay, I have an incentive to learn.  I have plenty of learning materials.  I have had fits and starts with using them but absolutely no habits that have stuck.  I have tutors - who can’t charge me - living in my house.  But I have had this massive mental block. “Bordeaux, we have a problem. We can’t figure out how to take off.”

Since the whole point of personal growth book is to do something, I decided to apply the principles described in summary on Blinkist to my challenge of learning French.  The first thing I did is reframe my goal.   It’s no longer “Learn how to speak French,” my first goal is “Learn how to be more comfortable and not panic when someone is talking to you in French.”  Along with a more realistic goal, I’ve set a smaller daily habit of 10 minutes a day and bundled it with my use of my laptop.  Now when I fire up my laptop, I made a rule that the first thing I force myself to do is go to one of my paid online programs and listen to one audio conversation in French with subtitles, on repeat, for 10 minutes.  That’s it for now.

We are still in the very early days but another thing they tell you to do is to us trackers, make contracts or in my case - write about it - as a way of making you more accountable.  I was telling my youngest son about my breakthrough and he said: “Isn’t that just common sense?”  Probably. But dude, I wanted to tell him, sometimes you need to travel a curvy road, take a pass on a Rebel Book Club, and relax into something you kind of knew but didn’t know how to start. 

It seemed apropos that todays’ conversation included this:  “Ah ben ! Ce n'est pas simple, hein. Mais on essaie.” Translation: “Oh well ! It's not simple, is it ? But we try !”

Video Ready ...

I know there’s an easier way to do it — in the same way I know I can speak my texts — but it’s hard to teach an old Blackberry user new iPhone tricks.    And so when I want to free up storage space on my iPhone, out comes my laptop and cables.  Excuse me, my MacBook Pro.

I’m making room on my phone this morning in anticipation of taking some videos later this week. My youngest son has a role in his all school play.  There will be 3 performances this week and so 3 opportunities for me to take poor quality, zoomed out, shaky hand iPhone videos that only a grandparent can love.  I’m sure I’ll give you the chance to like them on social media too.  Best of luck finding him.

As I was clearing off some videos on my phone, I couldn’t help but notice how bad so many of them were.  The videos where you start recording 20-30 seconds too early and still nothing very interesting happens.  The videos where you start recording too late and miss the goal or save.   The ones where your subject is altogether not happy about you videoing.  The ones where a random head enters your frame and obstructs your view.  The ones where you try to capture a moment that has passed and it’s so..not..looking..natural. 

Sometimes we do get the timing right and we are able to capture a moment.  It’s rare when it happens but the authenticity of the moment makes those videos instantly shareable.  This video of my son serenading me with this of-the-cuff beat box six years ago was on of those moments.

It got me thinking however that we don’t have to wait for the iPhone to be turned on at just the right moment.   We are the official storytellers of our lives.   We are the only ones with the full length footage and we are the only ones with exclusive editing rights on how we share our experiences.  There are some bad experiences but most of our experiences have a shareable moment and it’s our job to mine it.  Not just for the world, or our friends, but mostly for ourselves.  We get to decide where the close ups will be and where to fade out.   Your best stuff probably won’t have the Eiffel Tower in the background or you in a duet with Bradley Cooper. But it will have some gold.

It’s an awesome creative task to decide what bits to leave in and what bits to cut out.  We can replay all the borings bits, or the missed opportunities, or the obstacles in the viewfinder, or the conflicts, or chose to tell the put ons rather than the naked truth.  Any story finds an audience but the ones that have an impact, the ones worth sharing, are the ones where something authentic was able to shine through.  

You don’t need a laptop or cable to make room in your heart,  but you may need to siphon off some garbage saved in anticipation of moments ahead you won’t want to miss.  And good news is you’ve got a front row seat.

Rinse + Repeat

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All the big grocery stores in Europe seem to have at least two sizes of coin operated trolleys. This is moderately convenient until you go to return your trolley and there isn’t any of your kind to attach to and release your coin.  It’s one of those “how much is a pound worth to you” questions on whether you persist to another trolley return location or abandon cart and coin.  

Yesterday I was standing at a row of grocery trolleys and noticed that someone had solved this dilemma. They had taken their wrong sized trolley, saddled it up perpendicular to the row of other sized trolleys, and stretched the chain just far enough to release their coin.  The chain of nesting carts was broken but this geometrically-gifted shopper found a way to leave with her pound. Wa-lah!

