Category Archives: Friendship

22nd day of Lent. The Cornucopia I’d Forgotten.

Yesterday I stood in the middle of Sahadi’s–a specialty foods store in Brooklyn Heights–staring at their selection of nuts and dried fruit. I was there with two wonderful friends. One said, “What do you like? Nuts? Dried fruit? Do you like hummus?” And the other, “Isn’t it amazing? Pick something. We want to buy you something.” “Oh, I have no idea” I said. And, “You don’t have to do that.” I was overwhelmed with the cornucopia of products, the commotion, and absolutely taken with their adorable toddler. Couldn’t I just keep playing with him?

There are multiple ways to express love. What’s less obvious is that there are ways we prefer not just to receive love, but give love as well. I didn’t realize people had a bias about love until several years ago when I read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Languages of Love. In his book Chapman does a nice job distilling five easy ways or languages of loving. According to Chapman, some prefer to show their love with physical touch, while others prefer to show their love through acts of service. There is also spending quality time, sharing words of affirmation, and receiving gifts. The idea is not that we don’t value all of these ways. Most people do. The key insight is that because we prefer some more than others it is helpful to appreciate the love language your partner has so that you can love them in ways they’ll appreciate, and easily see. It’s also important to understand theirs so that you can remember what is important to them as they go about loving you. Who wants to miss being loved?

Standing in Sahadi’s, it became clear that it would make my friends happy if I picked a few things. They–I know this is obvious–were simply trying to show me their love. When it comes to loving, the worst thing we can do, is refuse. As Michael Himes points out in the talk I listened to the other day, unrequited love is as painful as it is because we are made in the image of God, who is love. When our love is rejected, the pain reaches to our core.

We left Sahadi’s with five pounds of love. As we walked away from the store, I picked up their toddler. “Would he let me do that?” I wondered. At first it didn’t go well. I tried facing him forward. “Mommy?” he said plaintively. That was better but not good enough. I lifted him high into the air, and then down. High into the air and then down. “Look honey, he’s smiling” my friend said to her spouse. As we walked my actions gave them both a small break from actively parenting. I was delighted. Being of service is the my favorite way of expressing love.

As we parted I remembered something I’d left out of yesterday’s refection about grieving. It’s something David Malham says about love in his piece Momento Mori:

“The awareness of premature or unexpected endings can motivate us to routinely demonstrate our love to those important to us. Let’s not save our affection, as if a rare wine, for special occasions. Give and receive it as essential nourishment.”

Love given and received, overflows. It’s too easy to forget this cornucopia is there when you’re with people you love. I forget all the time. Today, with quality time, five pounds of gifts, and a toddler lifted high, I remembered.

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All The Gifts There Are.

Yesterday I took the Christmas gifts I’d purchased and lay them across my bed. A few more were still to arrive, courtesy of angels dressed in coffee brown. I wanted to see what I’d collected during the last several months, and if everything made sense. I’d made my list and was checking it a second time. Seeing the gifts on my bed helped me realize that I wasn’t quite ready, present-wise. I needed to pick up a few things, last-minute. More shopping? I sighed. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Sweets is struggling with some of her friends. The other day, she received a text to an old cell number asking if the rumor was true that she didn’t like any of the people she ate lunch with. What an awful question for a friend to ask. And awful to see as a parent. I wanted to reply. I knew I couldn’t. While we were making dinner I let her know that the text had come and what it said.

“What’s going on? Is everything ok?” I asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“I have time now, if you want to talk about it.” She told me the story.

“I don’t understand. I apologized for making them think that.”

“You apologized? Why did you apologize?” I said.

I was feeling defensive on her behalf. I trust her, and she’s a great kid. I know too, that the details upon which things hinge might be beyond her awareness. Her comfort level talking about this with me is also an issue no matter how beloved she is.

“Do you like the kids at your table?” I asked. She shot me a look that let me know my question was too blunt.

Her eyes watered. “It’s a rumor, dad. You know how rumors are.”

“I know. It’s hard.”

“I’m trying. the other day I was telling one friend at the table a story and she fake-laughed. I mean, really fake-laughed. Then she looked at some of the other girls.”

“Ugh. That’s awful” I said.

