I was here …

Curt and Gloria

It was 80 degrees last week when I visited my hometown of Cleveland, perfect for some beach time. Lake Erie is still very cold, and few people ventured into the water. Most sat in the sand and enjoyed feeling the warm breeze on their skin and the sunshine on their face.

The long, cold, lonely winter was gone.

Ah!!!

Next to the public beach is a shaded park area. It’s framed by huge stones that were set in place long ago to prevent erosion. You can walk along the stones, sit on them, and enjoy the view. Many of the stones are covered with carvings by visitors, some from generations ago.

The inscription in the photo above was made on one of the large stones. It made me stop and wonder a few things.

Gloria and Curt: Who are they? How did they meet? What inspired one of them to carve this proclamation of love? Was this rock their special spot? How long did it take to carve this reminder?

How did their story turn out? Did they stay together? Break up? Get married and have kids? Do they come back to this rock now and then and think back on that time when they chiseled their love for everyone to see?

What’s their story?

So many questions! And one observation: Isn’t it interesting that we humans want so dearly to be remembered? How we go to such great lengths to leave a reminder?

Don’t we all want to say in some permanent way: I was here?

In my experience, there’s a little bit of Gloria and Curt in all of us. I’m not good at carving, but I’ve made a small thumbprint at the edge of fresh-poured concrete. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!) I’ve built a sand castle and left it behind as my mark on the beach.

A selfie is essentially the same thing. When we take a picture of ourselves in a place and then share it on social media, we’re saying, “Look at me! I’ve been to this place! And now everybody knows it.”

I was here.

Whether it’s our footprints on a beach or our inscription on a rock or our selfie on social media, we enjoy leaving our personal imprint. Each of us does it in our own way, and not just with chisel and hammer.

And not just on places.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we leave our imprint on the many people we touch. We do it through the ways we interact with them, the examples we set for them, the causes that we champion that affect them.

We all leave marks

Those marks may be hidden deep inside someone, but they mean so much more than anything we set in sand or stone. I remember the small acts that so many people have done for me throughout my life – wisdom imparted, kindness shown – that stuck with me and inspired me and helped to shape me into the person I am.

The hurtful moments leave a mark, too.

Each of us leaves a lasting mark on our world, for better or worse. Each of us has a legacy that endures long beyond our years. And we get to decide our legacy.

We decide what we’ll etch into the lives of others.

One of my favorite verses from the Hebrew scriptures is the one that has our divine parent reminding each of us: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” It tells each of us that we are loved so deeply, so unconditionally, and so permanently that we are literally carved into the hands of the One who created us and who sustains us.

We are part of Them.

We are here

And it’s not just our name that’s carved on those hands, nor is it just our initials framed by a heart and stamped with a date. No, it’s us – all of us, just as we are. We can’t ever be forgotten, we can’t ever be rejected, we can’t ever be rubbed off

Nothing can erase you or me.

We are here. Always.

Of course, there’s a flip side to it: We must allow others to engrave themselves within our hearts as well. And that part is often painful and unsettling and downright scary.

Love means making ourselves vulnerable enough to allow others inside. Even when they’re etching with shaky hands. Even if they draw with crooked lines. Especially then.

We have to make space for them inside of us and invite them to say in their own way: I am here.

Flying the flag

cubs-windians

I’m enjoying this World Series match-up – two teams that haven’t won a title in, well, practically forever. It’s perfect.

First to reach the World Series were the Indians, who haven’t won the championship since 1948 – before I was born. They’ve made it to the World Series a few times since, and lost each time. Once, they were within three outs of winning it, and they blew it.

And then there are the Chicago Cubs, whose litany of coming up short goes back for more than a century and defined them as lovable losers. They haven’t won the Series since 1908. They got there a lot in the first half of the last century, and lost each time.

The Cubs, too, have their long history of heartbreak and goat curses, foul balls and excruciating endings.

Next week, one of them will be celebrating a title they thought might never come in their lifetimes. The other will start thinking about next year … or maybe next decade … or century.

We’re all about hope

Either way, it will be about hope finally fulfilled, or hope still striving. Hope will be front-and-center, as it always is.

As humans, we’re all about hope.

Hope is as crucial to us as food and oxygen. When we lose hope, we wither. Parts of us die. Faith, hope and love are woven into our nature; to lose one of them is to lose an important part of who we are.

It’s like a trinity. Or, a double-play combination – shortstop to second base to first. All three are needed.

Faith pulls us outside of our narrow selves into something much grander. Hope energizes and nurtures us. Love fulfills us and unites us. We need all three.

I think there’s a common misconception about hope. We tend to think of it as dependent upon a certain outcome. We hope for that final out, raising that final pennant. But that’s not really what hope is about.

Hope isn’t about what happens someday. It’s about what we do today and why we do it.

Hope is about today, not someday

One of the things that struck me about the Cubs is how they took the time to celebrate each of their 103 victories in the regular season. Their clubhouse pulsated with music and cheers and dance for 10 or 15 minutes after the final out. Their manager, Joe Maddon, called it a key ingredient in their overall accomplishment – taking the time to fully relish each day’s small victory.

