Blue hydrangea

Last night J and I watched the second half of a PBS NewsHour interview with Warren Buffett. Thanks to his knowledge of business and investing, Buffett is one of the richest men in America, but he’s also one of the humblest. In an conversation with journalist Judy Woodruff, Buffett noted that he and other billionaires have no need for the tax cuts promised in the Republican health care bill, and he repeated his oft-referenced belief that millionaires and billionaires shouldn’t pay taxes at a lower rate than that of their secretaries and cleaning ladies.

Hydrangea

Buffett is 86 years old and still mentally sharp and active. Noting the Cherry Coke Buffett drank throughout the interview, Woodruff asked if he had any health or diet tips for staying alert and active in old age. Buffett gleefully shared that he still eats like a six-year-old, adding that you don’t often see six-year-olds dropping dead.

This playful response points to Buffett’s obvious joy in the simple pleasures of life. Buffett still works at the age of 86 because he enjoys working; he still lives in a Nebraska house he bought in 1958 because he likes it and has happy memories there. Buffett is one of the richest men on earth, but he has made a conscious decision to give nearly all of his wealth to philanthropic causes. When Woodruff directly asked Buffett why he hasn’t stockpiled mansions, cars, or yachts, he explained that he’s experienced those things but doesn’t need them to be happy. Buffett is happy with what he has, and this sense of abundance leaves no room for excess.

Hydrangea

Watching Buffett’s interview made me realize he’s not only one of the wealthiest men on the planet, he’s also one of the happiest. Buffett isn’t happy because he’s rich; he’s happy because he has recognized what is truly important. As Buffett openly shared with Woodruff his most recent tax return, I marveled at how different he is from Donald Trump, who comes across as an angry and paranoid old man who needs to guard his secrets. Buffet realizes that being happy is its own kind of treasure while Trump continually reaches for more money, power, and fame.

Hydrangea in bloom

In my Zen school, we have a saying: “Enough-mind fish never touches the hook.” If a fish is content with what he has–if he sees his present situation as being enough for his needs–he can’t be tempted with bait. Warren Buffett is an enough-mind fish. Instead of racing after the bait called More, he enjoys the life he has, taking to happiness as easily as a fish takes to water.

Little Free Library

Today on my way home from an errand, I left books at two Little Free Libraries in Chestnut Hill (pictured here in August, when the world was both warmer and leafier). I’ve described before the sense of serendipity the Little Free Library in our neighborhood inspires: taking a book that a stranger left for anyone’s enjoyment feels like claiming a grace freely given. That grace, I’ve found, works both ways: leaving a book for someone you’ll never see feels expansive, a small act of kindness that opens your heart with a sense of abundance and generosity.

Little Free Library

Although I know full well the joy that comes from possessing a full-to-brimming bookshelf, giving books away creates a different kind of satisfaction. Giving a book to a stranger you’ll never see makes you feel both generous and amply blessed: only someone who has enough can happily share with no need for stinginess. When I leave a book at a Little Free Library, I imagine myself as setting it free to fly wherever it is needed. I like to imagine the person who will claim the book that was formerly mine: someone I hope will enjoy it as much as I did and who might even have enough abundance of heart to share it in turn.

First crocus

This election season has been filled with too much aggressively inflammatory rhetoric from a certain politician who wants to Make America Hate Again. According to said politician, America is a place that needs to wall itself in like a treasure-hoarding dragon, there not being enough Greatness to go around. When I hear the exclusionary hatred espoused by said politician, my fists clench with a miserly tightness: if there isn’t enough grace, then surely it makes sense to keep ourselves In and all the others Out.

But when I walk outside on an almost-spring day–when I see crocuses poking through the bare soil or tiny spots of green sprouting from seemingly dead twigs–I’m reminded that the world is amply abundant and not-at-all miserly. In the spring, green is a grace freely given, and in a nation that is truly great, so are acceptance, inclusion, and joy.

Plenty

Every now and then, I like to take pictures at the grocery store as a way of reminding myself of the abundance so many of us enjoy.

Plenty

Today is Thanksgiving, a day officially devoted an attitude we should cultivate every day. As I explained last year, I always feel a bit tongue-tied at Thanksgiving, when one is officially expected to count one’s blessings. In my mind, I’ve been blessed with gifts too numerous to count: a loving husband, meaningful work, healthy pets, a roof over my head. Those are the obvious blessings, but less obvious are the simple pleasures that grace one’s life in unexpected ways.

Sometimes while I’m grocery shopping, for instance, I’m stunned by the simple wonder of so many choices–so many pumpkins, so many gourds, so many apples–that surround us daily. Isn’t every pumpkin, every gourd, every apple itself an infinite blessing? And yet we live in a world where we are surrounded by fruit and fruitfulness like leaves pouring down in the fall, the very picture of plenty. How is it, then, that we need an annual holiday to remind us of such riches?

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, filled to overflowing with a cornucopia of contentment.

