This week I received news that someone I love is near death’s door.
Like the earthquakes in California this past week; you think you are prepared. There’s even an alert app for your phone.
And yet, your world is visibly shaken.
Living with our own “quakes”, the vulnerability and woundedness can be unnerving. And saying goodbye is hard. Whatever you want to say, the words don’t seem to come out right. (Somehow, even in brokenness, we still think we need to get it perfect, as if there’s a test to pass.)
As it happens, this week I had picked up a book from Goodwill. Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart. Second hand and inscribed, it read, “To Katie. Because things sometimes fall apart. Aunt Heather.” I don’t know Katie or Aunt Heather, but now I’m grateful to them both.
Pema speaks of the great need for maitri (loving-kindness toward oneself), and developing from that the awakening of a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others. Not afraid of groundlessness (when life feels unsettled and up in the air). But of course, this messes with our assumption about the need for a well-polished self-image based on tidiness and getting stuff settled.
I’ve been pondering the phrase, “at death’s door” (which dates to the 1500s) and the power of facing and crossing thresholds in our life.
We come to variations of thresholds daily. Or often, they come to us—requiring choice, intention, commitment. Mostly, presence.
Sometimes we are ready. Sometimes, we are not.
The sticky wicket is the load of expectations I carry (lug about), telling me who I should be, or how I should act, as if life is performance art for an audience, I can’t even name.
It’s as if we are afraid to know that even in the chaos, we are enough. Parker Palmer reminds us that “wholeness” does not mean perfection. “It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
Here’s the deal: Crossing thresholds without all the answers is okay. We can learn to trust the sufficiency and strength in our capacity to lean into the moment, befriending our brokenness, sadness and our fear. And I am certain they need a friend, too.
Even as I write this Sabbath Moment, there is the tug to get it spot-on. We need the permission, at any threshold, to know that it’s not brokenness or uncertainty that we must discard, it’s the load of burdens, agitations, and distractions which might get in the way of being truly present to ourselves. And to God. Maybe decluttering can begin there?
Many thresholds are mini-deaths, because of what we will lose, or think we will lose.Because we don’t see the self underneath that “loss”. We don’t see the wholeness, even in the brokenness. I see this in my own fight with depression. And I cede the narrative of the threshold when I see only who I’ve lost, and not who I have gained—the self to be embraced, loved on and leaned into.
Embracing that brokenness, I touch the tenderness that is within the threshold. That tenderness is the soil for compassion and empathy. When my wounds cease to be a source of shame and self-rejection to be hid from the world, I can own and share them (put them to some good use besides grievance and self-pity, the first cousins of social media). I become a wounded healer. (Thank you Jon Katz)
My friend Phil Volker has been writing about Cancer (and thresholds, receiving his “death’s door notice” from his doctor some years ago). “I may very well die in the process but dying is not defeat; not living is defeat… Cancer patients can get wrapped up in hopes of cures to a frenzied degree. And to be finally faced with death and then feeling that cancer defeated them. This is so common. The point to me is to do what one can in the curing department, but to balance that with living life. We all have a unique life to live, for ourselves, our family, our neighborhood, for God. To miss out on our life is tragic and is the real defeat. Let’s not miss the joy loves, Felipé.”
I had my own health jolt last month, a re-visitation of Polymyalgia Rheumatica (I think the translation is, “Everything hurts. A lot.”).
This week I met my new rheumatologist. Her name, Dr. Uche. I asked about the origin. She told me her whole first name is Uchechukuiu.
“That’s lovely,” I told her. “What does it mean?”
She said, “In the Nigerian Igbo language, it means God’s Will.”
I smiled. “I’m glad you’re my doctor,” I told her.
Here’s what I know.
One. Einstein was right. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” So, today, I’ll rip up this perfection script I’ve been carrying.
Two. Everyone has battles to fight and thresholds to cross, most of them far more trying than mine.
Three. “The truth is, indeed, that love is the threshold of another universe,” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. To a universe where compassion invites us to cry out, to stand with those in misery, to comfort those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears, and comfort those who are frightened. To be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, powerless with the powerless.
Four. Thresholds call for wisdom; Winnie the Pooh.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
“A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen.”
This past week, tourists from around the world flocked to South America to witness a total eclipse of the sun darken the heavens over Chile and Argentina. Scientists gathered. I loved this comment to the question, “Will they be doing scientific research?” “Yes. If they’re able to quit gawking, research will take place.”