Good advice for all of us, no matter our circumstance.

Life is so big and full of so much – smiles and tears, steps and stumbles, confusion and clarity, accomplishment and failure. We can fall into the trap of setting long-term goals and losing sight of the importance of today.

Hope is always about today. It’s about savoring each small victory, absorbing each setback, and moving forward to make our world a little bit better in some way.

Savoring each day’s small victories

Hope embraces all of it and keeps going. It’s never contingent upon a certain outcome.

One of the most telling vignettes of hope comes from Nazi camp survivor Viktor Frankl. He vividly describes the importance of hope in what seemed like a hopeless situation. Those who lost hope quickly died. Others held onto hope as long as they could and tried to help other prisoners in whatever way they could. They made their lives about each moment, each day.

They lived with audacious hope, knowing that their lives might soon end.

Of course, there are those who spend a lot of time trying to extinguish hope. They try to foster a sense of hopelessness so that they can manipulate us. They tell us that they’re the only ones who can save us.

It’s so toxic.

Instead, we need to live in hope.

When this World Series ends, one city will be delirious over a long-awaited achievement. The other will start thinking about next year. Two sides of the coin of hope.

Same for us.

Flying the flag

Maybe we’ll get to hold the trophy or fly the ultimate victory flag someday. Or maybe not. In the end, that part doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is putting ourselves fully into today: Celebrating the small victories, absorbing the setbacks, and moving on to the next glorious moment.

Flying that flag every day.

Would you like me to take your picture?

FamilyCleveland

We were at the back of the line, waiting our turn to take a family photo in one of Cleveland’s parks. The city’s name is spelled out in a display that overlooks the lakefront and downtown. It’s perfectly placed to make a postcard-worthy keepsake.

Most of the fun came from watching each family take its turn and seeing everyone interact. There were Clevelanders and out-of-towners, people of different ethnic backgrounds, total strangers waiting patiently for their turn to do something fun.

First, they took turns doing something kind. A family would get ready to pose, and the family behind them would offer to snap the photo for them so everyone could be included. A total stranger would show another total stranger how to focus their camera phone and then hand it over.

Smile. Snap. Snap. Snap. Wait! One more just in case! Smile and snap while the kind stranger takes one final shot.

And then, it was the next family’s turn to share in the group photo project. Total strangers took each other’s photos, ones that would be posted on social media and maybe framed and hung on the wall back home next to the graduation and wedding and travel photos.

How utterly cool is that?

When my family was done posing and saying cheese, I asked the family behind us if they’d like me to do the honors. A woman who appeared to be the mother didn’t respond. It was as if she didn’t understand what I’d just said.

Turns out, she didn’t.

The family was Hispanic. She spoke very broken English. After a moment, she recognized what was going on, smiled and very politely said no thank you. As her family got ready to pose, she recognized how the stranger-turned-friendly-photographer thing worked, and she allowed the family behind them to take their picture.

Smile. Snap, snap, snap. Wait, one more! Snap. And then they did the same.

People speaking different languages figured out a common language. Different worlds, same world. Different families, one family.

Again, how utterly cool is that?

The photo session came at the end of a tough week for all of us. More black people killed by police. Police officers gunned down by a man filled with hatred. And on the other side of the world, countless people getting blown up by others filled with hatred.

There are times when hatred seems to overwhelm us. Darkness seeps inside of us for a while. We’re tempted to think that the whole world is a dark place.

But it’s not. It’s always followed by a sunny, breezy, hopeful day of smiling photos.

The truth is, there’s far more love and life in the world than there is hatred and death. Kindness is our human default setting – for most of us, anyway. If we pay attention, we see countless acts of kindness all around us every day.

#LoveWins isn’t just a slogan. It’s us. We doubt, we struggle, we reach the end of our rope. And then we pull back and we let love do its healing, resetting thing. We find a place deep inside of us – a familiar place where humanity and divinity intersect – and we start again.

Snap. Wait, one more. Smile again!

Honestly, given how many of us there are and how much we endure each day, it’s a wonder that there’s not more ugliness in the world. And yes, it’s true that there are some people who, for whatever reason, seem to be missing the divine DNA of kindness. Maybe they’ve been hurt so deeply that it’s scarred over. Maybe they’ve simply made the choice to hate because it’s less challenging than love.

Who knows?

Here’s what we know: Most people strive to get along. We recognize that we’re all the same in the ways that matter. We care about each other. We speak the same language even when we don’t know the same words.

And we consider it a wonderful thing to hold a stranger’s phone in our hands and do something for them that they will cherish. Something that reminds us of what we’re all about.

With each touch of the screen, we take our collective family portrait.  Snap! Wait, one more!

OK, here’s your phone back. Oh, you’re most definitely welcome. After all, someone else just did the same for me. And the picture is perfect.

In every way.