Last week my father turned 80. And it’s appropriate that he does so every year as baseball begins. He is an eternal youth who pursued the sport to its professional threshold.
The reports, infographics, studies, metrics, trends and stats all point to the power of video. But numbers don't tell stories. Stories do.
A renewer? A change-maker? An innovator? A mystic? A writer? Maybe you're none of these things. And that's why I gotta know: what am you? And while you're thinking, it never hurts to reflect on a little Will.i.am.
Out of the vortex of our newest storm, it seems appropriate to re-run this visual meditation for all who are buried in white and seeking depth among the flakes.
A piece of music re-emerged between the moments of the New Year rising and last week's move back into the rhythm that drives Renew: Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours.
His is a smooth rendering, sleek and intimate over sparse orchestration that alternatively pokes and shimmers its way around the warmth of his voice.
In the U.S., everything slows this week as the Christian liturgical calendar rolls into Christmas. For those who enter into the religious part of the holiday, it is a time of warmth, light and an incredible story of the Divine love seeking out humanity. It's filled with the possibility of birth and new life.
It also marks a liminal season between years that usually arrives with time off and a few minutes to reflect. No matter your faith or spiritual tradition, may it prove an uncommonly meaningful time with friends and family as you prepare for the new year.
As inspiration for those who renewing people or the earth, I give you wisdom culled from the deep reserves of literature by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in a letter she wrote some years ago. May it serve as feast and fuel for the journey to 2014.
I started shaving at five years old. I had a toy razor. My dad or brother would give me some shaving cream when they lathered up and we’d shave together and talk and laugh. They used the mirror, and I found my reflection in the doorknob, mimicking the care taken in puffing the upper or lower lip, feeling the terrain of my face. Then there would be a moment for taking a long existential gaze followed by a splash of English Leather or Canoe.
Now, shaving is a haven and like my spiritual practice or my storytelling, it is a process that requires stepping outside the construct of time and giving my full attention to the act. Slowly I brush myself into a face of shaving cream and slowly I take care to simply make contact between the blade and my face. No pressing. Just letting the heavy razor do the work. I repeat the process three times.
Meister Eckhart wrote that “Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time: and not only time but temporalities, not only temporal things but temporal affections, not only temporal affections but the very taint and smell of time.”
In the moments that I pick up the blade and go to work the action of now overtakes preoccupation with the past or future. The present shines through and is no longer a stepping stone to hope or a striving toward an ideal state, a means to an end. It is all now. And in that now there is the spark of "the one, the true and the good working in harmony" (Rohr paraphrasing 14th Century Franciscan John Duns Scotus' definition of beauty). It is a moment, a unified field, that connects me to my ancestors and my ancestors to James Agee when he wrote "The house had now descended; All over Alabama the lamps are out," and Agee to Hafiz when he first offered "Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.' Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the Whole Sky."
There he is caught on my first roll of film of my first camera given to me by my parents on the occasion of my tenth birthday. Clarence Blue, Jr. He's flashing that signature wave. Arm extended, pinky slightly separate from the other digits. A hulking man. My uncle. Gone now for awhile. But here he was as he mounted the peak of his rhetorical powers -- a blend of Jackie Gleason and Hugo Chavez.
This depiction is not an exaggeration. Junior was an actor trapped in the body of a salesman with the hunger to mount a Bolivarian Revolution. He repped a considerable territory for a foundry supply company in Michigan. His charm. The bigness of how he depicted his life. I don't think people could say no. The man could tell a story like no other, with an epic conviction and uninhibited sense of theater. Truth would be massaged in accordance with audience reaction, which you sensed he probed with great thoroughness sometimes and totally ignored at others. His was a universal approach to story, and you didn't need the words, for the man's arms and hands and eyes would convey enough to render them useless. In some scenes he would shake his whole body, a missile aimed at getting a reaction. But his voice was something -- something that brought on the primal, deep legacy of oral history that marked being a Blue. It could low to a whisper and then suddenly bellow with a deep emotion. Often, in these moments of spinning tales, he would extend his voice beyond his oxygen, bearing down hard to finish sentences. I would often see him make eye contact with or reassure my mother that his story was true, perhaps because she was the most honest person at family gatherings and toughest to bring along. Pure pitchman.
"Honest to God, Judy," he would say -- hands held up in surrender to Divine truth.
Honest to God, Junior, that story you just told about the boy at the lake who was tragically struck by the boat was incredible, but it is very tough to conceive that his father held his limp son's body in one arm while raising his son's still-beating heart with the opposite hand, a consequence of the boat's engine ripping through the tender youth's chest.
Junior also understood how to take an audience by surprise. He lived on the lake where the boy was struck, and there had been a few weeks one summer when kids were vandalizing various boats. Junior saw a group of teens hanging out one afternoon as he was servicing his own vessel and he invited them over.
"Hey you guys," he said (I'm paraphrasing). "Did you hear about the boats that have been getting trashed? That's something, isn't it?"
