It might have been winter, or even before, but there I was, stuck in a rut. So was John. And so, no surprise, was our marriage. It was a rut of our making, or rather, not making. Not making our lives and our selves the best they could be. Not doing more to see the divine – in the world and in each other. Not feeling the magic.

We were tired from overworking, wedded to our laptops. And after days of writing and editing, and nights of catching up on e-mails or Facebook, we often fell into bed too tired to talk, or talked in tones a tad cranky. Not good.

After months of complaining about this new modus vivendi, which was getting more entrenched and harder to break, it was time for action. So we wrote out vows to help bring us back – to our better selves and to one another. First came the overarching vow: live each day with loving-kindness, seasoned with moments of romance. Specific vows followed: meditate daily and before dinner; no computer time after dinner; in bed by 9:30 … vows that would bring us to bed sooner and in a happier, more rested state.

These were good intentions, but like many intentions … I mean, I have to be on the computer tonight. Or, Facebook had so many cool videos I didn’t realize it was 11 pm. Or, You’ve got that tone. What tone? That tone. Then we’d make our vows again, but again they soon were broken.

As always, I remembered Rumi: “Come, come … even if you have broken your vow a hundred times, come, come again, come.” Right, Rumi, but life is short, and this isn’t working.

And then I remembered the star chart.

There was a time in my life when I taught inner-city kids, and some of them had serious problems. One 8-year-old boy brought a knife to the classroom; a troubled little girl repeated everything I said; and a third child hid under his desk. It was my first year teaching, and I prayed to make it through. I also prayed for help – and help came with the star chart.

I made a list of everything I could think of: does homework; refrains from hitting; doesn’t yell; helps a classmate … a daily opportunity for stars galore! I posted the chart prominently on the blackboard, where at the end of each day, the kids posted with glee the stars they had earned. And at the end of the week, there were prizes – yo-yos, stickers – to trade in their stars for.

The children loved the stars. I did too. I put them on their homework and artwork; and when I stopped teaching, I couldn’t give up the stars. I buy them regularly at Target and keep them at my desk, ready to stick onto greeting cards, letters, or birthday cards to grandkids.

So, remembering the star chart’s past success, I made one now for John and me, for our newfound vows, and taped it to the frig. And the good news is, it’s working. We’re speaking to each other in softer tones. I’m thinking before I say things I know I shouldn’t say. We’re more generous with hugs and loving comments, and taking walks at dusk to hear the birds.

Meditating each day means calming down and returning to center. No computers after dinner means time for music, reading, or reaching out to friends. And some days, when I’m at the sink in the kitchen, John comes up and hugs me from behind, and I feel the thrill I always felt when he’d do this. But I also think, Ha! and ask, Are you doing this for a star? He laughs, and admits he likes stars. He also likes rituals. So each night we give each other the stars we’ve earned: rose, blue, and silver ones to fill up our chart.

Now I admit there are setbacks, days when we’re lucky to get half a star each. (Perhaps we’ll add prizes for added allure!) Still, on the whole, there is movement: We’re happier, healthier, and more peaceful. I feel better about myself, and John, and my life. And glimmers of magic are returning – to our lives and to our love.

Sometimes you have to do things to find magic. Which doesn’t make it any less magical. And really, the true magic is this: living with loving-kindness. It makes all your days start to shine.

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