Lydia is a single mom with one child who works 30 hours per week as a bank teller. She describes her attitude about occupation as the “Brother Lawrence” type, where she has vowed to contribute her highest quality to the work – not to achieve merit or impress her boss, but to satisfy a long-standing commitment to herself. She very much wants all the areas of her life to be consistent with that commitment, so her workplace would be no different. Her rationale is she doesn’t cheat her friends so why would she cheat her employer or coworkers by showing up late, by using company time to check Facebook or do personal chores? Her decision not to cheat is held within, she explains, and gives her the luxury of being fearlessly transparent. Wherever she goes that value goes with her. Brother Lawrence held similar views working in a hospital diet kitchen in France a few centuries ago. More about him later.
Lydia is unique. The fact that she does not engage in popular fads often cause her to stand out in a crowd. The honesty thing is really only a small portion of that unique character, unless you consider looking someone in the eye while conversing as a form of honesty. Or perhaps you would also place assertiveness in that category. To her, honesty is not a so much a goal, but rather a natural consequence of a conditioned heart. To many, the most attractive characteristic of Lydia is her confidence. She is not wealthy, she does not hold impressive degrees, is not gifted with popular charisma; well, that depends on how you define charisma. Do you include generosity, superior listening skills, attentiveness, focus, non-judgmental acceptance, patience as gift types? If so, you could say Lydia has charisma indeed.
Her reputation of having the ability to be present may be the most unforgettable of all Lydia’s character traits. People who convert with her cannot recall hearing resentments from the past or gossip either. The topics she brings up don’t usually reflect worry about things that might happen in the future. Lydia behaves as if the present moment is her life and she’s grateful for it.
Oddly most people, even those who are highly respected and enjoyed, do not appear to have reached that place in life. Lydia would not want to be compared, but with just that much license the topic of human and social evolution deserves attention. One observing her will notice in her a contentment with who she is and with the values she embraces. People who interact with her, especially those who interact often, come away refreshingly pleased as she is not overbearing. She has a healthy ego yet communicates no sense of being superior. As a result people know Lydia “wears well” over time; they don’t tire from being around her and are rarely if ever annoyed by her actions or words.
Her story follows. One wonders if she is leading the folks in her sphere of influence (and ultimately beyond to their spheres of influence) to a better way; to a beautiful way, the way life was meant be.
Lydia was walking with a bounce in her step. Her fifth grader on a day long school trip gave her a rare day off. The weather was perfect for an outdoor adventure and she wanted every minute of it. Her apartment, a small cabin really, rested on a knoll above town. The path behind her house provided a short cut past both Mr. Burroughs’ house and one other down to town. Mr. Burroughs noticed her walking by, waved and shouted something about a nice day. Lydia smiled, waved back and shouted back, “Same to you Mr. B !” She made a mental note to bring him the newspaper and a loaf of his favorite cranberry bread on her way home later. She did not notice the two women some distance across the way watching her.
“That old Burroughs guy… he’s never said a kind word to anyone around here until she moved into that place up the hill,” Nancy remarked to her visiting friend. “He seems captivated by her every comment.”
“Is that good or bad?” offered Betty, “I mean, at least he’s not growling at anyone while he’s busy doting over her, right?”
“I suppose. I wonder where she’s off to anyway. She isn’t usually dressed in walking shoes, jersey and shorts like that.”
“No. I hear she works at that bank branch over in Springfield. You know how they all dress like big shots in those big city offices. They probably take two hour, two martini lunches, all charged to their companies who then pass the cost along to us customers in the form of higher rates.”
“You think,” asked Betty.
“Of course. You know its true; everyone does it. I would too if I could.”
2. The Group
Dave had just changed jobs. He had been working a wood lathe for several years, which he loved when the work allowed him the satisfaction of being involved with creating something. The wood products often come out with some unique beauty that distracted him from the otherwise monotonous process. But the business had been suffering with the economy in recent years. Hence, new positions and certainly promotions were on hold.
