"What inspires you?" he asked.
Updated: Jun 6
"That's a good question," I responded, in the way that someone responds when there are so many eloquent and wise answers but the only ones that come to mind are the "blah-blah" ones (you know-- the "beige sweater" ones).
I fumbled along in the least eloquent way, muttering something about I don't even remember what-- and that's about how memorable my response was. But I did make a mental note to return to the question because I really do think it's a good one for me to stay with for a while, and maybe even answer. Here are my thoughts since that phone call a couple weeks ago.
Anything. And everything, has the potential to inspire me. While potentially true, "anything and everything" is a lot of ground to cover, so I thought instead I would give thought to a few of my recent sources of inspiration. Here, then, are four that have caused me to stop and think for a moment that stays with me. They share a common thread:
blowing air into the burning embers of my soul,
allowing-- maybe asking--
me to grow
in some way.
[Inspire comes from the Latin word inspirare, which means to breathe or to blow into. When something inspires you, it's as if air is being blown into a low flame, making it grow. To inflame!]
Na Wahine O Ke Kai ("Women of the Sea"), September 22, 2019
Those who know me well know of my love for the ancient art and sport of outrigger canoeing. Though I've only been in an outrigger a few times in my life, I am drawn to several things about it in addition to it as sport: its love and respect for the ocean and ancient Hawaiian tradition; it is team-based; it places physical demands on the body, heart, mind, and soul; a paddler and one's team can always improve; the chance to commune with nature; it can be done in a state of quiet, transient meditation or in the fury of competition in the Kai'wi Channel...
"Na Wahine O Ke Kai" is the annual women's outrigger canoe race from the Hawaiian island of Molokai to Oahu, 41 miles away across the Ka'iwi Channel, one of the world's most difficult channels due to its ever-changing cocktail of winds, currents and swells. Late one night about a week before this year's race, I was inspired researching the history of the event. While men's race started in 1951, it was not until 1975 that 36 women crossed the Ka'iwi Channel, and in 1979 the official women's race from Molokai to Oahu was born. Women had been told that they couldn't do it, that it was too dangerous for women, that women weren't strong enough or tough enough. That's all these pioneering women needed to hear.
I draw inspiration from their fight, fueled from belief, faith, pushing through boundaries, breaking barriers, will, fortitude, courage, grace, aloha and so much more. These pioneers had it all.
"As both teams huddled together in the afterglow of the first women’s crossing, all that mattered was they were crazy enough to try." (HAWAI'I Magazine, 9/12/17)
Mahalo nui loa! Their story is here.
Norwood vs Ashland, September 19, 2019
For its purity and spirit, I love watching any high school sport.
The Ashland Clockers were down 1-0 at halftime when I reached the fence. Across the field, I had just watched my sister coach her 8th-grade field hockey team, and been intrigued by the soccer game happening on the other side of the athletic fields. It was a vibrant, sun-drenched, end-of-summer day and I wasn't ready to leave, so I steadily and tentatively sauntered over to the black chain-link fence just off the left of the photo above.
Just before the Clockers took the field for the 2nd half, the whole team huddled in a tight circle and, in unison, passionately yelled a word in a fully committed scream. I couldn't quite make out the word but I was struck by its sound and the energy it seemed to generate, ignite, and inflame. (Quick-- what word comes to mind?!)
As the contest evolved, I was drawn in by the underdog Clockers who seemed impervious to any expression of negativity. They constantly supported each other, not just verbally but physically as well-- high fives, fist-pumps, pats on the back-- you name it. And not just for good plays, but even more so for an effort that failed or a bungled play or a total miss. It seemed that the worse a player's mistake, the more their teammates showered them with encouragement and support. The special fabric between them became more apparent as the game wore on. In contrast, their opponents appeared more like cordial acquaintances of each other. But the score was still 1-0.
The Clockers evened the score on a penalty kick with plenty of time left on the clock. As if a spell had been cast over me, I now felt like this game was life or death for us! ("Us?" I have no affiliation or connection with the team or any of its players!) But I went with the energy and adrenaline rush. "Come on, boys! Here we go!" I yelled in a loud way that would have embarrassed my kids had they been with me. The Clockers had gained momentum, resulting in a timeout call by Norwood. As they had before, the Clockers emerged from their tight huddle with a loud, confident, unified yell in a "this-is-who-we-are!" kind of way. Only this time, I heard the word. And then...it all made perfect sense.
The Clockers put the ball in the back of the net with a mid-air volley with just less than ten minutes to go, and held on for victory. I nearly tried to jump the fence and join the heap of Clockers in celebration. Of course I didn't and physically can't even if I was so inclined, but the idea of it was just as celebratory!
Inspirational on so many fronts for me: the triumph of the human spirit; the purity of youth; the will to overcome; the courage to try, take chances, and forge bonds; the power of deep, human connections; permission to feel, express, and show joy; the philosophy that anything is possible if you believe; and the courage to express love.
The word? I think you know by now, but just in case...answer at bottom.
Outside Doctor's Office, September 26, 2019
It could be the sky, the moon, the ocean, the wind, the sound of a bird or cricket, the rhythm of waves, the pattern of sand, or any one of nature's infinite gifts that sooth the soul. But on this day, at this moment, it was this scene outside one of my doctor's offices that stopped me in my tracks. I looked over and was captured. Just for a few moments, I stood and tried to take in the experience: the slow trickle of the water over rocks as the gentle breeze rustled the trees' leaves; the visual beauty with its infinite number of frames and points of focus and references; the underlying life to be imagined...
Beauty inspires me. It doesn't have to be grand, but it always is so. It waits to be discovered. It is there to be taken in every day if we are open, aware, and present. I believe that even my worst days I can find a moment of beauty-- beauty in its broadest sense. It could stem from nature, from an act of kindness by a perfect stranger or the slightest of smiles, from a letter in the mail, from a friend's thought, from a line in a song that triggers a distant memory or future possibility. It is there every day. There is beauty, in every day.
Naturally 7, September 12, 2019
I wasn't ready for this one.
Unbeknownst to me when I purchased the tickets, Naturally 7 is a world-renowned 'a cappella' group. A month before, I had opened a marketing email from a small local venue where I've had some great experiences. Loving 'a cappella' (Italian spelling), I listened to the clip of these guys and thought "why not?".
The date arrived, and I was suffering in the midst of my clinical trial (see 13 Days in September) and was close to bailing. Hoping that it might take my mind off of my misery, Kim and I decided to go for it. Had we not, I would have missed one of the most moving and stirring live performances I have ever attended. As you might guess, I thought their harmonies, sounds, presence, story-telling-- woven together in couture-like fashion, using threads of love, authenticity, and spiritual connection-- were bursting over the top of anything I had ever felt.
And then it happened.
They told their story of meeting Chris Martin, Coldplay frontman. The ensuing remarkable account of Naturally 7's experience with Chris ended with a description of how they worked together to choose a Coldplay song for Naturally 7 to cover.
It is here for you to experience. After listening to it, you will know why and how it inspires me, and perhaps the experience will inspire you...
Naturally 7 in a Coldplay cover, Fix You
Answer: F A M I L Y !
What inspires you?