“I don’t know what to do. It’s frustrating.”

I thought for a moment. “The other day, I saw you talking with–”

Sweets interrupted me. “Yeah. We’re ok. I worked it out with her.”

“That’s wonderful” I said. “I think that’s the right idea. Keep looking for moments like that when you can have good talks with your friends. Don’t worry about explaining yourself or trying to understand. Be who you say you are. That’s one of the most important things a person can do. Show your friends by your actions and your words that you like them. That way the reality they experience will blow the rumor away. It won’t happen right away. It will take time. You just keep being you. Keep showing them that the person you are on the inside is someone who likes them, even though they can’t see it on the outside. Sometimes it’s just hard to see what’s in front of you. You know, the way I sometimes look for the hat that’s already sitting on my head.” She smiled. We hugged, and continued making dinner.

Christmas is about to begin. While it’s good to give, it’s a period of peak tension. There is only one shopping day left. Do I have all the gifts I want to give? Am I forgetting anyone? Rushing to and fro makes it hard to remember who we are, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. Last night I dreaded heading out to shop. I left late and parked in the lot of a movie theater behind the strip of shops that were my destination. I did everything I could to avoid the crowds. I wanted to zip quickly in and out of stores, conserve my energy, etc. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

As I left one store I ran into a woman I sing with in my church choir. While in another I saw another choir member, and her son. Their warm smiles helped me remember that I was doing not just what I needed to do. I was in my community, doing something I wanted, for others. In a way my Christmas began last night as God became incarnate in those two small moments. They helped me forget that my last-minute timing was bothering me. It didn’t matter. They helped me remember who I was, and why I was doing what I was doing. When what we think and feel, lines up with everything we’re doing on the outside? That alignment of presence is a present greater than all the gifts there are.

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Spin Class Wisdom, And The Love We All Desire.

This morning, I stumbled across this essay: “Everything I Know About Prayer I Relearned in Spin Class.” It’s by a young Jesuit named Michael Rossman. I found it via James Martin‘s Facebook page. He discovered it this morning, in the Sunday bulletin at St. Cecelia’s parish, (Boston). I laughed when I saw the title. It’s a nice piece. One chock full of wisdom.

Reading it called to mind some of the people who’ve helped me understand both the importance of being part of a community (Rossman’s #1), and the challenge of living in community. Nothing takes a person off a pedestal of admiration, the way living with them does. The ordinariness of life. The ebb and flow, with its endless repetition and sameness. Once you understand the ups and downs of a person’s moods, you can see through the sheen we all project to hide our brokenness, and fear of rejection. To see, you have to look. We can choose to not look, and avoid the question altogether. But if you dare–and I think all great loves and friendships require that we do–what remains is the simple choice to be with another person, not as we’ve imagined or hoped them to be, but as they are.

I think the choice is something we first encounter with our families. Having known us all our lives, they can typically see through our facades. We see through theirs, too. We know each other too well, in the sense that when change happens, family is often the last to accept it as real. That, of course is the same reason most of us are our worst critics, we know all the history.

Being able to accept each other as we are? It’s the reason some friendships last, and others, don’t. Everyone wants to belong, to be accepted, and loved. Even Jesus did. I think it’s the secret to happy marriages, too. Someday I hope to test that hypothesis.

Being able to accept ourselves as we are? I think a lot of that involves coming to terms with our vulnerability, and brokenness. If yours is like mine, I’m sure your family is more than willing to help you do this. Of course, they’re often the people we have the hardest time hearing. All that history gets in the way, differently.

I like the way Rossman pointed to the way he’s supported by a communion of saints (#9), who “inspire, guide, and intercede.” And that he allows that the “communion of pop singers that blast from the speakers during [Spin} class could also analogously serve in a saintly role for spinners – even if some of their lyrics or personal lives may not always be so saintly.”

I sometimes consider of some of the bloggers I read in a similar manner. I’m thinking in particular of three women (#5?) who don’t live in my neighborhood, and that I don’t really know, or know well enough to consider part of my community (though one lives about twenty miles away). They write from different places, at different paces, and for different reasons. They are part of my communion of saints because of their willingness to dive deep, and be vulnerable (#10). Again and again they teach me the importance of taking first steps (#11), and pushing through to the end (#3) even though I have no idea where it is. For all of that–it’s a lot–I am in their debt.

