Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Finding the Heart of Minnesota Nice

Minnesota Nice is the stereotypical term of Minnesotans: courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered.

Seated Mayo Brothers Statue 2005

Yesterday I found the heart of Minnesota Nice, a somewhat bland term for people born and raised in Minnesota. I almost didn't make it. I remembered my appointment with only 30 minutes to spare. At 6:00 A.M. my driver pulled up for the Mayo Clinic.

When you strike out from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul, you have to allow for the driving time to cross the northern plains between here and the Mayo Clinic complex in Rochester, MN. 

As soon as you open your car door or attendants open it for you, one is offered a wheelchair if you are in need of one. The kindness starts there in the cold which is what it was yesterday. Families are either receiving treatment or waiting with baited breath for a diagnosis. This is at the core of what employees appear to be taught before they greet one guest. 

I sat near two women as we waited for a family member or caught our breathe from the cold. The woman who sat at the end of our cushioned bench was winded and heavy. Then I noticed she was crying. I asked if she was all right. She nodded and said she just catching her breathe. Soon she rose and made her way to the elevators. Her coat was lush and beautiful. It even shimmered.

The woman nearest me said her husband had been an executive in the hotel business. Thirty years ago the compulsory annual exam had revealed a spot on his lung. His wife said it was so small and caught so early that he had been able to live his last thirty years in good health. But now she said her husband was coughing blood. She hoped it was from an infection and not that cancer was back. I asked for her husband's first name; and she told me. I said I would pray for him. 

Her face lit up: she said now, I have you and a prayer circle praying for him. Her husband appeared, a handsome man both gracious and warm. She told him my intention and his face shone like hers. He shook my hand.

Then a crazy gal with dark hair, decked out in glitter from head to foot collected her jade-sequin backpack from the end of the bench. Her boots shone, and a pocket purse with long, black fringe was perched on one thin hip. 

After a bit of gathering her glitter, she and her mother strode to the elvators as well.

Charming Mayo greeters were spaced right where one would need them: outside the elevators and in the halls. Last year there had been a piano, but the piano had clearly been moved. But when we walked out for lunch several were singing right below our exit door on the second floor. There was the piano. The music was like a heart massage breaking any anxiety anyone carried past them.

On the floor which became our three-hour residence, I heard a patient berate a receptionist for an arrogant attitude. But instead of her voice becoming louder, it became softer. She seemed to apologize to him--to such an effect that an hour later, she had changed the dynamic. Their next exchange was like one at Plum Village in France: with courtesy on both sides of the desk.

I found I wanted to apologize to her but tried to stay apart from it all. But in the end I did just that. She was the most gracious soul in the world. She said: I tried to see things from his point of view. Who isn't softened by compassion holding mercy? 

We did talk a bit and she said: your words mean the world. 

Minnesota nice isn't really about casseroles served in church basements or even the wondrous Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. It is the constant caring, brother-I-can-spare-a-dime, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

May All Grievances Be Forgiven

My Brother's Fireplace / Lutsen, MN

Because of my dear dad's 100th birthday celebration, the family gathered last weekend (vs Thanksgiving) from as far away as Tokyo, Japan, Sterling Springs, CO, Midland, Michigan, and the Twin Cities in MN.  

You always wonder when you're coming together if members will be able to forego old sibling rivalries, flare ups, or painful assessments and all that goes with family tension at the table, kitchen, or fireplace. You go determined to be above the fray. I'll draw from Jesus or Buddha you say. 

Sometimes you feel you've nearly had a clean get-away, but comments follow you out the door as if they were stuck on the doorknob like infectious cells. *

The truth is frequently we gather without all the "I'm sorry/s" you hoped to receive in years past. Some never come; and it's hard to know if they ever will. 

A Buddhist teacher, however, answered my concerns one way as we sat in a small classroom.

"It never, never, never, never, never, never, turns out the way you think," said Flying Fish Barbara Murphy at Clouds in Water Zen Center. 

Those words have stayed with me as well as Pema Chodron's "Drop the story line."

Betrayal I've come to learn, is woven into families like the afghan you were gifted years ago. It's hard to separate out all the yarn. Years pass and you pray your way forward past the hurts that make rough rocks smooth. 

Even if you've been carved out like a hand-honed canoe, you realize resentments only give you acid and make you bitter. You realize your own health is too high a price to pay. 

I loved my Aunt Bobbie's words: You become bitter or better, she used to say. 

Flying Fish Barbara, now a Teacher Assistant at Clouds, gave a talk on forgiveness several years ago. It was such a thoughtful presentation on this word that is so hard to reach we need a chair or step ladder as it rests on the highest shelf.

With candor she admitted: I've been working on forgiveness for four years. Her talk was so good you knew her words were in earnest. It ennobled the whole passage we all come to know. 

Years ago I even bought a plaque which says: FORGIVEN and put it on my book shelf. It's literally right above Jesus. 

So yes, it's early to say Happy Thanksgiving, but since I've just had mine in a sense, I want to hold out hope for you and offer a blessing. It is softer than life is. But blessings often are: that's why we need to read them and allow our hearts to transcend adjectives like sniveling or spiteful or--trying to get the last word in a passive aggressive retort.

In the end the only assessment that matters is how you feel about yourself. Or how you  feel when you talk or pray to God. If we take the high road, we are lifted and evolve. It's delicate, I know. When do you stand for yourself and when do you let it go? We all ask the Solomon in our own souls.

So, I humbly extend: 

Blessings of the Thanksgiving Season

May your mashed potatoes be smooth;

May your stuffing not turn to mush;
May you win the wishbone;
May there be no guilt to pass; 
May all grievances be forgiven
(At least until the dishes have been put away);
May your stomach be glad and
May your memories be like a broth you savor for years.

Connie Nelson Ahlberg

*A Post Script - Actually an issue raised as I sought to leave in my clean-getaway, was one I needed to hear. Though I wiped tears from my eyes in the car, I knew I was hearing the truth. As Pema Chodron says: Whatever your next lesson is--it's going to pop right up!

God Bless Your Honey Hearts as my college landlady used to say! 
And God Bless each day in Earth School for us all.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blessings of the Thanksgiving Season

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving 

Blessings of the Thanksgiving Season

May your mashed potatoes be smooth;

May your stuffing not turn to mush;
May you win the wishbone;
May there be no guilt to pass; 
May all grievances be forgiven
(At least until the dishes have been put away);
May your stomach be glad and
May your memories be like a broth you savor for years.

Connie Nelson Ahlberg

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Prayer of the Giraffe

Mikumi National Park

Prayer of the Giraffe

Lord, There is so much politics
in Thy jungle;
such an endless struggle!

Forgive my awkwardness,
My inability to hide;
My long neck careening
Side to Side!

Yet I, Your giraffe, 
want to keep 
My gentle side;

Allowing my head
to rest on clouds but...

My vision unclouded to You.
Pat my funny head
so I know you've heard
the prayer that I've said;

Protect me, as
I stick out!
Yet, my heart
Wants to shout:
I'm totally

By Connie Nelson Ahlberg