The new job involved driving loads of high value cargo across state lines. He could enjoy overtime pay on long hauls. Despite more nights away from home and his family, he always bid those trips to maximize his income. His boss was thrilled, since Dave was reliable and his trips solved a staffing headache for her. She did whatever she could to keep Dave happy.
“We’re almost done, Dave,” Stan said. “Another twenty minutes and you’ll be on the road.”
“Yeah. I should be in Maryland before dark. I love it when I can get past New York before rush hour, Stan. I get an hour, maybe more, to myself before dinner and the evening Zoom meeting that way.”
“Yeah? What do you like to do with that block of time when you get it?”
“Well, sometimes I just prepare more for the call. I like to be prepared so I can be precise and brief when it’s my turn to report. Other times, I read up on the next day’s appointments. But most of all? I like to chill, haha” Dave beamed with a smile.
“Yeah, me too,” Stan said, picking up another case and placing it on the dolly . “You know, watch a little news on TV, or better yet take a nap.”
“Hah. No news shows for me, Stanley. Think about it; they call their programs ‘shows.’ A collection twenty-second soundbites and four-minute commercials. Both just frustrate my already tired mind. I get the news other ways, usually reading some of the higher quality circulars on weekends. When I chill, I do nothing – not even think. I let every thought that crashes into my quiet time come-and-go right through me so I can maximize my precious quiet. Sometimes I get totally quiet for a full 20 minutes or more. When I do, my energy comes back and for some reason, things the next day seems to go better. When I don’t, my neck and shoulders feel the stress, I feel guilty about the wasted time and I have trouble keeping my good old, lovable personality intact,” Dave said with a wink.
“Hmmm, interesting. You remember that gal, Lydia, who was part of our book group last year? She told me she does the same thing, almost exactly the same way you just described it. Did you guys go to the same shrink or something?”
“I haven’t been to a shrink in decades, and that was in a city far from here! I doubt if Lydia would’ve crossed paths with him. But I’m not surprised to hear she chooses to meditate in quiet that way. She always impressed me as being very mature for her age. I figured she probably hit a few bumps in the road; a little suffering usually burns off any personality shallowness in people; that’s when they start looking for something deeper to replace it. No, I learned to meditate long ago, after a few bumps of my own.”
“You’re using the word meditate. Doesn’t that mean, like, intense prayer or something?”
“Well, it could mean that, Stan. The word certainly carries a lot of different connotations. You know, it means different things to different people. For me it’s not really religious. I don’t use tones, or a mantra like some Eastern traditions do. Nor is meditation fervent or so called ‘hard prayer’ like many of my Christian friends would say. No, for me it’s just a reliable trusting that my soul is my core, my center, and it too often gets pushed down beneath all the busyness and noise around us every day.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Lydia was feeling the fullness of a day in the sun. It had been a truly wonderful day, every bit as enjoyable as she had expected. When she arrived at the shore after the 30 minute hike, the kayak, paddle, and items of safety gear were right where she had been told to find them. Just minutes later she was navigating through a string of gorgeous, uninhabited islands, greeting young harbor seals, and inhaling the exhilarating air so unique to the rockbound coast of Maine. The surrounding nature, so cannot-ignore-it real with moving tides, wildlife, clear sky and fresh air aromas brought her soul to center stage. She loved the sensation of being fully alive, and the ocean had a way of bringing that awareness as much as, and perhaps more than deserts, mountains, gardens and so many other sacred spaces. Lydia needed times alone like this. She felt the humility of being so small and dependent on the Creator of all that her eyes could take in. Several times, she just put her paddle down and allowed the scene to engulf her senses and more. She could feel tears well up, but wanted to laugh out loud and applaud at the same time. Most of all, she sat still in the kayak seat, with eyes open feeling both humble and fearless, with a genuine presence, a confidence, reawakened yet again from somewhere deep within.