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Leaning in…

March 17, 2012

I was listening to a Hazelden webinar on adolescent suicide.  The presenter talked about the importance of engaging the suicidal teen, encouraging them to talk.  She identified the three most important words to say when you’re the one being told, “Sometimes I feel like killing myself.”  What were the words she thought had such power to connect? “Tell me more.”  Three small words with the potential to change the course of a person’s life.

“Tell me more.”  Three words that invite someone to share their pain and confusion.  Why are those words so often left unspoken?  Perhaps because encouraging someone to hand us their pain may be the right thing to do, but it is rarely the easy thing to do.   In fact the willingness to stand and hold another’s pain often leaves us facing our own discomfort.

“Tell me more.”  I replayed those three words as I went about my day.  I thought about how they fit other situations.  How powerful those words could be with those who grieve.  How in the midst of grief we long for someone to ask us to tell them more about who and what we have lost.  How holding the pain of someone else’s loss feels uncertain and uncomfortable, and so we hold back.

I was still chewing on the benefit and difficulty of “Tell me more”, when my weekly dose of Modern Family came on.  It is Phil Dunphy’s favorite day, leap day.  He has big plans to do something out of the ordinary to celebrate.  But as the day continues, things begin to fall apart.  Phil pulls the two boys, Luke and Manny aside in an attempt to salvage their celebration.  He leans toward them and says in a low, somber voice, “I have a plan.”  The boys just stand there.  Phil adds, “It’s kind of traditional to lean in when someone says they have a plan.”  Both boys immediately lean into the circle.  No hesitation. Focused.

That’s when it came to me.  What Phil Dunphy had to say was important.  And when someone has something important to say, we need to lean in.  To lean in and embrace what is being said, giving the words, the feelings, and the person our presence. Perhaps no territory feels more uncertain and overwhelming than the landscape of grief and loss.  When we find ourselves in the presence of wounded travelers and their story, needing to lean in, our first impulse may be to just stand there.  Sometimes we even step away.

Forty five years ago, John Drakeford wrote a book titled, The Awesome Power of the Listening Ear.  It was a book about the “power of simply listening to others”.  I think Drakeford’s intent was to help us push past discomfort to a place of leaning in.  A place of inviting others to tell us their stories.  What if in the presence of grief and loss, we begin to lean in, and quietly say “Tell me more.”

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.” ~ George Eliot

Kindness plus one…

March 14, 2012

I don’t know Ryan Garcia.  But, Ryan Garcia is my hero.  He’s not my hero because of his work.  He’s not my hero because he lives in Chicago, even though I love the windy city.  He is my hero because of what he chooses to do every day.  Ryan Garcia is a bright light in a world of anger, cruelty, and disregard.  In a world where the daily news is filled with caustic campaign rhetoric, sports figures getting a bonus for purposefully injuring an opponent, and soldiers are slitting the throats of 12 year olds, Ryan Garcia is a quiet, steady force of goodness moving through each day.

Ryan and his wife gave birth to a daughter in 2011.  As the new year approached, Ryan observed, “My daughter is 3 months old.  She is starting to become more and more aware of her surroundings.”  He thought about who he wanted to be as he lived out 2012,  in front of his little girl.  That’s when the idea came to him,…366 Random Acts of Kindness.  One act of kindness for every day of the upcoming leap year.  He began a blog to record his journey, writing, “I just hope that she can see this in the future and try and emulate it.”

For the last 75 days, Ryan Garcia hasn’t missed a day of choosing to do an act of kindness.  He has handed out free hugs on a Chicago street, written a letter to a soldier in Afghanistan, complimented 25 strangers, and cleared the snow off all the cars on his block after a snow storm.

He thought about suspending his plan on Day 61, when his father-in-law died unexpectedly.  Then he remembered the caring and compassionate man his father-in-law was, and knew that one of the best ways to honor him was to continue.  So he extended acts of kindness as he comforted his family, helped with household chores for his mother-in-law, and wrote his father-in-law’s obituary.

I hope it is now no mystery why I think Ryan Garcia is a hero.  He is giving the best gift a father can give to a daughter,…a sure and steady path to follow, and a clear picture of what a good man looks like.  And who knows how many of us will be changed by his giving.  Thank you, Ryan Garcia.

What the gardener sows

March 5, 2012

“More grows in the garden than the gardener sows.”…Old Spanish Proverb

I went to their resting place,…

February 27, 2012

Carol at Carol Wiebe Wonders Out Loud, asked me not long ago if I ever wrote poetry.  I told her I did occasionally.  So Carol, here is one from a long time back.  I chose to post it now to add to the ongoing conversation about loss and grief.  Thanks for asking, Carol.  I look forward to seeing where your thoughts on shared mourning “artfully” take you.


Shared Mourning

Not planning to go, but
Drawn there just the same
I went to their
Resting place, and
You stayed by me.

I walked among grey stones
Under grey skies leaving my
Burden in shallow graves of
Sunken footsteps in the
Rain soaked ground, and
You walked with me.