The kids nodded their heads.
"Boy all I can say is, if that ever happened to my boat, I would hunt down whoever did it and I would kill them -- kill them all."
His boat emerged untouched throughout the summer. Of note, I think this may have also reflected Junior's overarching parenting philosophy. But he was never that way with me.
For some unknown but probably emergency-related reason when I was five or six, my parents left me alone with Junior. Junior, in turn, popped me in the front seat of some great yacht he was driving at the time and we charged from northern Indiana to Traverse City, Michigan, doing 95 miles an hour on back roads, probably some well worn shortcuts from his sales territory. It was time for the Cherry Festival, and Junior just bought and bought and bought bushels of cherries of all varieties and let me eat as many as I wanted. He didn't care if I spit the pits in the car.
I think Junior was at his lyrical best when he'd meet us at the home of my grandparents during Thanksgiving. My father and Junior would, throughout the feast, recount their youth filled with many plots that seemed to climax at near-death experiences, assassination attempts or great harm done to physical property. Grandpa was referred to as "Old Man." Grandma would yell the story to Grandpa. My mom would roll her eyes. We'd be gasping for breath amid our laughter.
If he were still with us, I know he'd be at that table tomorrow, conveying a tale of the past or present with that vision and imagination that was so great. So full.
The leaves come down in our neighborhood from the giant buttonwoods with silence and surrender. Usually, it's autumnal color that engages me, but this year, with my two year old son, Sevi, what's landing or landed on the ground has become the priority. In September, when I taught him that maple trees have seeds with uniquely entertaining properties, the better part of two months came with the daily request of "Dadd-o, play helicopter seeds." My wife and I have since cleared whole blocks of maple seeds, discussed aerodynamics, compared damp to dry seeds and examined the impact of tossing singular or whole bunches at once. We often launch them and chime in late with the "tookuhtookuhtookuh" imitation of a chopper.
Then one day, during a family walk/helicopter seed quest in our local wildlife refuge, things got magical. The wind and branches hit just right, and leaves trailed to the ground for a solid minute from everywhere, cascading with a cinematic reverence. The beauty was overwhelming. It marked a set of months where leaves have been falling all over my life.
In August, Renew Pictures began surfacing in earnest, and the shedding of years of preconceptions and various pieces of baggage, professional and otherwise, began falling away. In September and October, my mother-in-law confronted her last miles with a brain tumor. She died in an unforeseen crescendo as a 14-month prognosis turned to five - inevitable but sudden. In November, my community of faith devoted a whole service to loss, its pain and its healing, and the group of colleagues with whom I engage at the Heart of Business is spending November focused on pruning and letting go.
Death of people and things in all of its severity and uncertainty have become woven into my life as a way of seeing and being. It exacts unrivaled inner and outer pain that has acted upon me in ways that have recreated and re-ordered me. It has systemically stripped away part of my false self, any sense of control, any delusion of ego-driven capacity. It's renewed me.
When we told Sevi that his Grammy had died, we did so by saying that she left her body and that even though that was the case, she was still all around and with us in many different ways. He looked at his mom and me for a long time.
"Grammy died," he said.
"Play helicopter seeds. Play now."
I was off-trail somewhere in Arizona's Aravaipa Canyon country. There was red sand, cacti, flying insects of surreal proportion and white, wind-pocked hills and mesas that marked a beautiful, fierce landscape. Unbeknownst to me, it was amid that terrain and under that sky that Renew Pictures was born. I was in the extended, climactic point of a five day rite of passage -- an intentional, personal descent spiritually grounded in my faith tradition and tied to the hero's journey across myths, religions and eras.
It was in the midst of that epic indifference where only subtleties of sun and moonlight marked time that I discovered this:
Deep within us, at a soul level, we are the sum of the Divine spark within us, our unique paths and wounds, our presence to each other and the interplay of it all.
I came home from the experience and sat with it for more than a year and remained devoted to my work on my previous venture (MassGrass Media), my parenting, my spiritual practice. Then in August of this year, I realized that for me to continue a storytelling-based livelihood, things would have to change. I would need to align all of it with the new green shoots that had taken root in my heart in that back-country ritual. I decided to get some help.
I turned to Sufi business consultant, mentor and Master Teacher Mark Silver of the Heart of Business. Through his work and facilitation, I was given a lens through which to dispatch the ephemera that stood in the way of bringing who I really was to my livelihood. It was powerful. As I looked across the terrain of my work on MassGrass I found that stories of renewal and hope were central to the collaborations I enjoyed the most. There I caught a groove, and often, my collaborators were transformed through the process of telling their story. Renew Pictures became a clear next step to me.
At its core, Renew believes that every story is sacred, storytelling itself is a sacred act of translation and all translation work is in service to a greater good. With the launching of the Renew Website and its new compendium, ReNews Monthly, I hope you find some of your journey here. If so, I’d love to hear about it.