An eleven-year-old girl lived with her grandmother. Labeled “different,” adjustment to school was not easy. Her mother was not a reliable presence. As if life is not tough enough, her father had been recently killed. She knew him only vaguely, but not well and had not seen him in some time.
In late October her school celebrated Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), the day to build private altars honoring the deceased; using sugar skulls, marigolds, and their favorite foods and beverages; a time for visiting graves with these gifts.
“What does it mean,” the little girl asked a woman who volunteered at her school.
“It’s a three day window of time when our ancestors who have died can come back. And we leave gifts for them.”
The girl paused, “You mean, like my Dad?”
“Yes,” answered the woman, “like your Dad.”
“I get to keep his wallet,” she said, her gladness unreserved. And then added, “I’m keeping the $60 that was in it.” She paused, “Because he touched it.”
“Life is difficult,” Scott Peck’s Road Less Traveled begins.
And even when we’ve finally gotten our “act together,” or risk love or passion or delight or caring of any kind, we can break or fracture in the hidden places of our heart.
What do we do?
I am drawn to this story Henri Nouwen tells about his time with the community at L’Arche…
There is one of my friends who is quite handicapped but a wonderful, wonderful lady.
She said to me, “Henri, can you bless me?”
I remember walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead.
She said, “Henri, it doesn’t work. No, that is not what I mean.”
I was embarrassed and said, “I gave you a blessing.”
She said, “No, I want to be blessed.”
I kept thinking, “What does she mean?”
We had a little service and all these people were sitting there.
After the service I said, “Janet wants a blessing.” I had an alb on and a long robe with long sleeves.Janet walked up to me and said, “I want to be blessed.” She put her head against my chest and I spontaneously put my arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, “Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are.”
She looked at me and said, “Yes, yes, yes, I know.” I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her. She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed. She went back to her place and immediately other people said, “I want that kind of blessing, too.”
I do too.
I’m keeping it, said the little girl, because he touched it. A good translation? I’m keeping it… because he blessed it.
Here’s the deal: This blessing is not apart from our broken and troubled lives. And we pass this blessing on to one another, even from our splintered and imperfect selves. No, I can’t tell someone what to do about his or her 115 problems, but maybe I can give a hug. And in that hug is a blessing. (It makes sense to me that the word salvation, from the Latin “salve,” means a balm or ointment to heal.)
I think it is very important that when we are in touch with our
blessedness, that we can then bless other people. Henri Nouwen
When my daughter was seven years old, says artist Howard Ikemoto, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at a college, that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”
It’s easy to lose, isn’t it? Easy to lose what it means to be touched, to be loved, to be held, to be important… to be blessed.
We are broken people. You and I know that we are broken. A lot of our brokenness has to do with relationships. If you ask me what it is that makes us suffer, it is always because someone couldn’t hold onto us or someone hurt us. I know each of us can point to a brokenness in our relationships with our husband, with our wife, with our father, our mother, with our children, with our friends, with our lovers.
Wherever there is love, there is also pain.
Wherever there are people who really care for us, there is also the pain of sometimes not being cared for… enough. That is enormous.
Or sometimes it is about getting rid of those parts of us that feel inauthentic or false. It is the currency for life and love.
But let’s be honest. We miss one another… we miss opportunities to connect, or opportunities to love and to touch. But here’s the part that befuddles me. So often when we do touch (or are blessed)–and it does happen very often–we don’t see it.
Charles Francis Adams, the 19th century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: “Went fishing with my son today–a day wasted.” Part of his diary was included in his biography when he died.
His son, Brook Adams, read his father’s biography. And it triggered a memory. He also kept a diary. He found it and looked for the corresponding day, where he made this entry: “Went fishing with my father today–had the greatest day of my life!”
I don’t want to give the father grief. We have plenty of regrets already. But it’s amazing how many of the little things really do matter. How many of the little things really do touch us. How many of the little things really do bless us. While the father thought he was wasting his time fishing with his son, his son experienced only delight and elation.
After you had
taken your leave,
I found God’s footprints
on my floor.