Holding the light and the dark

Josh Radnor, perhaps best known in the States for How I Met Your Mother (the TV show), has a periodic newsletter he sends out. Today’s resonated with me, especially this passage:

There’s no feeling I wish to close myself off to. I’m okay with despair and discontent s long as they’re only part of the story. I’ve no interest in blind optimism wherein I close my eyes and heart to the true suffering in the world. Nor am I interested in lazy, cheap cynicism where I feel the fix is in and change is impossible. I can hold both dark and light, while knowing that the light is going to need a bit more attention, care, and time.

Counteracting that self-critical voice requires daily vigilance. Despair and cynicism are always extending a tempting invitation. But I’ve found the rewards of working those other muscles, of telling myself another story, are immense. It serves as a shield against both individual and collective hopelessness. With hope comes faith and aliveness. And with faith and aliveness comes determination and right thinking. I intuitively know what’s being asked next of me. And there’s an effortlessness in the doing whose byproduct is a new kind of joy, that of being used for a purpose greater than myself.

That phrase… “I can hold both dark and light….” really spoke to me. I get in the doldrums – the pits of despair, in some ways, like the ones in The Princess Bride. Especially when I feel like a failure at work. Which seems to happen with somewhat alarming regularity. 
I think part of it is, obviously, the work that I have chosen to do. Academia is inherently competitive and can be very, very disheartening if you let it. When you’re doing research and sending your ideas and thoughts out into the world – in the hopes that someone might give you money to pursue your ideas – and those ideas and thoughts are constantly rejected as “not enough”? That gets hard. 
And yet we still do it. We do it over and over again. We continue to strive – to reach – to try. 
I do think it’s part of the human condition. We want to improve, to do better, to be better. But there is also something to be said for knowing you are enough, right now. 
Josh Radnor goes on to address this in the end of his Museletter, as he calls it…

Patience and humility are two other muscles that could use a bit more attention. And there’s some real relief on the other side of that. For today I don’t have to save the world. Today I don’t have to have all the answers. Today I don’t have to heal all my wounds.

I don’t have to be everything today.  But I can keep trying, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… 

Random Morning Thoughts

So many random thoughts going through my head… I think it’s time to dump them (in no particular order) out. Otherwise, I won’t have room for any of the innumerable things on the actual to-do list…

  • I really need to purge my bookshelves and closet and be ruthless. I have books I’ve owned for years and probably will never read. They’re, well, kind of aspirational reads. I’d LIKE to read them, but I honestly never make the time. I’m probably not going to, to be honest. There are so many newer books I am enjoying, and my reading time is limited as it is.
  • But not as limited as it was! Gosh, I love my iBooks app. I can read something while wandering the halls at work, heating up my lunch, riding the bus, etc., and then pick it up again that evening. It’s amazing how many pages you can get through while doing other things that just take a bit of time.
  • I think I’m on news overload. I’m obsessed with – and really worried about – the presidential election. I don’t think I can take it if the current wannabe is reelected. I don’t know if our democracy will survive. It’s scary and uncertain and those are two of my least favorite things. 
  • Also scary and uncertain? My relationship. Sigh. I need to move forward there but, well, inertia sometimes overtakes me when I don’t want to make a decision fraught with emotion and all sorts of downstream implications. I know it’s not meant to be easy, but.. it’s taking up a lot of brain and emotional space right now. 
  • I had a weird stress dream about a guest lecture I’m to give tomorrow. Very weird. I do this all the time – not sure why I’m stressed? 
  • I’m ready for spring. The birds are starting to chirp in the morning, which is lovely. Now, time for the sun to come out! 
  • I am seriously considering canceling a work trip in a few weeks thanks to coronavirus and the fact that I have to see an immunocompromised family member the next week. I hate to do it, but… I don’t want to spend all this money to attend the meeting and then be worried the whole time – and distracted – because I’m trying not to get sick. 
  • There is nothing like a hot cup of tea in the morning. Nothing. Ditto at night. I live for my tea. 
  • I also stopped drinking coffee last summer and… I still don’t miss it? Weird. I drank it for years. 
OK, that’s enough for now. Oh, one more:
  • There is a teeny tiny jade plant in my office that I got from someone here at work. I have never watered it. Ever. And yet, it continues to grow. I’m sure there’s some deep wisdom in there somewhere, but meanwhile, I’m in awe of its ability to seemingly get nourishment from the air. I’m reluctant to repot it in fear of halting its progress. 
Wow. This was really, really random. Sorry for that. Please do move on… if you made it this far! 


