Category Archives: Healing

38th day of Lent. Holy Thursday.

Tonight did something I’ve only done a handful of times in the last six years. I sat as a member of the community in my church. I didn’t cantor. I didn’t sing with the choir. I was simply present as a participating member. Sweets nudged me during the opening hymn and said, “Dad, do you have to sing so loud?” I wondered for a moment, “Am I singing too loudly?” I thought of the time when a choir member approached me after Mass and invited me to sing with them. “I could hear you,” she said. “You have a nice voice.” Sweets was probably right. I adjusted. Slightly. I love to sing, and she knows that. That’s why there are rules. Later in the service, she caught me keeping the beat with my index finger, and grabbed it. “Daaaad” she said softly. I smiled. I miss those moments.

When Sweets was small I’d always make sure that I have a notebook with me. At church I’d give it her to draw pictures in, or if the homily wasn’t interesting, use to play a game of hangman with her. Do I owe someone an apology? I think God understood. Besides my answers were always part of a verse from one of the day’s readings. As Sweets has grown I don’t have that same use for a notebook. And since I don’t sit in a pew during the service, the only way we might play hangman is with our cell phones. It’s not going to happen.

One of the things I noticed tonight is it wasn’t just nice to sit with my daughter during the liturgy. It was nice to be with everyone else that was there also. At one point Sweets leaned over to tell me that she noticed our mailman was present. I’d never seen him out of uniform. I saw bunches of people I knew. Among them, two children of one friend had their feet washed. The mother-in-law of another friend did as well. Every time I see her I wonder if I’ll ever remember her name. I saw the brother-in-law of a friend, and the mother of another. I’ve watched two of the altar servers grow from boys to young men. After the service I made a point of saying hello to the organist, who chatted with Sweets for a few minutes. In the sacristy, I stood with my hand on the shoulder of our deacon, because he’s a lovely guy, and I was happy to see him. There’s something nice about finding home in your church.

The weekly liturgy usually ends with the words similar to, “The Mass has ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Tonight we ended in silence, or tried to. I wanted to talk to everyone. A number of other folks did too. I didn’t hear anyone being quieted, and I’m sure some of the talking had to do with giving folks information about the pilgrimage bus rides to seven other local churches. The community who’d shouted “Crucify him!” on Sunday, having eaten the flesh of the one we’d cast out, was united. This is the wonder of the Eucharist. I thought of the way Sebastian Moore ponders in The Contagion of Jesus, whether the Church made a mistake in emphasizing the word “is” in “This is my body” (p.52). Doing that drew the focus towards what was happening on the altar, and encouraged related theories which attempted to harness a mystery that is a liturgical action. The Eucharist is Jesus, our victim, coming into our midst and saying “I know you thought you had to do that to me. You don’t have to do it to anyone. I forgive you. I give my life to you. Now take it and go. Trust each other. Love each other. Be with each other. You are going to do far greater things than I ever did.”

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26th day of Lent. Better, Stronger, Tougher, and Brimming with Love.

Last night I stumbled across this interview with Gabby Giffords.  Four years after being shot in the head, Giffords has lost most of the sight in her right eye. She has limited use of her right arm, and leg. She has Aphasia. What’s both hopeful and inspiring, is that she sees that she’s continuing to getting better.

During the interview, CBS reporter Lee Cowan asks her: “As you recover, are you trying to get back the old Gabby or trying to find the new Gabby?” She doesn’t hesitate. “The new one. Better. Stronger. Tougher.” Followed by a grin. An inspiring story about a woman who isn’t looking back on what might have been, but looking forward and living into what is. Giffords husband, Mark Kelly, says at the end of the interview,

“You know, things happen to you in life, and there’s some things you can do something about, and there’s other things you can’t. You just have to move ahead.”

