On Small, Seismic Shifts

As I wrote the title for today’s post, I thought back to the title of Grace Paley‘s story collection, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.  One of the great titles ever.  Do enormous changes ever come upon us in any way, other than the last minute?  We apply ourselves each day.  We show up.  We practice our craft.  We love the people we love.  We try to be good friends.  To be kind.  Compassionate.  We soften into life, like velveteen rabbits.  And then one day –– at what feels like the last minute –– we discover that maybe we know a little something.  That we’ve changed.  Altered in some way that will serve us and the people around us.  It has happened so slowly that we hadn’t even known anything was happening at all.  And then it is here.  Seismic.  Something has shifted.

When I say we, I of course mean me.  I mean all of us –– but my experience is all I have.  So yesterday, during a conversation with my fourteen year old son, I had a shock of awareness that maybe, just maybe, I had learned something along the way.  A small but seismic piece of wisdom that I could share with him.  One that I had begun to live –– without ever putting into words.

And.  Not but.

Without getting into details, we were talking about some difficult feelings.  Have you ever met a fourteen year old –– or a human being, for that matter –– who doesn’t experience difficult feelings?  I was trying to console him.   To tell him that things would improve.  That he wouldn’t always feel exactly this way.  And as he responded to me, the first word out of his mouth was but.  But…

And I stopped him.

No, I said.  Don’t say but.  Say and.

Our lives are not comprised of this but that.  But rather, this and that.  We are full of contradictions.  Our joys are bittersweet.  Our sorrows stem from love.  Our growth is painful.  The lessons we learn –– the ones that allow us to move forward in life -– are so often fraught.  This and that.

As I write, I’m sitting in a beautiful hotel room in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  There is a siren in the distance.  Somewhere, someone is getting a traffic ticket, or has fallen on the sidewalk, or is robbing a convenience store.  The steeples and domes of Harvard University –– a school I didn’t even dare dream of attending when I was a kid –– are in the distance.  The autumn leaves on the trees in the courtyard below are a riot of color.  As usual, a cappuccino has grown cold at my side.  Across the room, my husband is preparing for the festival release of his beautiful film this weekend.  I’m speaking to some wonderful booksellers tonight, giving a reading on Wednesday night.  Tears are springing to my eyes as I write these words.  And.  Not but.

I spent a lot of years selling myself short.  A lot of years feeling that I didn’t deserve, couldn’t shouldn’t, wouldn’t.  My dreams –– if I had dreams at all –- were shockingly small, as if I had gotten the message, somewhere along the line, that I didn’t deserve much.  That if I was pretty, I couldn’t also be smart.  That if I had made a mess of my romantic life when I was younger, that meant I wouldn’t be allowed to be happily married.  That if I had a difficult mother, that meant I wouldn’t know how to be a mother myself.  And that if somehow I managed to grab a bigger piece of the pie than I deserved –– happiness, success, a bountiful life –– that something terrible would happen.  The other shoe would drop.

This and that, I said to my beautiful son.

Hold it all.  Cup your hands and let the world pour in.  Say yes, not no.  Yes to bounty, to the lessons, the gladness, the pain, the fleeting joy, the opportunities that your life is offering you.  Strike the buts from your very heart.  That smallness, pettiness, stinginess and fear has no place in this life you’re living.  Take this day –– this one, precious day –– and face into the wind.  Remember what the great Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield has to say about what it is to be human:  this too, this too, this too….

 

 

  • lemead

    Oh, yes. And. The image of overflowing cupped hands will stay with me all day. As may my tear-filled eyes. Thank you. xo

    • Danishapiro

      As usual we are on the same wavelength… I loved your last post. xx

  • L.K.

    Wonderful post, Dani! When I took an improv class, this was the instruction–and, not but–to be inclusive. Nice to be reminded…this too…I’m also thinking of the Rumi poem “The Guest House”…

    • Danishapiro

      I love both of these references. I keep Rumi’s “The Guest House” tacked to my bulletin board in my writing study!

  • Starla J. King

    beautiful… beautiful. For this very reason, we have an “and” on our living room wall: a small wooden sign with nothing but “and” printed on it in lowercase typewriter font .

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, Starla. What a beautiful image!

  • Marika Delan

    yes. and this. sigh. thank you, Dani. nailed it once again. Damn, how do you do it? thank you thank you

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you!

  • Jaclyn Jeffrey

    Struck a place deep in my heart…. this blog post says all I have ever thought.

    • Danishapiro

      Oh, thank you Jaclyn:) Namaste.

  • Candace Hammond

    Thank you. The right message written so beautifully at the right time.

    • Danishapiro

      Funny how that works:)

  • Chris

    Recently I learned the importance of not starting a conversation with the word “You” (especially if followed by—could or should) And, now I’ve got this jewel to work on “And, not But” Thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt words. I hope your son is adjusting to his school. I watched the trailer of your husband’s movie – WOW, that 1m38sec hooked me. I am looking forward to seeing it and clapping as he receives awards.

    • Danishapiro

      So true. And thanks re my husband’s movie! It really is wonderful. It’s premiering this weekend at The Hamptons Film Festival, and then onward…

  • – Small seismic shifts.
    – We soften into life, like velveteen rabbits.
    – Don’t say but. Say and.
    – Our sorrows stem from love.
    – This too, this too, this too….