Their stories came not in the
Rushing torrent of new grief but
Slowly, gently, quietly as a
Stream, small but sure, flows
Always toward its rest; I
Spoke with quiet grief, and
You heard me.

Silence settled softly on me,
Around me, with gentle tears
Raining down from grieving sky.
My sorrow cradled in your eyes, I
Remembered those who sleep.
You held my silence.

Shoulders touching, we sat each
Alone, yet bound by strong,
Unspoken words of grief and
Joy for those we love.
Comfort came in our shared mourning.

Run, laugh, and lollygag…

February 25, 2012

I grew up in a moderately large city.  I learned to allow for travel time when going from one side of the city to the other.  I have now lived nearly half my life in a small town.  All these years of small town life and I’m still tripping over the false belief that you can get from any point to another in a matter of minutes. This misconception means I sometimes feel a “beat the clock” anxiety in the car on the way to my destination.

On this particular morning I left my house, driving purposefully, hoping to arrive on time.  I entered the school zone, slowing to 25 mph.  I proceeded slowly, up the hill, toward the school crossing.  I hoped to escape the zone with no unnecessary delays and continue on my way.  I saw the crossing guard boldly step into the street.  Taking ownership with her red octagon held high, she stopped us in our tracks.  It took a second to see the two small children approaching the crossing.  Maybe second and third grade.  A girl and a boy, perhaps big sister, little brother.

The crossing guard smiled as the girl dutifully, and quickly, crossed the street.  “Good job!”, I thought as we waited for the little boy to complete the crossing task.  The little boy was taking his own sweet time. My frustration rose.  Then my best self started the conversation.  “Of course you wouldn’t want to wait for a child.”  “Children are to be dismissed, rushed past, redirected.”  They run when we try to hold them back. Embarrass us with their over the top exuberance.  They lollygag when time is of the essence.  What are we to do?  Maybe follow their lead.


On Friday morning, January 12, 2007, Joshua Bell took his violin in hand.  Leaning against the wall, near a trash can, he played six of the most exquisite classical musical compositions.  His violin case lay open at his feet for any charitable gift from a willing listener.  Mr. Bell was playing where many other street musicians had played.  He was at the L’Enfant Station Plaza of the Washington, D.C. Metro subway.

Something distinguished Joshua bell from other street musicians.  Mr. Bell was a world renowned violinist, playing on his rare Stradivarius, as part of an experiment suggested by the Washington Post. The question?  “What would happen if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?”

For nearly 45 minutes, Mr. Bell played, and a video camera recorded the event.  This musical prodigy played, largely ignored, as 1097 people walked by on their way to somewhere else.  The Washington Post writer summed up the “audience” with these words.

“There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”  (Pearls Before Breakfast, Gene Weingarten, Washington Post Staff Writer)

The first child that was drawn to the sound of Joseph Bell’s violin was a three year old named Evan.  When his mother found out what she had pulled him away from, she laughed and said  “Evan is very smart.”  Little wonder that the outcome of the test led the writer to note,

“The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.”

I dare you to let a little child lead you back to life.
Consider adding these childlike moments to your day.

               Run for no good reason.

Embrace over-the-top exuberance.

Lollygag when you feel the
stress of your day mounting.

Then, find a child and say,

Thank you!

Read Gene Weingarten’s entire Washington Post article, Pearls Before Breakfast.  It’s a beautifully written, insightful commentary.  The video of Joshua Bell’s performance is embedded in the article.

The times they are a-changin’

February 22, 2012

“Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.” ~ Bob Dylan

Parting the water…

February 20, 2012

“I fish better with a lit cigar; some people fish better with talent.” ~ Nick Lyons, Bright Rivers, 1977

My dad loved to fish.  I can close my eyes and see him sitting in his boat with a big “stogie” in his mouth and his fishing line in the water, waiting for a bite.  I can smell the pungent cigar smoke and the fishy lake water.  I can hear the water lapping against the side of the boat.  I can feel the hard seat of the boat, and see my dad’s hands letting line out, reeling in, rhythmic whether the action was fast or slow.

At least one of those memories includes a trot line.  We were sitting in the boat, waiting.  I became aware of another fishing boat moving slowly toward us.  They were checking their trot line.  One of the men would reach into the water, pulling the line up out of the water, into the air, to check that hook for fish. Even though he was only checking that hook, I could see other hooks rising out of the water.  At descending heights, all connected by the wire that spanned a section of the lake.

It was a simple and beautiful sight, that line of hooks.  Each rising in its turn out of the water as the fisherman held the one hook he was checking high in the air.  There was the light reflecting off each hook.  The water parting like a small miracle as each hook emerged.  Droplets stretching from each hook until they let go, falling back into the lake.