“Move ahead” Giffords says, echoing her husband. Cowan adds, “You just have to keep moving.” “Moving, moving, moving. Yeah.” says Giffords. There’s a lot of wisdom there. Wisdom that’s applicable to different kinds of trauma.

After being diagnosed with an incurable cancer, Christian Wiman didn’t go looking for the faith he had as child. Instead, he found comfort in thinking of Christ as contingency.

“All of human life is uncertain. I suppose to think of God in these terms might seem for some people deeply troubling (not to mention heretical), but I find it a comfort….If Christianity is going to mean anything at all for us now, then the humanity of God cannot be a half measure. He can’t float above the chaos of pain and particles in which we’re mired, and we can’t think of him gliding among our ancestors like some shiny superhero….No, God is given over to matter, the ultimate Uncertainty Principle. There’s no release from reality, no “outside” or “beyond” from which some transforming touch might come. But what a relief it can be to befriend contingency, to meet God right here in the havoc of chance, to feel enduring love like a stroke of pure luck.” ~ My Bright Abyss, pp18-19.

The idea of contingency it seems is important–for Wiman–because it helps bring to life the sense that “Christ’s life is right now.” (p.19). Our lives are always changing. One event links to another, which changes the next, and so forth. A God who’s actively participating in our lives is in this sense shifting with us, as thing change. This God of mercy looks ahead, and not back. This God tries to rally us toward a life where like Gabby Giffords, we’re better, tougher, stronger, and brimming with love (hence her grin).

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24th day of Lent. Three Glimpses Into How Pope Francis Is Changing The Church.

On the fifth of March, James Martin, SJ, Manhattan College’s Natalia Imperatori-Lee, and Andrew Sullivan met for ninety minutes at Fordham Prep. to discuss “How Pope Francis is Changing the Church.” Here are three glimpses of the wonderful conversation that ensued. I offer them as koans for your reflection. If after seeing them you wish to view the entire conversation, you can see it here.

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Please Stay.

You, reading this, and feeling that you are alone, that no one is there, or can possibly understand what you are going through because being raw with vulnerability, you wonder what worth your life has. Thank you for staying.

You don’t know this, but you posted a status the other day–on Facebook–that lifted my spirits and turned around my day. I liked it, but didn’t tell you how much it mattered to me because while I’m a huge mush most of the time, I’m shy, too.

Last week you tweeted a picture of a quote I found inspiring. Now, I only retweet or favorite those, every once in a great while. That’s on principle. I can be silly that way. I didn’t let you know.

I haven’t told you how much I like seeing your endless selfies, vacation shots, pictures of things you find interesting, and pics of kids I have never met, or don’t really know. Often your smiles, and theirs help me wear one on my face. I love smiling. Thank you for those gifts.

When you invite me to things, I’m grateful for being thought of, even if the event is hundreds of miles away. How could I possibly attend? You know that, and asked anyway. Thank you. The invites across town? They mean a lot too. Even I don’t go. Keep including me the way you do. It helps me remember I’m not alone.

Like a lot of people, I’m stubbornly set in my ways. I don’t think I am of course (who does). You help me break free, and think differently about things I think I know. You’ve introduced me to things I wouldn’t otherwise know anything about. My sense of life is bigger as a result. All I can say is, “Wow!”

When I’m too serious, you help me remember there is a lighter side, and way of seeing almost everything. I often forget it’s there, waiting to be discovered. I have let out the most wonderful belly laughs as a result. Thank you for them, also.

You teach me a lot. I bet you don’t know that. About what it means to love, to have courage, to persevere, and find a way through. You help me get perspective when I’m struggling. You’re wonderful that way. You really are.

When you ran into me at the grocery store you asked me my favorite question: “How are you?” For a lot of people the question is a throwaway, something you say. It matters to me. You remembered that and gave me your attention as you asked. You gave me your presence, too. There’s no greater gift.