If you have time, and the inclination, you can find their windows into the love we all desire, here:

Maternal Dementia
The Jennie Blog
Canned Beer Classy

We Love, As We Are.

This morning my daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy? Last year you asked me if I would be your Valentine.” “Sweetie, you’re my Valentine every day of the year!” She was unmoved. Mine was not the right response. I did the only right thing I could. I asked her. “Sweets? Will you be my Valentine?” “Yes, Daddy. I will.”

I told a friend yesterday that I would be claiming Valentines today. “I’m not asking,” I said. “I’m out and out claiming. Consider yourself claimed!” She knows that I have a way of being over-the-top with people I care about. She took my comment in stride. It was late. I was tired, and punchy. I often say that after midnight I turn into a pumpkin. It was after midnight. I know, the proper analogy to the Cinderella story, is for a man to turn back into a mouse. It’s the carriage that turns into a pumpkin. However, I am not a mouse.

This morning I posed the following question on my Facebook page, “The people in your life who cherish you for you, as you are, regardless of your or their mood, are: a. Being paid to be nice? b. Complete fools? c. Confusing you for someone else? d. Your Valentine every day of the year? Or ___.” Most Tuesday’s I post a question. I always have a blank. It’s for the wild card. I believe in wild cards. Then, I added the comment, “Thank you for being my Valentines.” Yes. Jim Wallis of Sojourners is my Valentine. So is the President (I even told him that I “like” him). I’ve liked Vin Diesel for a long time. George Takei? He sends me funny pictures. Anne Rice just goes on and on, about everything! Goodness gracious. It’s like she’s family. Of course, they don’t know me, not really. All the people who do, and still cherish me for who I am, as I am? They’re people of substantial courage. They’re the people I’m intimate with. They, are my Valentines.

Valentines Day, like love, is fraught with anxiety. We’re aware of our flaws in a way no one else can be. We’re Cinderella, unable to imagine that the glass slipper, fits. Even so, we want to be loved. There is part of us that longs for Neruda’s words to become incarnate in an other:

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

One of the most wonderful things children teach us, is how easy this is to make real. If I whack my elbow, and your response is to kiss it better? Well, there are immediate space issues. Immediate. At work, there are HR issues. Besides that, it’s plain weird. Kissing your child’s elbow is another matter all together. The moment your lips touch their boo-boo, crying stops. Tears dry. You are so close that the ache of their bruise becomes the sweetness of your kiss. Your ordinary gesture of care, is not only sufficient, it is transformative.

My claiming of Valentines is meant in the same way. We spend so much time looking for the one that we lose sight of the truth that we all are that one. Love, as our children teach us, is the simplest of things. Make no mistake, I’m not advocating that we begin kissing each other’s elbows. Wouldn’t that be a sight? No. I’m suggesting that we take the ordinary things we do and see them as they are, as acts of love. So. Did you listen to me when I was struggling? You were loving me, when you did. When I thanked you, I was telling you that I love you. When I asked you how you were? That was my way of saying I love you, again. When I say I’m thankful for your support. I’m acknowledging your willingness to be intimate with me. It’s another way I let you know I love you. We do these things all the time. This is how we love. It’s never perfect, though it can approach perfection for short periods. Mostly, it’s the most ordinary of experiences. Imperfect, yes. That is as it can only be. After all, we love, as we are.

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It’s A Wonderful Life!

Since 2006 the Pittsburgh Filmakers have shown the film “It’s A Wonderful Life” in one of their theaters during the holiday season. For the last three years, the price of admission has been covered by the donation of a canned or non-perishable food item. It’s collected as part of a food drive supporting the East End Cooperative Ministry. This year I waited to see a showing of this, my favorite holiday film, until the end of the run.

As I approached the door, I was informed that every seat in the theater was taken. The film, though free, was “sold out.” The fellow working the door reminded me that I could return the next night. The showings would continue for one more day. “I can’t,” I said. “I have choir practice. Here, take this.” I handed him my bag of cans. “Thanks” he said, and “Sorry.” He smiled politely. I turned and began walking to my car. I imagined the headline, “Film in 65th year still sells out!” and laughed quietly. I wondered too, how this happened. I had been looking forward to seeing this film for weeks.

