Do you ever long to make your mark? A sign, a signature, some kind of message that says with a flourish, “I was here! I did this! "
Have you ever made something, expressed a brilliant idea, shown your artistry in your vocation or other passionate pursuit and thought, “this is my legacy, this is what I leave behind, this shows I made a difference.” ?
15, 000 years ago, deep in a cave, filled with shadows broken by a small flickering light, a woman drew charcoal horses marked by large round dots. She loved to see these horses on the plains as the clan made its way to summer lodgings. The horse she drew is powerful, sacred because of what it provided the clan. We know very little about this artist. Was she a shaman in her clan? How did she find the cave? Why did she paint there in the dark? Was she alone? What we can see is that after she finished her art-making, she placed her hand on the cave wall and blew dark pigment around each finger to outline her hand, the artist’s hand. She made her mark on the damp limestone wall, for some unknown future visitor, to see and know of her life.
The cave was lost for millennia. Located in the southwest region of France known as the Lot, la Grotte du Pech Merle, with its drawings and intricate natural formations, was discovered again in 1922. It is one of the few remaining Paleolithic era caves where visitors still have access to the original paintings. Wandering through this beautiful limestone cave, I sometimes found myself within three feet of ancient markings. Lifting my eyes as I rounded a curved passageway, I actually gasped at the sight of the dotted horses. My eyes riveted on the outlined hands appearing above the horses, and I saw that the prints were about the size of my hands. I held my hand in the air in an echo of the gesture, as if I were about to paint a similar silhouette on the cave wall.
I thought of the woman who stood there millennia ago, and how, like me, she yearned to make her mark, to take note of this moment in time and her unique passage through it.
"I'm done with traditional medicine," my father announced at dinner. "There's nothing they can do for me."
As my father will soon be 87, it wasn't necessary to say that traditional medicine hasn't done too badly for him up to now. But I got his point. Because I knew that what he has been hearing directly and between the lines from doctors and others is, "what do you expect? You are 86." What my dad expects, however, is not to be satisfied with survival. What matters to him, and undoubtedly to most octogenarians, is quality of life. He is not asking to live forever, only that if it is possible to have more energy, be capable and independent and do those things that matter to him, that he be given encouragement and whatever aids that goal.
This skeptical attitude has evolved over time, partly, I suppose, because his doctors got younger and younger. And partly because his generation, raised to venerate experts and authority, realized that those experts were somebody's children, just like their own, whom they knew for a fact to be quite fallible.
Dad has long been interested in alternative medicine, done much research and tried things, a case study of one. He is pleased with what he has found, and recently he has learned something new he would like to try, "what if it would do as promised?" Once again he is proactive in reaching for his health and well-being. His mood for several days can be made by a good workout at the fitness center.
There's much to say about what I have learned from my father, a natural optimist, but this late life lesson is huge to me. He has ever been a man of action, no procrastination. He starts habits, stops habits, whatever he comes to decide is the best course of action. He shows up in his life, and has that trait of courage--- persistence--- in measures I long for. Is he at all set in his ways? Sure, just try cutting an onion or tomato in front of him, or taking out the garbage. He has many instructions. But this openness to the new, and the willingness to dig for information even if initially skeptical, is an example I value.
One of the first things he taught me was "never assume." This was learned the hard way, trying to excuse my way out of faulty judgments or actions. But, ah, yes, "never assume." Find out, know your stuff, take the time to be thorough, and take responsibility, it's your life. Trust yourself, take a leap, there's always something to be learned.
I expect I will give my doctors a hard time, too, if they try to get me to "settle." It's my father's legacy to me.
This is not a trick question: You are traveling with a companion of the opposite sex, and you lose your way. Someone will suggest asking for directions. This person is....
A. Male B. Female
Odds are, that the person who asks is female, right?
Know why? In essence: a female does not feel "one down" asking for information. Nor does she feel obligated to act on information she receives, FYI.
Visualize a ladder. What images and words come to you, associated with ladder?
People in workshops on this topic have told me words like these: up and down; straight; narrow;ascending; scary (might fall off); one- way; useful; tool; steps; one at a time; strong; rigid; helpful; balancing....
What does it feel like to be on a ladder, in one's view of things, sense of self?
People have used these words: focused; know how far I've come, how far to go; alone; clear path; getting higher; getting somewhere; feels better to be up, or in front of others climbing behind, but fearful if I fall I could take others down with me; only room for one on each step; independent; risk-taking; brave....
For life on the ladder, "Knowing" is what protects and helps, information is what one has to offer, and that is perceived to be a gift.
Now, visualize a web. What images and words come to you? Are they like these words?
Connecting is what protects and helps, and is the valuable gift when offered.
Imagine that most men in our culture tend to have a "ladder" worldview, and experience the dynamics and energy of life as a ladder, i.e. life as hierarchical. Primary challenges are about how to ascend. Harmony is often derived from clarity about where one stands on the ladder, and what is needed to maintain or move upward. Anxiety comes from not knowing, or being pushed out of place.
Imagine that most women have a "web" view of life, i.e. that life is a web of relationships that need to be created, maintained, watched over, and that harmony is best felt when all is well in the web. Anxiety comes from feeling a lack of connection, or being too far on the periphery.
How do the ladder and the web relate to each other?
By acknowledging that each has a different experience, beginning early in life, and that each worldview has its benefits, contributions and costs. No one view is right or wrong. Gifts are different , but all are part of the same Whole.
Might this awareness offer increased freedom and appreciation to us all?
(This article is excerpted from my book Live in Harmony: Notes on Daily Peace. Thanks are due to Tannen and Gilligan*, cited below)
*For more on this topic, check out the seminal work done by Deborah Tannen, sociolinguist, e.g. You Just Don't Understand Me, and Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice
I like rusty things. Partly because of the color and texture changes, but mostly because this evidence of the passage of time stirs me, takes me on journeys of memory and imagining. With the details of color and shape and the stories implied, this collection of bicycles mounted on a wrought iron fence was attractive, satisfying, like a good meal.
I wondered who made this display, and how long it took them to find the bikes. I wondered about those finds, the stories and encounters that each bike represented, the laughs, the wheeling and dealing to obtain, the carting home, stuffed around kids or a dog or the groceries. I began to see a novel emerge. Why bicycles? How long has the project been in the making? What happened during this process? Who laughed, or said, "how silly!" or complained "enough, already!" Did the artist tire of this and move on, leaving the bikes rusting quietly in the summer humidity and rainy winters? Is she still keeping an eye out for old bikes?
I saw one like my big sister rode, that kind with a flat seat on the back fender, which was later passed down to me. When I first learned to ride a bike I could do everything but stop myself and dismount. So I would ride around all over the neighborhood with my friend Gary and when I was ready to come in, I would ride by my house or his, shouting "somebody come out and stop me!". This worked for some time, but then one day, it was raining and as Gary and I drove through his circular drive towards the carport I knew I had one chance or I would get soaked. Full of fear of a big crash, I flung myself off the bike at the last moment. I stopped myself! I didn't need help, now I could control the end of my journey. It was a grand moment.
What did you learn from riding a bike? Have you told anyone the story yet?