Don’t make me cry, David.
I’m standing in front of the fresh cherries display at Sprouts, considering how many to buy while simultaneously pondering a brave new step in my life when I suddenly recognize the tune being piped in overhead.
It’s U2’s “With or Without You.”
Without warning, a familiar feeling floods me. The band U2 was one of David’s favorites. And this particular song has a special meaning for me. So many years ago, deep in the midst of my grief, I listened to that song over and over. It both consoled and pained me.
In my mind, I felt as though I couldn’t live without David. And yet I knew I would.
That was over nine years ago now and yet instantaneously David comes into my awareness. And, as if in recognition of the decision I’m about to make, his voice, gentle and strong from somewhere inside me, says:
“I’m proud of you, honey.”
I hear and feel this as clearly as if David were standing beside me, whispering these familiar words into my ear.
It takes all the effort I have to keep myself from crying right there in the middle of the produce aisle. And because I don’t want to look that vulnerable, my demanding voice says, ‘don’t make me cry.”
I manage to hold back the tears.
Somehow knowing he would leave this earth before I did, David tried to prepare me for his death. As if that were possible.
Mr. Serious. Mr. Practical. He even planned financially to take care of me and Davis after he’d be physically absent.
What I didn’t know was that he would take care of me emotionally in difficult, doubting moments that test my ability to fully love myself. Just by “reliving” and remembering his unconditional love for me.
He was the first person in my life to really see and accept me. The first to tell me how he appreciated my courage, my strength, my beauty, and my independence. It was such a gift. To have someone see me for who I truly am and not who they think I should be or want me to be.
It was his love and confidence in me that allowed me to declare not long after his death:
“I’m learning to let go of any attachment to what I thought my life would be and opening to limitless possibilities.”
And that desire, to live my life fully – no matter how different from what I’d planned – is what brought me to the border.
I am reminded of this as I live my life here and make choices that are countercultural. Choices that are not popular with my family and possibly further alienate me from them.
It’s not easy, to stand in my truth and keep my heart open in the face of old hurts, misguided assumptions, distorted perceptions that come at me. Whether it’s from strangers, or, most especially, from people I love.
Yet I believe God desperately wants us to keep loving and to know how unbelievably precious we are, how unconditionally loved we are, in the face of everything that comes at us. Sometimes the only way Love can do that is by sending us a message through someone who loves or has loved us that much.
For me, that person is David.
Complete vulnerability. That’s what David gave me. And that is what love asks of us.
We are meant to give ourselves away. And I know, in giving myself, I get so much more!
I am reminded of someone else who gave himself away for us. To show us the path of Love. To show us what is possible when you give it all away. And how transformational that is.
Love is the only answer in this crazy, confused, painful, joyful, fearful, beautiful, and insecure world. Love is the only power that will transform and save us.
And it waits for us to say “yes” to it.
“Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I’m waiting for you”
(Lyrics from “With or Without You”)
I had Davis to myself for nearly five days over the Christmas holiday. That has to be a first.
Usually, whenever he’s home, he has friends to catch up with, numerous social engagements to attend, and at least one overnighter at a best friend’s house. But I’m not in Virginia anymore.
Here in El Paso, he had nothing on his social calendar except visiting me.
Despite my glee, I wasn’t stingy with him. I didn’t hoard his attention. I shared him with El Paso.
After all, he was the first of my intimate circle of family and friends to visit, and I was anxious to show him around. To introduce him to life at the border and expose him to the people and places that mean so much to me. I wanted to give him the full effect.
And I hoped he would understand.
On Christmas Eve, his first day, we attended the annual Las Posadas and intimate Christmas Eve Mass and dinner at Annunciation House – a hospitality house for migrants and refugees that has been operating for 40 years in downtown El Paso. Entirely run on donations and volunteers, the building is old, but it’s filled with the precious hearts and stories of those who have passed through its doors.
This was Davis’s first Las Posadas. He didn’t seem to mind as we walked the street, knocking on doors, singing in Spanish – a language he doesn’t know. We followed a little girl posing as Mary, a lace shawl draped around her head, accompanied by her raggedy-dressed Joseph – both of them real-life refugees.