All these little things you do, all of them, they help make my days–which are sometimes very hard–brighter, and easier to get through. These are just a few examples of the way you make a difference in my life. Thank you for staying. I know there are moments when choosing to stay takes all the courage you have. If it sounds like I’m being a little selfish here, I am. Last night I learned what it’s like to have a Mork-shaped hole in my heart. I don’t like this feeling. It hurts. And well, this is something else on my list of things we’ve been through together. You’ve held me through so much. Ha! What a wonderful auto-correct typo! I meant, you’ve helped me through so much. Really, what you’ve done is hold me. I hope I get the chance sometime to hold you, too. Please stay.

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What Matters: Living After Sandy Hook.

On Thursday, I did some last minute shopping at Target. At Sweets’ school, today is Pajama dress down day. The kids can wear pajamas to school in place of their regular uniforms. In preparation–after deciding she didn’t have anything suitable to wear at home–Sweets poured through racks of fleece and cotton sleepwear. Finding two different sets with potential, she asked, “Dad, where are the dressing rooms again?” “Walk from here to that corner over there” I said, while pointing to a wall on the other side of the store. “That’s where they are.” “Okay. I’m going to try these on. Will you be here when I get back?” “Yes” I said. She walked the fifty yards to the dressing rooms alone. I remained where I was, chatting with a friend. Target is a place where Sweets feels safe. I do, too.

While we were there, we ran into six other students, their parents, and one of the school’s First Grade teachers. Everyone was shopping for pajamas. I walked over to the teacher to say hello. It was the first time I’d had a moment with her since last Friday’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. This teacher is a marvelous person, and such a good teacher that parents with children in her class, often request that she teach their next child as well. I’ve had that conversation. I’ve encouraged other parents to have that conversation. She’s that good. While we were talking, I swallowed hard. If my daughter’s school was Sandy Hook, she might have been one of the victims. It was a sobering moment.

Last Friday, when the news about the shootings broke, I was stunned. “Not again,” I thought. I spent much of the day driving. I was spending the weekend with my parents. My dad had heart bypass surgery just before Thanksgiving. He was coming home. I wanted to be available to help with any transition issues that might arise. I’d also planned to meet with a friend. We were going to organize Christmas cards. Mine never seem to make it into the mail (I say “maybe this year,” every year).

In the car, I moved in and out of the range of a given radio station’s signal. As I did I invariably ran into the tragedy as “breaking” news. It was disorienting. I didn’t want the drive to become an extended meditation on what had just happened. I turned off the radio and traded it for un-listened podcasts on my iPod.

I finished the drive, and met my friend. The first thing that came up in conversation? Sandy Hook. After a few minutes, we let the topic go. Like me, she was struggling to understand how something like this could have happened. A while later, I noticed her two year old trying to climb onto an office chair using the space under the arm rest as his entry point. Concerned that he might get stuck, or fall, I picked him up and held him high, so that he could touch the ceiling. I set him down and he bent his legs. He was ready to leap again. We repeated the play again and again. Enough times that he was able to hit the ceiling with his right hand, with his left, and with the two of them together in multiple combinations. We repeated this until my arms tired. For me, the moment of play became a symbolic action of a future filled with hope. One where he would break through whatever ceiling was before him. One, where the sky would be his limit.

In Target, the teacher asked me, “Has Sweets started making snowflakes?” Her daughter, who is seven looked up and said, “Mom, who’s making snowflakes?” “I think you will. Maybe tomorrow” she replied. “What for?” “A lot of schools are making snowflakes for other children, so that when they come to school it will look like a Winter wonderland. Isn’t that wonderful?” “Yes!” Her daughter clearly liked the idea. “Can we make snowflakes too Mom?” “Of course.” The teacher looked at me. I wanted to ask how she was. She beat me to the punch. “How is Sweets doing?” “I think she’s okay,” I said. “I asked her if she’d heard about what happened, which she had. I asked if she wanted to talk about it. She didn’t. I let her know that if she wants to, we can, but we don’t have to. She told me there was a moment of silence on Monday “which is what we always do when something bad happens.”” Sweets’ teacher chuckled, and added, “I think that’s a good approach. There’s no need to take her anywhere she’s not ready to go. All it will do is scare her.”

