(this article appears in the May 2019 edition of The Humm).
Long before Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton or Pema Chodron started cluttering up my bookshelves, Robert Fulghum introduced me to the art and practice of mindfulness. Thankfully, he didn’t call it as such—back in those days I wasn’t yet ready for things as wild, weird, and out there as “mindfulness” “meditation” “sacred living” or “contemplative practice.” That kind of thing was for folks who took spirituality stuff seriously—and that was NOT me. I so loved the way Mr. Fulghum saw ordinary life through a sacred lens, though. I believed him when he said that if people would simply apply what they had learned in kindergarten (i.e.: “...share everything, play fair, say you’re sorry, take a nap, be aware of wonder and LOOK”) we would all be a whole lot healthier and happier. So I kept reading....
His ‘kindergarten musings’ tapped into something that I didn’t yet have language for. In the years that followed, I devoured everything Mr. Fulghum wrote, an eager student wanting to learn how to see the world the way he saw it. “Words I Wish I Wrote” was my textbook for accessible philosophy and theology. The snippets of wisdom found on those pages from Bob Dylan, Bull Durham, Annie Dillard and others started me on a lifelong scavenger hunt, looking for wisdom in the everyday, ordinary songs and stories of life. And “From Beginning to End: the Rituals of Our Lives” was the instruction manual I would turn to again and again in the years to come, its pages quickly becoming torn and dog-eared, covered in yellow highlighter marks and notes in the margins as I began my own career as ritual-maker and noticer of the ordinary sacred. I turns out I was one of “those people” who took spirituality stuff seriously after all.
It has been more than thirty years since I first read “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”...and yet this quote from that book is one of only a few things worthy of a place on the wall above my desk:
“Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, co-workers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied up on small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the daily-ness of life. We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t. And of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know. You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”
You might not realize the difference you make in the world, but you do. And you might not always say ‘thanks’ to the people who make a difference to you but it’s not too late to start. Give it a try: it’s a simple way to practice the art of sacred living. I’ll go first:
Dear Mr. Fulghum: you have no idea how much you have messed up my life in the very best possible ways these past 30+ years. The ordinary stuff really is the sacred stuff of life, eh? Thanks for pointing that out. I owe you. Big. I’ll keep doing what I can to pay it forward. Yours truly, Angie.