When we gathered back at Annunciation House, he didn’t seem to mind the peeling paint and cracked walls. Or that he had to stand during the service because there weren’t enough seats. He toured the house with one of the 20-something year-old volunteers who’ve made a year-long commitment to work and live here, and he asked thoughtful questions. He listened to fellow volunteers share stories about what this place means to them.
Then we ate a simple Christmas Eve meal of Posole, a traditional Mexican stew made with hominy, while sitting on a hard bench alongside refugees from the Congo, Guatemala, and Honduras. Davis even scrounged up the courage to practice his French with the African woman. Not knowing either English or Spanish, she had been silent until he engaged her in conversation.
The next morning at breakfast I asked what he thought about our unique Christmas Eve celebration.
Without hesitation, he said, “I can see God is present here.”
As he spoke of the volunteers’ commitment to the people, of all the “good” and the generosity he’d witnessed, my heart filled.
He’d seen what I’d wanted him to see. After only one day!
During the rest of his trip, in quiet moments, Davis asked questions about his dad. He wanted to remember the quirky aspects of David’s personality. Hear more about his father’s childhood and the early days of our marriage.
I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I became acutely aware of David’s presence in our conversations. I felt immense warmth and gratitude.
I never wanted Davis to suffer this loss at such a young age, in the middle of the most important stage of his relationship with his father. Yet I know he is wiser because of this experience. His life is richer, his insights deeper, his compassion more genuine.
It’s what enabled him to stand in this place at the border with me and see what I see. With an awareness and understanding that comes from the heart.
Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest who’s worked with gang members in LA for 30 years and wrote the best seller Tattoos on the Heart, spoke about this in a recent interview with Krista Tippett. He says that “standing in the lowly place with the easily despised and the readily left out,” he finds more joy, kinship, mutuality. He’s discovered that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship.”
Sometimes that kinship comes in the guise of wounds.
As one of Fr. Boyle’s homies, who’d been abused and beaten throughout his childhood, explained, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”
So, we have to welcome our wounds. These hurting places within us. And I think if we are not afraid to acknowledge them, and know that we are loved unconditionally in them, we will be better able to stand in that “lowly place” offering kinship to those whom society considers dismissible, disposable.
And we will see with different eyes. The eyes that saw what Davis saw in El Paso.
Sometimes I need to reground. Connect with my center again.
With all that’s been surfacing lately – within the world and within myself – I knew I needed a day away. I planned it for October 10th – my 36th wedding anniversary. A day when I feel especially held and embraced by love.
I knew I’d feel the spiritual support I needed.
I chose my favorite place – a Franciscan retreat center in New Mexico. A place with real wide-trunk trees and leaves that actually curled and floated to the ground, crunching underfoot, making me feel like fall has truly arrived.
It’s no Sevenoaks (in Madison, Virginia), but it’s probably as close I’ll get to it around here.
Why? Because I hear the invitation.
I hear an invitation to let go of “distractions,” like Martha in the Gospel story, distracted by so many things when only one thing matters.
The Divine invites my mind to rest. My heart to awaken. My soul to remember.
Only when I am still and my mind is silent can I remember who I am and whose I am.
Only then can I “hear” the voice of the Divine calling me “beloved.”
And from this place, I can reflect more easily on this heart of God. The heart that I’ve been asked to receive in that meditation. This heart of the world that bleeds for all, yet doesn’t die. This heart that never stops loving.
But in reflecting on this heart, I also hear another invitation. An invitation to let down my boundaries. The self-imposed ones I created to protect me, to keep me safe. I recognize them very clearly in this place. I see how they’re holding me back.
What if I cross these boundaries?
Is that the invitation I’m hearing now? To cross the boundaries that prevent me from knowing who I am eternally in God? Boundaries that prevent me from knowing myself “hidden with Christ in God forever”?
What if I then discover that we all belong to this Heart? That no one and nothing can exist apart from it? That we are never separated from the heart of God? Even when we’re unaware. Or we reject it. Or we think we don’t deserve it.