At some point in the loss experiences of adulthood, I remembered that trot line, and realized how much it was like the presence of grief in our lives.  All those losses put to rest below the surface, pulled up through the waters of our heart by today’s grief.  Grief upon grief, as though this day’s sorrow alone is not enough. And so it goes with grief and loss.  A line connecting past and present.  Pulling other hooks into the air to be held again, felt again, lost again.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between this side of death and the other, is that death is an event. Living is a process.  A process that changes us through an unpredictable mixture of joy and sorrow.  The process of becoming in this life can be complicated and messy.  Sometimes losses happen too close together and joys seem few and far between.  Isn’t it ironic that part of how we learn to live through loss is that we lost, and did not die.  That our ability to feel the depth of our joy is its contrast to the loss that preceded it.

“If you ain’t got no pain in your life, how would you even know when you was happy.” ~ Black in Cormac McCarthy’s  Sunset Unlimited

The Lazy A

February 16, 2012

This old farm feels like a long lost friend

Oh! dear old barn, where my childish days
Were passed full oft, how I long to be
Only a child again, to play
Beneath thy roof with the old-time glee!

   From The Old Barn, by Mary Dow Brine (1816-1913)

The inconvenience of truth…

February 15, 2012

I do most of my radio story listening in the car.  I hear bite size sound spurts while going to and from work, running errands, or some other quick trip reason.  Sound bite stories can be frustrating if you want the whole story.  Sound bites stories can be great, if what you love is the seed they plant that sends your mind chasing after ideas.  One of my sound bite seeds came several months ago while listening to “The Takeaway” interview with Ted Danson.

The part I heard introduced me to Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do To Save Them, a book co-authored by Danson.  I was listening,…sort of, knowing the story would be interrupted by me getting out of the car.  As I pulled into a parking place, I heard the host refer to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  I was out of the car, but the seed of “an inconvenient truth” had been planted.  An inconvenient truth.  I began to think about the dilemma of what to do with truth that is inconvenient.  We’re used to hearing about the inconvenient truth of climate change and environmental concerns.  Are there other inconvenient truths?  What makes a truth inconvenient anyway?  That it’s difficult, or unpleasant?

That’s when it dawned on me that the main thing that makes a truth inconvenient, is that it is true.  That in fact, much of the truth that matters in this world is terribly inconvenient, and that it usually involves change.  A changing world.  Changes we need to make.  Accepting change in someone or something else.  Truth often asks us to take a stand, in spite of great cost. It doesn’t get much more inconvenient than that.  The possibilities are ever “changing”.  When I think about it,…

  • It’s inconvenient to discover the truth that being a parent means setting limits.
  • It’s inconvenient to balance the hard and soft jobs of parenting, when our kids think we’re great, and when they don’t like us.
  • It’s inconvenient that relationships stretch us, scrutinize us, call us to grow.
  • It’s inconvenient to do what we said we would do, to be who we said we would be.
  • It’s inconvenient to be criticized, sometimes for doing the right thing.
  • It’s inconvenient to look at the impact our choices have on other people, places, and things,… and perhaps redecide.

We can focus on avoiding and escaping these small and large inconveniences…but we can’t escape the fact that inconvenience doesn’t make truth any less true.  Anyway you spin it, truth can be real inconvenient.  What is the most inconvenient truth in your lesson plan today?

“Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” — Winston Churchill

Valentine’s Day and the other 364…

February 14, 2012

I don’t know how true it is in other countries, but in the United States we are big on Valentine’s Day.  You only have to walk in any store by the first of February to witness our commitment to this heart felt day of expressing our love for the important people in our lives.  Aisles and displays of stuffed animals, boxes of candy, flowers, in a million shades of red and pink.  Valentine’s Day is all about love and loving.

So why would anyone want to cast a shadow on this day of love by bringing up domestic violence?  Maybe because no matter how much we love this one day, I want to know about the other 364 days of the year. We have a problem 364 days of the year.  Actually it is such a big problem that it happens on this special day of love too.  We have a serious problem with domestic violence.  We are violent toward those we say we love.  We hurt each other in private, in public, and in front of our children.  We see cuts and bruises and we keep our silence.

The Makers of Memories Foundation have identified:

Top 10 Alarming Facts About How Domestic Violence Impacts Kids
1. 63% of all boys, age 11-20, who commit murder kill the man who was abusing their mother
2. 75% of boys who are present when their mothers are beaten were later identified as having demonstrable behavior problems
3. Children from homes characterized by domestic violence are five to seven times more likely to experience significant psychological problems relative to children in the general population.
4. Domestic violence exposed children are four times more likely to visit the school nurse.
5. More than half of school age children in domestic violence shelters show clinical levels of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
6. Researchers have linked exposure to chronic abuse and violence with lower IQ scores, poorer language skills, decrements in visual-motor integration skills and problems with attention and memory.
7. Cognitive problems associated with exposure to violence and abuse comprises one of the most direct threats to the developmental task of school adaptation and academic achievement.  Read the complete article…

Make this the most loving and significant
Valentine’s Day ever.
Love responsibly.
Find your voice.
Speak out
Against domestic violence.

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