Shelter in the storm.

Of all the compliments you could receive, perhaps the best is that you feel like shelter. That, in all the storms and chaos that swirl around us, talking to you feels like safety. Not in the sense of being a yes man or echo chamber, or even in the sense of being able to do anything to stop the storm, but in the sense of home.

“I find it shelter when I speak to you,” says Emily Dickinson. What might we do and say to make someone feel that way? Shelter implies that the storm is still swirling, the elements are still fierce, but talking to you is a respite from that and an entry into something welcoming and safe. A place where you are known, and heard, and cared for. A place of comfort.

Certainly there are plenty of people making themselves someone’s storm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be someone’s shelter instead?

What can you do in this increasingly chaotic and exhausting world for someone to find it shelter when they talk with you?

In the end, only kindness matters.

Most of us will not be inventing a vaccine to end this pandemic or donating millions to the research. Most of us will not be heroes in the saving the day sense.

And yet each of us has incredible power to choose how we want to meet each day when life is so stressful. Whether we want to retreat into a cocoon focused only on our own wants and needs or use this as an opportunity to reach out to others. Whether we want to add to someone’s anxiety or be their shelter in the storm. Whether we want to be comforted or to comfort.

And the impetus for any acts of kindness comes from the deep recognition of how important those acts of kindness have been to you when you have despaired. The kind gesture, the comfort of a friend simply abiding with you as you travel a dark path, the reminder that you are precious when you’ve forgotten and can see only your mistakes. These have been your lifeblood. And you can offer that gift to others, particularly now. Take a moment to enjoy this profound poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Kindness matters.

Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952-

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Even this.

It’s easy to be grateful for the good things. But … everything? What about the fear, anxiety, separation, loneliness? What about the loss and persecution? What about the things that challenge our life and morality and soul? What of these?

Yes. All. Even these things that most pain us or make us worry. It is in these times we draw on something deeper than ourselves and grow. These are the times that cause us to reach out to others and embrace community. These are the depths we can survive and use that survival to offer hope to others.

Gratitude forces a perspective shift. From despair to hope. From loss to possibility. From chaos to peace.

Even now, even this, even here. Be grateful.

Brave and afraid at the same time

In this interview, Brené Brown discusses the complexity of emotions we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic and social isolation. Her words bring comfort and solace to all of us, but particularly those of us raised to believe that only positive emotions should be felt or expressed.

These are tough times. And it’s particularly difficult because this is not an emergency you have to gear up for and get through; it’s a slow burn. As she says:

“Normally, in order to get through a crisis, you know, our bodies are built to respond with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy, a lot of super coping surge. And then the waters recede or the fires are out or, you know, the crisis ends and we slog our way through kind of cleanup and trying to find our new normal. But we are not going to be able to depend on the adrenaline surge for this, because it’s going to out- it’s going to outpace us. And I think we are hitting that moment where we are weary in our bones. We are physically tired. We, you know, anxiety, uncertainty take a lot out of us physically. I think, you know, we’re on Zoom calls. I don’t know what happened. Like, I work a lot to begin with, but I feel like I’m on Zoom calls from 6:00 in the morning until midnight. You know, and then we’ve got toddlers crawling up our backs and partners trying to, you know, tell us to be quiet. They’re also are being called. And we’re tired. And I’ll tell you, the other thing that’s exhausting; that we are not acknowledging – again as a collective – is grief.”

And the grief is perhaps more extensive than any we’ve felt before. It’s grieving a loss of everything that was normal to us. Brown explains, “Well, I think it’s a very difficult position we’re in right now because I think we are both grieving the loss of normal and grieving the ordinary moments that make the touchstones for our lives. We’re grieving the loss of those at the very same time we’re having to find and settle into a new normal. And those two things are very difficult to do. At the same time, not mutually exclusive, but as close as it gets without being mutually exclusive. So there’s grief, I think. Grief is the loss of normal.”

