Caroline was very sad. Caroline was only six years old and her father had just died. In fact, her father had been assassinated.
Sitting in the back of big black limousine, Caroline Kennedy didn’t quite know what to do with her sadness. On the seat next to her sat her nanny, Maud Shaw, and next to Maud, Caroline’s younger brother John.
Through the windshield Caroline could see her mother, Jackie, and her uncles, Robert and Ted, walking in front of the limousine as it slowly made it’s way down the Boulevard to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
Looking out of her side of the car, Caroline recognized the friendly face of Secret Service agent, Robert Foster. She liked and trusted Robert Foster.
Not knowing what to do with her sadness, and on impulse, she rolled down the window and stuck out her six-year old hand. Agent Foster had a choice to make. Secret Service agents are not allowed to have their hands occupied, needing to be ready for any emergency. But Robert Foster didn’t even think twice. He held Caroline’s hand tightly the entire way to the cathedral.
Later, Agent Foster said it was all he could do to “fight back his own tears of sadness, for little Caroline Kennedy.”
When asked about his kindness, he seemed surprised, “All I did was hold a hand,” he answered.
We all know sadness. Life breaks for each one of us in different ways and in different places. And sometimes the sadness seems too much to carry.
It requires courage to roll down the window, to connect or ask or invite. For whatever reason, there is a knee-jerk need to deny any sadness, or dismiss it, or apologize for it. “I’m sorry,” people will say, wiping away their tears, as if their sadness is a violation of some tenet of propriety. Heaven forbid if any humanity is exposed.
So sometimes I am afraid to ask. Not sometimes; most times. I don’t want to appear weak. Asking for help is a hard pill to swallow.
I spent Saturday in Clearwater, Florida, with a group talking about intimacy and communication. (Yes, it is easier to talk about than to practice.)
Here’s what I told the group.
If we don’t bring it with us, we’re not going to find it there.
Which means intimacy–trust, vulnerability, authenticity, honesty–begins here.
With this me.
There’s the sticky wicket. Life only has meaning in particularity. With choices, commitments and necessary losses. We may not like what we see, we may close our eyes and shudder, or we may indignantly walk out of the theater and demand our money back, but to no avail. We begin here. And maybe, just maybe, we have a far greater capacity than we have ever given ourselves credit for.
Remember Pinocchio, who, while pondering himself, founders in confusion about his self-worth. Finally he turns to his maker Gepetto and in a pleading way says, “Pappa, I am not sure who I am. But if I’m all right with you, then I guess I’m all right with me.”
I was raised in a religious environment that taught me to eradicate my messiness (to quash my sadness or grief or untidiness).
I now believe differently.
I now know that we find and express acceptance, love and grace (the place where we can be fully human), in our messy, imperfect, and fully thorny selves. In other words: We can embrace this life–without any need to photoshop it.
To be human is to be vulnerable.
I am capable of being wounded and cut and sad… which also means that I am capable of being kind and generous and present.
In such moments of heartache, I can have the courage to ask for a hand to hold.
In such moments of heartache, I can have the courage to hold a hand the needs to be held.
Robert Foster didn’t think twice about holding a hand that needed to be held. And he wasn’t posturing or amassing heavenly brownie points. He was doing what needed to be done.
Here’s the deal: we don’t need more remedies or advice. We need more touch. We become more human when we touch.
Why? Because when we touch, we are seen.
And when we are seen, we recognize that our value is not tied solely to our sorrow.
So. This week, be on the lookout for slow moving limousines. You never know when you will see a hand that needs to be held.