I know this isn’t as groundbreaking as something really useful like having your trolley do your shopping for you, but it was one of those things that stood out for it’s simple ingenuity.  In my six years of scrambling around for spare change because I’d like more than a hand basket to carry my groceries, I had never seen someone have their coin and tether their ill-fitting cart too.  It was only a passing thought but it landed:  “See! sometimes the solution is right there, you just have to pivot 180 degrees to see it.”

All Moms chose their furniture carefully.  When we moved to London I bought the dining room table of my dreams and the dining room chairs of my reality.  They have dark, durable, washable fabric seats.  It’s a draw on whether more spot cleaning would be required if my children or hamsters roamed freely.

After the grocery run, I was arranging cascading bowls of fruit on the dining room table hoping to have answered the after school snack question with a visual aid.  In that process, I caught sight of my durable fabric seats and decided the ice cream to put away could wait.  I mean how much ground in chocolate can one Mom survive?  As I started to wipe down the seats, watching them magically look like new again, another thought attempted landing: “Just like you.”  

Kind of vague, honestly, but this was a situation where the possibility of negative thinking was ripe and so why complain for lack of clarity. 

That thought was unspecific enough that I didn’t think much of it until later when I was washing up.  I noticed a new hand soap at the sink.  Now I don’t have a hand soap fairy but I do buy in bulk at TK Maxx and so it caught me off guard when I saw the label on the new soap: Rinse + Repeat.  Incoming: “Just like you … all things are made new …over and over again.”  

Take in that thought on its second try and add in the smell of coconut and jasmine and you have yourself a little buzz.

Yesterday was also my son’s 16th birthday.  That by itself is a special day but then I showed up for my spinning class and realized I’d blindly signed up for bike number 16.  In case you need more information to be moved by this coincidence, there are 53 bikes and I had never ridden bike number 16.   

Some might still say “yeah, so…” (some of those people live in my house!) but when you are about 30 minutes into your workout and the endorphins are going, and you think about the beautiful life that was birthed out of your body 16 years ago, and you feel that older but still able body crushing it on bike number 16, and in comes the thought: “your body is a temple” accompanied with not just a buzz but pure pleasure … well, you believe it. 

It wasn’t a newsworthy day.  No personal productivity records were set.  I didn’t make any money and spent very little of it.   I didn’t accidentally bump into Russell Brand in my neighbourhood and have that imaginary conversation I’ve been planning.  No, none of that.  But when I hit the pillow last night and felt that quiet peace that envelopes you in the dark, it was confirmation that it had been a very good day indeed.

We think we want what people flaunt - power, prosperity, fame - when really our deeper needs are much more understated and accessible:  knowing that an a-ha moment might be right around the corner, the chance to start again and experiencing the thrill of living in your own sanctuary.   

Where do all the good ideas come from?

I have this app on my phone called Blinkist.  It’s one I actually pay for.  It’s an app where someone reads a non-fiction book and then puts together a 15 minute summary of its key insights that you can either read or listen to.  These modern day cliff notes are available on books covering psychology, personal growth, management and leadership, biography, science, history, and many more categories.  The summaries are long enough to make you feel like you get the gist of the book but short enough to embarrass yourself at a dinner party should you claim to have read it. 

At this point, I have way more advice on better living than I have time to put into practice.  And, a few - bless the effort - books that feel repetitive even in brief summary.  It’s led me to buy a handful of the books in full and it’s been a way better use of my time now that I took the FB app off my phone.

People have been dishing out good advice with an aim to improve individual lives and public life, for thousands of years.  As CS Lewis remarked, “There’s no shortage of good ideas.”   But I was realizing recently that my early Christian life (where CS Lewis featured heavily) taught me that Jesus’ advice was all I needed. Full stop.  I was taught to be suspicious of influences - moral guidance in particular - that didn’t originate from the church.  My interpretation was that I was supposed to put my fingers in my ears and say “la, la, la.”

I carried around that suspicion — with a sense of danger for rock musicians, yogis, and democrats.  Ironically, Purple Rain was my first R rated movie and I did marry a democrat at 21 years old.  Yoga remains a stretch.  My first job out of college - a litigation consultant for Arthur Andersen - forced me to confront other people whose advice might be questionable: lawyers and people who worked on Sundays.  

Over time, my misgivings mellowed. And morphed. My fingers came out of my ears but mostly to politely listen, still cautious.  If Jesus didn’t say it or say something similar, it still wasn’t worth much thoughtful consideration.  I continued to seek the buzz words I’d been trained to hear as they related to peace, joy, love, forgiveness, purpose, wisdom, etc.  It was like signing up for Spotify but only listening to three playlists.  For a middle aged white woman, that’s an intolerable amount of Ed Sheeran.