And it is ok to experience that grief and mourn those losses. We are vulnerable, and there is no shame in acknowledging that:

“To be alive is to be vulnerable, to be in this pandemic, is to be vulnerable every second of every minute of every day. And the thing about vulnerability is it is difficult, but it’s not weakness. It’s the foundation and the birthplace of courage. There is no courage without risk, uncertainty and exposure. And so, you know, I’ve asked 10000 people that this question, starting with special forces military: give me an example of courage in your life that did not require uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. And in probably 15 thousand people at this point, not one person has been able to give me an example of courage that did not require vulnerability. So we need to dispel that mess and we need to acknowledge we are in a lot of vulnerability right now. That means we can be our best, bravest selves or we can be our worst selves, and I think the thing about choosing to be our most courageous selves is having to understand this is another method to style that most of us know we’re taught growing up that we’re either brave or afraid, that the truth is we can be brave and afraid at the exact same time. Most of us are in these moments today.”

We can be brave and afraid at the exact same time. We can be strong in our vulnerability. And, even though we are living a new normal, we can choose how we show up there.

A lullaby for these times.

Picture a fussy baby, afraid to fall asleep, but then comforted in his mother’s arms by her lilting lullaby, her breath soft against his face, her song sweet to his ears.

Who among us can’t, at times, relate to that child? The future seems particularly uncertain. Worry disrupts sleep. Anxiety weakens our resolve.

There is something about a lullaby, though, the soft tones, the repetitive melody, the gentleness of the presentation, that can help soothe and relax, comfort and reassure us. The sweet song can reach into our long past baby consciousness and help us rest.

Take a minute to enjoy this beautiful rendition of Billy Joel’s Goodnight, My Angel, by Social Dissonance with soloist Ryan Nagelmann. May it help you find peace.

Doing good now.

There is an elephant in the room. We don’t talk about it, we try not to think about it, we pretend it doesn’t exist. That elephant is the fact that we are all on a one way journey through this life. Our time is limited. None of us knows in advance when our end of the journey will come, but that end will come.

When we pull ourselves out of denial and gaze directly at this elephant, we can realize something important: our opportunities should be seized now. That good we can do? Don’t put it off. That kind word? Say it. That gift or remembrance? Give it now.

We will not have this place and time and opportunity to make a difference again.

Comfort in, grief out.

Many are on the front lines of this pandemic, either working in health care or in essential jobs to keep the world moving, while others of us are on the sidelines waiting. We worry about ourselves, but also about our friends and family members on the front lines. Will they be safe? What are the right words to encourage them and let them know we love them?

In this interesting article, health care worker Dorothy E. Novick suggests Ring Theory as a way to modulate our expressions of concern. It works like this:

“I came across an article about “Ring Theory,” written by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman. In this construct, we imagine a person who is suffering, like Margi, sitting in a small circle surrounded by concentric rings. Her dearest relatives sit in the circle closest to her. Best friends sit in the next larger circle. More friends and colleagues occupy the next one. And so on.

“According to Ring Theory, a person in any given circle should send love and compassion inward, to those in smaller circles, and process personal grief outward, to those in larger circles. To Margi and her mother, I should have said, “I love you, and I’ll do everything I can to support you.” And only when talking to others should I have said, “Her suffering feels impossible to bear.

“Comfort in, grief out.

“Ring Theory works for supporting health-care providers during the trauma of covid-19. We are grappling with a complex duality of mission plus terror. We are proud of what we can contribute and passionate about our patients’ well-being. But we are frightened — for our safety, for our patients, for the spouses and children we might expose.”

When we speak with people working in positions of danger, practicing Ring Theory makes good sense. Our comfort, praise, and admiration gives those heroes strength and helps them continue. Our hysteria or forwarding doomsday articles simply doesn’t. In all of this, we should strive to do no harm and let our words offer comfort.

Novick relates a message she received that helped give her comfort, a message that gives us a good example for how we can show up for people in dangerous positions right now:

The message read, “I am holding you in my heart being on the front lines of these difficult times. The professional skill, kindness, support and tenacity you give your patients and your medical community I am sure is a comfort in this darkness. Sending much love, appreciation and admiration.