    So much goodness here. Thank you Dani.

    xox,
    Teen

    • Danishapiro

      My pleasure, Teen.

  • Bob Stevens

    I have often experienced what I call the ‘power of the conjunction’, the word ‘and’. Interesting that the word connotes a ‘joining’, in contrast to ‘but’, which connotes separation. The wisdom beneath the surface of our incessant mind chatter. So beautiful Dani, thanks so much for your candor. You touch many. Aum…

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Bob. Aum…

  • Annmarie Wilson

    This was the best word that I learned throughout my internship as a counselor “AND”….this has helped many in my profession. Thanks for posting your additional perspective on this matter as well.

    • Danishapiro

      You’re welcome:)

  • hudsonwyoming

    I am interested in the idea of seismic shift. Like tectonic plates, there is always movement ,which leads to change. It is through this activity that we gain insight not the other way around.
    I love the and and but – will incorporate into my life.

    • Danishapiro

      I’m so glad.

  • claire

    You’ve opened up my day, and therefore my life.

    • Danishapiro

      That’s a beautiful sentence, right there.

  • Raymond Cothern

    You have that wonderful ability to put the tip of your writing pen to something and make it universal, personal. In this case the benefit of opening yourself to all experience. That comes, no doubt, from cupping your hands and saying yes and letting the world pour in and the words flow out.

    • Danishapiro

      You are always so supportive, Raymond. Thank you.

  • ayala

    A beautiful post, Dani. It resonates with me on many levels. I was born in Israel and came here as a teenager. Uprooted I built a new life with my family. I never dared to dream for me what I dream for my children. Your post inspired me this morning to write a poem about daring to dream. My older son is a doctor at a Harvard Hospital. I always believed in him and sometimes I look back on my journey, an interesting life, with many lessons learned and it’s still hard to believe the journey that brought us here today. Here is a link to my poem http://asunkissedlife-ayala.blogspot.com/2013/10/dare-to-dream.html. I shared with my readers your link. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    • Danishapiro

      And thank you for yours:) I’m reading at The Brookline Booksmith tomorrow (Wednesday) evening so if you know Cambridge/Brookline area folks, please send them!

      • ayala

        That’s great. I wish I was there. 🙂

  • jude polotan

    This brought tears to my eyes, too, Dani…AND in a good way.

    • Danishapiro

      :)))

  • katrinakenison

    Not but, and. Words of wisdom for any day, any age, any situation, any one. And an absolutely stunning essay. I, too, read this through tears. Lucky son, to have you as his mom. Sending love as you embark on your tour with your wonderful, readable, deeply inspiring book!

    • Danishapiro

      Katrina, you are truly a kindred spirit — in motherhood, and in writing. Thank you, my friend.

  • Kelly Thompson

    I am reading “Devotion” and loving it! Also read the first memoir and it was great, but I’m liking Devotion even better.

    • Danishapiro

      So glad you’re enjoying Devotion! I’m going to be on Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” on 10/20 and will be talking about it with the divine Ms. W.

  • Kim Court

    What a beautiful post. I can’t believe I’ve just discovered you. Can’t wait to read more…I love every word so far. Thank you!

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Kim! My new book, STILL WRITING, is just out:)

  • Freya Writes

    I came across this post via a wonderful poem on this theme on the blog http://asunkissedlife-ayala.blogspot.co.uk/
    So, so thought-provoking and just what I needed to read right now! Wishing you well!

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Freya!

  • It may be years before your son understands what you’re suggesting. “But” is the onomatopoeic sound of opposition, the perfect complement to adolescence. It’s the bug-bear of management, the riflling of targeted politics. One gets to “and” when one accepts at last adulthood. For some that moment never comes.

    “And” is terribly hard next to instinctive hard cue of “but.” It’s the hand-maiden of civilized discourse. It’s a mother’s prayer, the answer to a child’s protestation.

    • Danishapiro

      EMS1944! I would know your words of wisdom anywhere.

      • Yeah, lady, BUT what did ya think??

        Not so sure about the “yes” and “no” part. Surely “No” has an honorable place (Take this bribe….please?). The thing about “and” and “but” is that rarely will have the “But”-sayer actually listened (heard? Understood?) to the expressed ideas. It’s a way of discarding the conflicting argument, a sotto voce mumbling of “hey, stupid, you are *so* out to lunch.”

        Even so, I have ruefully come to understand there are times “but” tumbles out of my mouth along with the whine, the anger and the hurt. Cues are cues, after all, and unlearning takes time..

        • Danishapiro

          Ha! I’m in complete agreement — also about the distinction between yes/no and and/but. It’s almost as if the “but” carries along with it a deflecting shield. And unlearning is as much a lifetime’s work as learning.

          • “deflecting shield”….hmmm…what’s funny about that is that “but” and “butt” become related…as in cigarette butt, the smoking buffering the oncoming unpleasantness, struggling to find a caesural (I suspect there’s no such word, but what the hell….there ought to be. Some nouns were born to be adjectives) oasis

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