In this last decade, however, I’ve become fascinated in what other people - different than me - have to say. It’s maybe why I love my Blinkist app. I have this hunch that Jesus has actually pushed me in that direction.

On reflection, Jesus wasn’t pounding his chest claiming to be the best moral teacher, dishing out helpful advice.  Instead, he talked about a new kingdom where all things are made new.  His challenge was much bigger.  He said Follow Me.  You would “stay and listen” to a great speaker but his invitation was “come and see.”  As in, let’s go on an adventure.  And adventures always involve food and music and big ideas and leaving buildings.

And when I focused on following Jesus - not just reciting his words - I started to notice all these other tracks and new artists.  Which makes sense because if he is truly God and the embodiment of love and goodness - the church walls and even the scriptures (which incidentally I read now with more enthusiasm than ever) have no power to contain him.  So today when I read a full book or a packaged up summary of one, or listen to a podcast, or enjoy a great meal, or experience creation, or have a conversation  — I listen more closely as I expect that Jesus will be collaborating with truth wherever it is found.  

Thanks for listening.



50 years

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Today is my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I was able to fly home to Seattle to surprise them for their anniversary dinner. This was the toast I gave them. The other toasts that followed and my Dad’s in particular were so much better — which only makes me so much prouder to be their daughter.

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They say the path along the equator is roughly 25,000 miles. Assuming you were able to walk at a pace of 3 miles per hour for 8 hours a day it would take about 3 years to walk around the world. Ok so that’s the theory.

In 1970 (the year I was born) a guy from Minnesota named Dave Kunst set out to do just that and he became the first person verified to walk around the globe. It took him 4 years. Now that’s a college education for you.

Dave was no doubt a stud so let’s round up for the average human and call it 5 years. That means looking at your 50 years together, had you wanted to, you could have circled the globe 10 times.

Just imagine -   10 different times walking through Quito, Nariobi, Kuala Lumpur, Miami (with a little detour off the equator.) That’s how long 50 years is.

BUT Instead of circling the globe together, you have done something far more impressive over these past 50 years.  You’ve walked the path of kissing and making up thousands and thousands of time.

You have made a loving promise to stay together through times of closeness and through times of distance and you have kept it.  You have been our witness to what a committed, thriving, authentic, peace making marriage could look like.  All three of your children are trying to follow your lead. I’m half way there.

This promise to live out our days in relationship with another person is not easy.  We all know that. But we also know what it is to experience the mystery when we allow our hearts to be wedded together ... when we are still fully ourselves but also now part of a “we” ... this wholly other personality and adventure road map to discover.  This part of you that becomes more alive in the we.

You don’t take a girl from New Jersey and a boy from Kansas - who barely knew each other - without expectation that “we” will be in for an exciting ride.

The very last words Jesus spoke - his last and final promise - was this: “I am with you always.”  To be accompanied therefore is something he thought was kind of important.  That of all the parting words he could have said - work hard or chase your dreams or remember to take the trash out - he talked about company for the journey.

And while none of us could pull off something as audacious as permanently accompanying someone —- it makes me think that marriage is our closest, albeit imperfect, proxy.

The destinations and the milestones are special - and Mom and Dad you’ve had many - but it’s the fact that you had someone there with you the whole time that is the greatest gift.  And that gift doesn’t end even when your passports expire or your longest walk of the day is to the mailbox.

It’s the gift you can keep on giving each other for years to come.

So here’s to 50 years of David and Jessica and the beautiful “we” your marriage has created. We love you.

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New Year's Resolutions

In this season of New Year’s resolutions, we set out to grow by lunging towards a goal.  Forward progress or drying out bad habits is the focal point.   We bury the past, stay mindful enough of the present but soldier on towards a new and improved future.  It’s a well worn path navigated best by the self disciplined.  At 30 days in, with energy waning, a few can double down but most of us redraw goal lines or give up.


We are primed to live with expectation but we also need a rich remembrance of our history.  While it’s not healthy to dwell on the past, most of us don’t spend enough quality time excavating it for treasure.  All of our histories are dotted with a mixture of the mundane, milestone events, and meteors of various sizes.  Your pile of rubble may be bigger than my pile of rubble but I suspect neither of us has fully mined it for what else was left there to teach us.  