During the past week, I’ve been thinking about how a person is supposed to respond, how we’re supposed to live, after an event like this. There are obvious things. Gun control. Everywhere else in the world, when something like this has happened limiting access to guns has dramatically curtailed further incidents of gun related violence. This is not a Second Amendment issue. This is common sense. The politics of gun control may be difficult. The logic is clear.

We need to do more to support the Mental health of our citizens. Stories like this one are heartbreaking. Collectively, taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves, is a responsibility we share.

The most important thing we can do? That’s easy. It’s this: show up. Stress, anxiety and shock shut us down. They keep us from feeling comfortable walking across a department store where most days we are safe. It keeps parents from finding friendship with each other over time, in the places where they gather. The way I do, at Target, and my children’s schools.

As she disappeared from view I didn’t worry that Sweets wasn’t in my line of sight. She knows how to behave around strangers, and she’d checked to make sure she knew where to find me when she returned. Those gestures, and her simple walk, are small unconscious ways we all have of showing that violence doesn’t win. It’s a way we have of putting the evil that happened at Sandy Hook, in its place. During the past week, people have been bringing stuffed animals, candles, and flowers to makeshift memorials throughout Newtown, CT. These acts do the same thing. They convey our mourning, yes. They speak to the reality of our shared pain. Most important, they are a way of saying to the families of the victims: You are not alone. We are with you.

For me, one of the wonders of the presence of newborn children is the way babies re-orient a parent’s life. Everything a parent does, has the child’s well-being at the center. Nothing else is important. New parents know this, and feel the weight of responsibility, as they leave the hospital, or their birth center. The stakes are high, a new life is in your hands, and there’s no manual. Newborns and young children are often overwhelming. They eat at all hours. They sleep and wake when they want to. They pee and poop without asking if you have a diaper handy, or a change of clothing nearby. Sometimes, five minutes after they finish, they do it again. Still, most new parents learn to successfully shift their attention from what I want to do, to what the baby needs.

Last Friday, after dinner, my friend said, “I don’t think I can work on Christmas cards tonight.” I sighed in relief. I couldn’t think about bringing glad tidings. Not that night. Instead, we watched a movie with her nine year old daughter. I sat on one side of her child, my friend on the other. The movie, “Henry Poole Is Here” is a quirky tale of redemption. I needed something to redeem the day. As the DVD played, I realized I didn’t like the film. Neither did my friend. In the end, our sense of it wasn’t important. We looked to the child sitting in our midst. If she wanted to watch it, we would. If not, we’d find something else. We checked with her multiple times. Every time, she said that she wanted to keep watching. That’s what happened. That night, like many people, we were out of sorts. I was reeling. Without thinking we knew one thing: nothing was more important than meeting her needs.

A week later, that remains true. I think the way to think about what to do, how to respond, and how to live after Sandy Hook, must begin by thinking as differently as the parent of a newborn does. We need to re-orient our sense of what we want and need. We have to keep showing up, and live as if the needs of our children trump any of our own. We must do this, today, tomorrow and every day after, because they really do. Our children aren’t simply our future. They are our precious present. Nothing else matters.

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For 9/11: Being Whole, Together, As We Are.

I watched him run, my friend’s small boy, all of three years old. We were in front of Sweets’ school, the children having just finished singing what I call “The Promise Song,” during their morning assembly.

“I am a promise, I am a possibility, I am a promise, with a capital P, I am a great big bundle of potentiality!”

I was still singing as I bounded down the steps, taking them two at a time. That’s when I saw my friend, watching her son, and I imagined, marveling, as he chugged along. The distance from the steps to the sidewalk is around fifty yards. As he moved past the halfway point, I realized he wasn’t slowing down. The sidewalk was now twenty yards ahead. The street was twenty-one. What was about to happen was unthinkable. Realizing this, my friend Karen, started running, too.

