She leaned over me and said, “Oh it’s so good to see you. How are you?”

Even though her white mask covered most of her face, I could still see the edges of her eyes crinkling up and so I knew she was smiling.

I smiled back. “So good to see you! I can see your eyes smiling.” I said, to let her know I knew.

Ah, what a good, needed, warm, crucial experience. Human contact. I have never before been so glad to see my dentist!

Pandemic isolation has so limited our eye-to-eye, face-to-face, skin-on-skin relationships that we are starving for the physical presence of others. A voice on the phone, a face on a screen is good, a privilege, but it is not the same as soft skin close or eyes so near you can see the gleam, the warm brown or beautiful green or soft blues of life.

It reminds me how important our relationships are. My dentist isn’t just my dentist. She has done high quality dental work for my wife and I and my daughters for years. She took special care of my daughters, so patient with all of us and gentle. She called me on a weekend recently on her way in to work to check on me.

After the pandemic is over the governments of the world will be judged on how well they helped people. The same question might be asked of any of us. Probably no one will ask, but we could ask ourselves? How much was I there for other people during the pandemic?

I‘ve been wondering how I might help other people during this time? A text, a call, a smile for someone behind a counter, a gift to a family member, an expression of appreciation for services rendered, a donation to an organization providing food, a volunteer role, a helpful blog post.

I love the care my dentist recently gave me. I wonder if through the pandemic and after someone might say about me. “I love the care he gave me.”

Our lives write a story we tell ourselves. What story do you tell yourself about yourself?

The story you tell yourself about yourself involves the actions of your life that float like driftwood in your memories. How we think about those floating-memory chunks — our past behaviors within our relationships, jobs, organizations — determine the stories we repeat to ourselves.

Certainly our story lines, if graphed, have ups and downs, but knowing that we are wired and inclined toward the negative — scientific research shows that— we need to often restory our good lines, good paragraphs, good chapters.

I know what you sometimes think. You haven’t always acted you roles well. Please rethink your self-critical mind. Do not judge yourself by comparing yourself to a perfect form of you, to some fabricated, idealized, phantom-perfection that has never existed nor can.

Tell your story in a self-inspiring way. When were you brave? I know you were and are. Tell that bit to yourself.

I remember helping struggling, under-resourced college students write their first paragraphs in an English class I taught. English was their second language. These working adults received corrections on their first drafts. They rewrote the paragraphs for better grades. They were so brave to be in school, to try so hard.

We all have brave moments. Of course we have been fearful. There is no person who hasn’t been, or if there was, they weren’t thinking clearly.

I remember taking risky career jobs that required the inventing — or reinventing — of organizations. Other visionary professionals worked there too. We all did more than we were paid for. We made positive steps forward together. This was good.

At one new and growing church we built a whole raft of positive classes and fun experiences for children. I told the newly hired staff, “We have the best jobs. We think it one day. We turn it into reality the next.“ Those realities remain in those children, now adults.

When were you helpful to a child? To an adult dealing with multiple difficulties? Remember that. I know you have done good things.

When were you good to an organization? You took a volunteer role, or you were underpaid. You worked hard anyway. Perhaps the organization wounded you. They can do that. Many organizations have a common problem, a body count, casualties from biases, abuses, jealousies.

Maybe your hardest moments were your best. Maybe you overcame a rejection. Maybe once you exposed an injustice. Maybe you didn’t say a cruel thing you thought. Perhaps you accepted your body as normal instead of hating it for its perceived imperfections. Those were big wins.

Being kind, this is another part of your story and mine. We have been kind. When were you kind? You were. You are.

In one struggling school I taught at we filled the display cases in the halls with student’s essays, publicly displaying their work, bragging on them. That’s what they needed, kind recognition, regard, worth.

When were you kind? Remember it. Fight for that part of your story. Our best self is found in small and humble kindnesses. We gave a word of encouragement, we withheld a negative judgment, we asked someone the right question and listened as they figured out their next step. Kind.

At one organization where I worked we repurposed spaces that had deteriorated and fallen into disuse. We raised funds to build a gorgeous interior courtyard that functioned as a garden, a playground, a venue. Then we repurposed and beautifully remodeled an unused building as a counseling center. People gave money. People with extra resources gave money. Those with very little gave money. Businesses and individuals donated labor. Generous. People can be very generous.

Each of our stories contain generosity. When were you generous? Tell that story to yourself. I know you were generous. Maybe it was a small piece. Some of our best actions may exist in a small generosity that we have underplayed, maybe forgotten, but the recipient remembers.