No one and nothing is excluded.
It’s one heart. And it’s the heart of the world.
I’ve created my own collage of this heart. Cutting out photos that cause strong reactions in me. Pasting these tiny pictures into a heart-shaped image. A sacred heart where everyone is included.
From innocent children to violent gang members. From poets to presidents. From Mexican immigrants to poverty-stricken Nigerians. From Jihab-wearing women to white supremacists. They all fit in this bleeding, bulging, beating heart.
It causes me to weep. And to soften, so that, ever so gently, I can move beyond my self-imposed boundaries. Into the very center of this sacred heart.
And I just may find that I wake up on the inside of understanding the intimate immediacy of the One who calls me “beloved.”
I needed to be held.
Difficult feelings had been arising in me well before I landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation last Sunday afternoon.
The previous day – Saturday, August 12 – I was driving back from Albuquerque, having spent the last four days at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. This was the beginning of my two-year journey under Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley. Master spiritual teachers, all of them. I was feeling excited and grateful.
I had slept fitfully every night since arriving.
Encountering what was showing up in me in the lessons and meditations had not been easy.
And as I drove the four hours back home to El Paso, something else was on my mind. Charlottesville – my former home, my community, my friends.
Keenly aware of the anxiety and trepidation that had been building in that city for weeks, even months, in anticipation of the alt right march planned to descend there on that day, I knew prayers were needed.
And I had been praying. Praying for love to prevail in the face of such hate and violence.
You could say I had a lot on my mind and heart.
But in the midst of my prayer, something else arose. The violence and hatred I was praying to heal out there was also in me. I suddenly recognized the violence I was perpetrating towards myself in response to what had been showing up in me.
It may have been subtle, but it was definitely present. The self-judgment. The self-rejection. The ways I was hurting myself through my erroneous thoughts and beliefs.
In that moment, I realized that it was only in acting with nonviolence towards myself that I could even begin to help heal the violence out there.
I needed to be with that painful realization. And to hold it with compassion.
But early the next morning I flew off to Hawaii without having the opportunity to venture into that painful place.
Yet I knew I would have to go there. One of the key teachings I’ve learned from Pathwork is that any difficult feeling must be fully felt before it can be transformed. Whether it’s hate, fear, grief, pain….
So, one morning I sit with that hate in my meditation.
As the feelings of hate increase, I feel my body grow tense and tighten up. I hear myself ask God, where were you? Where are you in this pain and hate?
And I believe that I must tense up to care for and protect myself. The hate feels too big.
I am deep in the middle of this growing, threatening force when suddenly the image of a beautiful, white Hibiscus emerges. Its delicate blossoms are surrounded by a sea of soft, green leaves that seem to expand as they enfold all the misery and pain and hatred that had surfaced.
And now everything is enfolded and held tenderly in the arms of this Source. A sea of Love.
Allowing this Love to hold my own hate softens my heart and, in turn, allows me to hold my darkest and most painful places with love, mercy, and compassion.
This is the place I needed to come to.
And I will need to return to again and again.
Because before I can stand against the darkness – and not come from a place of self-righteous certitude – I must be grounded in this love, vulnerable and aware of my own woundedness.
The darkness of the kind of hate we experienced in Charlottesville is, I believe, the pain of separation from this Love. Separation from the unconditional love of our Source.
As Rohr teaches, “The great illusion that we must all overcome is that of separateness.”
“Sin” is a symptom of separation, he says.
And yet the paradox is that we can never really be separated from God.
Here’s another paradox:
We are already whole and yet each of us is in need of healing.
And darkness must be revealed before it can be transformed by the light.
Before I left Hawaii, a hike at Volcanoes National Park gave me a great metaphor for what can emerge when what is percolating underground rises to the surface. Volcanic eruptions have created the most beautiful black sand beaches.
It’s just one example in nature.
All of this gives me hope that healing from the painful darkness we are seeing now is possible.
Because I know that love is trustworthy.
It is trustworthy. And it will prevail.