I was still singing, but my voice was soft. My attention was with Karen, and her child.

“I can go anywhere that I want to go. I can be anything that I want to be. I can climb the high mountains, I can cross the wide sea.”

The “wide sea” of asphalt now lay a few feet ahead. Karen, was closing. Would she get there? I continued, “I’m a great big promise you see!” My voice trailed off. He was on the sidewalk when he fell. Karen scooped him up moments later, his laughter having turned into a wail. There was no blood. No apparent scrape. The surprise of falling had simply taken his glee and turned it inside out.

She picked him up, giving consolation the way a mother does, holding her child close. As I reached them she said, “He’ll be okay. I think he’s stunned, more than anything.” He seemed fine. The fall was in his past. We walked. I looked at her and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? It’s clear and crisp. I love this weather.” “I know, the sky is so blue.” I looked up. “You’re right! Wow. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. THAT doesn’t happen enough in this town.” I was taking in the sky when she said, “It was this clear on September Eleventh.” In the silence that followed, I thought of that day’s empty sky.

Before singing “The Promise Song,” we’d had a moment of silence, and the Principal read several reflections from Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001. Before going to school, I'd joined my daughter, saying these prayers, written by my neighbor. We’d also watched James L. Martin’s reflection on the events of that day in 2001. September eleventh remains a day where people stop, and remember.

As we reached her car, Karen put her son down saying, “Let’s see if all your parts work.” He’d stopped wailing, shortly after we’d started our conversation. He walked easily to the car. If he needed more proof that he was fine, there it was.

In 2009 Joe Biden read an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” at the Ground Zero Memorial Service. His reading came just before a moment of silence, marking the point in time when the second plane struck the World Trade Center.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Another friend said this morning, “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel normal on this day. Eleven years later, I definitely don’t.” His words took me back to Karen, and her son. My friend’s sense of the world is still turned inside out.

When Joe Biden read Mary Oliver’s poem at the Memorial Service in 2009, he skipped the first five lines of the poem.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

For me, those lines change the experience of the poem. Read as a whole, it puts first line he read, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” in a different context. We’re not mourning while “the world goes on.” We are people trying to love, what we love. We wrestle with our ability to do that. We beat ourselves and each other up, longing for proof that our love is strong enough. We can be told left and right, time and again, that “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination” and that we have a place “in the family of things” and the words will float through our ears. We can do things like sing “The Promise Song” until we are hoarse, and the words will remain outside our hearts.

The tension of hearing words like those in the poem and the song, coupled with our deep desire to be enough as we are, and at home where we are, is fully felt on days like this one. Days where our sense of what it means to live, and breathe, are turned inside out and revealed as modest constructions.

I like the phrase President Obama made famous during a speech on Super Tuesday in 2008. Quoting the poet June Jordan he said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” At the time, he was criticized for this turn of phrase. It was called messianic, and self-congratulatory. Andrew Sullivan noted then that “The point is surely that we shouldn’t wait for someone else to save us, or lift us up, or fix our problems or address our fate. We are the only ones who can do this.” That also means “we’re responsible for our own failure.” We see much, want to control outcomes, then blame ourselves or others when we fall short. We hold on and don’t know how to let go, how to turn it around.

September eleventh remains a point of wounding, instead of a place where healing can occur in relation to everything that happened that day. Like every child that falls, we were stunned. We wanted to wail. Instead, we put up a front. We wanted to show strength in the face of trauma. In wanting to present well to the rest of the world, we tied ourselves to our wound.