Fight for your good story. Yes, I know, we all have been egocentric, selfish. All. But there’s no need to measure ourselves against a perfect version of ourselves or another person who wasn’t ever selfish. They don’t exist.

When we remember our good story we are not denying our former mixed motives or imperfections, or others. We are simply telling the good truth. We are being needfully self-supportive.

This is very necessary. Why? Because our own voices have the potential to be hard or supportive.

Of course there are times to remember our mistakes. These are times of repentance. These are also times of learning.

But consider this. The Bible talks about God removing our sins as far as the east is from the west. That’s an infinite distance. If he forgives us in Christ, and he does, who are we to attempt to drag something back from the infinite east or infinite west and set up a false court against ourselves? This court only exists in our own imaginations. It isn’t real. It is a false, illegitimate court.

When were you forgiving of yourself? May that be now. Put off a negative thought or a distorted image of yourself. Shove your boat off from it. Sail away. I know you can. Put up a kind, good, brave and generous sail as you boat forward.

Tell yourself the best story of your life. Treasure that. Carry it inside you. It’s the story that is filled with the image of God stamped at creation into you, your goodness, kindness and generosity.

I love you. I love your good story. We all love your good story. We especially love the smallest pieces of it. The whole of good earth and good heaven loves the most common and humble bits and pieces of your good story.

We humans love simple, single things — ice, rest, blue skies, laughter. And we love things that go together, peanut butter and jelly, shoes and socks. We intrinsically want life to be simple like sugar, to fit, like a shoe, to make sense, like a TV show, to exhibit a pattern like stripes, to contain rules like a policy manual.

That’s fine, I love simple too, cold water, coffee, chocolate, the explainable, how to pull a good shot of espresso, but life isn’t all simple. And it offers no policy manual. Life doesn’t always have a matching pair of socks, the right amount of spice, a central theme like one of Poe’s short stories, unity of effect. Life is a long story. Multiple interpretations. Much of it isn’t themed. Self-help books and biographies can be tasty, like frothed milk in coffee, but it’s interesting how quickly they go out of vogue.

Life bounces around like a dune buggy on a rocky incline. Life soars over the top of the dune! Life comes down too hard and pops a tire. Life lived is rough, sometimes uncomfortable, like pants we’ve grow out of, or tumbley like a cement mixer. Then it’s beautiful like a flower growing from a crack in the concrete. Sometimes it’s simple like a hug, sometimes scary like a hurricane.

So how does one process a nonlinear, constantly shifting whirly, swirly?

I have a few thoughts on this.

Live the now. Don’t look back too hard using psychological microscope, or ahead to squinty using what you have, a small aperture, low power mental telescope. Don’t regret stuff much, mistakes, jobs, relationships. You learned something. In a given day you can fall into the pit and sit on a cloud. Bounce on. Kids do that. They are crying one minute and laughing in the next. Cry-laugh.

Try not to define yourself by accomplishments or comparisons of accomplishments. One person‘s accomplishments don’t take away from your own. In some seasons we are super productive and in others we are not. Our value doesn’t change when we don’t do what we used to.

Don’t give much advice. Don’t expect kudos if you do. That’s not why we help, is it? The best thing you can tell people is that you believe in them. Tell them they are strong. Ask questions about what they think. Listen. Be open, like a bucket with no lid. Help them come up with their own answers. Help them turn on their own faucet.

And accept that you won’t always be able to explain yourself to others or even to yourself. What others haven’t lived, they won’t understand. What you haven’t lived before but do now may not make sense to you until later. And try as you might, some things you won’t figure out. The more you try the more you’ll wonder.

Christians may particularly struggle with this issue. We easily fall into a kind of simplistic, preachy, advicey, fix-it, rule-tyranized religion, always trying to live up to some morality or virtue or rule — or get someone else to. The Bible isn’t a policy manual. It’s a messy story. Truth is best as a parable. Jesus showed us that. Jesus was intentionally obscure. He intentionally said complex stuff, told stories nobody understood. At times he hid the truth. Why? Wisdom is often nuanced, paradoxical. Wisdom isn’t always an answer. Sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes we must live, move, and have our being inside of questions.

Expect disagreement, even inside of yourself. I had an argument with myself recently. I lost — and won. We don’t have to always agree with ourselves. We think we will and then we think we won’t and then we think we do and then we think we don’t. I am one person tired, another rested, one way sick, another well. We are each a bundle, an assortment compounded, multiviewed, complicated.

