“How shall I account for the two, or the ten, missing years on my résumé? How should I explain the gap?”
These are questions asked of Dr. Kimberley Patton, by students at Harvard Divinity School, fretful and uneasy in the application process for doctoral programs, or jobs in parish ministry. In other words, “How do I justify the times in my life (whether unproductive or barren or uncreative or bleak) that just don’t measure up? Is this (my life) enough? “
This describes what so many of us feel right now. We all have gaps, which is another way of saying, life off script.
So. Dr. Patton’s advice to her students? “Tell the truth. Say, ‘I took in a child whose mother was in prison and sang her to sleep every night while she cried. I worked the night shift in a rifle factory. I battled an addiction, and I won. My husband was crushed by a boulder that fell in our own backyard, and I tended his grave. I worked as a stripper to save money to go to graduate school. My marriage made in heaven turned to hell. I fled to Caledonia. I fled to Paraguay. I lived in a monastery in Thailand where I came to see that all things, all things, are empty and undeserving of our outrageous attachment to them. I swapped dirty needles for clean. I took photos of skulls left by the Khmer Rouge. I cut down trees all day and made them into tables.’ ”
You see, here’s the deal: Every one of these stories happened. And every one of these stories happened during a “gap” in the student’s résumé.
And yet. Each story is underestimated (or even discounted), because we live in a world enamored with splash and superlatives, and obsessed with a ‘who climbs higher’ picture of success. (Just this week, someone told me I could have a real impact, if I could find a way to go viral. Who knew?)
We are wired to want lives that matter. To have an impact. To be connected. To make a difference. But we sure go about it in an odd way. We have forgotten Albert Einstein’s reminder that “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Not that we don’t try. This is from Hillary Price’s comic strip, Rhymes with Orange.
First character, “I’ve done it all–the 12 steps, the 7 habits, the 4 agreements.”
Second character, “And what’d you learn?”
First character, “Happiness is rarely numerical.”
Perhaps we are distracted by the notion that there is a ‘can’t miss’ way. I guess it all depends on where I’m looking. Yes, sometimes (like Dr. Patton’s students) we live with the gnawing sense that something is amiss. But then, we live our life like the man who lost his camel, but spends his time looking for the rope.
Or, like the man who lost his keys. On his hands and knees searching. Another man stops and asks, “Can I help?” “I lost my keys.” “Where did you lose them?” “Over there.” “Then why are you looking here?” “The light’s better here.”
“How,” Dr. Patton asks, “can we learn not to panic as future ministers or scholars or mothers (or fathers or friends or lovers) when we are ‘not getting any work done’ or when we lose direction altogether, when there is no plan, when the manuscript is delayed or the child is ill, when the love affair sours and there is no point in getting up, when the beloved sister or brother unexpectedly dies, or when we are suddenly called to make pots, to sit with dying people, or to go to Brazil?”
Can we learn not to panic when the world around us teeters, and life is off script?
Let’s begin here: To understand and embrace this gift of life (“in the gaps”) is a paradigm shift. No, it is not easy. Perhaps because we’ve lost the bigger picture. Or. Perhaps because we’ve lost the restorative and healing power of the small, and the ordinary.
The exquisite grace in what is tangible and real.
birds at the feeder
stories that resonate
“But this doesn’t add up!” something inside still protests, allured by programs that “weigh and measure” our life’s work and value.
Here’s my confession; I am afraid that if I embrace those parts of my life that have been relegated to “the gaps,” those parts of my life that do not make the first page of my résumé, then I am admitting that I have pinned my hopes on some construct of a false self. Some kind of artifice. Maybe if I show you what is in “the gaps,” it’s not the Terry I want people to see. And maybe, just maybe, you won’t like it. Because I forget the profound truth that the wonder and sufficiency of true humanity can blossom anywhere (especially in the gaps), spilling from big hearts and generous souls.
Many years ago, I was preparing a lecture on relationships. Zach (quite young) asked what I was doing. I told him and asked, “What should I tell them?” He thought a minute and said, “Tell them hugs and kisses wouldn’t hurt.”
Thank you Zach.
The restorative power of the small and ordinary.
On Friday I watched two former Presidents eulogize Elijah Cummings. The power of the small. And it did my heart good. “When the Lord asked, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for me?,’ Isaiah said, ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.’ Elijah Cummings spent a whole life saying, ‘Send me.’” Bill Clinton reminded us. Barack Obama followed, “There is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing weak about being honorable.”