Thinking in relation, means thinking differently about who we are. We’re used to being part of communities that are born from boundaries, and differences. My family. My town. My country. It’s a way of thinking that separates, and leads to statements like, “you’re either for us, or against us.” That phrasing isn’t just one that comes into play when terror strikes. It’s what happens when we yell at kids, for setting foot in our yards. It happens in our homes, when we decide that an either or ultimatum is the only solution to the behavioral matter of the moment.

What if we let go of the way we’re wedded to good and bad? Us and them? Red state, and blue? If we stop judging and start joining, perhaps we can quiet the voice telling us we have failed again. That we are not good enough. A voice that leaves us to “have to walk on [our] knees / For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”

Letting go, we might just realize that to find the way through “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

In standing back and letting her child run, my friend Karen was brilliant. I wonder if she sees it that way? After all, you can look at what happened and say, “she let him fall.” I know she didn’t let him fall. What she did was let him run. She could have run with him from the start. She didn’t. That’s Karen opening up “what’s next” to a world of possibility. In this case her son, falling, and our conversation. If she had run with him from the beginning, our conversation would never have taken place. If she and I had not spoken today, you would not be reading these words. Vulnerability is the secret that helps us turn things around. It’s the thing that always works. Not because it is impossible for others to resist. It always works because being vulnerable changes who we are.

Brené Brown says, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make….Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

Being vulnerable is what happens when we let ourselves be caught up in our mother’s arms. It’s the way we move through from being wounded, to healing, and finding ourselves whole, you with me, together, as we 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

Too Soon.

My friend Rico was killed last week. The trouble I have writing the word murdered, speaks to the tenderness of the wound. He was thirty. In calling him my friend, I’m being generous to myself. It is how he made me feel.

Though he only lived a few blocks from me, I only saw him on school days, as I dropped off or picked up Sweets. He was never too busy to say hello, and often extended his hand for a complex four stage hand shake that I never got right. I was often self-conscious of my inability to make each move. It didn’t matter to him, it was part of the way he welcomed people. That’s what stays with me.

Rico didn’t know it, but he was one of my role models for being welcoming. The most important and precious lesson he taught me, again and again, was the importance of welcoming everyone, always. What did I do to merit the handshake, his smile, and the less frequent hug? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Yesterday afternoon, I asked Sweets if she wanted to go to the viewing. She said no, she didn’t want to go. She knew who Rico was, and knows his eldest daughter, who is also ten. “She’s not really my friend, Dad.” “I know,” I said. “I never saw him outside of school, either. Still, it’s important to go. You know what it’s like to almost lose a parent. Do you remember that?” She cast her eyes downwards. “His kids are  Dilworth kids, just like you. Dilworth isn’t just your school, it’s a community. When things like this happen, we come together. That’s one of the most important things people do, supporting each other when they’re hurting.” She looked up and let me know with her eyes that I was pushing a little too hard. A knock at the door signaled her moms arrival. She picked her up, and continued a similar version of the same conversation as they made their way home.

Later, at the viewing, I felt a tap on my shoulder. She’d come with her mom, after all. “I’m glad you’re here” I said to her. “It means a lot. To me, to the family, and everyone that we both don’t know that’s here.” “Yeah, and that’s just about everyone.” I laughed. “It is. These are people who loved him, and only some of them, and we don’t know any of them! They don’t know us, either. We’re letting them know that this person they loved, touched people they had no idea he knew. That’s a blessing for all of us, and a tribute to the nice guy he was.” We chatted with a few folks, and sat for a while before leaving.

Rico leaves behind three children, the youngest of whom is in kindergarten. The school is taking a collection for the Cooper family, for after-school care, uniforms, and the like. If you’re inclined, you can send a check to Dilworth Traditional Academy, at 6200 Stanton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206. On the memo put “Cooper Family Fund.” Thanks.

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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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Lent’s Compass. Day 17: Bonfires and Grace.

Fire By Fire

My son goes down in the orchard to incinerate
Burning the day’s trash, the accumulation
Of old letters, empty toilet paper rolls, a paper plate,
Marketing lists, discarded manuscript, on occasion
Used cartons of bird seed, dog biscuit. The fire
Rises and sinks; he stirs the ashes till the flames expire.