Make friends with tensions. Even with those we love the most we often have conflict. John Gottman, a family psychologist, says that much spousal conflict is never resolved, just lived with and negotiated and eventually laughed at — a lot. There are always two sides and usually both sides have some validity. And sides remain after all the talk.

Look at how inconsistent the Bible people were. Moses flipped and flopped, bold, scared, retreating, advancing, favored, then left out. David was a hot mess. He lied and murdered and adulterated and wrote famous, pious-prayer psalms. Peter was a massive contradiction, at one point so loyal to Christ, at another point denying him. Paul was racked with insecurity and self doubt. Read Romans 7. He agonized over doing the very things he didn’t want to do. Perhaps the best approach is to think of ourselves as forgiven and loved despite our contradictions, inconsistencies and complications.

You are loved. I love you. God loves you. That’s one simple thing you can hold onto.

Restful is the dove’s roosting coo; calming is good counsel.

Lovely is the young mother at peace; gorgeous is the old man at rest.

Soothing is eye-to-eye; healing is heart-to-heart.

Iridescent is the hummingbird in the sun; dazzling is the truth in public.

Warm-soft are lines of light streaming through shutters; gloriously dual are the classic paradoxes.

Pleasant is the pain-free moment; truth-heavy is every suffering second.

Good is an old building restored; great is an old life repurposed.

Glistening the tree frog; shimmering the fashionista.

Glinting the ancient civilization unearthed; glowing a psyche’s past healed.

Beautiful two young lovers; gorgeous two old ones.

Flickering the falling rain; illuminating a gentle night’s sleep.

Radiant is justice and fairness; refulgent is the alien welcomed into the family.

Amazing the new moon; luminescent the new vision.

Bright the smile of a stranger; glittering the essence of a new idea.

Beaming the divine, carried in a song; luminous the divine — unsummoned.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Ahhh, proverbs. Concise! Nice! I like this one. Not preachy. Pithy-true. A cogent, crisp descriptive. I can relate.

A good proverb is like a good foot-bridge troll, short-statured, sturdy and armed with a vicious bite. The bite in this one. Let’s get at that.

Reading through world history recently, I am reminded of how millions — no it’s billions of women and lower classes and racial minorities and disabled persons — have been denied their dreams by the powers of government and law and force. Hopes have been shattered by invading or ruling kings, despots, tyrants, presidents, legislatures, aristocracies, oligarchies, property owners, CEO’s — there are too many forms of power that have been abused to name. By misuse of powers dreams for a good life have been shredded by laws and policies and governments that have enforced oppression, income disparity, poverty, hunger and loss. Consider our country’s institutionalization of slavery. Now gone, exploded, and yet a legacy and a set of enduring inequalities remain.

Uggg. And I hardly can claim to comment as one outside the system. While I have often worked to empower others, at the same time I have befitted from a system that unfairly empowered me.

When I taught (a position of power) American literature at a racially diverse school I learned more than I taught. But as a part of a unit I developed on the Harlem Renaissance, I taught my students the poetry of Langston Hughes. Hughes was on the same track as Proverbs 13:12 but with more bite. He parsed the first half of the proverb. His laconic, terse poem “Harlem” fleshes out the problem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over-

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Hughes’ poem was and is prophetic. It explains, graphically what happens when we defer people’s dreams.

Current protests in the US are about this. They are about a long history of dreams deferred. Exploding has include a bit of looting and burning. I’m not one to justify or condone destroying property in a protest. That just creates more harm, injustice, victims. But only a few do that.

The vast majority of our protesters aren’t violent. They are angry, rightfully so, and they are exploding with righteous indignation. The best thing our country could do is listen. Both political parties know that. There is no getting around it. Things need to change. The oppressed need a hibernacula within justice. And the religious should know that most of all. The best, Biblical sermons I’ve heard lately have been sermons on social justice. Remember Amos! Remember God, who remembers the poor and the orphan and the alien.

It’s time to listen to the voices that have been shut up and shut down for far too long. There’s something really wrong when a protest sparks more reaction and resistance then the social injustice that created it.

Many in our country and our world have dreams deferred by systemic, legal, “acceptable” oppression. They have festered, they have rotted, they have waited, they have sagged, they have exploded.

Are you surprised that people are upset? I’m not. This has been brewing for a long time. Since Langston Hughes. Since George Washington. Since colonization. Since civilization.

Politicians, Americans, people with dreams, Christians, it’s time to listen, and change. It’s time for “a desire fulfilled” for everyone possible.

Today, beset by a disabling and chronic pain, I could hardly get out of bed, hardly walk, but the few times that I could, I made it to the backyard in my pajamas. I made it to sunshine, to blue skies, to flowers — to my lovelies.

