The flood was several weeks ago, and I stopped by to see how things were going and went into Sykes’ grocery store (Ellen Gilchrist tells her story, just after Katrina). The proprietor told me about filling the sandbags, who all was there and who came to help and we discussed how resilient men and women are. Then she turned around. “Oh, look at this,” she said. A great mountain of a man was coming in the door. A beautiful tanned man with white hair leading or being led by two small children. The proprietor told me that the smallest one had been abused so badly he had to be in a full body cast for six months.
“That’s their foster father,” she said. “He’s got them now and they’re okay.”
They were beautiful children. They came into the store and got some candy and went to the back to find life preservers, as they were going out on a boat for a Sunday outing.
“Hold me,” the small child said, as soon as he saw me looking at him. I picked him up in my arms and held him there.
“We’re getting to adopt them in February,” the big fisherman said. “It’s all set.”
“Oh, that’s great,” the proprietor said, and for a moment I had a sense of sharing the community of Pass Manchac, a fishing village where people know each other and are involved in each other’s lives and stories.
Gilchrist continues, “I am haunted by these events. For many miles down the road, I was filled with a sense of elation. The story of mankind is not written in the occasional crazy parent who will harm his own child. The story of mankind is the big fisherman who comes along and sets things right… the physicians and surgeons and nurses in some emergency room who are working the night shift and are there when the broken child arrives and put him back together and the fisherman who gathers the child into his life and goes to work to love him and the proprietor who cleans up the store after the flood and sells a slightly mildewed tablet at half price to write this on.”
He’s got them now, and they’re okay.
I wish that were always so. But we know that it is not the case. Life can be unkind and cruel. And it is easy to only see, and pay attention, to the stories that don’t “work out.”
We need stories like the big fisherman. Healing balm stories, that go straight to the heart and feed the soul.
But, I’m replaying conversations I had this week with people about real life vicissitudes. About being overwhelmed and on edge. Stories to make our heart hurt. These are not stories to compare, as if one or the other is worse. There is no scale of sorrow. In each case, the person needed a listening ear, and a dose of unvarnished grace. And, maybe, the arms of a big fisherman.
I love the story of the big fisherman because it is an invitation to heal my scotoma. Scotoma is a form of selective blindness. It means that we see only what we want to see. And scotoma is no respecter of persons. Bottom line; we live stuck with a pre-determined script. About others. And about ourselves.
Scotoma makes me unable to see a Creator who loves me, approves of me and expects the best from me (to borrow a Walt Whitman phrase). And healing happens when I remember that shame (feeling unworthy or unwanted or discarded) does not need to be the final word.
I heal my scotoma about others and the world around me, knowing that when I hear stories I have a choice. (No, I do not close my eyes to the pain or the suffering. Nor should we ever.) I have a choice about seeing a deeper or more profound reality underneath the pain and the suffering. A story about brokenness, yes. But more importantly, where is the story about compassion and hope and redemption? And can that restoration and renewal begin with me?
I believe the answer is yes.
Asked about what looks like a distinct lack of compassion in human society, the Dalai Lama said: “Perhaps we just pay less attention to compassion and caring; we reinforce it less. Whereas in some sense, we fully embrace hostility and anger as an emotional state, fueling and reinforcing it. If we were to give the same amount of energy, attention, and reinforcement to compassion and caring, they would definitely be stronger.”
Ready for a simple scotoma test? Check out any FedEx truck (or their company logo). Got it? What do you see? I see FedEx in purple and orange. Okay. Look again. This time, pretend you cannot read. This time, you will see an arrow. Clearly, between the E and X. This is interesting, because studies done with illiterate persons show that they see the arrow first, every time.
We see what we want to see. So. How do my blinders come off?
It has something to do with letting go.
When we do let go—of the need to be in control, or the need to be a victim, or the need to carry antagonism and resentment—we learn that we can be grateful for ordinary gifts of grace. Kind words, gentle touch, listening ear, mildewed tablets.
And here’s the deal: when we live grateful, fueled by grace we are empowered to live not from fear, to not hold back. Wholehearted, we can invest into each moment with care, empathy, watchfulness and humanity. And this grace always spills to those around us.
In his book Finding God in Unexpected Places, Philip Yancey talks about a South African woman named Joanna, who began a prison ministry that radically transformed one of her country’s most violent prisons. When Yancey asked her how she did it, she said: “Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in the prison. I just had to make Him visible.”
If God is present, there are no unsacred moments… including you and me, flooded stores, mildewed paper, broken children and big generous fishermen. So, let us write new stories about God’s light.
There are times when we are the wounded child. And there are times when we are invited to create a safe haven for someone who needs compassion, hope and healing.
Fred and Ethel, our Mallard pair, have returned to the garden pond. They are early this year; no doubt posting on their FB page about the snow.
I spent a good deal of the day with chainsaw and loppers, clearing downed trees from snowpalooza.
Tonight, the Oscars. I didn’t dress up, in case you were wondering. Accepting the award for supporting actress, Regina King wrote SM for me, “I’m an example of what it looks like when support and love are poured into someone.” And to her Mother, “Thanks for reminding me that God has always been leaning in my direction.”
Quote for your week…
Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love. St. John of the Cross
POEMS AND PRAYERS
To Come Home To Yourself
May all that is unforgiven in you be released
May your fears yield their deepest tranquilities
May all that is unlived in you blossom into a future
Graced with love
My Mother’s Hands
She comes and visits me during the week
She smiles her smile and gives me a hug
I hug back
Words that are shared
With an open heart
For years mended
That were torn apart
And always there’s a prayer
I hold her hands…
There’s simple warmth to it all
Feelings hence gone by
But I try
And stay present
I see how similar our hands are
And that one finger
She slammed in the car
I played with her hands
In church as a little boy
Something like a toy
To keep my mind at ease
A mommy please!
A peace of mind!
A quiet love
Her hands at ease…
These are my hands too
This is where I come from
A love stayed true
A memory of ages past
I had forgotten…
So old, rusty, and rotten
Where it has sat undisturbed
For many a year
Living in fear
Yet has come to light
As I hold her hands in mine
And here I find…
A quiet place
Just for a moment…
God, help me to slow down;
To move calmly;
To look kindly;
To find space;
So that there is room for You and for others
In my life.