Burn, too, old sins, bedraggled virtues, tarnished
Dreams, remembered unrealities, the gross
Should-haves, would-haves, the unvarnished
Errors of the day, burn, burn the loss
Of intentions, recurring failures, turn
Them all to ash. Incinerate the dross. Burn. Burn.

~ Madeleine L’Engle The Weather of the Heart, p. 49.

The following story is excerpted from Robert Fulghum’s blog. The entry is dated March 8, 2011. Fulghum’s inner bonfire pairs nicely with L’Engles.

When I was a high school senior I smoked a cigar at school.
In the chemistry lab.
Lit it with a Bunsen burner.
And tried covering the smell by mixing up a batch of stinky chemicals.
The toxic orange smoke triggered the emergency fire alarms.
Students, teachers, and staff trooped out into playgrounds and parking lots.
Fire trucks appeared with sirens blaring.

Later, the principal used the public address system to call for information on who had been smoking a cigar in the chemistry lab.
Goodtime Bobby Fulghum played it cool and kept his mouth shut.

Wow! Wonder who the idiot was who would do something like that?

But word always gets around.
The look on the chemistry teacher’s face said she knew who the Who was.
But she didn’t say anything to me.
And neither did the principal, Mr. Ware.

Mr. Ware, a tall dignified man, was one of the finest men in our community.
Much respected by students, faculty, parents, and even students.
He addressed us with equal respect: Mr. Fulghum, Miss Brown.
Nobody wanted his disapproval.

But now I had single-handedly caused an all-out fire drill. Bad.
And didn’t own up to the truth when asked. Worse.
A crime and a cover-up.
But . . . somehow . . . I knew he knew.
And I was sure that he knew that I knew that he knew.
Because he always seemed to know about these things.

Next stop for Goodtime Bobby would surely be the principal’s office.

But a week went by without a summons to appear.
Meanwhile I began to beat myself up for what I had done.
There might have been an explosion.
The school might have burned down.
People could have been hurt, maimed, killed.
And I am such a gutless creep I won’t own up or apologize.
I deserve to be expelled, turned over to the police, beaten, branded, jailed.
I am thoughtless, stupid, worthless, a criminal loser.

It was a long, long week – and I hardly slept or ate.
When my parents asked what was wrong with me, I kept the lie alive.
Oh, nothing . . .

On Friday morning there was an envelope in my locker.
Inside on official school stationary was a handwritten note from Mr. Ware.
Mr. Fulghum, would you please stop by my office today?
Doomsday.
The end had come.

Reporting to his office, I sat in the waiting room for an eternity.
Rehearsing my confession, my apology, and my plea for mercy.

Finally, his door opened.
Hello Mr. Fulghum, please come in.
He shook my hand in greeting and offered me a chair.
He asked how I was and if I had been doing any thinking this week.
Well, yes, actually I had.
And I threw up the whole mess in a non-stop monologue – confessed what I had done, admitted how dangerous my actions were, and even suggested the severe punishment I deserved.
Finally I ran out of words and choked up with tears.

There was a painfully long silence before he smiled and spoke.
Mr. Fulghum, I respect you and the way you think.
Thanks for stopping by.

No lecture about crime and punishment.
No moralizing.
Just courtesy and respect.
Thanks for stopping by.

As I rose to leave, he said – and I still remember his words spoken to me fifty-six years ago:
By the way, Mr. Fulghum, it doesn’t matter what I or anybody else thinks about you and what you do. What you think about you is all that really counts. Think the best.

That’s all he had wanted to know – what I thought of me.
He chose to think well of me, and left the rest in my hands.
With an act of grace he resolved my disgrace.

I never forgot. . .

When Mr. Ware retired many years later, I sent him a box of cigars.