We have experience with that good thing that welled up unexpectedly in a place of pain or mess or disappointment - that mysterious sense of peace or joy - that strengthened us for the road ahead.  But what about the good thing forgotten?  The good thing never identified?  I wonder when we run dry after 30 days if we looked into the well of our own life experience, we would find hidden pockets of grace - rich with fuel - to keep us living into the future with sustained energy.  


It’s a small example but someone asked me recently what ever happened to that screenplay I wrote 7 years ago.  “Nothing” was the answer.  While over the years of reflection I’ve collected some good things that came out of that investment of time and energy, it still largely looms as a failure.   This time however I heard it as a nudge - not to try to resurrect the project - but to revisit that season of my life and ask what gifts did I miss that would be of valuable service towards my purpose today - here in 2019.  


I’m certain there are more jewels to dig up from all my years but especially 1984 (the year my parents moved me across the country at the start of 9th grade as a late bloomer with braces), 1997 (the year I got pregnant when I didn’t want to get pregnant,) 2010 (my worst year of parenting) or 2013 (my first year in the idyllic but not always easy country of Luxembourg.)  Perhaps there is something my 2019 self would be empowered by in the remembering.


I don’t buy the idea that “everything we need is already there” because I think we need plans and to do lists and people to help us and keep us accountable.  But I also think we try to muscle through on our latest gas up without remembering all the reserves we haven’t fully tapped into yet.  Connecting the dots of your own life reveals all sorts of patterns you couldn’t have seen otherwise.  


The dots aren’t going to map it all out.  And there will still be loads of crazy outliers because we all roll with some non sequiturs.  But also don’t be surprised if you make out the faint outline of a crown amidst the pattern. The Psalmist boldly says: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”  That’s one of those promises if you are willing to believe that’s bigger and better than our best and boldest New Year’s resolution.


So breathe deep and know that if 2019 turns out to be your best year or a bust, you can count on there being lots of dots to connect down the road.  And psst, remember your crown.

Thanksgiving and Eugene Peterson

It’s unusual to have deep affection for someone you’ve never met but we all have people whose writing has made us feel like kin. Eugene Peterson, the beloved theologian and author, who died last month at the age of 85 was one those people for me. So it seems fitting this Thanksgiving (since I won't be sitting around a turkey dinner tonight here in London which is also known as a normal Thursday) to express my gratitude for the gift Eugene’s words have been to me.

Last month, the day before leaving London for France, I went in search of one of Eugene’s books. I wanted to leave a second copy of The Message (Eugene’s translation of The Bible into contemporary language) at our new house in France. Too last minute for an Amazon order, I checked several local bookstores - none of which had a copy in stock. I aborted the search by early afternoon when I had to be in Regents Hall on Oxford Street for a school event. As it turns out, Regents Hall is an event venue AND the home of London’s Salvation Army Centre. And as providence would have it, there in the lobby was a small Salvation Army bookstore with exactly one copy of The Message left. My France bookshelves are mostly bare but Eugene is there. From Oxford Street to rural France.

It was only a few days later that I read in the news that Eugene was under hospice care. It was as if something in me knew that I would want his company in his last days.

I have learned a lot through Eugene’s writing but his most profound impact came from an interview I heard him do more than a year ago. In the interview he talked about his practice of reading the Psalms (the prayers and poems of the Bible). He described his attraction to the Psalms in this way: “Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poetry grabs us by the jugular. Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal.”

Eugene had picked seven Psalms he described as “covering the waterfront” of what it means to be human in a spiritual world and committed himself to them - over his entire adult life. His practice wasn’t about figuring them out but rather “entering in” and allowing them to work on him. Over and over again. He spoke about his practice in what I can only describe as being a “small voice” - shy, humble, awestruck. There was no specific formula, no right way of doing it, only a commitment to listen ... and keep listening.

Stirred by his small voice in a time where loud voices dominant, I decided to give the practice a try. Since Eugene was far from prescriptive on which Psalm to use, I landed on Psalm 119. I picked it for the simple reason that it is the longest Psalm. I reasoned that it would both cover a lot of ground and do double duty in expanding my ever diminishing attention span. When my mind was regularly drifting during the solid 15 minutes to read the whole bit out loud (think of all the things you could accomplish in 15 minutes!), I thought I might have made a rookie mistake. That first month was mostly about staying awake. But somehow, I stayed with it.