Last night a couple checked into our Airbnb studio. Garbed in tux and wedding dress. I didn’t know. They had come to Vashon for their honeymoon. A wonderful reminder that thresholds offer hope.
Did you see our US women’s team win their fourth World Cup title? This one was a treat to watch. My. Oh. My.
Quote for your week…
You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope. Thomas Merton
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Today’s photo credit — Terry, thought you might like this beach shot of the gorgeous sun streaming down just like I imagine God looking down on us. Hammonasset Beach, Madison CT,Barbara Shulman-Kirwin… thank you Barbara… keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the mailbag…
–Hope that your 4th was blessed on the island. Because of you, I asked my wife to gift a copy of Mary Oliver’s “A Thousand Mornings” for Christmas. Actually read the entire book resting in the jacuzzi with a margarita yesterday and the minute I read the poem on page 7 I realized that Oliver knew you well. The poem “If I Were (a Sufi)” on page 11 is you as well. Enjoy the dance, Jack
–Terry I just celebrated my 1 year anniversary as an ordained minister! One of my pleasures is as Chaplin for our parish women’s group. I would love to use SM with the questions for my ministry. Thank you and may God bless you for all you do. Casey
–Happy Summer Terry. You can be sure that, if I weren’t clear across the continent, I would stop over to soul garden with you in person for sure. My city garden is limited to a houseplant granddaughter Maya gave me. Meanwhile, thank you for your messages from another lifestyle. I am continually delighted by them, as much so as if they’d drifted to me in a bottle, from Puget Sound to the East River shore 3 blocks away. Delighted and grateful. Love and Blessings. Alice
–Hi Terry, I always enjoy your SM emails and enjoyed hearing you at a singles retreat in Arkansas years ago. Please add me to your list to receive your discussion questions. I taught the Power of Pause to my Sunday school class and recommend it to my private counseling clients. One comment on today’s article: baby elephants were also beaten by Ringling Brothers circus. Thank goodness that has changed—although other circuses continue that inhumane treatment. I understood your metaphor but had to speak for the elephants. They are more intelligent perhaps than we are as they would break free if they didn’t fear the reality of the beating. Thanks, Sharon
–Hi Terry, another awesome Sabbath Moment, loved the story of the elephants and the monks. Savor your summer days… say no to the small rope, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you, raise a glass to wholeheartedness and compassion, and spill your light. Especially loved this phrase, what a beautiful image for life. Thanks again, Donna
–Dear Terry, We met many years ago now when you gave an amazing weekend Retreat at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fremont, California. You have a special place in my heart. Thank you for what you do and who you are! I recently saw a documentary narrated by Lily Tomlin, the title is An Apology to Elephants. I tell everyone about this film because we humans need to know their story. When able, please, do watch it Terry. The story will reveal to you why they don’t break away from a small rope. Their spirit has been brutally broken by their human trainers. I need to warn you, it is heartbreaking to watch but necessary for our evolution. Sending you Unbounded Love, Isabel
–Hi Terry, I would love to receive your reflection questions and exercises. I don’t have a group to use them with but so want to. I am a retired Catholic school Principal, follower of Richard Rohr and fairly new spiritual director. Your Monday emails have spoke to me every week and so often as a direct arrow or sweet message from my beloved. Thank You for your ministry. Gloria
–That is NOT the story I heard about elephant training. I heard it was a brutally heavy chain. Cruel and evil…punishment. Claudia
–Thanks, Terry, I need God’s wardrobe! Mostly, kindness and compassion.. thank you so much for this.. I’m enjoying the beautiful mountains of Brevard NC and my beautiful granddaughters! I pinch myself every day when I wake, and give thanks for my time here.. it’s a huge blessing.. Catherine
POEMS AND PRAYERS
And Lord, it took me back to something that I’d lost
Somewhere, somehow along the way.
Kris Kristofferson, Sunday Morning Coming Down
If I Were
There are lots of ways to dance and
to spin, sometimes it just starts my
feet first then my entire body, I am
spinning no one can see it but it is
happening. I am so glad to be alive,
I am so glad to be loving and loved.
Even if I were close to the finish,
even if I were at my final breath, I
would be here to take a stand, bereft
of such astonishments, but for them.
If I were a Sufi for sure I would be
one of the spinning kind.
A Thousand Mornings
What Cancer Cannot Do
Cancer is so limited….
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.