Just as I started thinking, I realized the obvious. I was ten minutes late. Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time. And, I know the first ten minutes of this film by heart. Still, tonight, that was late enough. Why was I late? I’d come to the theater from Sweets’ Chorus concert at her Elementary school. The concert had ended early enough, but I’d stuck around afterwards to talk with other parents, teachers, and to congratulate the students that had performed.

I walk Sweets to school almost every day. One of the gifts of that, and of volunteering to chaperone various events, is that I’ve come know the children in her class, by name. There are many more students that I don’t know by name. Many of them, however, know me. When they see me in the morning, they smile, raise their hand for a high five, to wave, or give me a fist bump. One boy, the child of a friend, likes to channel a Star Wars Jedi and use “The Force” against me. The Force is powerful with him. He likes to use it to throw me against the wall. I indulge him. The greetings are part of their morning routine as they walk to class. They’re part of mine, too.

After the concert, I congratulated the students I saw and circled back with their teachers. The ones present had worked a twelve hour day. I wanted to acknowledge their commitment, and thank them for the good work they do. Next year, budget cuts in the school district may mean that some of them lose their jobs. No one knows exactly what that will look like. The staff is working under a cloud. I know what that feels like. It’s not fun. More than ever, they need to be lifted up. I’m good at lifting people up.

Earlier in the day, I’d approached one teacher as she walked down the hall. She was, as she almost always is, wearing a smile. I said, “I can’t tell you what a joy it is to see you wearing a smile at the beginning and at the end of your day.” For a moment, her smile, widened. “You’ve got have your game face on,” she said matter-of-factly. “Well. You forget I’ve seen you teach. I know it’s not just a ‘game face.’ You love what you do, and it shows. I’m a long way away from elementary school. Still, seeing your enthusiasm, often makes my day!” She thanked me. She’s an excellent teacher, and beloved by my Sweets.

That night, I saw many friends, and congratulated them on their son and/or daughter’s performance. To one couple, I spoke of my plan to see the movie that evening. I was speaking with enough enthusiasm that one of them stopped me mid-sentence, saying, “I can tell you’re excited, but you’re not going to convince us to go with you.” His spouse looked at him and smiled the way spouses do, with love. Then she told him “not to be a Grinch.” “Oh no,” I said. “I’m not trying to convince you. I’m just excited.” I’m a cheerleader. Apparently, I even do it when I’m not trying!

Seeing that the post-concert reception was winding down, I walked into the auditorium to see if any help was needed putting things away. As I walked out I noticed two students waiting. I had not seen their parents that evening. I offered them a ride home. They called home to see if their mom was already on her way. She wasn’t. They let her know I’d offered to give them a ride. I took them home. As I dropped them off, I confirmed Christmas Eve plans with their parents. Only then did I head to the theater. You know what happened then.

At this point the reason why I missed the film may be obvious. I didn’t fully understand until the next morning, as I found myself sharing a long hug with a substitute teacher. We were saying goodbye. She’s a great lady, and she’s landed a job in Virginia. She starts after the new year. Now, who gets to know a substitute teacher? Who hugs one even? I mean, really.

In a year and a half, we’d never shared a conversation that lasted longer than two minutes. Most of them were a lot shorter than that. Most of them consisted of a “good morning” greeting, or a “nice to see you back” welcome. Small moments really. The thing is, life is made of small moments. That’s what happened. A few of those little conversations were very very real. As we shared a second hug, this woman whose first name I didn’t even know, thanked me for my support. That’s when I realized how it was that I missed the movie.

I missed it, because this thing I’m living? Well, it’s a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas!

Culling, Surrender, and Bliss.

Five months ago I was happily pacing through the days of Lent. I began each morning with a reading by Madeleine L’Engle and ended the day with a reflection that owed something to where the day started. I was caught up in it, loving the way spending my days in prayer–that’s how I think of that ongoing noodling–gave me focus and helped me remember something of my priesthood. Twenty days into the season, the posts end.

Two things happened. I read an NPR story called, The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything. It blew me away.