I heard that same interview with Eugene rebroadcast this past September and when I went back through my journal, I couldn’t believe how much Psalm 119 has showed up. I’ve “entered into” Psalm 119 hundreds of times now. I read it, sometimes with attention and sometimes with lots of doubt. I listen to it as I walk or have it on in the background when I’m getting dressed or cleaning the house. When I’m feeling blah, I reach for it before I reach for anything else. And I really love coffee, chocolate and wine. It’s like Psalm 119 has become my secret best friend who always says what I need to hear even when I don’t know the question I’m asking.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that by allowing my mind to stretch over and over these words that have been spoken for generations, my heart now instinctually responds differently to things. The circumstances are the same but the way I relate to my own thoughts has changed. I know it sounds completely goofy but the words of Psalm 119 have become my new mantras. Now when I see something beautiful, my inner voice often responds with: “You are good and what you do is good.” Or when I’m feeling small and insignificant, my inner voice counters with: “Your hands made me and formed me.” Or when I’m dealing with a rude person, I hear: “Let your compassion come to me the I may live.” Or when I’m heading down a rabbit hole of wasted time and energy, I think “Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” Or when I think the world is a mess (I double down on that thought for another beat) but then the whisper always comes: “The earth is filled with your love.” And on and on ... because I still have a lot more listening left to do.

In the same way it’s unusual to have affection for someone you’ve never met, it’s also unusual to share a personal practice with a public audience. But it’s not every day you meet your secret best friend through the small voice of an 85 year old man on a podcast. Thank you Eugene for pointing me not to yourself, or to a program, but to deep truth and wisdom which you knew would do its gentle rehabilitation work if I allowed my imagination and heart to simply enter in.


Click Bait Headlines

Closet Check: 5 Must-Haves.

Not immune to the circus of consumerism we all live in, I took the bait and clicked the link.  I wondered if maybe I had one passable version of the 5 must-haves already in my closet.  When I got to the “5 Things You Need NOW” webpage, there were actually 84 items on the page. 84.  I didn’t have any of them.  Not even close.  See below.  Yellow Floral Pant Suit.

Now 0 out of 5 makes you feel like your missing out.  0 out of 84 makes you feel like you’re living on a different planet.  Either way, it’s designed to make you feel like you aren’t prepared for the next season until you click the BUY NOW link.  Of course I know that and yet when my guard is down, I’m susceptible to catchy subject lines. And then once I go down the rabbit hole, it makes me feel like there’s a hole in my closet.  See below.  Pink Power Blazer.  

The more destructive thing about the rabbit hole is that is stirs up dissatisfaction with things you can’t click a BUY NOW link to fix.  Like 20 years younger and a flat tummy.  Will your spring be better if you have this white top?  See below.  Because this one isn’t in the realm of possibilities for me.  

 

This Morning Drink Will Do Wonders for your Weight, Energy and Skin.

You’d click too, right?  So I had The Morning Drink this morning and weight = same, energy = negative, skin = still dry and tummy = very, very unsure.  Tumeric in a drink?  I want to believe.  I will try again tomorrow and for the next two weeks before I make a judgment.

We are all consumers and guidance can be helpful as we sort through the many choices available to us.  If not,  I would have never found my two most recent jean purchases from Jack Wills.  The best, softest, no butt cleavage jeans of all time.

But ….mostly the “Must Have”, “Must Do”, edicts leave me feeling disillusioned.  It falsely promises that the “perfect” answer is still out there.   It’s going to take a long time before the world is convinced that there’s a better morning drink than coffee.

Closet Check: 50 Must Purges.

It wouldn’t have the same click through rate. Also who besides a closet organiser or simplifying guru would write that?  But that’s probably the thing that would bring us closer to wardrobe harmony, and metaphorically, happiness. 

Deciding what to let go of is so much harder than adding something new into the mix. Cutting something loose requires a hard look at what we’ve outgrown, what we’ve made a mess of, and what we should have never bought in the first place. Likewise the path to happiness often involves pruning back the garden of your life to it’s barest essentials.

A tidying up of relationships that have passed their season allows you to focus on the important ones in front of you.  A ditching of bad habits that leaves us in threadbare knots brings new things to the forefront.  Weeding out the trivial things that we mindlessly gave space to is one of the best ways to foster growth.

To thrive, a garden really only needs the basics of sun, water, and the care of a gardener.  When something is missing, our natural inclination is to go out searching for something new.  But what if what you really need is already there, just buried under a whole bunch of stuff?

If that's true, and I think it is, we won't be needing the Pink Power Blazer this spring. 

A Dream

Last night I had a dream that woke me up from a dead sleep at 2am. It was so vivid and felt so real that I can’t stop thinking about it.