I made it to fluttering Swallowtail butterflies, to corolla-sipping, hover-darting hummingbirds, to downy post-nest, fledgling mockingbirds. I watched them taking bugs on my fence top from their continually returning mother.

On one of my very short outdoor excursions, I found our box turtle, Celine Dion, sitting in her water dish. The dish is buried in the beautiful little habitat that we made for her. It includes a whole raft of flowers, rich soil teaming with worms, a gurgling solar powered fountain, a small pond and plenty of shade. There Celine was, in the shade of a blue blooming plumbago, soaking up the algae green water, cooling down, enjoying respite.

I enjoyed her —in an exquisite, brief, recherche moment — but then feckless, pain-wracked and literally pain-crushed, I was forced back inside, there for much of the day, lying in bed, my lovelies, our turtle, my mockers, my coreopsis, our passion vines, nasturtiums, Cape honeysuckles, gulf fritillaries and anise swallowtails just out of pain’s reach.

I thought of Tantalus, a mythological Greek, made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, the tree’s fruit ever eluding his grasp, the water ever receding before he can drink.

We can all identify with Tantalus, that Greek symbol of dilemma, of life’s teasing and tantalizing, something we all face to different degrees in different times of life — something beautiful and satisfying, frustratingly out of reach.

Experience — what a mixed beauty-ugly bio-bag. And in these days, for so many of us, our worldwide pandemic has put so much just out of reach. And worse, it’s taken lives.

Oh life!

Great beauty; great suffering. Great love; great loss. Within reach; just out. Bacchus; Tantalus.

What to do?

Pray that we can survive those Stygian segments of suffering, deprivation and loss.

Offer gratitude to the divine, all his sentient angels, and the vast cloud of witnesses for the existential moments when we blunder-follow into the sun’s warmth, or into the water dish, into a flower’s corolla, those concise cut-a-ways from dullness and torpor when we blink, pause and sip from the languid, liquid loveliness of life.

Lemurs, living only in the island of Madagascar, are unique, endangered and fascinating. I love their bright, wild, colorful eyes.

26 million people also live on Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island. They are amazing and unique. Many are poor. Some we might say are endangered.

They live with many types of lemurs. Sclater’s lemurs have bright blue eyes. Other lemurs have red eyes. Sounds familiar.

Indris lemurs sing. The adults sing together, the younger lemurs sing out of sync. Same with us. Some in sync, some not. Across the planet, among the nations not in sync enough.

Ring-tail lemurs have stink fights, flicking their stinky tails at each other. Yup, our fights stink too. And worse. We savage each other.

Sifaka lemurs use signals and pitch intonations, and they laugh. Hmmm. Humanesque.

Lemur females rule their social groups. Maybe since we have so much in common with Lemurs, we should try that too.

On the other hands the ruling female lemurs snatch food out of the male’s grasps. Makes you wonder — matriarchy, just another form of dominance.

What if we tried an approach uncommon in the world of Lemurs or humans, a new arrangement, no dominance, no food snatching, male and female in sync, no one endangered, everyone with bright eyes.

Lulu Miller has written a new book called Why Fish Don’t Exist. It was featured recently in a podcast from Radiolab

Miller’s book is about David Starr Jordan, a man who grew up loving stars, flowers and fish and devoted his life to the “hidden and insignificant.”

Jordan eventually became the founding president of Stanford University. And he grew into a fanatic ichthyologist. His “Genera of Fishes,” massed 7,800 fishes names. He claimed 1,200 had been provided by him or his students.

But his life was eventually filled with chaos, difficulty and tragedy. His wife died, his two daughters died. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 turned to chaos 30 years of his work as an ichthyologist.

How did he go on? He was an incorrigible optimist. And he tirelessly pursued knowledge. Ordering the world gave him purpose.

But, Jordan’s is a cautionary tale. Jordan turned to eugenics and came to believe that we would do well to selectively breed the best humans and sterilize those who were inferior. Jordan’s obsession with the survival of Nordic whites was fueled by his deep-seated racism. Yikes! How horrible! He got stuck in a horrific false belief. But how similar to today. What an interesting commentary on our time as people continue in our country to espouse that one race is better than another.

But there are some other lessons Miller finds in Jordan’s life. He was complicated. We all are. He suffered chaos. We all do. He had losses. We all do. He was unreasonably optimistic. That is sometimes smart. He developed and clung to a horrible belief. Sound familiar? Haven’t we all?