“My heart rate slowed and my skin warmed over as I read the message. Then I pulled my mask over my face and opened the door to the next patient room.”

That, right there, is the power of the right words at the right time. We each have that power to do good right now.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/17/how-not-say-wrong-thing-health-care-workers/

To pray.

In a grieving, struggling world, we pray. Full of humility, we fall to our knees. Gobsmacked by the fragility of life and the interconnectedness of all creation, we lift our eyes to the Lord and join voices around the world to offer thanks, plead for mercy, and reach for hope.

Never before has it been more obvious that we belong to each other and are all in this together.

Choosing joy.

Sometimes joy is a matter of perspective. It’s reaching down and being grateful for it all, the mess, the euphoria, the triumphs, and the tragedies. Grateful to be here, to have a voice, to have people to care about, to have a chance to make a difference. Joy in it all is a choice.

In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen unpacks this further:

Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently from the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.  What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.

What is the promise behind the circumstances that threaten to steal your joy? Is there something hopeful there? Seeing that promise may just be the key you are looking for.

Peace is upon us; there is love.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27.)

Today, as we celebrate Easter, remember his words and his sacrifice. For a lovely story and song in the Easter spirit, go here:

Grace is upon us
Open your heart
It is done

Grace is upon us
Open your heart
This is love,

The Lord is here
This is love

Come to the highest point of the mountain
At the earliest possible moment

With appreciation to MovedByLove.com, consider this beautiful parable of a saint:

The story of the Holy Shadow 
Osho

There once lived a saint so good that the angels came from heaven to see how a man could be so godly. This saint went about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light and the flowers scent, without being aware of it. His day could be summed up by two words — he gave, he forgave — yet these words never passed his lips. They were expressed in his ready smile, his kindness, forbearance, and charity.

The angels said to God, “Lord, grant him the gift of miracles.”

God replied, “Ask what it is that he wishes.”

They said to the saint, “Would you like the touch of your hands to heal the sick?”

“No,” answered the saint. “I would rather God do that.”

“Would you like to convert guilty souls and bring back wandering hearts to the right path?”

“No, that is the angels’ mission. It is not for me to convert.”

“Would you like to become a model of patience, attracting men by the luster of your virtues, and thus glorifying God?”

“No,” replied the saint. “If men should be attracted to me, they would become estranged from God.” “What is it that you desire, then?” asked the angels.

“What can I wish for?” asked the saint smiling. “That God gives me his grace; with that would I not have everything?”

The angels said, “You must ask for a miracle, or one will be forced upon you.”

“Very well,” said the saint. “That I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.”

The angels were perplexed. They took counsel and resolved upon the following plan: every time the saint’s shadow fell behind him or to either side, so that he could not see it, it would have the power to cure disease, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow.

When the saint walked along, his shadow, thrown on the ground on either side or behind him, made arid paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, gave clear water to dried-up brooks, fresh color to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women.

The saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light and the flowers scent, without being aware of it. The people, respecting his humility, followed him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles. Soon they even forgot his name, and called him “The Holy Shadow.”

This is the ultimate: one has to become the holy shadow, just a shadow of God. This is the greatest revolution that can happen to a human being: the transfer of the center. You are no longer your own center; God becomes your center. You live like his shadow. You are not powerful, because you don’t have any center to be powerful. You are not virtuous; you don’t have any center to be virtuous. You are not even religious; you don’t have any center to be religious. You are simply not, a tremendous emptiness, with no barriers and blocks, so the divine can flow through you unhindered, uninterpreted, untouched — so the divine can flow through you as he is, not as you would like him to be. He does not pass through your center — there is none. The center is lost.

This is the meaning of this sutra: that finally you have to sacrifice your center so you cannot think in terms of the ego again, you cannot utter “I,” to annihilate yourself utterly, to erase yourself utterly. Nothing belongs to you; on the contrary, you belong to God. You become a holy shadow. 

Happy Easter!