The Winds of Circumstance

We had our friends over for our second son’s birthday party—the one we named Rumi after the Persian poet. Until recently when people he met for the first time asked how old he was, he would say ‘seven’ since that’s how old his brother was. 

That is until he, for some reason, got the idea to say ‘thirty-five’. 

It would come out so quickly and matter-of-fact when a stranger asked his age. I liked those moments because his answer was so unexpected. It reminded me of the story of Benjamin Button and I wondered if he was, in fact, an old soul in this new body leaking some of the story of a former life through his beautiful little mind.  

Once when we were driving with Asher, our older son, on a road trip across the south of England to see friends in Devonshire, he spoke up from the backseat in his sweet little two year old voice.

“Before I came here I could see you.”

I looked in the rearview mirror. He had a dreamy look in his eyes.

My wife looked at me and then asked him to explain what he was saying.

“What do you mean, Ashie?”

“Before I was born. I wanted you to be my parents.”

“You could see us before you were born?”


He was looking out the window now. It was a short conversation, but one my wife and I remember quite clearly for how out of nowhere it seemed, both in the classic sense that he wasn’t prompted and also in the sense that he seemed to be speaking about a memory from a time and place nowhere in the world we know. 

Moments like these I refer to as existential thunderclaps. It’s that feeling the first rumble of thunder gives you, especially when you’re indoors when you hear it. The deep base that comes from the sky and shakes the ground takes you out of whatever minutia you are consumed with and reminds you of the enormity of the world you are in. Your vulnerability becomes present, like when you come near the edge of a cliff, wonder how well the ground will hold and look for something to hang on to with your hand.

When I saw my friend swinging in the hammock chair that’s hung from the tree outside of our house, the giggling of the dozen or so small children, all of whom were born around the same time as this idea to move to Hawaii was, had the same kind of effect as the rumble of the existential thunderclap. 

That’s the same hammock I was sitting in when I’d realized the whole thing about having, except when I realized it then, it was hanging on the front porch of our little rental house in California. In fact, it’s the one I’d held Rumi in the day we brought him home from the hospital and many days after that. The one I’d been sitting in when I got the idea to go start my farm in Hawaii with some planters on the cement patio in Los Angeles.

Now we were here and that same hammock was holding a friend we didn’t know that we would have, but that we did have in spirit and mind long before they’d met us.

In some ways, we have no idea what the future holds. In a way, we never knew we’d have this friend, that we’d bring these hammock chairs with us and hang them from a tree on a hill that from 2000 feet overlooks Maui and the great Pacific Ocean. What a life that hammock has had and all it’s had to do is just hang around, allowing itself to be carried and hung in one place and then another. It’s been carried and it carries, it’s both held and it holds.

It’s the same idea I got when I dove deep into the word Providence, the capital city of the state I was born and raised. In exploring this idea that something divine intervenes, that when we are committed and faithful, the winds of circumstance carry us to our destination, I found myself with the idea that we provide as we are provided. The hens on my farm provide eggs as I provide them with food, water, safety and comfort. It’s been great getting to know the temperamentality of their ovulation. If they’re not relaxed, they don’t produce eggs, at least not as much. 

They don’t speak, but they teach me how to relate to the feminine. It started as a lighthearted joke that I would say “What’s up ladies?” as I’d come down the hill to feed them, but over time my speaking it presenced me to the fact that they were all girls and through that presence, I found myself relating to them more gently and with more attention to their emotional needs. 

This is something I find it is helpful to bring to my relationship with my wife as well. When I remember she’s a woman, and I am present with our differences, I find myself having more compassion for her experience and her needs. It is seeing the sameness in us, as a first view, that makes possible the projection of my own expectations on her.

Funny that, isn’t it, that seeing sameness in another person can open up so many things. When I see the sameness in another, I feel compassion for them, I understand them, I close the sense of distance between us and I find myself accessing the capacity within myself to be, do and have what they be, do and have. 

My father taught me this, not on purpose, but by accident, like most of the things he taught me. Without realizing it, I’d learned from him to look for what’s the same in people when they had or were doing something I wanted. By seeing myself as essentially the same as them, I’d just get on with being and doing whatever they were being and doing that got them what they wanted and soon enough I’d have it too.

Most people don’t do that though. They see someone with something they want and instead of looking for how they are the same as them, they look for how they are different. Whatever we look for we find and so when we find the evidence that we’re different than the people who have what we want, we cut ourselves from that path of possibility. It’s a door into a room we would love to be in, but we imagine it’s locked and don’t even touch the knob to try turning it.

We provide as provided, and what we are provided is a function of where we put our attention. I cannot be provided with a basket of lychee fruit from our friends on the island if I don’t open my hands to receive their gift. And without that receiving, I have not the same impulse in me to pile a bunch of avocados down the hill to our tenants or to collect macadamia nuts and bring them to our son’s preschool teacher for an adventurous snack time with the mac nut cracker.

It is by giving that we inseminate the world with new possibilities and it is by receiving that the conception of new life-force energy begins in our hearts. Just as the young mango tree outside our bedroom responds to the water we remember to give it in the evenings with the hose that we leave hung over the railing, we provide as we are provided. Good fruit comes from good care and good action comes from good opening. 

That’s why I stop and listen when I hear thunder. To pause in my hurriedness of ensuring the pool party runs smoothly and to look at my friend swinging in the hammock and hear the children giggling and marvel at how our life has gone from there to here, so radically different in such short time and yet, also so incredibly the same, is the opening. When I slow down and let the magic of life seep into me, be it that thunderclap, or the birds that sing us awake in the mornings, interspersed with the cry of roosters near and far, or a red cardinal eating the crumbs of cake off the table on the Lanai the next morning, these little moments bring not just gratitude but also a presencing of the pliability of reality. Seeing the arc stretching across the sky of time between now here and then there makes it feel like anything is possible. 

All it takes to make good fruit is to be put in good soil and given water and light. The tree is always open to being provided for. If we can be like that, to remain as open as a tree, as ready to receive, then we too will find ourselves giving good fruit, riding on waves of abundance.

It doesn’t start with giving. It starts with receiving.

Loving us all, JPM