The story boldly highlights the reality that I will never hear the majority of good music that exists in the world. That’s right, never. The same is true of reading books, seeing movies, and encountering art. Their grasp is forever beyond me. There isn’t anything I can do to change that either (or you for that matter).

The article does a nice job describing two different ways people appear to be handling finding themselves in this position. Some eliminate whole categories of things by dismissing them. They say things like, “There isn’t anything good on TV, so I don’t watch it.” Or “I like every kind of music, except Country.” By eliminating a category or two of entertainment, you shrink your list of what you need to see and hear and watch.

Others surrender to this reality. If culling is another way of describing the “bucket list” experience, then surrender may be a way of thinking about experiences you really want to have that will, in all likelihood “miss-the-bucket.” In other words, even though you’d love to have an experience, you realize that it’s probably not going to happen. Your desire isn’t enough. You let go.

Something like this happened to me yesterday. I ran into a friend at the neighborhood farmers market and watched her buy a basket of tomatoes for eleven dollars. I asked her, “Why are you buying those.” She replied, “I like the meat in these tomatoes.” I think they were Roma’s. I continued, “No, I mean, what will you do with all of them?” “Can them. We have a pressure canner.” I remained puzzled. “Can I ask a silly question?” “Sure.” “Why will you do that? I don’t get it.” “Well it’s about flavor and cost. . . . I just used the last jar of tomatoes we canned last summer.” “Wow” was all I could say. I returned home thinking about the canning many of my friends were doing. Should I be canning veggies too? Was I missing out? Did I need to do something about this? If I did, and I think I–yes I want to! What supplies do I need? I emailed a friend who cans, and asked for advice. I visited the website of The National Center for Home Food Preservation. I searched amazon.com for pressure canners. I didn’t know what one was. I had a mission. I was going to figure this out.

Meanwhile on Facebook, a friend commented that a picture of cinnamon rolls I’d posted that morning, photographed in low light and bearing a yellow tinge as a result, looked delicious. “i think you need to open up a bakery.” That’s what she said. Another, “they look a little radioactive.” Note to self, next time use flash. The effect of those comments was to help me realize that while canning may be desirable, cost effective and a wonderful way to eat local vegetables all year long, I didn’t have to do it. I might like the idea very much. That doesn’t mean I need to add it to my list of things that I do. I let go of it and surrendered. I bake almost all the bread I eat. I do not can. That’s okay.

I mentioned earlier that a second thing happened after I wrote my last post. Here’s what it was, I took my own advice. That post is about paying attention and being who you say you are. It’s about making sure your actions match your words and how it’s easy to let yourself slip out of alignment. We lie to ourselves all the time. We tell stories about who we want to be and pretend that’s who we are. Sometimes our actions catch up to our words. Sometimes they don’t. Last March, many of my actions and words were in different places. Good or bad, that’s where I was.

I let go of the blog, because I was culling too much out of my life to make it happen. I’ve been recovering from a brain injury for two years. My capacity, as a result, is diminished. I’m getting better. I am not there, yet. In February and March those Lenten posts took me six to eight hours to write. Each. That’s a chunk of time. They’re not that long. To make the writing happen, I had to remove things from my schedule. Some of the things I cut were important. I put other things on hold that I needed to work on, too.

When I stopped writing, I didn’t consciously realize any of this. Only now, as I look back, can I say these things. Only now, can I see and find perspective. What I was aware of then is that I was, as the NPR story says, “separated from so much.” That realization overwhelmed me. I stopped.

What’s changed? This post will come in at just under five hours when it’s done, with the bulk of the writing happening in a single sitting. Even at a thousand words, that’s slow. While I’d like to be able to write a post in half that time, it’s a heck of a lot of progress. I did most of this work in the late evening, as the day wound down. That’s my actions and words coming into alignment. I have good friends helping me to understand how my actions align with my words. Some have the courage to tell me when I’m being an ass. That’s more important than you know. One, humbles me, here, with lovely words that are all about her journey.

Yesterday at the market, my favorite farmer looked at me and said, “Well. It’s a good day isn’t? You’re holding your head high and have a smile on your face that matches the weather. What can I get for you?” He’s a good farmer and a good salesman. And he knows a shade of bliss when he sees it.

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