I was so lucky last evening to have a wonderful conversation with someone I consider a friend, a mentor, and even a second mother.

I grew up with this person, best friends with her daughter; our families were always together. We traveled together, slept at each other’s houses all the time, shared Sunday dinners and countless weekend afternoons. This woman treated me like one of her own – from the love to, yes, the punishment when I needed it.

Although I will say that she was the only mom in my life who made me eat pancakes with syrup.

For the record, I really, really dislike syrup. I much prefer powdered sugar on my pancakes, when and if I eat them (which is not often these days…).

So there were quite a few cold pancakes on Saturday mornings in my childhood, since I spent so many Friday nights at their house.

That aside, though, she’s the mom I love most, next to my own. And over time we have become closer, as I’ve drifted from her daughter a bit (let’s just say dissenting political views have made it challenging the last almost-four years…). I have found myself seeking support from this woman and her husband (my second dad) as I’ve navigated through some of the most challenging times in my life. I get cards from them regularly (as in, nearly weekly) and send my own to them nearly as often.

She called, randomly, on Tuesday when I was falling asleep at the end of a long, frustrating, and annoying day. Nothing earth-shattering (although I did break my favorite mug, sigh) but just one of THOSE days. I was nearly asleep so didn’t answer. And then she called again last evening while I was eating, and I took the time to call her when I was finished eating and had my cup of tea.

And it was the best way to spend 30 or so minutes that I could have hoped for. Refreshing, and uplifting, and encouraging. Good conversation with someone who knows all of me – really, she does – and who loves me.

It just reminded me of how important it is to connect, to really talk with people. And to not be afraid to reach out. I hesitate sometimes to call her, or reach out through a card specifically for her, and this reminded me that I don’t need to. True friendship – and true love – takes away that brief hesitation, reminding me that I can be loved for being who I am, for being my whole self.

I needed that this week.


OK, I could have sworn that I wrote a post about this word before but… I haven’t. At least not that I can find using the search function (and it’s not like I have written that many posts!).

I love this word. I learned of it last year, when Holstee wrote about the word in one of their reflection emails. It really resonated with me, and I think it does for a lot of people who learn of its definition, particularly in today’s world, when you may feel alone on a crowded bus or street.

So what does Sonder mean?

Another site has a longer definition, which I like even more: …the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

It reminds me that everyone is living their own life – completely unaware of my life – and that I have no idea what is going on in theirs. It’s one reason why I have tried harder as I’ve gotten older to just be kind. To never assume that someone has bad intentions or is intentionally trying to hurt me.

Just to be clear, this doesn’t extend to people I know better, who have shown their true colors, and who I know may not have my best interests at heart (to put it mildly).

But strangers at the grocery store? on the bus? I just cannot imagine that they have “ruining Anne’s day” at the top of their list. They have no idea who I am – they are caught up in their own lives … and since I have no idea what is going on in those lives, who am I to judge?

I wonder if anyone has made “sonder” into a verb? “Sondering” sits better with me – realizing (or, perhaps recognizing?) that everyone is living a life as vivid and complex as mine… and that I will likely never know what happens next in the epic stories of their lives.

Why assume the bad, when it’s just as easy to assume the good?

Seeking Peace…Or Trying To

So, I kind of stink at meditating. That whole empty your mind thing, or even the alternative of noticing my thoughts and letting them go, is really hard for me. I want to write my to do list, my grocery list, get started on what I need to do. But I try to take some space for me every day – whether it is quiet breathing, writing here, or journaling in my regular journal or commonplace book (where I keep my quote collection). And that helps. It helps me know that I’m not ALL about work. That there are other things for me to focus on, and to remember.

But sometimes? It’s just so hard to take that time – even if it’s only 20 minutes. And then I have to remind myself that when I do NOT take that time? Those days are inevitably even more chaotic and disruptive than I thought they might be.

So I take the time. I listen to music I like (which I then turn off when I get down to the work-work of the day). And then I focus, knowing that I am slightly better for those 20 minutes of me-time.