Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Moving On Up, or Over

For those of you kind enough to check in here and read from time to time, I have moved my writing and blogging over to michaelvalliant.com. I am not taking The 4-1-Run down, and have loved having you all here. I've reached a point where I am trying to consolidate my writing, do more of it, and make it easier for people to find. There's already a few posts over at the new site, "A Thinking Man's Guide to Oxford," a travel, living simply, living outside piece; "Growing Up Goonies," looking at the difference in unstructured time for kids in the 1970s and 1980s versus now; and "The Head, the Hand, and the Heart," about our thoughts, our actions, and love coming together to make a life like fine art. With much more to come.

I hope you'll be kind enough to check out the new site and keep reading.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hair Wraps

Over the past few years, getting a hair wrap has become a big part of our Ocean City beach trip for Ava. It's a simple thing, which has become a summer tradition. She loves picking colors and showing friends her summer style.

It's funny what something as simple as a hair wrap can do to me now--it's a sort of emotional unraveling, full of reminders and continued gratitude.

Ava spent last August in Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. It was sudden, unexpected, loop-throwing, reality-changing whirlwind--deep breaths and prayer material. Among my most vivid memories of that month, are those of Ava making sure that the doctors, nurses, technicians, etc., didn't mess up her hair wrap. There were times when she wasn't aware of much that was going on around her, but you better not mess with her hair wrap. Other than their having to cut off metal at the end of it so she could get MRIs, the hair wrap survived the hospital.

As her sister Anna and I sat along the Boardwalk while Ava beamed getting her new "do," my mind bounced back and forth from last year to now. It's been a great year--after missing the beginning of the school year in the hospital, she was named MVP of her field hockey team in the fall (she wasn't expected to be able to play most of the season), earned honor roll every semester at school and Principal's Honor Roll for half of them, and finished her lacrosse season this spring with a two-goal game.

It's also been a trying year as a parent. Ava still has occasional seizures, as well as more frequent "spells," where she shakes and has trouble focusing or being able to respond to what's going on around her. Despite tears and protests, she had to stay out of the ocean and the sun for a day during the beach trip this past week, because she couldn't shake a series of spells that recurred throughout the day. We don't have it all figured out, and have just switched her neurology care to a new hospital after being thoroughly unimpressed with her last one. It's a process and lessons in seizure management.

When you look at the pictures above, it's hard to notice a difference in the two years. You can't tell what her eyes have seen or what she's been through. And that speaks to Ava. It's her personality; she rolls with the punches and looks to what's next--facing forward, not backward. She has taught me more than I can put into words.

I've tried to learn a lot of letting go over the past year. I've seen and felt the power of prayer and community. I'm trying to learn to hand over to God those things that are beyond my control (which is pretty much everything big). I am grateful for both Ava and Anna and the people they are becoming, and the blessings they bring to my life every day (or at least most days ;).

Our attitude towards what we find in life can color everything we encounter. I like this thought that the internet gives to Albert Einstein:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

This morning I am thankful for sunrises--new days, new weeks, months, and years, and enjoying them all. And I am thankful for hair wraps. And Ava showing off this year's colors.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Running, Connection, and Timely Silence

Running connects me. It connects me to the earth. It connects me to the sky. It connects me to my breath, my body, my soul.

It makes me stop thinking, and start thinking. It makes me take stock, and let go.

Running lets me see the world and find myself. It is prayer, meditation, and inspiration. By the end of a run, even a not so great one, I am transformed.

Running is a way to be, a way to be outside, and a way to be quiet. It cultivates silence, even if I am listening to music or saying hello to folks I encounter. It is funny how it is easier for me to be silent, to empty my head and listen when I run, than it is sitting still.

Lately I've been hanging in the desert, in the wilderness, with the Desert Fathers. Fascinating folks, Christian hermits that lived in the third century, and decided they needed to get out of Dodge, cultivate their solitude and silence, so that they could shine their light to the world and beyond. They have drawn me for a while and I finally picked up Thomas Merton's "Wisdom of the Desert," and as I am reading Henri Nouwen, his second book in the collected tome is "The Way of the Heart: the Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers." Sneaky hermits are ganging up on me.

Nouwen looks at the desert folk and points out the need for solitude in order for transformation--"solitude is the furnace of transformation"--to take place. He also points out that, "compassion is the fruit of solitude," and I can see that, I tend to be able to be around people, and look forward to it more, when I have had quiet/down time.

We live in a society that doesn't dig silence. It doesn't seem to value it. Nouwen points out how the constant stream of words that comes at us, takes away the value and meaning of any of the words themselves. You need silence to hear anything words might say.

Silence is the home of the word... The word is the instrument of the present and silence is the mystery of the future. In the sayings of the Desert Fathers, we can distinguish three aspects of silence... First, silence makes us pilgrims. Secondly, silence guards the fire within. Thirdly, silence teaches us to speak. - Henri Nouwen

We've talked about pilgrims and pilgrimages here before, and we'll come back to that. Part of what prompted these words this morning is the notion of silence guarding the fire within. That is a fire I have been coming to know and feel more and more of late. Running is part of what stokes mine.

Nouwen quotes Diadochus of Photiki, who says:

When the door of the steambath is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it; likewise the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech, even though everything it says may be good... Ideas of value always shun verbosity... Timely silence, then, is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts.

Timely silence. That's it. That is something that I find when I run. That is something I find outside, with the sunrise or sunset. And that is my part, make the time, find the time, whether to run, or be silent outside somewhere. To guard the fire within. Because when I do, I find a hand that isn't mine, comes along and stokes the inner fire.