Making a way out of no way.

John Lewis was an American hero. His whole life was a testament to fighting the good fight and trying to make the world a better, more egalitarian place even in the most dire of circumstances. Today, he is laid to rest, but he left us words, every one ringing with truth, to give us light and help us find our way without him:

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

“That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

“Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

“Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

“You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

May his words hold true in our hearts, and let us live up to the example he set. Let us go forward in the spirit of peace with everlasting love as our guide. Let this be our solemn vow. Now is the time.

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.

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/

Surprised by joy

Sometimes we are surprised. Things aren’t as we expect, and that is delightful. Like this story of a male Mandarin wood duck, native to East Asia, in Central Park.

How did it get there? The mystery of it can’t help but raise all sorts of fanciful explanations, and the duck’s beauty can’t help but cause us to stop and marvel. What are we walking right past today? Perhaps we can stop and marvel.

Danny Ursetti put together this delightful musical montage, an ode to this wood duck in Central Park and to joy. Enjoy!

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!

Talk softly.

There is no one right way to get through a pandemic. Perhaps you’ve seen social posts suggesting you write a book, paint your house, or finish some other huge project. And some people do respond to stress by throwing themselves into activity. (And, apparently, love to post about it.) But others don’t. And that’s ok. We are each unique and need to listen to our own hearts and bodies to figure out what self-care looks like right now. Perhaps it’s enjoying tea, watching the sunset, reading a good book, or cleaning out a closet. Perhaps it is being still. Perhaps it is taking a break from social media to enjoy some introspective time. There are as many answers as there are people asking the question, ‘How can I best care for myself right now?’ Listen to yourself, and be gentle with yourself. This is tough.

Reaching out

What are we here for anyway? What’s the point? Some people joke, ‘Life is hard, and then you die’, and there’s some truth to that. We are finite. We struggle. But there is purpose to life, and it lies in what we do for others. Andre Agassi says,

“Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here.”

Others joke ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins,’ but those things we do purely for ourselves are vanity. Instead, when we use our gifs and talents to reach out and help others, we’ve upped the good in the world. We’ve made a difference.

Though isolated, each of us has the ability to reach out. Phone calls, cards, texts, care packages. Others need to hear from you. They need to know someone cares. And you need to know you care about others. If you have extra, you can share. If you are going to the store, you can pick up something for someone who can’t go out. So many ways to help. And in the helping, we help ourselves as well.

You are not alone.

You are not alone. This will pass. Hold on.

Please take a moment to watch Father Ray Kelly sing Everybody Hurts and remember that we need to reach out to each other. We are each other’s comfort and hope.

Lyrics

When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on)
(Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life
Well, hang on

Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand
Oh, no
Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you’re not alone

If you’re on your own
In this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much
Of this life
To hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on

Everybody hurts. You are not alone

Songwriters: Bill Berry / Michael Stipe / Peter Buck / Michael MillsEverybody Hurts lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

Embracing our inner child and our inner crone.

In an interview with Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her Inner Crone — a version of herself old, happy, and well past the point of fear — that she pictures when she needs a shot of courage. She considers her Inner Crone to be “a badass old lady who already dwells somewhere deep within [her] and whom [she] hope[s] to fully become someday.” Picturing her Inner Crone gives Gilbert gumption.

But she also remembers her Inner Child, and pictures that child particularly when she is feeling depressed or hard on herself:

Many years ago when I was going through a dark season of depression and self-loathing, I taped a sweet photograph of myself at the tender age of 2 on my bathroom mirror. Looking at that photo every day reminded me that I once was this blameless little person, deserving of all tenderness–and that part of me would always be this blameless little person deserving of all tenderness. Meditating upon a smaller and more innocent version of my face helped me to learn to be more compassionate to myself. I was finally able to recognize that any harm I inflicted on me, I was also inflicting on her. And that little kid clearly didn’t deserve to be harmed.

We could all benefit from picturing our Inner Child when we are being hard on ourselves. Would you criticize that little child the way you are criticizing yourself now, or would you be more patient and encouraging? Would you demand perfection from that child, or would you celebrate progress? If you were wounded by adults when you were a child, you now are an adult who can support that little child in a healing way.

Think back. Can you remember that Inner Child who is still a part of you? The joy and exuberance, enthusiasm and trust, innocence and promise? No matter how far you’ve come from that start, treat yourself with kindness, patience, and compassion. That Inner Child is alive and well…and trusts you.

Grief, that’s what it is

We are grieving, collectively, the world over, all of us. Grieving the past we’ve lost and the loss of the future we expected. Things will be forever different for us. There are stages to this grief, and we will all experience it differently. But it is in acceptance where we will find the ability to process it and move forward into an uncertain future. This is our now. This is what we have to work with.

In this excellent article on grief, David Kessler shares his thoughts on what we are all going through:

“Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this, but all together this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

The article is well worth a read, as it helps us put the issues we face now in perspective and give voice to our feelings. He states:

“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

“Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

Sometimes dealing with a problem begins with naming it. Grief, that’s what it is. Have compassion on yourself and others. This is hard.