I spent time this week (near snow) in Park City, Utah with the good people at St. Mary of the Assumption. Our theme, “Perhaps you were made for such a time as this.” Amen.
And oh yes, I watched Michigan humble Notre Dame. And yes, it made me smile big.
And I’m enjoying the World Series.
The news about the nine fires in California is heartrending. Let us pray for those who are evacuated and / or in harm’s way.
Quote for your week…
The more we allow ourselves to unfold,
The less likely we are to unravel.
The more we dive into our desires,
The more exquisite life becomes.
Rabbi Irwin Kula
–Dr. Kimberley Patton’s comments from her address to graduating students, Harvard University, 2005.
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Reading your new book a chapter a day. I have related to swimming with manatees and now “petite miracle wandering”. Savoring the present is a new discipline for me. It has the effect of unbridled happiness in me! Numinosity rocks!!!! Pam
–Good morning Terry, I just read last week’s Sabbath Moments email. What a delight it was to read, knowing this was the message sent to me on my Birthday (October 14). The long-running message the Lord has spoken into my heart over the last year has been “Do not be afraid”. The scripture verse I have held onto is 2 Timothy 1:7. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” Thank you so much for you writings… I look forward to them every week. Blessings to you and yours, Megan
–Oh My!!!! This resonated with my soul and I just want to forward it to everyone I know. Thank You for this blessed Sabbath Moment Mr. Hershey–It is POWERFUL and much needed and required. I thought of my own fragility, I hurt for the fragility of spirit of HRH–The Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) how I wish she could see this and know that “You” recognize this fragility of spirit and the human heart. God Bless You, I will print this and keep it close for those tender moments when my spirit is broken, and requires this message of hope and healing. Always In His Presence, Allie
–Kintsugi…it has a name!. When my son was about 7, he accidentally knocked a vase off of my night stand. It was a peach colored beachy type vase with dried eucalyptus in it. Every now and again I ran the plant under very hot water to release the oils, refreshing the familiar fragrance that freshened the air in my bedroom. My son had watched me do it many times. When he knocked it off with a inadvertent fling of his arm, it crashed to the floor exploding the bottom out of the vase. He was mortified. I was not. I had come near to doing that a dozen or more times. I knew it was going to happen one day. You know when you do something or feel something that you know will come back to bite you one day, but you do it anyway and then, well, it does and you say to yourself in anger, “I knew that would happen, I just knew it.” I should have put that vase somewhere else from the beginning and I knew it but it was the only place that I wanted it. It was just a vase anyway. Why be angry. My son was so upset and said things like he ruined everything. Apparently, one of those days for a 7 year old boy that I wasn’t aware of. I quickly had an idea. I picked up the vase and told him, no, but it’s so much better than it was. Look! The bottom was broken out, uneven but surprisingly perfect and the stems of the Eucalyptus were sticking out the bottom like some sort of artwork strategically arranged by someone much more talented than I. Trust me, I wouldn’t know fine art if I tripped over it, nor was I an crafty person. I guess we have hidden talent when stop trying so hard. I went and got heavy weight clear fishing line (thank goodness for husbands that fish) and I tied the line around the neck of the vase and hung it on the wall exactly above where it sat on the table. It looked perfect, absolutely perfect. All the while telling my son that just because it is broken, doesn’t mean it’s useless, it just makes it that much more unique and gives us a completely different view of its beauty. Who would of thunk, it had a name, Kintsugi? I will have to pass this work along to my son, now 34, how that vase that always remained in my head as a precious memory of his childhood, has a name. Thanks again Terry, old friend, for triggering the thoughts, letting the light in through the cracks. Susan
–Your book is ordered. I can hardly wait for it to arrive!!! Fran
POEMS AND PRAYERS
It is a place for being, not doing.
For the most part you just watch.
You feel the sun on your skin.
You do the things God intended.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Ranier Maria Rilke
Prayer for the Day:
May the peace of God settle your thoughts.
May the love of God comfort your heart.
May the wisdom of God enlighten your mind.
May the Word of God illuminate your path.
May the grace of God carry your load.
May the kindness of God brighten your eyes,
and may the presence of God fill your every hour.