Hope Your Road is a Long One

We live in a time of virtual realities and virtual connections. A time of too much to do and not enough minutes in the day to get it all done. An age of walking fast and driving faster. An age where we only think of the destination and we often forget about the journey. Rushing is the name of the game. Rushing to get somewhere, to beat the crowds, to get something done. And what do we do all this rushing for? So we can rush to the next thing.

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A few weeks ago, we decided to try and encourage a few people around us to slow down…even if for a moment…and to quite literally smell the roses. In a train station underpass, a concrete tunnel that is usually very cold and uninviting with a typically unfriendly odor, we created a floral surprise for the morning commuters to enjoy during their daily morning rush to the train.

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About one hundred people passed us that morning in the tunnel, most of them walking very fast, many with their heads down, eyes on their screens and earphones in their ears. Perhaps half of them noticed the flowers. The other half was too busy rushing, too busy thinking of their destination to notice the change in this space they walk through 5 times a week every week.

Of the half that did notice, half of them smiled and kept their eyes up long enough to take in this little surprise for their 10 second walk down the tunnel. The other half even paused. Several people actually stopped for a few seconds to take it in. And then a few even spoke to us, asking us what this was for and thanking us.

The age-old expression, “stop and smell the roses" felt more than appropriate on this morning. Besides the obvious literal meaning, we were asking people to stop rushing, to slow down and be present to be able to see and appreciate the beauty in the world that surrounds us.

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Immersed in our lives of haste, and instantaneous rewards, it’s natural to forget that our paths and processes are not only what can teach us the most but also what is most enjoyable. 

The Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, in his poem “Ithaka” shared some advice with Odysseus the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, before he set sail home to Ithaka, that still holds as simple and as sage today as it did 150 years - that life is about the journey rather than the destination.

(…) Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

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The Perfect Imperfection of a Snowflake

We’ve all heard the expression, “no two snowflakes are the same.” While this isn’t entirely true, the chances of finding two identical snowflakes is incredibly slim - scientists say the actual chances are one in one trillion! So I think it’s safe to say that the expression holds.

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Snowflakes are an incredible act of nature - made up of ice crystals, water vapor and microscopic dust. This dust can come from many places - including celestial bodies, volcanic ash and even flower pollen.

Ice crystals are formed in clouds - their shape is determined by the temperature of a cloud and their size by the amount of moisture in the cloud. As ice crystals combine - they create snowflakes.

When a snowflake leaves its cloud, that’s when things get really interesting and when the billions of tiny alternations that make each snowflake unique occur. Just as a bird leaves its nest and we leave our mother’s womb, a snowflake tumbles through the air, spiraling and swirling, carving its individual path to the ground and becoming its own unique snowflake along the way.

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In this cold winter month of January, many of us spend time making resolutions for the new year. We think about how we want to exercise more, procrastinate less, eat healthier, be more adventurous. We tend to think of all our “imperfections” and all the ways in which we want to change them.

This year, we urge you to learn a lesson from the beautiful snowflakes falling around us and embrace your unique imperfections and your individual journey - everything that makes you you.

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As snowflakes make their way from their cloud down to the ground, some will collide into each other, damaging each other and others will collide and join together. Others will be changed by the direction and strength of the wind. Many transitions will take place for our little snowflake during its journey. And these collisions, transitions and influences all result in the exclusive shape of that one snowflake.

We, too, like the snowflakes are all individuals on a journey who sometimes collide, cross paths, join together, separate and affect and influence each other. We grow and change shape with each interaction and each gust of wind. But at all times during this journey, we are exactly who we are meant to be. I am not perfect for your journey and you are not perfect for mine, but I am always perfect for my journey and you are always perfect for yours.

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Be like the snowflake this year, accept your perfectly imperfect path for you and also accept mine for me and your neighbor’s for her. Embrace the unique snowflake in each of us and especially in you. Embrace you.

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Beauty in every phase

Autumn is a time of year, more than any other, that makes us think about aging. And about the beauty in aging. the vivid flash of colors, and the fallen leaves effortlessly decorating the streets and sidewalks remind us that there is so much beauty in every phase of life. the textures of drying leaves and petals, the rich fragrance of a life well-lived, remind us that aging is an honor.

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In his poem “On Aging,” the 13th century Sufi poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi asks the question that so many ask at one time or another. Why do we grow old? and even more so, why does everything grow old? 

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Why does a date-palm
lose its leaves in autumn?
Why does every beautiful face
grow in old age?
Wrinkled like the back of a libyan lizard?
Why does a full head of hair get bald?
Why is the tall, straight figure
That divided the ranks like a spear
Now bent almost double?
Why is it that the lion’s strength
weakens to nothing?
The wrestler who could hold anyone down
Is led out with two people supporting him,
Their shoulders under his arms?

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God answers,
"They put on borrowed robes
and pretended they were theirs.
I take the beautiful clothes back,
so that you will learn the robe
of appearance is only a loan."
Your lamp was lit from another lamp.
All God wants is your gratitude for that.

- Jalal ad-Din Rumi

For Rumi, aging is not a loss. In fact, through aging we come closer to our origin. Eternity is in our hearts and not in our exteriors, not in our robes or leaves. Drying petals and falling leaves remind us that life is not eternal, but that beauty is eternal and that life and every moment of it is a gift.

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