I Am an Outlier

Do you highlight or underline the profound things you discover while reading? Do you try to commit to memory the insights or inspirations of others so you can ponder them or share them in conversation? Do the words you read sometimes haunt you and remind you of how you want to do and be better?

For me, all yes.

In September I read a magazine article about genocide survivors. Okay yes. I read deeply, sometimes darkly. But it’s what draws me toward the light. Truly. As in this case. I think. You decide…

Anyway, a line from the article that stuck with me:

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

In my heart, I know this to be true. But in my insulated suburban American life, it can be easy to forget. To believe my life is normal. Something to be expected, earned or entitled to–not the fragile and maybe even momentary gift that it is.

I read about pioneers and marvel at how I don’t need to labor from sun up to sun down to produce my own food.

I read about revolutions and tyranny and how those with hate and revenge in their hearts massacre their own countrymen and I realize how I get to travel undeterred without fear of physical violence when going about my business.

I read about disease and infirmity and I praise God every time I put two feet on the floor in the morning. For now, my mind and body work particularly well considering my age and reluctance to exercise. (Mostly) clean living and privilege clearly contribute to my health but are no guarantee. Calamity can strike as it pleases.

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

We may try to avoid getting too close to suffering for fear that it is infectious the way we avoid sugar or secondhand smoke.

After three years of volunteering at a local nursing home, I needed to stop because it was as if old age and disability began to come at me faster and faster. I wanted to focus on the space that still remains in my timeline between two feet on the floor and two feet being washed by an angel.

That’s okay. I needed the reprieve. But it’s not always okay. Do unto others is not just about being polite while in line at Target. (Although some of you could work on that.) For me, Do unto others… is also about recognizing how blessed I am and how life as I know it can change in an instant. And how it will most likely change in ways I will not welcome as I age. Independence is an illusion. We must care for one another.

Somebody in my life or in your life is closer to suffering than us. Who will help them? Who will care for them? Who will sacrifice for them? We are called to do these things. And if empathy and kindness do not come naturally, and I admit that they do not come naturally to me, than I must commit these kinds of words to memory:

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

Words like these remind me to be grateful. To be prayer-ful. To be helpful. To understand that just because my life can seem a bit heavenly since I do not suffer (at the moment), this is not heaven. And until I reach heaven, I must do my part to bring a little heaven into the lives of others.

If you are suffering, may you be blessed by someone (or some words) today. May your burden be lighter and your mood lifted by love. If you are beyond suffering for the moment or have yet to endure suffering, I encourage you to take a moment to give thanks and share a bit of kindness to someone today who may be closer to suffering than you.

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Inspired by Honesty

okay to laughPeople inspire me. So many people are doing cool things. I’m daily amazed at the creativity, ingenuity and drive of so many people making things happen in the world.

I admit that sometimes I’m jealous­–that the torrent of beautifully curated online content can make me feel inferior, lazy or ugly. But not always. Because I know it’s not possible for everything to be perfect all of the time. And everybody has a story-even if they’re unwilling to divulge life’s imperfections, hiccups or disillusionments online.

I believe I have a gift of discernment. I’m mostly able to sort through all of the overt self-promotion I see while scrolling my thumb over my iPhone and click on some things that are pretty awesome. And sometimes, I meet those awesome creatives in person. For instance, last week I attended a local event spotlighting musicians and writers and was drawn in by the incredible onstage talent.

shirtStill Kickin Co. founder, Nora McInerny-Purmort was there. She and a colleague were arranging t-shirts for sale on a table. The shirts said, “Still Kickin.” I’d seen the tag line #stillkickin before, somewhere online, but was unsure what it meant. So I asked. And I was stunned by the answer.

I was further blown away when Nora read a chapter from her forthcoming memoir titled It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). This beautiful, seemingly put-together young woman was telling the world about anguish­–about how she has been broken. In a very real (and hilarious) way, she exposes her grief, explains how the world is unexplainable and that by putting one foot in front of the other, she is still kickin. The t-shirts seem to be her way of celebrating the small steps taken by every person who, like her, might be having or has ever had a rough go, aka everybody. Still Kickin is like an affirmation, a sideline cheer, a hug or a thumbs up. Because when everything feels like it’s falling apart or maybe we just feel like we don’t measure up, this quirky tag line can be a reminder that someone is in your corner.

I don’t know Nora. But I now know a piece of her story. I honor her honesty, her vulnerability and her guts. She’s also incredibly funny and creative. I bought a t-shirt and I’ve pre-ordered her book. I’m inspired by Nora. I think you will be too.

Tennis Kickin

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Inspired by Joy

Photo by Emily J. Davis

Photo by Emily J. Davis

As editor of Edina Magazine, I often get to meet interesting and inspiring people. One such person is Elvi Bankey, who has been collecting antique Christmas ornaments for nearly 30 years. She agreed to an interview and also agreed to set up most of her holiday display over two months in advance of Christmas so that we could photograph her collection for the magazine. I’m not sure I would have been so accommodating, especially when it comes to all the work involved in decorating for for the holidays.

I learned lots from Elvi about the history of various Christmas ornaments, AND what it looks like to live with a true Christmas spirit. Elvi loves Christmas. She embraces decorating for the season with joy; unlike me, who tends to groan at the mention of dragging out boxes of ornaments and manger scenes. Read about Elvi’s antique ornament collection here and then maybe join me in a pledge–I promise to try to see the holiday season through Elvi’s eyes–joyful, appreciative, loving and expectant. Thank you Elvi. You are an inspiration!

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