Keep Calm (or Not) and Carry On

Here is a picture of a print that I have in my office:

You may know it–it became very popular this year, and is supposedly a reproduction of the original “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster produced by the British Ministry of Information in 1939.  There’s even a Keep Calm and Carry On website where you can order lots of cool stuff.

As one might have predicted, however, the popularity of this poster spawned a multitude of spoofs.  Which is why I also have this postcard in my office as well…

It’s not the funniest of the spoofs, but I enjoy the juxtaposition.  Also, there’s something about the tiny dark blueness of the postcard, squatting on the outlet box next to the lovely, well-framed, graceful yellowness of the poster that makes me feel subversive.  Like at least some part of me is telling the truth about what I actually choose to do most of the time.

I typically don’t throw actual stuff in real life, although I have (not something to be proud of, but the reality nonetheless).  I do, however, freak out and throw a lot of stuff in my head, like, for example, other people, like very mean thoughts about myself and about other people, like the scale and its refusal to change numbers no matter where I put it in the bedroom, the failures of public education, the tiny halogen lightbulbs that never fit your lamp even though the package says they will, cheap toys, my certainty that I will never be a good enough anything–those kinds of things.

The advantage of freaking out and throwing stuff, literally and/or metaphorically, is that it gives you the illusion that you are doing something, typically something that allows you to avoid feeling whatever unpleasant emotions you are feeling.  You are not doing anything helpful, of course, but anger and mental frenzy are not quite as uncomfortable as living with imperfections and the chronic disappointment of being human. 

Keeping calm and carrying on seems to me to require a kind of quiet, steady willingness to just be in your life, no matter what it happening.

I recently learned about the very compelling Brene Brown, whose website is called Splash, with the subtitle: “authenticity, belonging, courage, compassion, connection.”  (I heard about her from a friend who should get at least 50% of the credit for this blog because she sends me almost all of my good ideas).  In addition to these wonderful topics, Brown also talks a lot about vulnerability, and how much we try to avoid it.  (If you click here, you can watch her recent presentation at TED).  

In this presentation and on her site, Brown suggests that the ability to lean into vulnerability (read: fear) has a lot to do with wholeheartedness, and wholeheartedness has everything to do with our sense of worthiness and belonging.  She’s actually done research directly connecting these two qualities–wholeheartedness and belonging. 

In Grace (Eventually), Anne Lamott describes teaching a Sunday school class in which she sits on a big couch and the kids are sitting (or bouncing) around the room.  She then notices something about each kid, like is he wearing a Spiderman shirt or green socks, and she says, “Is there anyone in this room wearing green socks?”  And the kid who is wearing them looks down and sees that indeed, he is wearing green socks!  Then she calls him to the big couch, invites him to sit down, and says, “You are so loved, and so chosen.”  She does this until everyone is sitting on the big couch.

Brown says that when you ask people about belonging, they tell stories about the terrible experience of exclusion; when you ask them about courage, they talk about vulnerability and being afraid.  She says that stories are “data with a soul.”  I don’t know when some of us lose this feeling of belonging and worthiness, but we do.  And then we spend our time looking for meaning in our lives, some sense of purpose, some feeling of belonging–somewhere, anywhere.

I’ve observed that the primary group of people who still have this feeling of belonging are most children under the age of five.  Before they became sulking mumblers, my sons used to bounce into our presence each morning radiating this attitude of, “I’m here!  And isn’t that absolutely fantastic!!”  Gabe still does this, thank God.  

And at daycare a month or two ago, when he walked in one of his friends said, “Gabriel S.!  We’re so glad you came!”

When was the last time you felt like this?  Like the world was absolutely and unconditionally overjoyed that you were in it?  Or, like Rilke’s swan, that you were slipping cautiously but surely into the element that was perfectly suited to you?  Anyone?

When was the last time you made someone else feel like this?

I wonder what this would take.

I invite to join me in a little experiment: close your eyes and imagine someone who you love and say, “You are so loved, and so chosen.”  Then close your eyes and say the same thing to yourself, maybe a few times, “You are so loved, and so chosen.”

Today I am imagining this blog as a virtual Circle Time like they have at Gabe’s daycare, where everyone’s name is written on the carpet, we all get a chance to talk, and everyone matters just as much as everyone else.  No matter if you are the kid who bites, or is too shy to look up, or only wears orange, or can only make a poopy if he takes all of his clothes off.  Everyone is welcome.  Someone will tell us a story, and then we get to have a snack and take a nap.

We all belong here; we are not, as David Whyte’s poem reminds us, troubled guests on this earth, accidents amidst other accidents. 

And I, for one, am so happy that you came.

What To Remember When Waking

In that first
hardly noticed
to which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
and frighteningly
where everything
there is a small
into the new day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?
In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

David Whyte, The House of Belonging

10 thoughts on “Keep Calm (or Not) and Carry On

Add yours

  1. Back at my desk after 4 days of mourning the loss of my earliest childhood friend, I was so glad to read your words about belonging. Sitting with my friend’s parents and brother and husband, and sharing in every hard bit of the experience with my own family made me realize all over again that connectedness IS the meaning of life. We all carry on precisely because we have each other. It’s a great reminder to reach out to someone who seems isolated this holiday season. Thanks, Leslie.


    1. Barbara,

      As always, it’s so reassuring to know that you are here. I appreciate your comments and your insights, and I completely agree with you about connectedness. I hope you have time to check out Brene Brown’s TED talk because she talks about this in a way I think you would appreciate. Thank you.



  2. Excellent post again. The graphic at the end made me laugh (as they all seem to at some point) and the post made me think (which they also all seem to.)

    Thanks for the thoughtfulness and honesty and creativity and care with which you write. It is a special treat I look forward to.


  3. I have two young children, so framing this as Circle Time prompts me to finally share me comments rather than pondering them alone as has been my habit the couple I’ve months I’ve subscribed.

    I do have days at work, teaching, when I feel like Rilke’s swan. It happens more when meeting individually with certain students than when in front of the class, but sometimes then too. I think of it to myself as the God-parts of us touching, and for a moment, everything feels right. The moments are infrequent, but occur often enough to remind me that God’s there the rest of the time too – such as when it’s the kids I want to throw! (I think my favorite post so far was the one when you admitted wondering if you should have had children.)

    I think I will wear green socks today.


    1. Thanks, Tracey! I hope you did (or will) wear green socks, and know that you are definitely loved and chosen. I’m so happy that you are here!



  4. I decided to try your experiment with a bit of a twist. I sent a text to a friend that said: “You are so loved and so chosen”. She sent a text in reply: “Omg I needed to hear that. Thank you, my friend.”

    We haven’t spoken yet today, so I have no idea why she needed that, but it warmed my heart to know that a simple gesture made a difference in her day.

    Thank you for the invitation!


  5. Terri,

    This is awesome and an inspiration! Always looking for more ways to spread the love!!

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiment and its happy results.



  6. Leslie, the graphics at the end of the post made me laugh really hard. I really like the line, “You are so loved and so chosen.” I am going to try saying it daily, like a mantra. Thank you.
    PS I have thrown things, too -no surprise!


    1. Hi Colleen,

      My favorite one of those spoofs that I couldn’t find a good picture for is “Insult Family and Leave in a Huff.” Love it!

      🙂 Leslie


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