Monday, February 1, 2016

Looking at the Moon

"Barn burned down. Now I can see the moon." - Mizuta Masahide

Saturday morning ,my husband and I took a "staycation." We wandered down to German Village to go exploring and found Helen Winnemore's. Helen Winnemore's  is a beautiful shop with handcrafted art items, to wear, to use and to just be beautiful, too. As you come through the door, you are offered coffee, tea or water as you browse. It's like coming to your cool artist friend's house and hanging out.

As I sipped on my coffee (handed to me in a handmade pottery mug) I spotted the pendant pictured above from across the room. I was intrigued by the shapes and metals that went into making it. As the crowd looking at the display cleared away a bit, I moved over to get a closer look and was caught off guard by the quote on it.

Tears sprang to my eyes and my throat closed around the cold lump that used to be my voice. "Yes, the barn has certainly burned to the ground," I thought.

Every now and then, I allow myself a moment of grief over my voice. And that's what this was - a moment.

Somehow, this quote, centuries old and composed of nine words, put into perspective three years of upheaval. From the thyroidectomy that stole my voice and career, to my children's marital struggles, to the birth of two new grandchildren, to a new major, a new career, and new home, this past three years has been a lesson in change management to rival all others. We have lost so much, yet we have gained immeasurably.

Most people would see Masahide's quote as somewhat Pollyanna-ish, but I don't. In thinking about the idea of a barn, we must realize that the barn is a link between past, present, and future. It is not just a place of shelter, but a place of storage as well as a place of investment. In losing the barn, Masahide has lost his food, his animals, his shelter, all of his security and possibly his memories, too. In other words, the loss of a barn is no small thing.

But instead of grieving, he focuses in the next sentence on the positive - he can see the moon. The moon, with all her elusive and silvery beauty is a symbol of dreams and inspiration, but in addition, the moon inspires the movement of tides and is feminine, so it's a symbol of new life, as well.

What the 17th century samurai has to say to us is more prescient than we might imagine. It is in chaining ourselves to the things that we have stored up for ourselves, in clinging to the memories of what has come before, in making plans for the future that may never yield a harvest --in short, imagining that we have control over our lives --that we lose our ability to live.

In trying to control what comes next, we lose the opportunity to see things that are unusual and paths that take us to more beautiful places than we had planned for ourselves. In mooring ourselves in the memories of what has come before, we lose the ability to see the places where we might go next, or even worse, fall into the hole we didn't see while looking over our shoulders. In feeling smugly satisfied with our present state, we lock ourselves into a stasis where we refuse to take risks, and therefore, refuse to grow.

In my own life, I can see these opportunities presenting themselves to me again. I miss singing and directing a choir, but I enjoy my new career, too. Renovating people's lives through the provision of education is very rewarding work and I get to participate in that work every day.  But even now the world is shifting under my feet again. Rather than thinking of these tremors as bad things, I can choose to think of them simply as change. Heraclitus tells us, "One cannot step into the same river twice."  I think this is true.

Relationships shift, projects get complex, and change is the only constant in our lives. How we look at that change makes all the difference. So, instead of crying over the smouldering remnants of the barn, I believe I'll look at the moon and see what path she illuminates for me.

Photo Credit:, 2015 - Pendant for sale on their site found here


  1. "Success is how you bounce on the bottom."

    General George Patton, USA

  2. Yes! John, It's good to hear from you - even in quote form. :) Our love to the wife and kids!

  3. Hi Katie! My name is Faye(Evie's mom from kinderchor)I stumbled upon your blog when I realized that your husband and I have a mutual friend on facebook. I was very sad to hear that you would not be directing kinderchor this session. This is no slight to Miss Toni, but several times during class Evie turned around and asked "Where is my other teacher"? Well I guess it is sort of serendipitous that I found your blog so that I could leave you this comment, and let you know that you clearly made an impact on our Evie. I enjoyed your post very much, and I thank you for all that you did last session.

  4. Hi Faye! I am so sorry that I couldn't continue for the second half of the season. I hope that Evie hangs in there. She has a GREAT voice and huge enthusiasm for singing (once she gets started!) Hopefully next year things will be calmer and I will be able to manage the time for helping out again. You have no idea how much it means to me to hear that I had an impact on her. :) Give her a hug from me!