I’m in London in a neighborhood I don’t know. I have my camera and am doing some street photography. It’s dusk and cold. An older woman approaches me. She tells me that I should be careful as it is getting dark and the neighborhood is not safe at night, especially for someone like me. There are no other faces that look like mine in this neighborhood. She doesn’t look like me.

I tell her I’m not afraid, thank you, and that I feel safe. She insists I follow her to the nearest Tube station. She looks trustworthy. Since this is her neighborhood, I follow her even though I want to stay and take more pictures. As I follow her down a side street, a group of teens causes a distraction and one of them grabs my phone. The older woman, my escort, grabs my purse and camera and everyone scatters.

Suddenly, I’m alone and it’s quiet. Everything I had with me is gone. It’s a scam and I’ve been set up. I’m not frightened but I am furious. Furious that I’ve been set up. Furious that I was so trusting. Furious that I fell for it. Angry that maybe the warnings I had been given about people like this were right?

I shout and swear to the empty street: “Why?!” A voice of someone I can’t make out (not the woman) evenly, unemotionally answers: “Because you have everything and we have nothing and you think you see that, but you can’t really see.” My fury shrinks and turns to shame and I begin to weep. Uncontrollably and for a long time, because maybe actually, that voice is more right.

When I look up, the young man who took my phone is standing in front of me. He hands me my phone and when I ask why he is giving it back, he softly answers: “Because I saw HOW you cried.” I tell him that I could call the police. He is returning the phone to me at great personal risk. Softly again he answers: “I know.” I don’t call the police. He does not seem surprised.

Later at home, a knock on the door. My husband tells me there is a group of woman at the front door, for me. It’s the older woman. She has brought friends. She hands me my purse and camera and says sorry. The tenor of her voice tells me she means it. She tells me that she took some pictures on my camera she hoped I might like. I thank her and close the door.

Back inside, I check my purse. Everything is in it. I pull out the camera and scroll through the pictures. The photos aren’t carefully framed or the work of an artist but they take my breath away. They have captured the soul of their neighborhood -- the joys, sorrows, hardships, humor – all scenes I couldn’t see when I was trying to photograph their streets. I cry again this time a mix of tears and smiles. It’s not my stuff they wanted. It was compassion they were looking for.

I run back to the front door and open it again. The women are still standing there. They are ready with their “Yes” when I ask if they’d like to come in.

I can’t help but wonder how this dream relates to this quote I read less than 12 hours later in Beartown by Fredrik Backman:

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”

Thanksgiving Top 20

Here's my list of 20 things that make Thanksgiving Day special.

1. 2 weeks of planning boils down to 20 minutes of eating and 200 pieces of silverware that need to be hand washed.

2. The unexpected +1 invited by your sister-in-law's second cousin turns out to be vegan and not a football fan.

3. Marshmallows meet up with casseroles, cranberries come out of cans, and jello keep it weird. Use the pass wisely.

4. The fake drama between this year's new and improved version of the brined, stuffed, organic turkey versus a Butterball out of the deep fryer. The fried bird always, always wins.

5. Name cards, napkin rings, electric knives, turkey salt and pepper shakers, Grandma's china and that embarrassing family story live to see another year.

6. Someone has overly ambitious plans for gratitude sharing around the table.

7. There's never enough mashed potatoes so you can practice being thankful for the small helping you got.

8. Somebody under the age of 10 is unhappy about being at the Kid Table and threatening to only eat a roll.

9. Everyone else is wondering how we can move that one distant relative "over the age of should know better" to the Kid Table.

10. It's totally appropriate, highly encouraged even, to double time on dessert and add liquor to your coffee.

11. You still have 12 hours before your forced to think about Christmas but are seated next to the Black Friday strategist who has already finished their Christmas cards.

12. It's a rough day for white tablecloths and single people who'd prefer not to talk about how their love life is going.

13. The smartest person in the room is the one who can get the young and old, the shy and loud, the football inclined and football resistant, to stop what they are doing and play a classic parlor game.

14. The dumbest person in the room is the one who wore skinny jeans.

15. Clean up takes a small army and is long enough that everyone's ready for leftovers by the time active duty has finished.

16. Having the wrong footwear won't get you out of the post dinner walk.

17. If you nap with your mouth open, someone will capture and share the moment.

18. In late night programming, The Return of the Gout airs. (a family drama, rated R for strong language.)

19. An emergency plumbing or ER visit is always a possibility.

20. You realize that there are family traits given and chosen and each of them have the potential to be a blessing.