Weekend work

When I was a child in Ohio, a friend and I used to lie on our backs on late summer days watching long skeins of blackbirds fly from horizon to horizon, high overhead, sure that these linear flocks streamed from a far-off factory whose entire job it was to crank out birds, one after one, without ceasing.

Nothing but net...and leaves

It’s the kind of image only a child could dream up, or perhaps a child-like author. To this day, whenever I see a large flock of grackles, starlings, or crows, I think back to those late summer days in my now-distant childhood when blackbirds were presumably gathering for migration, winging across the sky in long, loose-knit throngs. I’ve long left Ohio, and I’ve visited many places between here and there, but I’ve never found that imagined factory that belched flocks of birds rather than billows of smoke. I’d like to think, though, that this childhood fancy reflects an inherent faith in the infinite abundance of nature, a faith that stays with me still.

Clinging

It perpetually amazes me that Nature can crank out leaves the way the late summer sky seems to manufacture birds. Every autumn, the sky in New England rains down as leaves, and every spring, green leaves return in unimaginable abundance. Just as there is no end to late summer skeins of Ohio blackbirds, there is no end to New England leaves in autumn. No sooner do you rake, bag, and haul them away than this weekend’s leaves are replaced by next weekend’s and the next and the next.

I’d like to think that thoughts are like autumn leaves or that words are like late summer blackbirds. Imagine, for instance, that words are like birds, and each letter is a feather. Right now as I sit here typing, blackbirds fly across the blank sky of screen, migrating from left to right, left to right. Each word is a bird that is followed by fellows, and these words like birds keep coming, one by one, as long as my fingers, like those of diligent factory-workers, keep moving.

Stuck

When I was an undergraduate then graduate student in English, I used to worry that as a writer I might someday run out of words, but now I know from long experience that words are like those blackbird flocks I watched as a child: they never end. As fast as you can type, words will show up beneath your fingers, or if you write longhand, words will never cease appearing beneath your pen. I’ve learned from long practice that your mind, like an infinitely deep well, gushes and fills from hidden springs below: the more you write, the more you have to write.

Fungus with fallen leaves

With this implicit faith in creative abundance in mind, this year I’m participating in National Blog Posting Month, a conscious decision to post something–anything–on each of November’s thirty days. Last year, I made an informal commitment to participate in NaBloPoMo, and at the end of the month, I was grateful for the “nudge” the exercise provided.

The mind, like a world full of blackbirds, autumn leaves, and words, words, words, is more fertile than you know, and having an arbitrary requirement, like a public commitment to write and share “something” for thirty days in a row, sends you back to the bottomless well where ideas come from. In this month when we officially give thanks for brimming cornucopias and bountiful harvests, it seems appropriate to take advantage of (and blog) whatever plenty that surrounds us.

Click here for more information about National Blog Posting Month, a slightly more tame version of the National Novel Writing Month that sends so many writers to their keyboards in November.

Drive it up the court

On Friday night as we walked back from Boston College, where we’d gone to see a women’s basketball game, J asked me if I’d ever dreamed, back when I was a graduate student at BC, that a few decades later I’d be living part-time just a few miles from campus, walking to sporting events there. The answer is no.

DE-FENSE!

When I was a graduate student at Boston College in the early ’90s, I was married and hungry, starved for both food and affection. Those years were a crisis of faith for me: marriage was nothing like what I’d envisioned it to be, having believed the priests (celibates all!) who said both marriage and sex were sacred, sacramental things. Finding myself married, no longer virginal, and living some 700 miles from my family, I also found myself no closer to God–only poorer and more lonely–than I’d been in Ohio. I had no idea making a living could be so difficult and the slippery slope into hungry poverty so easy. The thought that I’d one day, only a few decades later, be well-fed, single and re-coupled, and living part-time in the very neighborhood I could have no way afforded at the time would have been literally unimaginable.

Jump ball!

I had no idea then–I literally could not have conceived the possibility–that I would someday find the courage (the willful audacity!) to divorce. The possibility would have horrified me then. I considered my marriage vows to be a sacred promise, unbreakable in any circumstance. And if I couldn’t manage to feed myself with the help of an employed spouse, how did I think I could feed myself on my own? Hunger is crippling not only to the body but also to the imagination. Given my crimped, impoverished belly, how could I have found the psychological strength to envision the possibility of abundance?

Rafters of glory

C.S. Lewis, like William Wordsworth before him, was surprised by joy, and in my life, I have been surprised by abundance. Yes, the Universe is ample and capable enough to bless you with not one but two lives, the second granted as a kind of amnesty: a chance to do better, this time, the things you did badly before. The Universe is ample and capable enough to find another way–one you’d never have envisioned–to give you things you never knew you needed in a place you never thought you’d be able to re-inhabit. Unimaginably, the Universe is rich in prizes and second chances, doling both out even to those of us who didn’t previously have the wherewithal to believe.

This is another lightly edited journal entry: more proof that a handwritten journal can be a boon to blogging. Click here for the complete photo-set of images from Friday’s night’s women’s basketball game at Boston College, the alma mater I never imagined I’d re-visit.