Miller is not a person of religious faith, just the opposite, and some of her thinking will surely be deemed heretical to the categorically minded and the faithful, but she has something to teach, even those of us who have faith in God or in science or in a particular view of one of those or in a long-held view of types of humans.

The thought: Re-examine your categories.

Yes, there are categories we all use everyday that make sense out of the world. And some things are horrible and harmful, like David Starr Jordan’s eugenics or the Nazis’s racial views, but what if we ourselves worked on getting unstuck from ridged thinking and tried to think with nuance, especially about each other.

This really seems necessary these days, when in the U.S. we divide the world into rich or poor, educated or not, conservative or liberal, scientific or non-scientific, coastal or mid America, Republican or Democrat, protesters or not protesters, this religion or that, this racial group or that — especially when there is no clear scientific evidence for the concept of race.

Our categories often interfere with our relationships. We develop very narrow classifications. An “us” versus “them” thinking gets us stuck without mutually beneficial solutions. As I read more history and science I am seeing that life is so much messier than I ever thought.

Categories, sure they’ve done a lot of good in science and medicine, in discussions about law and morality, in understanding animals and groups of living things, really in so many areas of life. But they also can hinder us so much in finding new connections and new solutions.

Take fish says Miller. Yes, we can say “fish,” and that makes a categorical kind of sense, but did you know that “the lung fish is more closely related to a cow than a fish.”

Our familiar categories need new thinking.

Perhaps “we are all fish.” Perhaps we are all much more alike than we have previously thought.

We all love things that glow — comet NEOWISE now visible in our northern skies, the moon, glitter paths on the water, bright baby eyes, the sun on a yellow flower.

This morning we looked out the back patio door and there were three very slender, usually small mockingbirds running along the top of our backyard fence.

They were babies!

Against the bright blue sky, in the sun, they jumped up on the fence’s stucco support pillars, wings all aflutter. They bopped and bounced with the motions of newbies and neophytes. One saw a bug circling its head, started to make a jump at it, and then thought better of it. Not fast enough yet.

Then wings flashing they followed their mother to a tree nearby.

Bright things.

Later in the morning my wife and I did a special study online on lemurs. Fascinating! The mouse lemurs, so tiny and fluffy and big eyed and big eared. Some of the lemurs exhibit a phenomenon called eye shine.

More bright things.

What is eye shine? Glowing eyes! In eye shine the tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue in the eyes, reflects light and creates night glow in the eyes. Lying immediately behind the retina, the tapetum lucidum is called a retroreflector. It reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors. You may have seen this in cats at night, those two bright yellow glows in the dark.

Gleam, glow, glint, glimmer, sparkle, twinkle, flicker, glitter, glisten, shimmer, flash, dazzle, beam, flare — exciting!

God made a bright world.

Radiance, illumination, luminescence, luminosity, incandescence, phosphorescence, fluorescence — beautiful!

Bright things.

What did you see that was bright today?

Celebrate it!

Friends and family called recently to check in and see how we are. My daughter called today with some ideas that she found to help us with a particular medical problem.

It’s good.

A local UPS driver agreed to do a special pick up for us. We said we would set out a returned product on Friday. And he said, “I’ll remember that and come by.” And he did. He remembered.

It’s good.

During these times of world wide crisis it’s important to see the good in people and in our world.

Where do we see that?

We ordered groceries through Instacart recently. We ordered products from Amazon. We we are doing our part to isolate, to protect ourselves and also to protect others. Look how many people have isolated to protect others. Certainly some haven’t, but look at how many have.

It’s good.

We went out recently. We wore facemasks. Almost everyone else had a mask on too. Look at how many people have worn face masks. Each mask is an act of love for the rest of humanity. Yes, some won’t, but look at how many have.

Every day we either text or spend time on the phone with our daughters. People have connected during these isolating days. They have shopped for each other, reached out with calls and texts to encourage each other, celebrating graduations and birthdays and babies in careful but appropriate ways.

It’s good.

We have kept up with the news. We are dismayed that racism still exists in our country. We want equality for everyone. Protests and marches for social justice and fairness show love and care for people.

It’s good.

We’ve noticed how well the governors have responded to the pandemic in many states. They have lead the way towards protecting people and showed great concern for the economy too.

Yes, some of our leaders have ignored good science. And they have ignored medical experts. Yes, some of our leaders are divisive and have said and done divisive things. But others have stood up for justice and goodness and equality. Others are working to make changes long needed.

It’s good.

The world is a mess. The world is also full of love, kindness and goodness, even from strangers. It’s OK to see what’s wrong, but don’t forget to see what’s right too.